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Who is “Lady Lazarus?” Sylvia Plath and Mad Men

Sunday night’s Mad Men episode “Lady Lazarus” evoked a lot of emotion from each character, as they all seem to have been going through their own sort of personal life dilemma: whether Megan being unable to tell Don her true feelings about the advertising world vs. the excitement she gets pursuing her ambition as an actress, or Pete Campbell’s lustrous affair with his fellow commuter Howard Dawes’ wife (Beth, Alexis Bledel from Gilmore Girls) in spite of Howard’s own cheating, and perhaps the attraction to Beth’s loneliness.

We hadn’t realized it at first, but the title of the episode is also the name of a Sylvia Plath poem, “Lady Lazarus.” If you don’t know anything about Plath poems, a lot of them tend to be about suicide; this one poem in particular however seems to have a theme of rebirth within the obsession of dying. We’re keeping it open to interpretation, but Don, Megan, and Pete all relate to Plath’s “Lady Lazarus”:

Pete: Pete and Beth’s affair that occurred shortly after Howard confessed he had been sleeping with a 24 year-old girl at his new apartment in Manhattan was not something we really expected, but then again this will be the second time Pete has cheated, “pulling a Don Draper,” so to speak. Pete “jokingly” references that his insurance covers suicide after two years, but considering the “Lady Lazarus” poem: “Dying/ Is an art, like everything else./ I do it exceptionally well.// I do it so it feels like hell./ I do it so it feels real./ I guess you could say I’ve a call.” We don’t doubt there’s a slight chance Pete’s fate might lie in his very own hands—him pretty much making himself feel the pain of first the denial from Beth, then the heartbreak at the end when she erases the heart she drew on the car window—but we have high hopes that the two will continue to see each other, and any sort of self-infliction by Pete won’t be too dramatic (he is an awful driver, after all).

Megan: What does one do when they are torn between two? In Megan’s case, advertising and acting. In Plath’s poem she writes: “What a million filaments/ The Peanut-crunching crowd/ Shoves in to see,” when aligned with Megan’s situation, could have something to do with her experience of the meaninglessness of advertising, that even. “These are my hands /My knees./I may be skin and bone,//Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.” Megan’s decision reflects how true she remains to her heart and the rawness of her character (even though she lied about the whole thing at first, but we would have been terrified to tell Don we were quitting, too). Whether or not she will actually make it is up in the air. We are anxious to see how this change affects her and Don’s relationship, and if perhaps Megan’s transformation will lead into her own personal journey, either with Don or on her own.

Don: This episode is somewhat heartbreaking for Don. Everything regarding Megan’s creativity and her getting the Heinz deal with their collaborative “Heinz beans, some things never change,” was sort of climactic for him it seemed; he really enjoyed having Megan at work, and even sort of relied on her have the spunky creativity. So when Megan broke the news to him that her heart just wasn’t in the ad business anymore, you could see that even though he wanted to remain supportive of her dream, deep down he sort of needs her there; this is most evident at the end when Don, Peggy, and Ken are giving the Whip Cream presentation and it fails miserably because well, Megan was the one who had thought the whole thing up. At the end you see a very lonely Don, listening to The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” (which ended up costing Matthew Weiner $250,000 to use), after Megan had given him their Revolver album. The song opens, “Turn off your mind/relax and float downstream/it is not dying/it is not dying,” but only a little bit into the song Don turns it off, feeling nothing from Lennon’s masterpiece. Going back to when he seemed confused as to why people would relate so much to music (seriously, Don Draper?), this doesn’t surprise us at all. Don as “Lady Lazarus,” “For the eyeing my scars, there is a charge / For the hearing of my heart—It really goes / And there is a charge, a very large charge / For a word or a touch / Or a bit of blood,” shows that he is still undergoing a major change, still growing into his new skin.

Peggy: This episode Peggy is pretty much stuck in the middle of everything relating to the Megan and Don drama. She remains focused, but when Megan lies to her about going out to meet Don for dinner after they had plans to work and Don is consistently calling the office looking for her, you can tell Peggy is fed up for having to be put in the position of lying for her. Even though Megan genuinely feels bad, and confesses to her the truth about the Broadway audition, Peggy does not seem to feel any sympathy. Right after they speak and Peggy assumes Megan won’t be attending the Cool Whip meeting, But it is apparent Megan took Peggy’s words of wisdom, and decides the following day to quit. Peggy, astounded at the move, as people are lined up out the door for her job, still gives props to Megan for quitting, especially considering Don. Stan backs up Megan’s decision and sums it up perfectly when he says “You work your ass off for months, bite your nails – for what? Heinz. Baked. Beans,” which at the end of the day isn’t as rewarding as it all seems.

Whether or not the episode title relating to Plath’s poem actually predicts a suicide or death is uncertain, but you cannot ignore the fact there have been countless references of death this season—Megan’s dead corpse, Pete’s mentioning his plan covers suicide, Don nearly killing himself stepping out to a nonexistent elevator, or Beth saying her husband wouldn’t notice if she were dead or alive; all of these hint at something. Until next week…

(source: The Gothamist; photos via Rolling Stone, Slate, & Zap)

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Kaitlin Duffy is a writer from Cleveland. When she's not blogging or pondering the great complexities of the world and outer space, she is finding rare vinyl steals, visiting new places, laughing often, Instagramming everything in sight, watching movies, or working on her first feature Port de Cleve.