MAD MEN 5.8: “Lady Lazarus”

“My name is Megan Draper, and I’m an actingoholic.” Well, Megan’s reveal wasn’t quite as dramatic as all that, but viewers did get another peek into her creative soul — even as we also peered deep into the dark abyss where Pete’s conscience used to be.

I’m always intrigued by the subject matter of the episodes that MAD MEN creator Matt Weiner decides to write himself. I like to imagine they are particularly important; the kind of stories Weiner doesn’t want to trust to anyone else. And I think this week’s events fell into that category; the characterizations were strong, even if the plots were lightweight. Viewers got to see the demons that drove Megan and Pete to lie to their spouses and embark on secret lives.

On another dull train ride home to green and pleasant Connecticut, suburban pest Howard Dawes revealed to Pete (Vincent Karthheiser) that he has set up a 24-year-old honey in an apartment on the 24th floor of a building in Manhattan. The next evening, Pete just happens to run into Howard’s wife, Beth — played by Alexis Bledel, who is best known for portraying another iconic fictional citizen of the Nutmeg State, GILMORE GIRLS’ Rory Glimore. Howard wasn’t on the train, and Beth locked her keys in her car, so Pete gave her a ride home. Beth has a feeling that Howard has been cheating, and Pete’s platitudes did nothing but confirm her suspicions, and suddenly the two were going at it on her living room floor.

Basking in the afterglow, Pete seemed alive again, however Beth all but bodily threw him out! Pete spent the next couple of days sniffing around Beth like a lovesick puppy, she kept shooting him down. Finally, Pete pretended to be interested in life insurance, so Howard would take him home for dinner. A shocked Beth feigned a migraine and Pete was left to have dinner and actually talk insurance. Then mopey Pete returned, until he chanced to see Beth in the parking lot, in the passenger seat next to Howard. She drew Pete a little heart on her steamed-up window, and then erased it. But now he had hope.

Meanwhile, Megan (Jessica Paré) was also sneaking around on her spouse. She even drafted a clueless Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) to lie for her in a bid to keep Don (Jon Hamm) off her tail. Her secret? Megan was secretly going out on auditions, because she still wants to become an actress. (Surely you remember her father berating her for giving up on her dream so easily.) She came clean to Peggy, and then guilt compelled Megan to confess to Don that she wants to quit Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and pursue acting full-time. Don was surprisingly OK with that. Sort of. After Peggy bungled replacing Megan to act out a commercial with Don for a client, she and Don started screaming at each other — about Megan. Don sought solace in drink, and agreed with Roger (John Slattery) that he has to let his wife pursue her dream.

Watching Don deal with his new young wife has been surprisingly illuminating this season — we are learning more than ever about Don’s inner life as he learns about Megan’s. As the season has progressed, viewers have discovered that Don was shocked by how good Megan was at this advertising thing. He recognized it. Peggy openly resented it. Her contempt for Megan squatting on a coveted job that she didn’t even want – keeping it from someone (like Peggy) who really wanted it, really baked Peggy’s beans!

Don was bewildered by this latest revelation: Megan wants to be an actress? Or, more precisely, she still wants to be an actress? Forget that — she always wanted to be an actress? Don’s jumbled thoughts were all there in Hamm’s expertly arched eyebrows: Whom did I marry? Acting is Megan’s dream? “I grew up in the ‘30s; my dream was indoor plumbing,” Don groused to Roger. But despite their differences, it’s not like the Drapers don’t work together. Their chemistry is amazing, no doubt owing to the “opposites attract” rule. Watching Don and Megan banter so warmly in their version of the Cool Whip commercial, one cannot help but realize that these two click, and that their commercial works because the marrieds are imaging slathering each other in Cool Whip and have slippery animal sex in their stylish sunken living room.

Which was a bit different from the sex that Pete experienced in Howard and Beth’s living room. Just after Howard first told Pete about his little piece on the side, Howard further knocked Pete’s world off its axis by planting the seed in his mind that his insurance policy wouldn’t really protect his family. Howard claimed his wife didn’t want to know about his philandering because he provides for her; does Pete really provide for Trudy? This doubt heightened Pete’s feeling of isolation. And then, after the extramarital sex, Beth compared Pete’s blue eyes to those well-known Big Blue Marble photographs of the Earth from space. But she admitted how those photos made her feel the Earth was alone and vulnerable — which is precisely how Pete feels. He once told Don, “I have nothing,” even though, to a casual observer, he might appear to have it all. At least as defined by the late 1950s version of the American Dream: a good job, a family and a house in the suburbs. (Hmmm, what about that dog? Is that where Pete went wrong? Can he be saved from pitching himself out a SCDP window by adopting a stray?)

Casting GILMORE cutie Alexis Bledel as Beth was a clever bit of shorthand to demonize Howard: “How dare he double-time Rory!” How can this young and attractive woman be the wife that Howard has been conjuring excuses to avoid? How can he be looking for another woman when he has Alexis Bledel at home? The guy’s an imbecile! Bledel did a fine job as Beth, depicting her as a sort of object of beauty that Howard keeps at home in near-mint condition, but rarely ever takes out of her box to play with. It’s clear from Beth’s comments that she was used to being appreciated only for her looks, and she was chafing under the burden of being an attractive look-but-don’t-touch trophy — much as Don’s first wife, Betty, was. I liked the synchronicity of Joan (Christina Hendricks) telling Peggy that Don first met Betty when she was modeling for a campaign. But the doll-on-display Beth comes alive when Pete shows an interest in her — hence the heavy-handed Lazarus reference in the title.

It’s worth noting that Beth did not see Pete as her knight in shining armor; she had no interest in keeping him around beyond his own shelf life as an exciting-yet-temporary diversion. Did anyone else get the feeling that Beth was excited by the prospect of Howard returning home and catching them? After one encounter her fantasy life was fueled, and she suggested he lock the experience in his spank bank and move on.  So I guess it was kind of ironic that a housewife who was dead inside was brought back to life by the dead-inside Pete. And she resuscitated something inside him, too, if only for a while. It remains to be seen if Pete goes back to being a dead man walking. Tomorrow never knows.

One thought on “MAD MEN 5.8: “Lady Lazarus”

  1. Pingback: TV in Review: Mad Men, “Lady Lazarus” « polentical

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