The recent "Far Away Places" was about characters trying to escape their lives, and "Lady Lazarus" continued that theme in many ways. Pete's (Vincent Karthesier) become so inured to his life that he slept with Beth (Alexis Bledel), the wife of a fellow commuter who's likewise having a fling. Unfortunately for Peter, a full-blown affair failed to blossom, despite his best efforts (pestering Beth from a payphone during work-hours, arranging a communal visit to discuss life insurance with her husband). What made it a particularly tragic story is sensing how much Beth would like to escape her loveless marriage, knowing her husband plays away with other women... but all she could muster, in the end, was a heart drawn on the condensation of a car window, quickly erased as they parted company.
But if Pete found it impossible to break free and escape to another existence (rather like Don did all those years ago), the opposite was true of Megan (Jessica Paré). She resolved to quit copywriting and chase her life-long ambition to become an actress. This was mostly likely what her father was needling her about last week, so he'll be overjoyed she's decided to forge her own path again, rather than hold onto husband Don's (Jon Hamm) coattails. It was interesting to see everyone's reaction to the news Megan was leaving the firm, too: Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) was angry she hated a job others would kill to have (or she'd love to have fallen into so easily); Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) was so bewildered he could barely process the news (half-jokingly blaming it on an unwillingness to repay him money); Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) was also nonplussed, but rationalised it as reality hitting Megan that advertising is ultimately a trivial pursuit; and Joan (Christina Hendricks) thought this proves Megan's the "type" Don always falls for and has no future of her own ("she's going to be a failing actress with a rich husband").
For Don, it was great to see him acquiesce to his wife's desire to leave, although in a later scene with Roger (John Slattery) he made a comment suggesting it was more a decision to ensure Megan doesn't end up "like Betty or her mother." But the loss of Megan from the workplace also leaves him in a shaky position. Megan meant two things to Don at SCDP: she was a reason he's remained passionate about his job and office routine, but she was also a vital link to the youth of modern America. They also worked well as a duo (youth and experience), as evidenced in their Heinz pitch last week and, this week, their play-acting of a married couple in a Cool Whip commercial. The Drapers could sell ice to Eskimos...
But as Don found out when forced to perform the same pitch with Peggy, this time in front of the Cool Whip bigwigs, it's a chemistry that can't be copied. They failed to produce a similar compelling spark. It'll be interesting to see how Don fares without Megan to hand now, because it seems to me that Don's gradually losing touch with the lucrative 18-34 demographic advertising will come to thrive on. As if to reinforce this idea, in one later scene he ends up choosing a piece of Beatles-esque music for a Chevalier Blanc advert that's actually three decades old. The suggestion is that Don's simply getting older and out-of-touch, which has been a running theme all this season. In the final scene, Don even tries listening to The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows", but turns the record player off mid-song and instead goes to bed. The Beatles have entered their "psychedelic rock" period, and someone like Don can't grasp such a newfangled thing. Maybe Roger would have better luck, considering his dabbling with LSD?
Overall, this was another impressive instalment of what's become a brilliant year for Mad Men after such a long hiatus. Megan's become "lady lazarus", reborn from he "death" of advertising (will she meet a hunky actor closer to her age at drama school?); Pete's luck still hasn't changed (although I have no sympathy knowing he goes home to Alison Brie); and Don's now staring down from the precipice of obsolescence without his guiding hand. Just how long will he maintain his status as top dog of Madison Avenue, as the times change and his tethers to the mushrooming youth market snap?
written by Matthew Weiner / directed by Phil Abraham / 8 May 2012 / Sky Atlantic