If Megan is Lady Lazarus in Mad Men’s Episode 8, does she rise from the brink of metaphorical death of her dream to be an actress?
If Don is the eternal Phoenix rising from the ashes, is Lazarus also a reference to his literal brush with death as the SCDP elevator doors open, and he catches himself before stepping into an empty shaft?
Did anyone else flash to iconic opening images of the ad man floating downward from the top of his Madison Avenue building?
Doesn’t our hero seem increasingly out of step with the times? Is he falling – whether he fully realizes it or not?
If Megan pursues her dream (which isn’t his), will he slip back or find himself stuck – unable to progress further, dependent on her youth and awareness as his guide?
While last week’s episode of Mad Men featured a roller coaster ride for our favorite characters, ending with a dismal and disappointing turn for each at the end – not so this week, though for Don, Megan, Pete and Peggy, life continues to present itself as a mixed bag.
Megan may be good at advertising – very good, in fact – but she wants to pursue her dream of acting. She’s been sneaking around to go to auditions. Though she doesn’t get the latest part, she isn’t ready to give up – or to give in – to what might be perceived as the expectations of a transitional era.
Megan breaks the news to Peggy, who is indignant that Mrs. Draper doesn’t comprehend her own talents. But Megan understands it’s time to resign, breaks the news to her hubby, and Don reluctantly supports her decision.
Cue the violins; the next day is a teary one for Megan as she says goodbye, and Peggy has mixed feelings. Don? He’s happy with his wife at his side, and he also values her contribution – surprise, surprise. We see what a good team they make in the office – highlighted by Peggy’s attempts to stand in for Megan in a Cool Whip kitchen test, as she blows the pitch with Don, whereas Megan had nailed it.
Just taste it, indeed!
Megan exits, kisses her hubby goodbye, descends in the elevator – and Don pushes the button to follow her. He pauses briefly, and if he hadn’t, he would’ve plummeted to his death.
Metaphor for just how many endings? And what about Don’s future in dramatically changing times?
Pete, Pete, Pete. What are we going to do about you? You haven’t Don’s cool nor his appeal, but your star is rising in the agency. Do we need anything else to remind us of both factors, as you clumsily drag your gift of Head skis out of Roger’s office?
And a few scenes later, Perpetually Peeved Pete is wrapped up in a steamy embrace with commuting buddy Howard’s unhappy wife. Sure, he knows all about Howard’s exploits in the city and Howard’s wife apparently knows as well. But Pete wants more than a one-time encounter with the lovely Beth Dawes. She spurns his subsequent advances, but we have to wonder if he’s willing to give up.
Don Towing the Line
Naturally, Don is frustrated with Megan. He wants her happy, he wants her at his side. But he seems to understand that letting her fly may be the only way to keep her. He says to Roger:
I don’t want her to end up like Betty, or her mother [Marie].
Don may be tender and understanding with his wife, but he takes his anger out on Peggy, as she can’t seem to remember “Just Taste It” for the Cool Whip pitch. Those were Megan’s lines, and the repartee that flies between husband and wife advertising team doesn’t fly when Peggy steps in.
Peggy – No Girl Friday!
Peggy, Peggy, Peggy. You are your own woman! You give Megan what for, you tell Don to shut up, and you put in the hours getting the job done – with a little Mary J and Stan at your side.
And what’s not to love about the way Peggy responds to Joan, who sizes up Megan as a future failed actress with a rich husband? Very 1950s, Joanie! But you, Peg of My Heart, you respond:
I don’t know. I think she may be one of those girls who’s good at everything.
What Next? A Little Night Music
Music, music, music. The 1960s was certainly the decade of music evolving, music threading itself through popular culture like never before, music separating the generations – becoming noise to one, and a rapturous universe to another.
The episode is filled with conversation about music – the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, the Zombies.
Don is bewildered by it. Here, too, Megan is his translator, and without her assist, he’s lost.
Megan on the other hand is anything but out of her element – almost anywhere. She genuinely appreciates the confidence she’s gained working at her husband’s side, and his support for her choice to pursue acting. With an almost girlish expression, barefoot and in the kitchen, she says:
I love you. You’re everything I hoped you’d be.
But did I imagine the radio in the background droning about Johnson and Vietnam?
Megan is blissful as she heads off to class. Don stands stoically in their brightly colored apartment with its spectacular views and air of contemporary savvy. Yet the man in the suit and crisp white shirt seems out of time and very alone. He puts a record on the stereo, given to him by Megan, and listens to the sounds of the future.
1960s Divide, Mad Men Mentions
Megan? She’s at home wherever she goes.
Peggy? Likewise, though her struggles appear more complex than Megan’s.
Joan seems as caught between worlds as Don. She’s in between two generations, two ways of seeing men and women, as well as the workplace, and herself.
Incidentally, did you note how brilliantly the colors and lighting were handled in this episode? There are those moody dusty tones, to highlight secrecy; the brightness of the Sterling Cooper Draper Price lobby as backdrop to Don, standing alone at the elevator bank. And the light behind him suggesting an angel on his shoulder as those doors opened and he didn’t step in without pausing – to chase after Megan?
She’s dressed in capri pants and flats, a muted flared jacket, her hair pulled back in a simple pony tail. She is the epitome of an early sixties Audrey – blithe, light, vulnerable, and utterly irresistible.
How could Don not want her happy? But what will it mean as she rises and he stays put?