After the all-guns-blazing genius of the last three episodes, this felt rather different; more like one of the episodes from the second or third seasons, with key developments left for the viewer to infer rather than being spelled out. As such, it’s difficult to know exactly what to make of it, as its meaning might only become clear over the closing stretch of season 5.
To start with, what about that title? ‘Lady Lazarus’ is, of course, a poem by Sylvia Plath at her, well, Plathiest – a laugh-riot of allusions to the Holocaust and her suicide attempts. How it plays into this episode I genuinely don’t have a clue; all I can think of is that we’re being pointed towards a death of some sort, which would also tie in with Don staring down the lift-shaft.
And, for that matter, with Pete’s driving. This should have been a good week for Pete, who is more valuable than ever in the workplace, but he’s still seething with dissatisfaction and unhappiness; he seduces – or is seduced by – Beth, the wife of one of his travelling companions. Pete being Pete he can’t leave it alone, and pursues her, almost recklessly; Beth chases him away, but that haunting final image – the heart on the window, wiped away – suggests ambivalence at least.
It’s a big week for Megan as well, who quits SCDP in order to pursue her dream of an acting career, apparently with the blessing of Don: you’d have to say that the writers have left a lot resting on Jessica Paré this season, and so far she hasn’t let them down, although I wonder whether we’ll see as much of her now that she’s not going to work with Don every day. Peggy (Elisabeth Moss, in something close to the best performance of her Mad Men career, which is saying something) is more critical of Megan, but it’s notable how she ends up being supportive. The cliché would be to have them at each others’ throats, but the feminist in Peggy wins out again: it reminded me of this episode of season 4, when she pointed out that she suffers gender-based discrimination and doesn’t see anyone making much of a fuss about it.
As for Don – for much of this season things have been happening around him, both at home and in the office. There’s a quick Don/Joan scene which is as electrifying as these scenes always are, and there’s another opportunity for us to see things not going quite right for him when pitching to a client, but it’s the scene at the end which might live longest in the mind, as Megan points him towards the music the kids are listening to. Matthew Weiner has made public just what a big deal, artistically and financially, it was for Mad Men to get the rights to use The Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, but you’d have to say it was money well spent: to us it’s a familiar part of the musical landscape, but here, in something approaching the right historical context, it sounded as it might have to the listener in 1966 – like a signpost to the countercultural future.