Don Draper is getting old. Forty these days isn’t what it was in 1966: Generally out of touch. With times changing so quickly, Don and peers (and beyond) easily feel left behind as society progresses. One day, you recognize your surroundings — you even recognize the music on the radio. But by the next, you’re relying on your 26-year-old wife to keep you up to date on trends. The elevator doors may open for you, but there’s no car waiting, only a free fall. At least Don is relaxing as he begins to approach middle age, and truthfully, his patient and supportive reaction to Megan’s leaving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to pursue acting again in Season Five’s eighth episode, “Lady Lazarus,” was practically anti-climactic. But if this was filler, it was good, Beatles-featuring filler in a season that is competing with the fourth as “Mad Men’s” best.
Even if Megan’s change of plans does make viewers wonder why so much time was spent on her at the agency, at least her story adds to the various females who are taking charge of their lives and are among the first generations of women able to do what so many these days take for granted: follow their dreams. What makes Megan good at advertising are her acting skills — the ability to sell a story and tell a lie with a straight face. It’s all about the pitch, and presentation, and Megan loves creating new worlds and finding creative ways to describe her own. But being good at something isn’t enough; she doesn’t love the job, and she’s lucky enough to be in a position where she can turn it down. If anything, this is why Peggy envies Megan — not because she’s “just one of those girls” that is good at everything, as she tells Joan, but because she knows what she wants. Peggy, similarly, is good at her job, but is advertising where she would have landed had the agency not been where she found her first secretarial job? Stan doesn’t mince words when describing the unromantic nature of the gig: “You work your ass off for months, bite your nails. For what? Heinz Baked Beans.”
Don does seem bewildered at Megan’s decision, and it takes a frank “I don’t want to do it, Don,” from her to make him realize he’s lost his advertising protege. Don’s confusion comes honestly, however; as he says to Roger, “I was raised in the ’30s. My dream was indoor plumbing.” He is open to the notion of working out of passion, not merely necessity, and Megan having her own life, although he reveals his hurt feelings by lashing out at Peggy as if she’d bullied his friend away from the playground. This after his possessive behavior with Megan, wanting her with him all the time and even calling the office repeatedly to track her down. But he’s trying. He doesn’t completely shrug off her concerns, and he hasn’t reached “get off my lawn!” territory. His remark to Megan about not understanding the era’s music doesn’t stem from bitterness, but that is exactly where Pete is hanging his hat.
Surely Pete hasn’t moved past the beating he took from Lane that summer mixed with other failures real and imagined, and making friends with Howard Dawes (Jeff Clarke), another commuter who preaches the joys of keeping a girlfriend on the side, isn’t helping his mood. He has everything but is convinced he has nothing, therefore it is difficult to determine if his infatuation with Howard’s wife, Beth (Alexis Bledel), is genuine or stems from his desire for excitement and something different. Either way, he seizes the opportunity for an affair. Beth, who not long after meeting Pete calls him out for lying about Howard and his whereabouts, is more pragmatic about the hook-up; it was a one-off and nothing that needs repeating. Pete grows more erratic as she continues to spurn him, yet he blames her for leading him on in the first place. “Why do they give you a glimmer of hope in the midst of rejection?,” he asks Harry. “A thread to hang onto, a misplaced word, a suggestion of the future. Under a court of law it would look like an accident, but it’s not. … Why do they get to decide what’s going to happen?” “They just do,” Harry says. Pete may have kissed Beth first, but she’s calling the shots. He hates it. Of course she doesn’t show up at the hotel room where he asked her to meet him. But that’s just one more reality Pete can’t understand.
Given that Don can’t even tell when he isn’t hearing The Beatles, such as when he’s going over music for the Chevalier Blanc ad, Megan buying “Revolver” for him and suggesting he start with the last track, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is a stretch. (He’s going to love “Yellow Submarine.”) He tries it at least, taking Lennon’s advice to “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.” Likewise, Peggy is seen smoking pot with Stan at the office while Megan participates in breathing exercises in acting class. Willing yourself to calm down seems to be the only way to handle the chaos of the world. Megan, however, is the only one opening herself up to new opportunities and following her desires; Peggy is merely distracting herself from truths she isn’t ready to face. And Don? He quickly abandons the record and its message. What’s the point, if come tomorrow, everything will be different again?
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic at Pajiba. She lives in Texas.