Monday, May 7, 2012

Mad Men recap: If you lead, I will follow

Spoilers for this this week's episode of "Mad Men" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

This week on "Mad Men," it's another Don-Pete parallel story, as both men find relationships that were supposed to be uncomplicated getting messy. This leads to feelings of frustration and powerlessness for both men, and makes them somewhat more equal than they seemed a few weeks ago, when Don was lecturing Pete about valuing his marriage more.

Let's start with Don, shall we? Spurred on by her father's pep talk in last week's episode, Megan has decided to pursue acting again, and is auditioning for plays behind Don's back (and under her maiden name, no less). Once her subterfuge is revealed, we learn that copywriting -- though a gateway to independence for someone like Peggy -- is viewed by Megan as a prison. Even before her dad's tongue lashing, it seemed Megan felt suffocated by her job to the point where she fantasized scenarios in which she could quit or be fired. This seems absurd to Peggy, and, later to Don, who both argue that Megan is just going through a rough patch. But, apparently, she's outgrown her desire to be a copywriter. And this is particularly troublesome for Don, who must wonder if he's the next thing Megan will outgrow. After all, he's no longer got his finger on the pulse of pop culture, to the point where he mistakes a terrible 30-year-old pop song for the Beatles, and is completely lost when Stan and Ginsberg start rattling off the names of Beatles sound alike bands.

Don tries to be a supportive husband to Megan, acting like he understands her desire to quit the agency, but he's really angry and terrified. This comes out at the worst possible time, of course, as Peggy, Don and Ken arrive for the Cool Whip demo. Peggy, asked to play Mrs. Draper in Megan's stead, blows her lines, while Don seems incredibly unhappy and awkward. But Don completely blames Peggy for the disaster and, as he so often did pre-Megan, uses her as a verbal punching bag, blaming her for Megan quitting. At this point, Peggy is completely unwilling to take his guff and shouts him down, pointing out that she's not the one he's mad at. She's right, of course, but that doesn't make the situation any more comfortable, and doesn't make Don feel any more secure about his marriage to a woman who is growing and changing as fast as the world he's living in.

Meanwhile, Pete, still stupidly undervaluing Trudy, engages in what he hopes will be a passionate affair with the neglected wife of his train buddy Howard. When the episode opens, Howard is bragging about the love shack he's renting for his strawberry blonde mistress and how she's a release from his dreary marriage. So it's kind of shocking when we finally meet Howard's wife, Beth, and she's played by Alexis Bledel, a.k.a. Rory Freakin' Gilmore, looking every bit as young and adorable as she did when she was frolicking in Stars Hollow. In fact, half of her first scene, I thought she was playing Howard's mistress. I mean, Howard thinks Rory Gilmore is a faded old hag? The mind reels.

But where I see mind-boggling casting, Pete sees an opportunity. He beds Beth and assumes that this will be the beginning of a beautiful illicit relationship. Yet Beth seems to have no interest in carrying on affair with a man who's practically neighbor, and her husband's seatmate, too boot. This, of course, results in a reverse Fatal Attraction scenario, where Pete cheerfully stalks Beth, calling her from the office phone booth then manipulating her husband into inviting him for dinner. When all these invasive, creepy techniques fail to charm Beth, Pete is left whining about how women have all the power. Like Don, he's living in a world where he's no longer sure of his place. He keeps trying to be the successful businessman who juggles his fabulous wife and loving mistress, but his attempts at this balance are as awkward as his attempts to carry the ski equipment out of the office.

Both Don and Pete are kind of lost. Pete's tragedy is that he doesn't need to be lost. He's young at a time when the young are powerful. He's married to a woman who's career goals (or lack thereof) are consistent with the values he was raised with. His life should make sense to him. Yet because he can't be in charge of any of the scenarios in his life, he feels as obsolete as Don feels packed into his living room chair, listening to the Beatles.

Anyway, here are some more thoughts on "Lady Lazarus":

  • Though I'd put this episode a tick or two behind last week's "At the Codfish Ball," there were some outstanding moments -- not the least of which was Peggy's terror at answering the increasingly confused phone calls from Don. Peggy blurting "Pizza House" is some sort of weird accent was maybe the hardest I've laughed all season.
  • Also loved the various reactions to Megan quitting, from Joan's customarily astute assessment that Don Draper will always pick a struggling model/actress/whatever for his mate, to Ginsberg's theory that Megan is quitting because she doesn't want to repay the $15 she owes him. Oddly, it's Stan who has the most sympathetic reaction, pointing out that, in the advertising industry, successfully selling baked beans is the closest one will get to artistic triumph. It's a little depressing.
  • Very little Roger this week, but what's there is great. His reaction to Pete struggling with the ski equipment is priceless, as is his explanation of why he and Jane never had kids ("Why do that to a person?").
  • Also, interesting that Don presented the idea of a baby to Megan, only to get shot down. As a father of three, you'd think Don would be the one to reject the idea of children. But I guess this is further evidence of how out of step Don is with his new wife. If she's ever ready for a baby, it likely won't be for a few years, once she's gotten a chance to give her own dreams a serious try. And, by then, Don will likely be uninterested in the idea of more kids.
  • Note how news reports about Vietnam play in the background of several scenes here, emphasizing that, while the world seems unsteady now, it's about to get a whole lot worse.
  • OK, I have to say this -- the "Hard Day's Night" commercial Stan and Ginsberg pitch sounds like an Axe body spray commercial.


Bill Scurry said...

Did anyone else notice that the Cool Whip guy was played by Dennis Haskins, Mr. Belding from "Saved By The Bell"?

IScreen said...

Ye but, for some reason, seeing Mr. Belding as the head of desserts was not as jarring as seeing Rory Gilmore slutting it up with Pete.