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.