Monday, May 14, 2012

Mad Men Episode 5-8: Lady Lazarus

Recap: Pete is approached on the commuter train by Howard Dawes, a married man who sells life insurance and brags about having an apartment in the city and a young, blonde girlfriend on the side. Howard uses all the standard sales tricks to try to sell Pete an insurance policy, saying in effect: “Poor me, I’m not making good sales this month” and “Be afraid…your insurance payout will go to your company, not your family” etc. Pete is wise to his tactics and counters effectively. Later, Howard’s wife Beth introduces herself to Pete in the parking lot and asks him to drive her home, since she’s locked her keys in her car and Howard hasn’t shown up at the station. During the drive, they discuss hobos in the city and bond over their shared sentiment: “I guess we’re supposed to get used to not seeing them.” Arriving at the Dawes house, Beth walks quickly into her house but leaves her front door wide open. Pete naturally follows, and after a moment grabs her firmly by the upper arms and insists he will not leave until he’s sure she’s not hysterical. When Beth leans in and kisses him, Pete protests, “You’re just doing this to make Howard jealous.” Beth denies it and Pete can no longer resist her. They make love, sharing tenderness and honesty, with Beth admitting, “I used to be like this…reckless.” She also talks of Pete’s big blue eyes, which remind her of a recent satellite photo of Earth that she feels makes the Earth look “tiny and unprotected, surrounded by darkness.” At the end of their time together, Beth says this can never happen again, and Pete leaves, somewhat confused. When Pete later tries calling her at home, she tells him not to call again. Eventually Pete tricks Howard into inviting him home for dinner so that he can again see Beth, but Beth pushes him away and avoids further contact by telling Howard she has a migraine.

At SCDP, Megan surreptitiously calls her acting agent about a recent audition. She has a private conversation with Peggy and reveals that advertising bores her and that, to be true to herself, she feels she needs to pursue acting. Peggy comes across as hostile to Megan and lacking in understanding. Throughout the episode, Peggy seems to bottom out in terms of her professional relationships, although she occasionally rebounds in moments of connection with others. In this scene, despite her self-centered attitude, Peggy advises Megan rightly that in no uncertain terms should she lie to Don about wanting to be an actress. Having been caught in her lies by Peggy and Don, Megan wakes Don up in the middle of the night and tells him the truth. Trust is restored in their relationship, but after a vigorous debate, Don is confronted with losing Megan’s talent at work and his close working relationship with her that he has enjoyed. Megan makes the case that she will become bitter if she doesn’t follow her dreams, and Don chooses to go along and support Megan’s desired career path. Don then directs Megan to hand off her work to Peggy the next day. When Megan announces to Peggy, Stan, and Mike in the Creative office that she is leaving, each of them suggests a different reason as to why. Departing the office to attend a luncheon with “the girls” – arranged by Joan – Megan steps onto the elevator and waves goodbye to Don. Just as the elevator door closes, he feels the impulse to catch the next elevator and meet up with her. However, when the next elevator door opens, Don fortunately hesitates and, looking down an empty elevator shaft, realizes that he could have fallen to his death.

On the work scene, Roger adds levity by giving Pete the “Head” ski company account along with complimentary ski equipment, and by telling Don, “I can really see Megan as an actress…not that she’s insincere, but….” Mike takes too much credit for his exuberant presentation to a pleased client and finds it challenging to work with his Creative counterparts to select Beatles-like music. Ken, Don, and Peggy try to capture the Cool Whip account in Megan’s absence, but they bomb in the Cool Whip test kitchen due largely to Peggy’s stilted role playing and her failure to remember her lines. Despite Ken’s encouraging words, Don and Peggy end up in a yelling match, telling each other off. Peggy ends with, “You are not mad at me, so shut up!” and Don reflexively reaches to light a cigarette, only to be told that smoking is not allowed there.
That night when Don gets home, he sees Megan briefly as she is about to head out to her acting class. Visibly elated, she advises Don to listen to “Tomorrow Never Knows” from a new Beatles album. He listens to part of it while spacing out in his recliner, but before the song ends he turns it off and walks out of the room, drink in hand. At her class, Megan and other students lie on the floor, as if experiencing death. Finally, we see Pete in his car, about to leave the train station parking lot. He looks out the window to see Howard and Beth in their car. Beth draws a heart in the steam of the side window, sending Pete the message that her affection for him still exists.

As the title suggests, a major theme of this episode is being raised from the dead by another person. In the biblical story of Lazarus, no mention is made of whether Lazarus wanted to be revived, but we assume he was glad to be alive again when Jesus raised him from the dead after four days in the tomb. In Sylvia Plath’s poem entitled Lady Lazarus, she writes of being raised from death painfully, against her will. In this episode we see gender role reversals: it’s two men who, like Plath’s Lady Lazarus, are both destroyed and then revived in a painful cycle, whereas two women, like the biblical Lazarus, are glad to be raised from the dead.

·         Megan actively seeks to revive herself from her feeling of career death at SCDP after some months there, but she needs Don’s permission and love to do so; therefore, Don raises her actress-self from the dead out of love for her

·         Beth leaves enough breadcrumbs for Pete to find his way to her so that, out of his desire for a more emotionally real relationship than the one he has with Trudy at this stage, he can revive Beth from the years-long death of her authentic feelings of love, tenderness, and sexual desire due to her “dead” marriage

·         In Beth’s seduction of Pete, Pete’s feelings of authentic sexual intimacy are revived  by her as well; however, Beth sets off an emotional roller coaster for Pete, raising his hopes and then dashing them, reminiscent of the Nazi doctor in Plath’s poem

·         Don undergoes the death of his dream of working alongside Megan, but not by choice; instead, Megan brings on this death, and she then challenges him to grow through a painful, unsought-after rebirth as a man who learns to go with the flow and let go of control; as seen by his willingness to listen to the Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows” but his decision not to hear it all the way through, this rebirth is a huge challenge for him that will take some time to complete

Another theme is the huge challenge people feel when it comes to giving up control in relationships.

·         Don is challenged to let go of controlling Megan and allow her to follow her career dream

·         Don is challenged to let go of over-controlling his emotions through smoking when he is told by a woman at the Cool Whip test kitchen that no smoking is allowed

·         Pete is challenged to let go of controlling Beth and allow her, a woman, to set the rules of their relationship; at one point he asks Harry, “Why do they [women] get to decide what’s going to happen?” and he repeatedly tries, without success, to push Beth to extend their physical relationship

·         Beth is challenged from within herself to stop over-controlling herself and experience her wild side again, as she used to do when she was younger

·         Megan is challenged in her relationship with Peggy and Don to let go of lying and deception as a means of controlling others to get her way

·         Peggy is challenged to accept Megan for who she is and not try to control her by telling her what to do or what not to do

·         Peggy accepts Stan’s offer to share a joint at the office, turning off their inner controls and relaxing in the work environment

·         The lyrics to the Beatles song, “Tomorrow Never Knows” outline the solution to the urge to control too much: “Turn off your mind…surrender to the void…see the meaning of within…love is all…listen to the colour of your dreams…” and this is the process that lies ahead for Don, for Megan as an actress, and for Pete and Beth who each individually long to be emotionally and sexually vibrant

·         President Lyndon Johnson is challenged to give up his attempts to control the fate of Vietnam by barreling ahead with a war he knew could not be won, a situation that is broadcast repeatedly on the radio as part of the background of the episode

A third theme is self-projection, or people seeing mostly themselves when they look outward.

·         Beth talks to Pete of hobos in the city who she views very sympathetically; later she says she doesn’t think her husband cares whether she lives or dies, suggesting that she sees herself in the hobos of the city who nobody cares about, and who her father couldn’t be bothered to help

·         Beth looks into Pete’s eyes and sees her own beautiful blue, round eyes, rather than his less blue, less round eyes

·         Beth speaks of looking at the satellite photo of Earth and describes it as tiny, unprotected, and surrounded by blackness – possibly a description of how she feels in the world

·         Harry speaks of the same satellite photo of Earth and describes it as majestic – mirroring his grandiose self-concept

·         Don puzzles about the importance in society of music (other than jingles), reflecting his own lack of awareness of his emotional and subjective side that, for most people, is stimulated by the sounds and poetic lyrics of popular songs

·         When Megan announces that she will be leaving SCDP, Don tells her it took him years to reach the level of creativity she already has achieved, seeing his talent reflected in hers and assuming (or maybe just hoping) that she would value her creative ascendency in advertising as much as he does

·         Peggy tells Megan in regard to the job, “I know it’s hard but you can do it. You’re good…Don’t give up”; these are probably words she has told herself, and she assumes that Megan, like her, would love to work hard at copy writing and advance in the profession as she has

·         Mike talks of Megan’s departure not in terms of Megan, but only in terms of how it hurts him; maybe Mike is trying to convince his coworkers that Megan owes him money so that one of them will feel sorry for him and give him $15, or maybe Megan really does owe him $15, and he thinks she’s leaving in order to skip out on the debt, reflecting his overall feeling of victimization

·         Stan talks of Megan’s departure by projecting his own disappointment with the job, saying that Megan’s probably leaving because after months of hard work on a project, “all you get is Heinz beans” – as if it were a booby prize

·         Peggy talks of Megan’s departure by noting that Megan has a lot of guts to leave a promising job and go for the insecure world of acting; in a general way, Peggy could have been talking about herself, since one of Peggy’s greatest strengths is her courage

Overall, the episode provides a panoramic view of people being stuck in their selfish concerns and some people occasionally learning to step out of themselves and transcend their self-centeredness.

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