“Have you seen those pictures of earth from space? .. Do they make you feel small and insignificant?”
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The concept of Suburban Alienation has been pretty heavily explored throughout Mad Men thus far, and it’s about to catch up with Don with nary a suburb in sight. We also see that Pete Campbell’s dull train rides are getting under his skin. He gets to know some doughy dolt named Howard; natch, he’s casually cheating on his disproportionately hot wife.
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After their onetime spontaneous bang and brief pillowtalk, Pete becomes consumed with this fantasy of Howard’s wife Beth. Maybe she does help him to see the world a little differently, inspiring him to think a touch deeper.. or maybe she’s just tapping into his innate desire to feel needed. And in a first for Pete, he learns that he’s pretty much powerless to hold onto her. Beth is a lady who is able to make whatever their faux-relationship may or may not be dissolve as naturally as rolling down her fogged heart-drawn car window. Pete feels just about as lonely as the Earth looks from space in that moment.
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Beth echoes Trudy’s good looks, acts fairly frosty à la Betty, but is independent like Pegs. She exudes the same Betty vibes of a bored/trapped housewife with no legit access to her aspirations and passions, stuck in an episode all about just those things.
(And on a sidenote, seems like Beth has done this before– hookin’ randos at the train station. Get it, girl! Howard suuuuucks.)
Megan is pretty much Don’s dream lady, but in fulfilling all that junk for him she’s put her own shit on the backburner. Turns out she still wants to be an actress, and has been auditioning on the sly. Desperate to bounce from SCDP, she wants to pursue her dream but needs Don to OK it first. Don saw what happened with Betty not being able to follow through on what she wanted with her life, so he’s pretty quick to agree with Megan re:her quitting SCDP.
Rewind to the Codfish Ball with Don and Megan blowing up Heinz together, working flawlessly as a team/power couple that anyone would envy. That marriage/work moment is everything Don could have dreamed of and more, a sky-high blip from which things could only careen straight back down to hell.. and how.
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Unfortunately for Don, this dynamic is not designed to last; and realistically, what is she supposed to do, anyway? Work with him legit forever? Nope. Megan musters up the courage to deal with her feelings head on. She admits to both herself and Don that she doesn’t want to work in advertising (although she has innate talent), but she would rather be an actress and have her own career; one that’s separate from Don, which is totally normal. Feeling better at failing in an audition than she did succeeding with the Heinz idea says it all.
And how does Don react to the news? On the outside, he’s understanding and perhaps supportive. This is hundreds of miles away from how he would have reacted with Betty, even going so far as to admit to Roger that he doesn’t want Megan to end up like her; bitterly unhappy and unfulfilled because he held her back. (Don’t do what Donny Don’t Does, Don.)
Surface niceties aside, Don can’t help but feel a tremendous dogpile of deep disappointment, melancholy, and abandonment within his bones. When Megan leaves SCDP for the last time as an employee, sweetly ensuring Don she would see him at home, he stares down the empty elevator shaft and something feels acutely wrong. Though it’s not something he can articulate just yet, that backhand of existential dread hits him square in the solar plexus. It’s a mere moment, but you know things won’t be the same ever again. Stare into the abyss and the abyss stares right back atcha.
Rattled and lured by his office bar’s gravitational pull, booze is the way he chooses to deal with it for the time being. When Don takes that drink, he looks noticeably worried and a little weathered. A goddamned mess in contrast to how bright and happy he looked with Megan in their shared Heinz success, and even during that silly Cool Whip play-acting.
Not to mention that generally Don is the one who does the bouncing.. so when Megan splits, it throws him for a loop. The power dynamic shifts to her favour and he’s uneasy about it.
Why does Megan pick what is probably the least mainstream accessible track on Revolver? Because it’s what’s next, the ever-evolving culture that will pass him by if he doesn’t wake up; he’ll be a man out of his time. The 60s are about to explode into psychedelic fun mania both music and style-wise.
As the episode ends, Don picks up the record needle and abruptly stops the music. He shuffles to the empty bedroom in silence, back to being adrift at work once more. Megan’s been keeping him straight at the office, but what now? Will he lose Megan to a strange new acting world he knows practically nada about?
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Will that frightening moment be Don’s undoing? He’s been so Good(TM) up to this point.. Tomorrow Never Knows, indeed. Megan and Beth have bounced, leaving Don and Pete in their wake feeling equal parts isolated and confused. Time to get on with it and get with the times, fellas.
“Why do they give you a glimmer of hope in the midst of rejection? A little thread to hang on to, 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.”