Mad Men – Lady Lazarus
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
Remind you of anyone? A certain secretary come accountant perhaps? Unfourtunately this wasn’t a Joan centric episode – it seems that they very rarely are these days, Megan maybe having taken her place as the prime female – however the line and it’s relationship to her is still appropriate to my mind because of how literal the show treats the rest of the poem. Sometimes the titles and references of Mad Men are tangential to the stories at best – as Pynchon was this week, certainly his sci-fi existentialism mirrored Pete’s seeing planets plot ( between him and Ginsberg i’m afraid that the show may turn into another Day The Earth Stood Still and that didn’t work out well for Don last time – but this week’s was literal, the story playing out as a veritable adaptation of Plath’s poem.
Though it, like Mad Men, has a number of differing meanings the original Lady Lazuras is at its core the story of death and rebirth on a small scale; it’s protagonist is a woman who ‘dies’ every ten years only to be instantly reborn in a new but similar skin. It is then a story of personal evolution, of the growth we make over the course of our lives; we are each of us different from one decade to the next. The episode Lady Lazarus tells a very similar tale of death and rebirth, in which each character loses a part of themselves but uses the propulsion from this to take a step forward. It may seem a morbid metaphor, but as those other poets said: “It’s only dying. Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void.”
And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.
There were a number of deaths this week – more maybe than Game of Thrones great episode before it: the Innocent Pete who could see beauty in the bounty of earth finally died and was reborn as a man who can now, thanks to his experience, see the emptiness of the void around him ( be it in space or an elevator shaft). Though we didn’t see it clearly I presume that the Don who had it all together is now dead and in his place the divided man has returned, the one who has to choose between work and family. This death in particular seeks to make a point, that while women are always changing men like Don, they always stay the same, at least in the long run. Before you say “Hey, that’s not entirely true!” know that i mean on a larger scale; Women as a whole die in the sixties and are reborn as equals, they gain the power to decide what happens to them and for the men this of course means not just death, but the end of the world as they know it.
So it is the ladies that stand as the true Lazuraii: Joan has showed no sign towards returning to her now estranged husband ( or any of her many suitors) and Peggy, as flawed as she may be this week, is no longer the modest mouse she once was; here she stands her own against Don and as much as one can in such a situation, wins. ( That taste test scene by the way was horrible, from the start I couldn’t stand watching it: I squirmed, grimaced, squinted and sighed when it was over. Marvelously made stuff.) Even Alexis Bledel’s character – another ( reasonably) big name star making an appearance this year, I hope that this isn’t a theme – lived a different life before this; she was reckless before her husband struck her down with a ring and this demure wife rose up from the grave they buried her in. More than anyone though it is Megan ( of course, there is always more Megan) who dies ( though this time figuratively).
Death and rebirth has in its own way been the theme of the entire season thus far, but what this episode told was the changing of the generations within the soul of a singular man or woman as it were. Megan is the titular Lazarus Lady and although it wasn’t her birthday ( I was surprised that they didn’t play that card) it was still her time to die in this figurative sense. There was a lot of subtle talk about suicide this week – and we have been theorizing about it now for years – and though it seems on the surface like none of those threads culminated, one did with Megan. For the people of Mad Men the office is their life and so Megan’s move to quit was nothing short of suicide; she may as well have gone down in the empty elevator shaft for all they know. From the ashes of this death though rose the stem of a new start and a new theme, acting.
What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot–
The big strip tease.
“Acting is fascinating. It’s probably easier for girls.” There is a sense in this weeks episode that the women of Mad Men, more than their male counterparts, have to live under facades, have to act. Acting every night on stage as Megan wants to equals rebirth in its own way – the person dying and the character taking their place – and you get the sense that she misses that kind of controlled demise, that escape from the self. As an actor she controls the ticks and persona of the shape she takes, but as a wife she is only a reactor, morphing to make herself into whatever Don wants. I guess in this way she never really stopped acting, stopped re-fitting the ‘grave skin’ as it were, for every day with him that’s all she ever does, play the happy wife to a stupid husband.
There was more to this episode though than Megan ( but barely) for instance we were shown acting other guises? The product this week was imitation whipped cream (Salesman has a speech on whipped cheese. Another connection?), there was a plot based around finding some imitation Beatles and of course that amazing scene based around Peggy trying to imitate Megan ( ok, so the show doesn’t get too far away from her). There is then a falseness to this entire world, though of course we really already knew that.
Again this season has been very forward and literal with its meanings but not at the cost of subtle symbolism, it’s just another layer on top of the ambiguous. This show really died at the end of the third season, that slow show disappearing into the shadow of this increasingly dynamic one, and to my mind has just been getting stronger and stronger ever since. Long live Lazarus, may it die and die and die again ever to rise. This peanut cruncher will be there to see every ash and aflaming moment.