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My Mad Men recap: A Gilmore Girl evokes the choices women make and how men cope with them

mm_508_meganquits.jpgThis week's lesson, boys and girls, centers on the choices women make and the impact it has on men in their lives.

One of Mad Men's most electric themes is the way in which women subvert, endure and survive the overt oppression of the 1950s and 1960s. And Sunday's episode, "Lady Lazarus," centered on the way men can resent even the limited choices allowed women back then -- from who to sleep with to which career fulfills them most.

For our hero Don Draper, that means accepting the fact that his new wife Megan doesn't value her easy talent with advertising or their electric, successful partnership at his firm. Her secret dream is to be an actress -- office manager Joan Harris acidly reminds us all that Draper's first wife was a frustrated model, as well -- and her sneaking around to make an audition first makes us all think she must be cheating on her man.

And in a way, she is. Just as Draper is beginning to feel left behind by pop culture and advertising trends, watching as underlings like quirky copywriter Michael Ginsberg earn the kind of applause once reserved for him at pitch meetings, Megan decides to leave their partnership behind, confessing her desire to be an actress.

mm_508_donbeatles.jpgOnce again, she proves a different woman from her predecessor, choosing to create a part of her life which has nothing to do with her husband, his work or their family.In process, she's rejecting a little bit of him, too.

This is where the mastery of actors such as Jon Hamm really comes through. As Draper, Hamm must register that, even as he is agreeing to let his wife pursue her dreams, his mind is mostly focused on what he is losing -- intimate time together with her at work and the young voice he relied on to keep him relevant in a changing world.

(Still, it was hard for me to swallow that a worldly guy like Draper, who had a long-running affair with a bohemian artist, couldn't understand The Beatles' psychedelic period. And I kept wondering how much they paid for the rights to broadcast the moptops' way cool groove Tomorrow Never Knows over the end montage and credits.)

mm_bledel-kartheiser_508_1102_1170.jpgMad Men also kept up its cheeky habit of ace cameos by familiar faces, showcasing Gilmore Girls star Alexis Bledel as the frustrated, cheated-on housewife who makes the mistake of sleeping with the yawning chasm of male insecurity and need which is Pete Campbell (last week, Julia Ormond made a searing cameo as Megan's frustrated mom, also cheating, with John Slattery's Roger Sterling).

This being Mad Men, we mostly have to guess why Bledel's housewife -- married to the insurance salesman Pete hangs out with on the commute to work every morning -- would pick up a guy she doesn't know at the train station while looking for her philandering husband, sleeping with him after learning he may know more about her spouse than she does (guys, isn't that often the case?)

mm_508_bethheart.jpgShe couldn't know she was crossing paths with a guy in middle of a seriously massive personal crisis, just beginning to realize he has such depths of insecurity that a promising career, smart wife, cute baby and house in the suburbs couldn't possibly satisfy.

The other amazing moment here was when Peggy Olson told off Draper, after his irritation over Megan's departure ruined a pitch to a potential client. "You know what? You are not mad at me," she barked at him. In public. "So shut up!"

Draper, being the smartest guy in the room, didn't bother arguing with the truth: They were both mad at Megan for not wanting to live their dreams with them.

What I loved most in this episode were the small moments. Don nearly stepping into an empty elevator shaft after kissing Megan as she leaves the office for the last time as an employee. Peggy's irritation with Megan during a brief period when she knew her intention to quit before Draper. Bledel's character tracing a heart on a fogged up window so Pete can see while she rides off with her husband.

Women may not have had as many choices back then. But in the right circumstances, they still had quite a lot of power.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 9:03am]


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