Mad Men Season 5, Episode 8: Is Pete doomed?
As the season progresses, I find it more and more difficult to write these post-episode pieces. When I started, I imagined they would be reviews, but that’s pointless because I obviously love this show enough to devote a weekly column to it. Besides, any feelings I have on the relative strength or weakness of each episode is uninteresting to anyone who reads this because I don’t have any background in the technical aspects of television storytelling (I’ve taken one semester of Film Analysis). So this article became basically a recap, but I try to add some insights in the way of characterization and how the show might relate to our lives. I know I’m not very good at it, but the point of this blog is for me to hone my skills.
Anyway, let’s get back to the show. The Don Draper Thankometer, that statistical marvel which tracks Don Draper’s gratitude by tallying his “thank yous,” is back after a two-week hiatus. Since its last appearance, Don has thanked a second woman: Megan’s mother Marie, during his frantic call to her after he abandoned Megan at HoJo. I swear Don thanked people left and right in Season 4, and one day I will prove it.
The most recent episode, “Lady Lazarus,” focused mainly on Pete and Megan. There is a growing contingency among writers and fans that Pete’s arc is building towards suicide, and their case was certainly strengthened here. Pete’s dalliance with train-buddy’s wife invigorated him, but he was left feeling all the more empty once she said it couldn’t go on. He followed her into her house because he could identify with her depression, and it is this connection he sees between them that prevents him from understanding why she wants it to end. For Pete, the affair brought a much-needed validation to his psyche, and a heart drawn in the fog of a car window just won’t fill his inner void.
That’s one theory anyway, and with some other evidence sprinkled throughout this episode, a damn convincing one at that. The empty elevator shaft Don encounters was certainly ominous and possibly foreshadowing. Pete confides in Harry Crane that the pictures of Earth from space make him feel insignificant. Hell, he even mentions suicide in his talk with train-buddy. One suicide in five seasons is by no means overly dramatic—suicides are a fact of our world and in most cases there are warning signals like the ones Pete has been giving off this season. Still, that outcome is so predictable that I hope the show surprises us, as it has done in the past.
As for Megan, it didn’t take long for her to act upon the doubt she felt last episode about her career choice, which was so bluntly expressed by her father. She hides her ambition from Don partly because she is afraid of his reaction, but spills the beans mid-episode because she just has to follow her dreams. Don doesn’t mind because he doesn’t want her to be unfulfilled like Betty or Megan’s mom. Megan is overjoyed that Don supports her decision, but it seemed more like he was allowing her. That might be the social mores of the ‘60s reflected in the show or it might just be my preconceptions about the era coloring my interpretation of things.
Megan’s departure leaves a hole in the copywriting team, to be sure. Don relied on her for her connection with the youth, even though Ginsberg and Stan are hip with the times. This is demonstrated perfectly when Kenny Cosgrove plays the allegedly Beatles-sounding song: Don and Kenny Cosgrove (who is young but something of a country square) think it sounds just like the Beatles, Stan smirks at the comparison and Ginsberg is insulted by it, saying the music “is stabbing my fucking heart.” The clients’ notion of the Beatles was “A Hard Day’s Night,” something happy and melodic, but in the two years since that album the Beatles had radically changed their sound, pushing cultural and psychedelic limits. When Don plays “Tomorrow Never Knows” off Revolver, he can’t recognize the sound and turns it off after a minute.
Ginsberg’s youth is not the only thing he has going for him. He can wow clients with his presentations just like Don used to do, but Ginso does it with vigor; his passion animates him and therefore the client. I can’t recall Don leading a boardroom presentation this season. Will he go the way of Roger, sitting back and watching the money roll in?