'Mad Men' Recap: Secrets and Lies

Megan makes a life-changing decision – for both her and Don

mad men pete
Michael Yarish/AMC
Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell on 'Mad Men.'
By |

Never underestimate the power of a father-daughter heart-to-heart. It's hard to think of Megan as oppressed, given her seemingly perfect life – wealthy, loving husband and solid advertising gig – but the title of this week's episode, "Lady Lazarus," is an appropriate one. The 1962 Sylvia Plath poem of the same name describes a woman who experiences a powerful rebirth after triumphing over adversity, namely a patriarchal society. Likewise, in this episode, Megan refuses to let her husband or cultural mores dictate her life path any further, as she decides to leave SCDP and resume her fledgling acting career. It is a radical move for the time, and considering the level of brooding that follows, it might be just a little too revolutionary for Don.

Emile Calvet's life lecture in last week's episode may have had the desired effect on his daughter, but Don's admonition to Pete a couple of episodes back regarding his infidelity evidently went in one ear and out the other. It's one thing to flirt with teenage girls or pay for a professional, but to start an affair with the wife of your commuting buddy is playing with fire.

Your Cheatin' Heart

A nervous look. A clandestine call at a pay phone. Declining dinner with her husband. Megan arouses plenty of suspicion in both the audience – and Peggy – when she receives a mysterious message from a "Jack Shapiro" and proceeds to lie to both Don and Peggy about her evening plans. Don thinks she's working late. Peggy thinks she's meeting Don. When Don calls the office looking for his wife and Peggy has no idea what he's talking about, she desperately tries to avoid getting caught in the middle of Megan's deception and fails miserably ("Pizza House!"). Megan eventually comes home, having changed back into her houndstooth suit from the sexy beige getup she went out in (even more suspicious) and merely tells Don she met up with some friends for a drink.

At work the next day, Peggy accosts Megan in the ladies' room and demands to know what gives. That's when Megan spills the proverbial beans – she was cheating, but not on Don. She had a callback for an Off-Off-Broadway play, and while she didn't get the part, she fantasizes about getting fired so she can pursue her acting ambitions. Peggy is hardly sympathetic because, as she reminds Megan, there are plenty of people who would "kill" for her job. So if she doesn't want it, she'd best tell Don – whom Peggy still cares enough about that it upsets her to see him lied to by his own wife.

That night, Megan wakes a sleeping Don to confess her whereabouts the previous evening. Don plays down her acting ambition, explaining that "sometimes we don't get to choose where our talents lie," and that the way she saved the Heinz account was something he took years to master. But Megan has made up her mind, and even Don's suggestion that she just go to another advertising firm won't sway her: "I felt better failing at that audition than I did when I was succeeding at Heinz." Megan will leave SCDP, but Don is unable to mask his disappointment – not so much because he's losing talent, but because he's still uncomfortable with the idea of his wife being so independent.

Megan's final day at the office is short and sweet, but when she leaves, Don is so morose that you'd think he's never going to see her again. The fact that he comes close to tearing up is reminiscent of his innate fear, almost bordering on clinginess, of losing Megan that surfaced two episodes ago. There's also the feeling that Megan is leaving Don behind, almost trapped in his life – illustrated by the empty elevator shaft awaiting him when he attempts to head downstairs.

In the space of a few hours, Megan's decision to leave SCDP has already thrown Don's life into upheaval. When he arrives home, she's dressed far more casually than we've seen her for most of the season. The glamorous Megan has ditched her colorful prints and loud jewelry for bare feet and capris, and it's weirding Don out. His despondency bubbles to the surface the next day at a meeting with new client Cool Whip. His "What's for dessert, honey?" presentation with Peggy falls flat because their stilted performance lacks the chemistry Don had with Megan and because Don, needing a scapegoat, blames Peggy for his wife's departure. But Peggy, still harboring resentment over Don placing Megan on the fast track at the company, isn't having it and puts him in his place, forcing him to face the truth that his wife just didn't like advertising: "I did everything right, and I am still getting it from you... You are not mad at me, so shut up!"

Back at the office, a defeated Don tries to convince himself (and Roger) that it's OK to let Megan do what she wants, especially because he didn't let Betty follow her dreams. He says he wants to understand the younger generation better, but these kids just might be too far out for Don Draper. As Don returns home, Megan is heading out to an acting class (foreshadowing a "two ships passing in the night" existence), but not before she gives him a copy of the Beatles' Revolver. Don had asked for Megan's help in learning about why music has such an impact on today's youth, and the psychedelic "Tomorrow Never Knows" – the first-ever Beatles recording to be used on Mad Men – is his first lesson.

As a distorted sitar and John Lennon's musings on The Tibetan Book of the Dead fill the Drapers' living room, we're treated to images of Peggy sharing a joint with Stan Rizzo and Megan lying on the floor  with her fellow acting students – all getting in touch with a higher state of being. Don, on the other hand, isn't feeling enlightened, and abruptly lifts the needle from the record player mid-song. The silence as he walks into the bedroom is louder than any teenager's shriek. This newfangled rock music just ain't for him, and neither is having a liberated wife.

Where You Lead, I Will Follow

Trudy Campbell doesn't appear in this episode, but it's hard not to feel sorry for her as her husband plummets further into the abyss of adultery and depression. One night, as Pete arrives home at the local train station, he's approached by Beth Dawes (Alexis Bledel, kissing Rory Gilmore bye-bye), the wife of his fellow commuter, Howard Dawes. Beth was waiting to pick up her husband but locked her keys in the car. Unbeknownst to Beth (but known to Pete), Howard is entertaining his girlfriend back in the city. So Pete, now a licensed driver but still woefully inept on the road, gives Beth a ride home, doing little to convince her that her husband's late-night Manhattan activities are on the honorable side. Following in the footsteps of many a frustrated housewife, Beth initiates sex between the two of them that Pete initially rebuffs. Soon enough, however, he's reveling in post-coital bliss – so much so that he's showing off an oddly uncharacteristic grin. But Beth remains detached and insists it can never happen again. 

I've mentioned before that Pete is slowly turning into Don, but with several major differences. One is that Don never got attached to any of his extramarital trysts. Pete, on the other hand, is now trying to arrange clandestine rendezvous in Manhattan with Beth, who admits that she'll always fantasize about what happened between them but consistently declines his invitations. Yet Pete is consumed by his infatuation and baffled by how women are the ones with the real power in the relationship: "Why do they get to decide what's going to happen?" he moans to Harry, who knows a thing or two about being in an unhappy marriage.

After Beth stands Pete up at a hotel, leaving him alone with a bottle of champagne and two empty glasses – one of which he throws against the wall in aggravation – he heads home, dejected. Over the "Tomorrow Never Knows" montage, Pete angrily watches Howard and Beth leave the train station. But Beth catches his eye and draws a heart on the foggy car window, quickly rolling it down before her husband sees it. This is going to get messy, but I've never seen Pete so head-over-heels before. And I want to see more of it.

Wrap-Up: The biggest unanswered question of the episode was the blink-and-you'll-miss-it line from Harry regarding Megan's leaving SCDP: "The good news is, we don't have to look over our shoulders anymore wondering when she's going to tell [Don]." Tell him what, exactly? That Harry made fun of her "Zou Bisou Bisou" rendition? Doubtful. And the secrets continue...

Last Episode: Full House

x