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Mad Men: Peter Campbell's Waking Up in 'Lady Lazarus'

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The title of this week's episode, "Lady Lazarus" is taken from the 1962 poem by Sylvia Plath. Written just a few months prior to her suicide at the age of 30, the poem recounts a woman who has tried several times to end her life only to be revived and reborn. She vows at the end that the next time she rises she's going to devour those that try to keep her alive. Referencing the Phoenix rising from the ashes, the poem/episode title also ties in nicely with the Beatles' song featured at the end, from 1966's Revolver, "Tomorrow Never Knows," which also deals with themes of death and rebirth, but in a more positive spin. Whereas "Lady Lazarus" seems to celebrate the death of the body and thus the end of suffering, "Tomorrow Never Knows" focuses on the potential for reinvention and for opening one's mind to letting go of past constraints and embracing the potential for new beginnings.

And that's what this week was all about -- life is changing for everyone at SCDP, some more than others, but no one seems to be immune from the passage of time and the repercussions of their actions. For many these changes could be positive and cathartic, but for Peter Campbell, his life is taking on a dark turn that makes you wonder if he'll be the character that producers use to make good on their promise to kill someone off this season.

We know from passing conversation that he keeps a gun in the home, and this week he mentioned a suicide clause in his life insurance that kicks in after two years of employment as he's speaking to his train buddy Howard Dawes, a life insurance agent. He's chatted with him before on the way home, and this time Dawes advises him to get life insurance to provide for his family and then get himself a pretty mistress in the city to spend weeknights with, as he has. It surprised me that the idea didn't seem more appealing to Pete given his tryst a few weeks ago with a prostitute, but then he stepped off the train the next night -- sans Howard -- and bumps into Howard's wife, Beth. She's waiting for her husband to come home, and admits that she needs a ride as she's locked her keys in the car, and Pete obliges.

During the ride Beth tries to pump him for dirt on Howard, but Pete won't tell her where he really is. She becomes upset and storms out of the car when they arrive at her house and Pete follows her inside. I think this might be the first time that I can say I enjoyed this character -- he's still a total slimeball -- but this week he was a heartbreaking slimeball. There's something about Beth that turns him on -- at first I couldn't pin it down, but the more I thought about it, it made perfect sense. Beth Dawes is a kind of woman he's never encountered. She's not the cookie cutter, suburban zombie his wife Trudy is, she's not a thing to be used -- she's a real woman. She's honest in a way that Pete's never seen before, and he's immediately infatuated. They have sex right there on her living room floor, and when it's over Pete's obviously smitten. Beth tells him this can never happen again, and Pete's completely bereft at her rebuke.

The next day he calls her trying to arrange a meeting and she turns him down, telling him to forget her, but she's all he can think of. He can't let this end and when he sees Howard on the train that evening he comes up with an excuse to get a dinner invite. When he shows up at the Dawes house he pretends not to know Beth, but when Howard leaves the room he sets himself on her, kissing her passionately, begging her to meet him that night. She feigns a headache and can't cook dinner, and Pete leaves. He goes and gets a hotel room, but gets stood up. The anger and sadness on his face is crushing; it makes you forget that he's cheating on his wife, and asking another man's wife to cheat with him.

The following night Pete gets off the train and gets in his car; he sees Beth and looks at her with his heart just utterly broken to the point that you actually feel sorry for him. She barely glances at him, but reaches up and traces a heart with her finger on the fogged up window, she looks at him one more time then looks away as she rolls the window down to erase her message before they drive away. He looks near tears, his face breaking up in his sadness. You just want him, for once in his life, to feel something honest with another human being. You realize that Pete's growing up -- that he wants that honesty more than he probably ever realized. And it makes you wonder just how desperate is Pete going to get? And how far will he go to obtain some sense of peace with himself?

Read my full take on this week's Mad Men at the Donnybrook Writing Academy!