Mad Men, Season 5

Maybe Megan Will Cheat First, Not Don
Talking television.
May 8 2012 7:33 AM

Mad Men, Season 5

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Has Megan read the Don Draper Guide to Successful Philandering?

Patrick, I think you’re right that Megan’s departure will prove to be a major turning point in the series, even if I still wish that departure hadn’t sprawled across an entire episode. It was surely not by accident that we saw Don come home to Megan twice after she’d surrendered her coupon stencils. The first time, he arrives at their apartment to find a perfect scene of 1950s domesticity: Megan in an apron, barefoot if not pregnant, preparing dinner. But the next night, when he takes Roger’s advice and returns home early and sober hoping to establish a routine, Don barely catches Megan as she’s racing off to class. No home-cooked meal, no routine, just a Beatles record he can’t understand without help from his au courant spouse.

By the way, I don’t know about you guys, but the biggest moment of suspense for me this week wasn’t Will Don freak out about Megan quitting? or Will Pete hit that?—it was Did they really license a Beatles song? They bloody did! Now we know how Matthew Weiner spent January Jones’ Season 5 salary. Why “Tomorrow Never Knows” though? As commenter Larry S. notes, “wouldn't ‘Eleanor Rigby’ have been the perfect song to play off that album, given the show's recurring themes?” Don Draper does know a thing or two about keeping a face in a jar by the door, and “look at all the lonely people” would make an excellent tagline for Matthew Weiner’s series. But “Tomorrow,” with its exotic sitar and trippy lyrics—“surrender to the void”—was probably the best choice for scoring Don’s creeping feelings of alienation from the changing times. Me, I was kind of rooting for “Yellow Submarine”—it would have flummoxed Don, and it would have been hilarious.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

Mad Men (Season 5).
Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Megan Draper (Jessica Pare), Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss)

Coutesy AMC.

It was also clever, and perhaps meaningful, that Megan’s callback was dressed up like a sexual indiscretion: A mysterious message for Megan Calvet, a return call by pay phone (echoed by Pete’s later pay-phone indiscretion), a lie to Peggy and another impressively effortless one to Don. It was like Megan had read the Don Draper Guide to Successful Philandering. Of course, she was hiding an audition, not a roll in the hay, and her conscience eventually got the better of her (a problem Don’s rarely suffered). But the way her dalliance with the stage played out adds to your sense, Patrick, that the decoupling of Don and Megan’s work life might not bode well for their marriage. And who knows—it may not be Don’s eye that wanders first. Megan gets a part opposite a hunky thespian and the next thing you know she’s pay-phoning Don to explain that dress rehearsal is running late …

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I’ve been thinking some more about the Pete plot line today. Julia, I share your feelings about Bledel’s broadly sketched character. But I think my bigger problem with that romance lies with Pete, not his paramour. Clearly a theme of this episode and indeed this entire season has been the dissatisfaction that can accompany success. Megan carries the day with Heinz, only to find the victory hollow—her dream was to act, not sell beans. I understand Megan’s disillusionment, but where does Pete’s come from? Why has he all of a sudden lost the drive that took him from unctuous junior account man in Season 1 to SCDP’s rainmaker in Season 5?

Pete’s made a lot of noise lately about not being appreciated, but that’s not the same as deciding the work is empty. Over the summer, he was crowing about landing Mohawk; why, come fall, is the Head ski account—served up to him by erstwhile rival Roger—getting him down? Over the summer, Pete did lodge that one complaint about Trudy going out in her robe. But why is he now so desperate for the attentions of Mrs. Howard Dawes—desperate enough to show up at her house alongside her husband? I think the Pete plot landed with a thud last night in large part because the show hasn’t really established why he’s become so lost so quickly, both at work and at home. Perhaps we’ll find out in the weeks to come. Or perhaps I’m just underestimating the degree to which Lane Pryce’s right jab sent Pete’s life into a tailspin.

Lastly, are you guys ready for some next-level Mad Men close reading? Slate contributor Seth Colter Walls just wrote to flag that the book Pete was reading on Metro-North was The Crying of Lot 49, which I’d missed. What’s more, Seth notes that at one point in the novel, Pynchon describes "A Mexican girl, trying to hear [a pop song] through snarling static from the bus's motor, hummed along as if she would remember it always, tracing post horns and hearts with a fingernail, in the haze of her breath on the window."

In other words, as painful as we may have found Rory Gilmore’s ponderous post-coital musings about Pete’s irises, at least we were spared the moment when they swapped favorite passages from Pynchon.

Can anyone spot me a few bucks for lunch?

John