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Samantha Zalaznick

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Mad Men Recap: 'It's Not Dying'

Posted: 05/08/2012 5:23 pm

I loved this episode. It was face-paced, it was funny, it was deep and it had the Beatles.

The title "Lady Lazarus," comes from a Sylvia Plath poem of the same name about a woman who "dies" multiple times but is each time reborn, like a phoenix, out of her ashes, explained with lots of Nazi imagery that shows she feels oppressed by this survival. She wishes they would just let her die. So, Megan is our Lady Lazarus, and her transformation in this episode very much mimics the poem. It's the death of her life in advertising and her rebirth as an actress. "Lady Lazarus" calls dying an art that is both her "call" and "theatrical," which mirrors how Megan feels, with a calling to the theater. By comparing this transition to a death and rebirth, it's probably signaling a more complete change than we yet realize. Thinking of Megan leaving SCDP as a death of sorts makes sense of the weirdly emotional weight placed on her quitting. As they walk in on her last day, Don takes a moment to take in his last image of her in the office, Megan cries goodbye to the creative team and then the two of them have that heart-felt, sad-eyed, intense goodbye at the elevator, that could have just as easily been a "see you later at home, honey." It's like she dies when those elevator doors close, and the empty shaft that opens when Don quickly presses the button (what was he trying to do? go after her?) is a literal disconnect that translates to the emotional one. She's gone down into that void and he can't follow her. That moment when he hovers over the abyss was also kinda scary and seemed for a sec, like he might go tumbling down.

The poem ends with an image of a phoenix, rising with "red hair," and when Don comes home from work that day, Megan's all dressed in red and cooking food "hot as hell." She's the phoenix! Not only is it her rebirth as an actress but it's her rebirth as an at-home wife (not as a housewife but in that their relationship will take place in their home versus in their office) and he's greeted with that domestic image of her preparing dinner. It's actually nice and he seems happy to see her that way. Remember he liked her in the first place because of how well she played the caretaker role with his kids at Disneyland? But she jokes "don't get used to it" and the poem warns, "Beware/Beware...I eat men like air," which puts its own warning over her new role. Then again, during the "Tomorrow Never Knows" montage, she lays stretched out on the floor during her acting class and it kind of looks like she's being reborn through some ethereal transformation (and she's smiling). I'm just going to say it -- I think Megan's going to leave Don. I really don't want her to but I just feel like she will.

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream/It is not dying, it is not dying /Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void/It is shining, it is shining.

This story paired with The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" is brilliant. The poem is precisely about "not dying," but entering a void of nothingness and coming out changed. John Lennon wrote the trippy "Tomorrow Never Knows" after taking LSD (Wikipedia says) and adapted the lyrics from the Timothy Leary co-written The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead -- the Tibetan Book of the Dead being what Roger's Leary-like acid guide was quoting a few weeks ago. So basically, they're all experiencing drug-induced or drug-like "deaths" or change or rebirth -- and this song perfectly accompanies Megan's transformation. I always thought all these death symbols were leading to more of a metaphorical death than say, a Pete Campbell suicide, but I really like this drug angle that shows change as a form of death. In the end, all of these symbols could just be to create an aura of death in these rapidly changing times. But who knows, Pete could still jump off the building or blow his head off with that rifle.

(Speaking of death symbols, I made a mashup of all the death symbols for the Daily Beast this week --check it out! It's crazy how many there are.)

Don and Peggy are both personally offended by Megan's disavowal of their beloved profession and they take it out on each other. It was unclear to me why Megan didn't just do the Cool Whip pitch with them. I get that they were orchestrating this whole dramatic exit, but like, it probably just would've been the easiest way to handle that situation. That said, it's fun to watch Peggy and Don yell at each other. They each express their own insecurities from what Megan's said to them over the course of the season. Peggy yells that Megan thinks advertising's boring and Don yells that she thinks the people she works with are cynical and mean. They both feel her leaving as a rejection of what they do, and in turn, who they are. Peggy's obviously right on the money when she says "I'm not the one you're mad at," so stop taking it out on me, but I liked seeing them take out their anger on each other like real friends do. It shows they're still close.

Peggy's on fire in this episode. Almost everything she said was amazing. Specifically (and obviously) best when she picks up the phone and screams "PIZZA HOUSE!" in a fake Chinese accent so she doesn't have to deal with Don.

And on that note, so was Ginzo. It was potentially a cheap Jewish joke but his whole 'I know why she's leaving she owes me fifteen dollars' line and the "did he fire you, that son of a bitch" outburst were both laugh out loud. Welcome to the team Ginzo, you're a keeper.

The Peggy-Joan conversation about Megan was interesting. Peggy actually feels badly and thinks Megan's leaving because she was too hard on her -- making it about herself, like everyone on this show (and in life) do about everything. Joan's unfounded skepticism is also about herself and her failed marriage. She thinks Megan's just using Don to support her career as a failing actress, but I'm more with Peggy who thinks Megan's just good at everything. I feel like coming up with these little skits to sell products isn't that different from acting. They're both about creating an image to tap into emotions. I bet she is good at both. But to be fair, Joan is just over everything right now. We've only seen in her in the office since she's returned to work, but don't forget she just dumped her husband and is living at home with her newborn baby and mother. When we saw her I was just thinking, 'How's it going at home, Joan? I'm sure it's really horrible but you still look fab.'

Moving on to Pete's affair with Rory Gilmore (aka Howard's wife Beth). Rory looks great (a 60s look really works for her) but girl still cannot act. When she tells Pete she's gotten attention from men for way too long, my roommate goes, "please Rory, you're not that hot." Either way, her character mimics this man-eater role from the end of the poem and Pete, naturally, is the unlucky victim. He keeps getting beaten down, this time with a swift blow to the heart instead of the head. The way she draws that heart in the fog of the car window and then erases it so fast with no emotion is like the way she just toyed with his heart. What I'm wondering, though, is why Pete's always getting so irrationally attached to his one night-stands. He's not cut out for this kind of lifestyle. Remember when he told Peggy he loved her and wanted to be with her and it was that big moment where she told him I had your baby and I gave it away? That was only after they had sex that one time in the pilot. (Wasn't it?) Chill, dude.

Roger and Don's conversation about Megan is also somewhat revelatory (for us). Roger gives him advice he got from Mona's father, "go home, establish a routine," which most interestingly shows that he keeps going back to Mona in his post LSD-lucidity. We learn, I'm pretty sure, that Megan can't have children. We questioned it that time in the car when Don says let's make a baby and she says "that's impossible," but shelved it waiting for more evidence. And now -- here it is! -- Don tells us that on their honeymoon he asked her to have kids and she said his were enough. Maybe I'm wrong, but those two comments have to be in there for a reason.

We also see how exasperated Don is by the idea of Megan leaving SCDP. He exclaims to Roger that she should do what she wants, he doesn't want her to end up like Betty or her mother. His panic over losing her at work translates to his being deeply afraid of losing her in life. Don seems disconnected and lost (and really old). He doesn't know what's up with all this music and thinks the Wedgewoods are the Beatles when Ken plays them. (Fun fact: the Beatles actually covered "September in the Rain" -- the song Ken's playing -- in 1962 for an audition with Decca Records who rejected them.) He asks Megan, "When did music become so important?" and she tells him "no one can keep up, it's always changing." To try to catch him up, Megan buys Don "Revolver" and tells him to start with "Tomorrow Never Knows," which Don turns on but notably gets up and turns off before it runs over the credits. He just can't connect with the music, and in turn, maybe with the generation and with her. Maybe Don just needs to drop some acid, too.


A few other things:

I like when Stan and Ginzo are trying to come up with a band Don just says, "nah I'll just ask Megan, she'll know." It was cute and sweet in an almost Dad way, like 'I'll just refer to my young one.'

I guess acting was what Megan's father was talking about last week? I thought that seemed highly unlikely for this high minded academic to support an acting career in the 60s, but who knows. Canadians.

It's amazing that the AMC description for this episode is "Pete steps up for a friend," um I guess you could maybe say stands in for a friend? Haha, that's just not what happens

Roger finally seems resolved to sit back and let Pete do all the work. It's a fun scene when he gives Pete the skis and Pete's so confused by the sincere compliment. Pete can't carry the skis and Roger jokes "and I got to see that."

When Megan's lying about working late and Don says, "see you at home," the way she responds "I promise" was fully nauseating and sort of made me hate her even though I generally like her.

The Chevalier Blanc guys say they just want something that sounds like the Beatles because the Beatles are too expensive. MW really wants us to know how much he paid to finally get the Beatles on the show ($250,000, there was a whole Times article about it).

 

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