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Posted at 10:16 AM ET, 05/07/2012

‘Mad Men’: An affair, and a resignation, to remember


Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser): Staying alive in the latest episode of “Mad Men.” (Michael Yarish/AMC)

Within the first few minutes of the latest episode of “Mad Men,”I was certain this would be the week Pete Campbell bit it.

I had numerous reasons for believing this to be true. For starters, the Internet is convinced Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) won’t make it to season six, and Kartheiser himself has only further cemented this notion in interviews. Plus, this week’s hour began with Pete discussing the precise terms of his life insurance policy (after two years, it covers suicide!) and reading Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49” (classic introspective, borderline suicidal person move, and a relevant detail since it’s about a woman dealing with her deceased former lover’s estate). On top of everything else, the installment was called “Lady Lazarus,” the same title as a seminal Sylvia Plath poem. When you name an episode after a work by Plath, it seems to fair to assume that someone will wind up in the bell jar.

As the hour progressed, the odds of Pete expiring only seemed to increase. He cheated on Trudie AGAIN, in a more serious way, with his commuter train buddy’s wife Beth, a.k.a. Rory Gilmore, and seemed profoundly disturbed when Beth rejected his subsequent romantic overtures. One of the elevators at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce wasn’t working properly, which seemed like a recipe for someone to take some kind of fatal plunge. And toward the end of the episode, Don was listening to the greatest Beatles album ever, which happens to be called “Revolver,” which made me think Pete just might shoot himself with one before the clock struck 11 p.m.

But he didn’t. He survived, for now. Megan Draper’s career at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, however, did not. It’s a lot to process, so let’s do so via a series of questions and answers about this week’s “Mad Men. ”

Why did Megan decide to quit Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and return to acting?

It’s been obvious for several episodes, but especially after the Heinz triumph and her daddy’s disapproval it was clear that Megan wasn’t deriving the satisfaction she craves from ad copywriting. Is it because she doesn’t like sales, or because she doesn’t like playing second-fiddle to Don? Or that she could see her future and it looked a lot like Peggy Olson’s? All of the above?

I’m going with all of the above.

Is her decision to quit going to have a negative impact on her marriage to Don?

When Don heard his wife say she no longer wanted to work by his side every day, even in the shadowy darkness of their bedroom you could see the glimmer go right out of Jon Hamm’s eyes.

One of the things he liked about Megan was that she was his equal, and that they both shared an interest in the same work. Plus, having her in the office made it much easier for him to remain faithful, especially when he could just call her in and ask her to open her blouse whenever he felt like it.

Oh wait, Don wouldn’t do that.

No, hold up. Would and did.

But seriously, Megan was Don’s Betty and his Faye Miller, wrapped up in one French-Canadian package. That turned him on and kept him from straying. Now, who knows? It could be go time with Madchen Amick, for real this time.

Joan — whose role this season increasingly seems to be The Woman Who Says Things That Are True — pointed out to Peggy that, as an actress, Megan Draper is merely following in the footsteps of Betty Draper, once-aspiring model.

“That’s the kind of girl Don marries,” she said wryly. But that’s precisely the problem. Don married Megan because she seemed like the kind of girl he hadn’t married before. And now, coming home to her either in the kitchen or on her way to acting class, surely he’s already starting to feel a distance.

How amazing was Peggy Olson last night?

Uh, pretty amazing. Loved her irritation with the Megan-and-Don Cool Whip routine, and the way she botched it completely when she was asked to step in for Mrs. Draper post-resignation. I love that she said the following sentence to her boss: “You know what, you are not mad at me, so shut up,” although I did have to balk at her use, in the same scene, of the word “half-assed.” Was that an expression in 1966?

I loved how she defended Megan to Joan, even though she was clearly irritated by the fact that Megan so easily attained the life Peggy had to struggle so hard to make for herself. And not only did Megan attain it, but she took a look at it and decided, “Eh. Not for me.”

When Peggy said, “You’re taking up a spot and you don’t even want to do it?” she was speaking on behalf of all the women of her era desperately trying to assert themselves professionally in a world that still isn’t sure what to do with them. (It also struck me that, despite the obvious difference in the era, that question could just as easily be posed, with the same irritation, by a baby boomer or Generation Xer to a millennial.)

But most of all, Peggy Olson taught us something really important last night: If you pick up a phone call you don’t want to take, just shout “Pizza house!” and hang up.

Let’s talk about Pete. Is it possible for him to get more sad?

Ugh, poor Pete. All he’s done all season is get irritated at Roger, walk into walls (figuratively and literally), take punches and try to get laid, either unsuccessfully and inappropriately (driver’s ed classmate) or successfully and inappropriately (prostitute and, now, Beth Dawes).

Pete needs an escape, from his work and a home life that he finds suffocating. He seems to think the only possible outlet is via a dalliance with another woman, specifically the wife of Howard the life insurance salesman. Which is clearly not working out for him. He didn’t die last night, but, with only five more episodes left this season, I can smell his demise. Will he commit suicide, as alluded to above? Get into a car accident? Accidentally step into that elevator shaft? Hurt himself on those pesky skis Roger gave him? Any of these things seem possible.

By the way, did it seem weird that Beth was married to Howard?

Yes. Alexis Bledel, who played Beth, is much younger than I expected Howard’s wife to be, and much more attractive. She’s also much sadder (probably because she’s married to Howard?) so perhaps that’s why he feels the need to spend his nights in a Manhattan apartment instead of at home, in another house that resembles the former Draper abode.

Hey, did you catch the shout-out to Lutherville, Md.?

As a native Marylander, sure did!

One last, nagging thing: why did Don play “Tomorrow Never Knows” when he listened to “Revolver”?

Indeed, “Tomorrow Never Knows” is the last track on side two of this seminal Beatles album. So it pretty much defies logic that Don would drop the needle first-thing on that song. As a traditional old man, he probably would have started with side one, track one, which would have been “Taxman.” (Update: As commenters Katyola and bevjames notes, Megan told Don to start with “Tomorrow Never Knows,” so my above rant is now invalid. Apologies for the oversight — I must have been taking notes or imagining other death options for Pete during that moment.)

But sonically and thematically, “Tomorrow Never Knows” worked beautifully. It was an appropriate link back to the use of the Beach Boys’ equally psychedelic “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” from Roger’s LSD trip. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is also based lyrically on the book “The Psychedelic Experience,” which, in turn, was based on “The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” also referenced in the LSD episode.

And its use as a soundtrack element was yet another signal that times are changing. As this episode-closing montage showed, Peggy and Stan are now toking up instead of drinking at the office. Hearts drawn for Pete Campbell in car window fog quickly disappear. Megan Draper is opening her mind to a different world of pretend. And Don Draper — well, he’s heard all he needs to hear.

He yanked the needle off of John Lennon’s experimentally trippy track and went straight to bed.

By  |  10:16 AM ET, 05/07/2012

Tags:  Mad Men

 
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