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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

May 7, 2012 at 10:27 AM

Mad Men Monday: Don and the elevator shaft

There he was, the George Clooney of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, staring into the abyss of an elevator shaft, contemplating the emptiness. In last night’s episode, entitled “Lady Lazarus” (for a deeply disturbing Sylvia Plath poem about attempted suicide, death, and the Holocaust, written in 1962), we saw reiterated what seems to be the theme of this season: Many of the characters, but Don especially, are questioning their own relevance in these rapidly changing times. Don was once a glamorous, mysterious wonder boy of advertising; now he’s feeing out of step (“When did music get so important?” he wondered peevishly in this episode) and middle-aged. A chic, adoring young wife — one with whom he could create a peppy Mr.-and-Mrs.-Draper advertising team — helped him feel more youthful. But Megan shocked him this episode with a revelation: She doesn’t want to work in advertising. It’s not meaningful to her. She’s been trying to think of ways to escape. She wants to be an actress. And she’s quitting, right now.
It says a lot about Don’s evolution as a character that he took all this pretty much in stride, expressing his disappointment (and his initial complete misunderstanding; at first he offered to help her find a job in another ad agency) but encouraging Megan to follow her dream. Later, he verbalized his reasons to Roger: He doesn’t want Megan to become another Betty, bitter and resentful. (Roger, hilariously, offers some marriage advice; something along the lines of keeping Megan on a schedule. The day you take marriage advice from Roger Sterling is probably the day before you visit the divorce lawyer, no?) But Don’s clearly shaken by the idea that there’s something better than advertising, and that someone who showed as much early talent for it as Megan could so easily cast it aside. Late in the episode, he listened to a Beatles album (“Revolver,” I think?) but seemed unmoved by it and went off to bed, leaving the camera lingering on a now-empty room.
And what of Megan, who we last saw blissfully engaged in one of those acting-class exercises that involves lying on the floor? I have to confess I was hoping Megan was concealing some sort of fascinating double life in the episode’s early scenes, which seemed oddly anti-climactic (though worth it, if only for the spectacle of Peggy bellowing “Pizza House!” into the phone, in an unidentiable European accent.) I’ve never quite warmed up to the character of Megan, and I’m still not sure if it’s the writing (she seems too good to be true — “one of those girls,” as Peggy says) or Jessica Pare’s performance, which seems nearly as one-note as January Jones. I found Joan and Peggy’s brief conversation about Megan fascinating; who do you think is right? I’ve noticed that, in general, Joan is right about everything, so quite possibly we’lll soon see Megan as “a failed actress with a rich husband.” Time will tell. (Memo to Matthew Weiner: More Joan, please!)
And Pete spent this episode gazing into an abyss of his own. What do we think of this episode, titled for a Plath poem, that has Pete specifically mentioning that his life insurance will pay for suicide? He certainly seems to be spiralling out of control: sleeping with the unhappy young wife (played by Alexis Bledel of “Gilmore Girls”) of his commute buddy, playing a weird control game with her that Pete appeared to lose, and, in classic Pete fashion, acting huffy and disapproving of his buddy for cheating on his wife — when Pete’s doing the exact same thing himself. Pete’s someone whose dreams, on the surface, all seem to have come true: success at work at a young age, a pretty and supportive wife, a lovely baby, a comfortable home in the suburbs. And yet he’s miserable and bitter. “Why do they get to decide what’s going to happen?” he asks, speaking specifically of the Drapers but seeming to mean women in general. (I remember Betty, maybe last season, fuming “He doesn’t get to decide!” about Don.) Pete’s still got that gun in his office, right? I’m wondering when it’s going off.
And Peggy, who once seemed to be Don’s confidante and doppelganger (“The Suitcase” seems like a while ago, doesn’t it?), now seems woefully out of touch with her boss — their lack of chemistry in presenting the Cool Whip pitch was all too evident, and ended in the two of them becoming furious with each other. Peggy’s resentful that Megan was handed all that Peggy had worked so hard for, and yet tossed it away; Don’s angry that his perfect woman turned out not to share his dreams. And they’re both finding, it seems, a taste of Cool Whip in their mouths: a dream that’s synthetic, not quite real.
And what did you think? (P.S. I couldn’t quite make out the title of the book Pete was reading on the train, but it looked like Thomas Pynchon. Anyone? Did we ever think of Pete as a reader?)
MM_508_PeggyTestKitchen.jpg
“Just taste it!” (Photo courtesy of AMC.)

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