Oh, my Lord, Peter Campbell. What's going on in that thirty-something head of yours?
Death and disaster references abound in this episode. We have the open elevator shaft that Don peers down as he frets over his future with Megan now that she has decided to ditch advertising for acting. (Don knows his 24/7 grasp on his wife's whereabouts will rapidly become yesterday's news.)
As Don agonizes over every hint of potential loss, Peter blindly and recklessly courts disaster. The firm's sales tiger passes time on his commuter train ride in from Greenwich, CT reading Tomas Pynchon's The Crying Lot of 49. The book, all about settling the estate of an ex-lover who had died, screams death and loss. But self-absorbed, clueless Peter isn't listening.
Matthew Weiner called this week's episode, "Lady Lazarus," a reference to Sylvia Plath's poem about death and suicide. Is Weiner foreshadowing what his far less clueless audience may now be wondering, namely, who will take the death plunge down the proverbial elevator shaft? Is Weiner now teasing his viewers with future elements of a Mad Men Who Done It? 'Someone's going to die. Guess who?' All the telltale signs in Episode 8 point to Peter Campbell. Is Weiner readying Peter's so easily turned head for the chopping block? If so, perhaps we can now better understand Peter's risky decisions, as he repeatedly tempts fate in successive bouts of debauchery.
I'll take a chance now and point to Peter as the season's unrevealed fall guy. Cast as the show's ultimate weasel, who would miss this man? We've watched him grow, in recent weeks, into such a fine schmuck. This week, we find Peter, who recently became a "commuter," taking the morning train into Manhattan with his new friend, Howard, a philandering life insurance salesman.
We learn quickly as they get to talking that Howard is having a rip-roaring affair in the city. It doesn't take Peter, the ultimate weasel, long to move in on Howard's wife, Beth. The very night Peter meets Beth on the commuter parking lot, Beth has locked her keys in her car, and Peter comes to the rescue. He drives her home on his way to the nearby Campbell residence. Sensing Beth is upset, he follows her through the door. This is Howard's house, too. But Peter knows Howard is busy banging someone else, in Manhattan. He comforts Beth and, within thirty seconds, it's clothes off and sex on the floor. And the sex was good, so good, in fact, that 'Mr. Weasel' finds himself longing for more. He slips into a phone booth on his way to his office and asks Beth to meet him for another rendezvous in New York City.
And this is when my baby boomer antenna sprang to life. Here is Peter, in 1966, cleverly making his illicit call from a pay phone in the lobby, far from the prying ears of his secretary. (That much of a fool he is not. At least, not yet.) Still, consider how much easier it was to thrive as a cad in the good ole '60s.
The total lack of interconnectivity makes it easy -- even for such simpletons as Campbell -- to cover their tracks. When Campbell hung up the pay phone, he left all evidence of his unfaithful call in the ad agency's downstairs lobby. A suspicious wife could not hire a detective to "triangulate" the origins of that call. Nor could she slip the payphone out of his coat pocket later that night, as she could a cell phone, and page her way through his entire dialing history.
Our modern conveniences, cell phones and emails, leave behind bread crumb trails we hardly notice. In Mad Men days, evidence did exist, but if pressed, Beth could have swallowed the note Peter had pressed into her hand the night he followed Howard home for dinner. You cannot swallow an email. And, if you're not careful, an incriminating one can linger on forever.
Had Peter wanted to "text" Beth about the rip-roaring time he had had with her, he either would have had to wait 35 years or have used a spare carrier pigeon that he carried in his pocket. The only incriminating evidence both Peter and his Baby Boomer counterpart would confront was lipstick. And there was plenty of that. It looked as if Beth's lips had smeared Peter's face all over in fire engine red.
But before I bemoan the harsh world we baby boomers inherited, I should point out one other bit of incriminating evidence that we could avoid. It's the kind of evidence that first shows up a few months later and makes an unmistakable wailing impression eight months after that.
Which is to say, when Peter saw Beth again, he saw her driving off with her husband behind the wheel, leaving Peter the sign of a heart carved from the frost on her passenger window before her car zoomed away. Then she had the deftness to wind down the window, erasing all the fog which carried that heart.
Thirty years later, she nor he would be off so scot-free, without even the trace of a kiss. Baby Boomers, everywhere, be forewarned: You have a lot more out there to wipe clean! Or as Lucille Ball would have said, imitating her ex-husband, "You'll have a lot more 'splaining' to do!"