Mad Men: season 5, episode 8

Sneaky calls, the Beatles and fake couples/kitchens/whipped cream.

If "Lady Lazarus" was a concept episode based on Revolver it would have begun with Pete putting down Pynchon to discuss taxes - rather than insurance - with his commuter buddy, Howard. Still, the episode's closing shots and credits rolled out to "Tomorrow Never Knows", the trippy final track of the 1966 Beatles album. Like Don we may wonder: "when did music become so important?" In Mad Men we've watched the artistic trends of the late Fifties give way to The Sixties in fashion and design - think Roger's office furniture, Megan's minis - but we've seen and heard less, until recently, of the counterculture affiliated so strongly with the decade. Suddenly it's not only young wives listening to psychedelic rock and trying LSD: advertising clients are specially requesting the Beatles - though they, like Don, don't know the Beatles apart from a boring pop band whose thirty-year-old song makes Ginsberg feel he's being "[stabbed] in the fucking heart".

Michael's curse may be a covert reference to suicide, and if so then it's one of at least a couple more. Pete brings up the killing-himself-clause of his life insurance plan in the first minute of the episode (it kicks in after just two years!), and Don almost steps into an open elevator shaft that is gaping for a Time-Life/SCDP employee to throw themselves down it. It's the episode's title that makes these thin references potent: the haunting poem from Sylvia Plath's Ariel (1965) about her previous attempt to kill herself and near-death experience as a child, written shortly before her death by suicide at just 30.

Could this be a forewarning about Pete's spiral into depression? The season's fifth episode was largely dedicated to his misery and unsatisfaction. Pete's unremitting attempts to live privately and publicly like Don have failed. In broader terms, despite his successes at work Pete has been emasculated and humiliated time and time again. Earlier it was the failure to fix a tap, being turned down by a teenager and losing in a fist-fight against a Brit. Now there's still his pathetic mishaps - grappling with sporting gear, driving like a nervous youth - but it's his inability to sustain an affair with a dejected suburban housewife that thoroughly undermines Pete's manlihood. For Trudy's sake (at least before those two years are up), let us hope they fix that lift.

Megan's behaviour over the Heinz pitch and her father's life advice had us wondering last week whether her passion still lied in acting rather than advertising. Well, it does. Peggy shouts at both Drapers in this episode: first at Megan in the office toilet, incredulous that the talented junior copywriter would consider foiling her work to get fired: "You know people are killing to get this job. You're taking up a spot and you don't even want to do it?" We can't miss a comparison of each woman's relationship with Don. "I cannot lie to him," Peggy tells Megan. She's up all night because of that and can't bring herself to pick up the phone when he inquiringly rings back the office (or "Pizza house!"). Megan - although she wakes and tells him the next evening - did sleep fine that night and presumably the nights before; she actually had a first audition at the weekend. The small lie is not the problem - even though Megan's sneaking around to make a payphone call mirrors Pete marital betrayal, when he uses the same phone booth (rather than the office line) to call the woman who is not his wife.

The problem now between the Drapers is that Don isn't exactly sure who he married. "Sweetheart, you can't choose where your talents lie. What you did with Heinz . . ." "I don't want to do it," Megan tells him. "You don't want to do it?" If Peggy doesn't believe this - later she wonders to Joan whether she'd put too much pressure on her trainee - then Don is confused to the hilt. His face says it all. Megan tells him "I love you, you're everything I hoped you'd be." Don frowns and keeps frowning. What starts, though, as misunderstanding moves on to delusion and the blame-game. "You didn't want her there, you were threatened by everything about her!" Don charges at Peggy - ridiculously. It's not true, of course. "I spent eight months defending her. She thinks advertising is stupid." "She thinks the people she works with are cynical and petty." If Megan ever said this, it's not the reason she quit. Don is rightly nervous that without his wife it will be obvious his advertising career has peaked: he's out of ideas and is far more charming nowadays as part of a young couple than solo. And with all those far-off looks we have to question the longevity of his marriage. Roger can be a wicked truth teller and a great line of his should be heeded this week: "I gotta say, I can see her as an actress. Not that she's insincere, but, you know . . .?"

Again, Roger brings us back to this generational divide that seems so crucial in Season Five (see "Far Away Places"). Don says he has "no idea what's going on out there" in terms of music. Roger's advice to him - via Mona's dad, an even older generation but closer to Don who did grow up "in the Thirties" - "Go home, let her know there's a routine. It'll keep you both out of trouble". But at home Megan with her youthful ponytail is on the way out to her new evening class. And unable to "turn off [his] mind, relax and float down stream", whether because he's unimpressed or uncomprehending, Don turns off the record and walks stiffly from the room. 

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That non-dairy whipped topping: Just taste it! (Photo: AMC)

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Putting the “savage” back in Sauvignon Blanc

This grape is so easily recognised that it might as well wear a name tag, but many varieties are brasher and bolder than you'd expect.

I was once the life’s companion of a man who was incapable of remembering names. This should have bothered him but he’d grown used to it, while I never could. At gatherings, I would launch myself at strangers, piercing the chatter with monikers to pre-empt his failure to introduce me. I was fairly sure that it was the other person’s name he couldn’t remember but I couldn’t discount the possibility that he had forgotten mine, too.

In wine, the equivalent of my bellowing is Sauvignon Blanc. This grape is so easily recognised that it might as well wear a name tag: it tastes of grass, gooseberry, asparagus and, occasionally, cats’ pee. The popularity of its New Zealand incarnation is probably partly a result of that cosy familiarity – which is ironic, given that “Sauvignon”, harking back to its evolution from wild grapes in France, comes from the French for “savage”. Never mind: evolved it has. “Wine is the most civilised thing we have in this world,” wrote the 16th-century author Rabelais, and he was born in the Touraine, where the gently citrusy Sauvignon makes an excellent aperitif, so he should know.

New World Sauvignons are often brasher and bolshier. It is likely that Rabelais’s two best-known heroes – Gargantua, who is born yelling, “Drink! Drink! Drink!” and whose name means “What a big gullet you have”, and Pantagruel, or “thirsting for everything” – would have preferred them to the Touraines. They work well with spice and aromatics, as Asian-fusion chefs have noticed, while the most elegant Loire Sauvignons, Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé, make fine matches for grilled white fish or guacamole – in fact, almost anything enhanced by lemon. In Bordeaux, where whites principally blend Sauvignon and Sémillon, the excellent Dourthe is entirely the former; 9,000 miles away in Western Australia, Larry Cherubino makes a rounded Sauvignon in a similar style.

Many variations but one distinctive flavour profile – so I thought I was safe asking my best friend, an unrepentant wine ignoramus, whether she liked Sauvignon. Her shrug spurred an impromptu tasting: Guy Allion’s quaffable Le Haut Perron Thésée 2014, from Rabelais’s Touraine; a Henri Bourgeois Pouilly-Fumé Jeunes Vignes; and Greywacke Wild Sauvignon from Kevin Judd. Judd, who was largely responsible for making New Zealand whites famous when he worked for Cloudy Bay, is now putting the savage back in Sauvignon using naturally occurring (“wild”) yeasts that make the wine rich and slightly smoky but are not, by his own admission, terribly easy to control. This was the most expensive wine (£28, although the Wine Society sells it for £21.50) and my friend loved it.

She had expected to prefer the French wines, on the slightly dubious basis that she is Old World: of Anglo-Danish stock, with a passion for Italy. Yet only familiarity will tell you what you like. This is why bars with long lists of wines by the glass provide the best introduction. A favourite of mine is Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a Covent Garden joint run by two women, the sommelier Julia Oudill and the chef Ilaria Zamperlin. If the menu – scallops with Worcestershire sauce, croque-madame with truffled ham and quail egg – is delicious, the wine list is fabulous, with at least ten whites and ten reds at 125ml, with prices ascending into the stratosphere but starting at £6.

There are usually a couple of French Sauvignons, although many bottles still don’t name the grapes and the winemaker Didier Dagueneau (the “wild man of Pouilly”), whose wines feature here, preferred the old Sauvignon name Blanc Fumé. Thank goodness Sauvignon, despite its reputed savagery, has the manners to introduce itself so promptly: one sip, and you can move on to the congenial task of getting to know one another.

Next week: Felicity Cloake on food

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war