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TV Diary | Mad Men – “Lady Lazarus”

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TV Diary | Mad Men – Episode 5.08 – “Lady Lazarus” – Original Airdate: 5/6/12

Episode Grade: A

By the time this season of Mad Men is complete [1], I think there’s a very real chance that we view “Lady Lazarus” with the type of reverence usually reserved for episodes like “The Suitcase” and “The Wheel.” It was clearly the best installment in this fifth season of the show and deserves a place on any list of the series’ best. Also? IT ENDED WITH THE BEATLES’ “TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS” FOR CHRIST’S SAKE [2] !! “Lady Lazarus” was essentially bifurcated into a concentrated look on two characters, two men who the show has ostensibly compared for its entire run and who currently stand in stark contrast with one another: Don Draper and Pete Campbell.

  • Don – The show’s been telegraphing Megan’s exit from SCDP for a couple of episodes now, but I didn’t fully expect it to happen this quickly. It seemed, conventionally, like something a show would save in its back pocket for one of its final story arcs of the season, but since when has Mad Men ever done anything conventionally? I’d also speculated that Megan’s desire to leave the agency would drive a wedge between she and Don so you can imagine my surprise when she confronts him with her desire to ditch copywriting to give acting another shot and he’s… as supportive as one could possibly be in that situation. As Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall theorizes, perhaps Don’s making an attempt to learn from the mistakes he made with Betty this time around. With the former Mrs. Draper, he left her to essentially rot on her own in that house in Ossining, stifling her almost to death. Now, Betty’s a horrible person to begin with [3] but being essentially caged like a bird while your husband is out drinking and whoring it up in Manhattan will damage any woman. So, perhaps this time around Don’s taking a different tack with Megan by encouraging her to go for what she wants, telling her that he doesn’t want to keep her from her dreams. However, with that self-actualization comes the realization that his wife is 15 years younger than he is and that she’s part of (and comfortable in) a world that he doesn’t quite understand. Witness the final montage of the episode that’s set to the aforementioned “Tomorrow Never Knows” [4] – his reaction suggests that he doesn’t understand the Beatles one iota, adding more fuel to the “Megan’s world is passing him by” theory. There are also the beginnings of cracks in his work environment due to Megan’s exit as well. After gaining an in with Cool Whip on the basis of a chemistry-laden bit with Megan, Don’s instead forced to use Peggy as a surrogate during a pitch to Cool Whip execs and – in a moment of uncomfortable awkwardness – they blow it horribly. The pitch eventually devolves into a name-calling and blame-pointing scene where Don blames Peggy for Megan’s decision to leave, saying that she never made Megan feel welcome and Peggy retorting with, “You know what? You’re not mad at me so just shut up.” She – and the audience – can see that Don is projecting his frustrations that he’s unable to voice with his wife onto Peggy. Either way, despite the pretty face that they each attempt to put on the situation, Don and Megan are on a precipice and the only question left is when they are going to fall.
  • Pete – One of the more intriguing things that season five has examined is how Pete has now, in many ways, morphed into the Don Draper we met back in season one. He’s in a prominent position at the firm. He has a beautiful wife. He has a child. He’s got a house in the suburbs. But, just as Don displayed a restlessness through his dalliances with both Midge and Rachel Menken, Pete finds himself in the throes [5] of an affair with the wife of his train buddy Howard. As an aside, it’s kind of striking to see Alexis Bledel of Gilmore Girls fame playing the wife here. I’m not used to seeing Rory Gilmore in such a grown-up situation [6] so it took a little recalibration to see Bledel in the way that we were supposed to view her character, Beth. And in a shift from what’s generally portrayed on television, PETE is the one who’s pushing for the affair and a deeper – sort of – relationship, while Beth is the one trying to keep him at arm’s length. After having future advances rebuffed, Pete worms his way into an invite to Howard and Beth’s home for dinner where Beth ultimately begs off by telling Howard that she’s suffering from a migraine. I’d be surprised if this was a one-off appearance for Bledel because you generally don’t cast an actress this recognizable to only use her once, and I have a [7] hope that eventually Beth goes batty and forces a confrontation with Trudy, which would then lead to a catfight between Bledel and Alison Brie. A guy can dream. But back to the plotline, the parallels between Don circa-season one and Pete now are striking. Now the question becomes, does Pete and Trudy’s relationship disintegrate like Don and Betty’s did? Or does Pete learn from his quasi-mentor/rival’s mistakes?

“Lady Lazarus” was easily the best episode of the fifth season to date (and likely stands among the series’ best), so it will be interesting to see if Matthew Weiner and company can sustain the momentum created by this installment and carry it forward into the season’s home stretch.

[1] Only five episodes to go. I has a sad.
[2] In all seriousness, how often are the Beatles licensed/heard on any television show?
[3] Seriously… does ANYONE miss her?
[4] Thanks to Megan gifting him with Revolver, otherwise known as THE GREATEST BEATLES ALBUM EVER.
[5] Or, more accurately, WANTS to find himself in the throes.
[6] Although Rory did totally sleep with Dean when he was married on Gilmore Girls in one of the show’s better later-season plotlines.
[7] Not entirely appropriate.

Miscellany:
*One of the only blemishes on “Lady Lazarus”? Needs more Alison Brie. I literally booed the television when her name did not appear in the opening credits.
*It bears repeating: The final montage that was set to “Tomorrow Never Knows” was really excellent.
*The scene where Megan informs her team that she’s leaving the firm is nicely played by all parties, showing that Peggy has some of the strongest clout at SCDP and Ginsburg and Stan, with their odd reactions to the news, are very true to their characters.
*And really… Pete and Howard are a couple of fucking morons for cheating on wives who look like Brie and Bledel. I mean… Jesus.
*Roger mentions Mona yet again. Are we setting the stage for a reconciliation?
* Mr. Belding! Saved By The Bell’s Dennis Haskins has now guested on Mad Men. Maybe the Mayans were right about 2012.
*Whoa… Ginsburg dropped a (bleeped) F-bomb.
*Roger Sterling Line Of The Week: “I sure as hell didn’t get to do what I wanted to do. My father told me.”
*”You know what a new tie means? It means I have a new side piece in the city. Strawberry blonde with huge tits.”
*”Usually, you have to go to one of your finer men’s rooms to find a guy like Rick.”
*”Do they explode or something?”
*”Head of desserts? Please tell me he’s 200 pounds.”
*”I don’t know where she is. Do you know where Abe is?”
*”I was raised in the thirties. My dream was indoor plumbing.”
*”Sweetheart, sometimes we don’t get to choose where our talents lay.”
*”I’ve had men paying attention to me before it was appropriate, and they didn’t care what I said.”
*”You work your butt off for months for what? Heinz. Baked. Beans.”
*”Have you seen those pictures of Earth from space? Do they make you feel small and insignificant?” “No. Jennifer does that. And I’m not small, Pete. Don’t know if you ever heard that about me.” “Save it for your convention whores.”
*”Do you think the actors can remember to say, ‘Just taste it’?”

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