Mad Men s5e8: Lady Lazarus

“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.”

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Mad Men s5e5: Signal 30

“Look, I’m just trying to tell you because I am who I am and I’ve been where I’ve been that you don’t get another chance at what you have.”

“Brave words for a man on his second time round..”

“Yeah, and if I had met her first, I would have known not to throw it away.”

Strap in, kiddos.. this is a good one. Lane tries his hand as an account man and fails miserably, but ends up punching the shit out of Pete. Kenny’s still writing, and this time it’s bizarre sci-fi! Don might actually be happy with his life, and the now-suburbanite Pete’s yearning for more as usual during his driver’s ed classes.

Now, it’s no secret that Pete has idolised Don since day one. The gorgeous wife and house in ‘the country’, kids and all the accompanying junk, suavely banging around and doing whatever it is that Men(TM) do.. Pete admires him, wants to be him. But when he eventually tries on the swinging dick Don of yore, he feels totally dead inside. Is that all there is?

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On the other hand, Don glimpses his former life via Cos Cob Casa Campbell and feels claustrophobic as hell leading up to and during the Saturday night dinner party. Don’s more casual references to his past are enlightening– the horseshit remark to Kenny, etc. Maybe he’s finally starting to accept who he is now that he’s been honest from the getgo with Megan and she didn’t run for the hills.

Kenny’s wife Cynthia blows up his spot at said dinner party, outing him as a writer (still!); a point that Pete blabs to Roger later on. Proud as ever, Cynthia describes his story about a bridge between two planets, and how all it takes is one bolt being removed by a sassy robot to fuck it all to hell. Sort of sounds like Megan to Don in the office and at home, in life.

Megan bridges the Don to the Dick, and it seems like they work pretty well together and he knows it. He appears to be a different man now that he’s not married to Betty, on his way to ever improving and self-awareness. Megan’s sunny disposition certainly helps. Don implies as much to Pete in the post-Jaguar hooker party cab; he knows what he’s got with Megan is special and isn’t aiming to send it all to hell like he did with his first marriage to Betty.

Plus, he’s always liked Trudy (and this is saying a lot as Don doesn’t really like anybody), and everything looks so picturesque on the surface, so seeing Pete gleefully follow a ~lady~ to her private room must have been a little jarring. He can see that Trudy’s a rare lady, and that Pete could easily fuck it up and not even begin to fathom what he’s lost.

And let’s be real, anything less than too many high-fives putting Pete in the hospital was going to be disappointing with his mentality, so he took Don’s silence as some sort of quiet disapproval. I mean, the whole conversation and Pete’s over the top offense at Don’s lull was entirely based on his own projections. All Don did was say he hoped Pete didn’t keep making the same mistakes that he did, which is entirely valid. He even did that Man(TM) thing and absolved Roger from banging around-related guilt by saying “he’s miserable”, as if that’s some sort of excuse, but eh.

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Let’s backtrack for a hot second and yap about Lane and his shit. His wife Rebecca is still unhappy being in Manhattan, pining for Crown & Country, bringing reticent Lane to a British pub to watch the World Cup. And hey, England won in 1966! So it’s not all bad. Striking up conversation with her friends, he stumbles into a potential Big Deal Account with Jaguar cars (and the secretly enormously dirty old man Edwin). For a smaller agency like SCDP, having a car makes them a major player on Madison Ave.

Edwin is hesitant to really open up, and thus Lane fucks it up on their business dinner. Pete, Roger, and Don try to set it straight with lobsters and a casual visit to a classy whorehouse, at Edwin’s creepy “I LIKE PARTIES” open door. Don sits it out, casually referencing his upbringing to the madame of the house. Big stride for him not being so deeply ashamed of his impoverished childhood, I guess.

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As Pete’s the guy who’s always wanting, his lady of choice runs through a couple of scenarios before landing on him being her King. He’s always wanted more of what someone else has no matter what it is, and shit he plainly can’t have like that naive teenager in his driver’s ed class. Besides being entirely creepy, an age appropriate (and smokin’ hot) dude pops in and sweeps her away anyway. Another blow to his fragile masculinity, on top of when Don deftly swooped in to fix the exploding sink at casa Campbell, to the ladies’ applause.

The true crown jewel of this episode is the partners meeting. That absurd hooker party blows up in Lane’s face in the form of CHEWING GUM [left] ON [Edwin’s] PUBIS, and he challenges Pete to a fucking fist fight in the conference room.. and proceeds to kick Pete’s ass.

Talk about a literal blow to Pete’s manliness, good godDAMN. Just as Lane struggles to feel relevant at SCDP in the day to day, Pete also wants to mean more in life. In the elevator, Pete tearfully admits to Don that he feels he has nothing. To see someone who is that cocky on the reg be reduced to this crying, bruised mess reminds us that everyone’s got their own shit going on below the surface.

Thanks to Pete ratting out Kenny’s writing to Roger (who predictably was less than pleased with Ken’s attentions being divided), he’s gotta come up with a new pen name. Kenny’s final scene with the monologue overlay gave off a sense of hope, in a way; deffo glad he’s sticking with the writing and finding that meaning in his life.

While Kenny and Pete have always have been at odds in the office (even though Pete is winning account-wise at work), Kenny is absolutely more fulfilled than Pete is at home which of course means a lot more in the long run. It’s something that Pete hasn’t found yet, because he’s missing the damned forest for the trees. So natch, he tries to undermine Kenny’s other professional pursuits. Woof.

I guess it was only a matter of time before Pete got punched in the mouth at that office.

The Man with the Miniature Orchestra, by Dave Algonquin.

There were phrases of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony that still made Coe cry.
He always thought it had to do with the circumstances of the composition itself; 
He imagined Beethoven, deaf and soul-sick, his heart broken, scribbling furiously while death stood in the doorway clipping his nails.
Still, Coe thought, it might have been living in the country that was making him cry..
it was killing him with its silence and loneliness.
Making everything ordinary too beautiful to bear.

Mad Men s5e3: Tea Leaves

“They know I’m going to the doctor a lot, and they know I’m sick, but I’ve always been in a bad mood, so I joke with Hank.. he should just tell them I got hit by a car. It’d be easier to deal with than saying goodbye.”

Ahhh, the old looming threat of being replaced, that static humming fear inside all of us. This episode has Betty and her health scare, Roger vs. Pete, the generation gap with Don and a Rolling Stones groupie, and Peggy with new hire Michael Ginsberg.

Apparently, so much of Betty’s past energy was expended pushing and pulling at Don’s inexorable mystery that when she lets go of that rope.. she really lets it all go to hell. And though she may look different from season 4 (mainly to work around January Jones’ pregnancy), she’s still herself; habitually negative, insecure, and indelibly myopic. She’s just as unhappy and unfulfilled with her housewife life, even though she’s married to faithful Henry. Don’t forget that emotionally, Don let Betty stay a little girl; he let her have her temper tantrums and get her way, since he was getting his way too. It’ll take some time for her to acclimatise and work through those literal years of garbage treatment.

On the quest for diet pills, she has a legit health scare; some sort of node on her thyroid that could be cancer, and everything in her world understandably screeches to a halt. What would happen to the kids? How would they remember her? God forbid her dinosaur mother in law and ‘teenager’ Megan raise them.. ay yi yi, Bets.

I know everyone reacts differently when they’re faced with something frightening, but she’s still so threatened by Megan that she refers to her as Don’s girlfriend instead of his wife.. not a good look. And it ends up that Don is the one to remind her of how the kids might react to the news. The fact that Don is her first call is pretty telling; she knows he’ll tell her what she wants (and needs) to hear, that everything is going to be OK.

It’s not all bad, and she does come back down to earth for a bit; the way Betty cuddles with Gene as she and Henry look on at Bobby and Sally running around with sparklers is a very Norman Rockwell moment in time.

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When she heads to another doctor for a biopsy, she runs into an old friend on her way out; turns out she’s going through cancer treatments, and Betty is morbidly curious about what it’s really like to be that sick.

“I’m sorry, but I have to ask you.. what is it like?”

“Well, it’s like you’re way out in the ocean, alone, and you’re paddling.. and you see people on the shore, but they’re getting farther and farther away. And you struggle because it’s natural. Then your mind wanders back to everything normal.. What am I gonna fix for dinner? Did I lock the back door? And then you just get so tired, you just give in and hope you go straight down.”

“.. That’s horrible..”

“No one’s ever asked.”

Pretty terrifying, honesty. How’s that for some light fucking afternoon tea conversation?

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

But even when Betty receives the good news that she’s out of the woods with a clean bill of health, she manages to twist it into putting herself down as “just fat” .. instead of being clear of fucking cancer. And here’s Henry, intensely relieved that he will get more time with his wife; he truly loves that difficult woman. Time to gain a little more perspective, Bets.

When it comes to Roger, he’s pretty much already been replaced by Pete in most ways (save for the name in the lobby). Despite that reality, he still resents Pete.. and Pete’s Mohawk Airlines lobby antics don’t help that shit. Roger has the inherent natural charms of an account man, whereas it’s a little obvious that Pete has to work a lot harder for it. Just a little kick in the teeth there.

image courtesy of Screenrant

And let’s face it, Roger practically coaxed Pete to step up because he became so goddamned complacent in the first place with Lucky Strike.

“Your plate is full, and, frankly, Mohawk is going to insist on a regular copywriter. Someone with a penis.”

“..I’ll work on that.”

In a similar vein, Roger pushes Pegs to hire the whacked out Michael Ginsberg (whom Stan prophesies will surpass her in the talent department) mostly due to the fact that he’s a guy, which suits Mohawk’s oldtimey copywriter needs. Though Roger knows that the times are changing, he doesn’t necessarily dig it.

Back in the 1960-set pilot, it was a joke to Roger that the agency might have a Jewish person in a meaningful role– and now in 1966, he acknowledges to Peggy that having a guy like Ginsberg on board “makes the agency more modern”. Ginzo himself is a transitional figure as well, more adapted to the current times; for example, Michael is leagues apart from Rachel Menken’s immigrant father, or even his own father, who reacts to news of his new job by reciting a blessing in Hebrew.

(And suggesting they get hookers, but that’s beside the point..)

No matter which way you slice it, Ginsberg is a talented guy, and Peggy feels good about hiring him because she wants to work with talented people; shit’s inspirational. She saw a little beyond his encyclopedic eccentricities, and his portfolio is one of the only solid ones that were sent in. Mentioning The Letter to Don certainly didn’t hurt his chances at the job.

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Turns out Don is much more at home charming an older lady like Heinz guy’s wife than he is at chatting with Bonnie backstage waiting for the Rolling Stones; but Don also zeroes in and hits a nerve in a way that she feels the need to step away from him for a moment, transparently asking to give his business card a whirl on the bouncer. At the end of their interaction, you can tell that the new generation doesn’t necessarily understand the people they will eventually replace either. She complains that older guys like Don don’t want her to have fun “just because you never did”, to which he quips, “No. We’re worried about you”.

The way Don handles Megan re:Betty being sick is pretty fascinating as well. Apparently, at the age of 26 she can’t understand how death works, and what that would mean to him? Try again, Don. He wields it when he’s conveniently too consumed by the idea of meeting up with Megan’s friends and she sees through it immediately; a different gal than Betty, for sure.

“You know, back in Pittsburgh, everybody is pretty much who you expect them to be.”

Mad Men s5e1 & e2: A Little Kiss

“You think he’s looking at your breasts?? He’s looking at my calendar!”

Hello hello, and welcome back! I’m really looking forward to writing about this season, because season 5 is where shit starts to get dark. Right out of the gate, there’s talk of death, intense bitterness, underlying messes, how nothing is as it seems.. with a nice dash of good old daddy issues and Fragile Man Feelings. We pick up a few months after the conclusion of season 4’s Tomorrowland, Memorial Day Weekend 1966.

Staking your own spot in the world is at the forefront of this episode, with our main characters desperate to mark their territory. Pete vs Roger (and the fight for an office sans support beam), Megan showing off her marriage (and dope-ass home), Joan finding her identity through work (and not just being a mother), Lane and his place in the USA.

image courtesy of Amoeba

There’s a lot of Don and Megan in this episode, and they’re both starting to realise exactly how little they actually understand about one another. Don, as he is wont to do, assumed Megan would be simple and uncomplicated; turns out she ain’t no Canadian Barbie, she’s a real person. Ssssssshocker. The man is seething over the surprise party she threw for his 40th, especially inviting everyone into their home and the iconic Zou Bisou Bisou. As a happy go lucky girl, Megan can’t fathom the idea that Don would never want a birthday party, much less a big ol’ surprise involving making him the center of attention.

“Don’t waste money on things like that.”

“It was my money, and you don’t get to decide what I do with it.”

“Well, could you please not use it to embarrass me again?”

“I know why you’re upset.. you’re 40!

“I’ve been 40 for half a year.”

“When is that gonna stop? Only you know that. This is your birthday now.”

“Fine, I don’t like my birthday. I told you, I never had it when I was growing up and I’ve never wanted it since.”

“You never had a birthday? Didn’t Betty ever throw you a party?”

“No, because I forbid it.  I don’t need to be the center of attention.”

“You love attention!”

Well, the good news is that Don was up front with Megan about his Dick Whitman. And we all know that Don loves attention as Megan astutely points out; but he covets control, and wants attention on his own terms. Tale as old as tiiiiiime..

image courtesy of AMC

Switching gears, Lane finds a dude’s wallet in his cab, within which is a photo of busty Dolores; when Lane rings the owner, she’s the one that answers. He’s very flirtatious on the call, the man Lane imagines himself to be, suave and daring. Reality slaps him in the face when a disheveled fat dude in a hat that looks like it got run over by the E train comes to pick up said wallet. Boner killer.

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Lane’s pining for something he doesn’t have, something he got a taste of last season with his Playboy Bunny ladyfriend. He fancies much more than just being the office middleman. I feel like that’s a big part of why he lets everyone out of their contracts to create SCDP in the first place– he wants to be one of the power players, the execs who get the gal and the cash and the respect and the power.. much like Don supposedly has.

And instead he has his vaguely severe wife, piles of bills, and he feels powerless. The titty photo is what he longs for, but like much of everything else in his life, is denied him. His effervescent longing gives him the get up and go. Lane has always been a man who feels desperately out of place, ironically looking to Don who’s pretty much in the same boat. Little does he know it’s mostly an illusion of happiness on Don’s front.

That 40th birthday party is the ultimate illusion of happiness, partly shattered by Peggy throwing some particularly uncouth Heinz-related shade. We see Pete’s suburban dreamhouse in Connecticut, a city boy woefully out of place in the wood-paneled country. He really thought that he wanted the life Don had back in 1960, and now that he’s got it (complete with a near-identical hideous knotty pine kitchen) it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Trudy hasn’t quite yet returned to her effortlessly chic self post-baby, and as usual Pete has no earthly idea what he wants, just that he yearns for so much more of it.

Joan is at home with her newborn and mother in tow, yearning to head back to work and to feel relevant again. Being a mother isn’t enough for her to feel needed, to feel important; and the private barb SCDP throws at the racist Y&R hiring policy doesn’t help, thinking they’re looking to replace her.

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Looks like Roger and Jane’s marriage has run its course, with the amount of seething tension between them. Seems nice on the outside, but there’s no depth there.. more on this shocking story at 11. Roger is being rapidly outpaced by Pete at the firm in terms of bringing in new business, and he feels somewhat listless as a result.

Almost every character’s story centres around those fantasies of happiness. Let’s be real, we can all concoct a perf Happy Ending(TM) in our imaginations, but then we get to live with the messier (and oft disappointing) realities that come with it. Everyone coveted the gorgeous, immaculate white carpet Megan saw in that interior design magazine, but the reality is that they all wound up with the filthy version in Don and Megan’s place that survived that birthday party.

“Well, I want you to be happy. Somebody should be. You know, two weeks ago, Jane asked me, “Which one’s Mussolini?'”

Mad Men s4e12: Blowing Smoke

“I bet I could get a date with your mother right now.”

Ah fuck, this is the episode with THE LETTER. Iconic Don Draper shit, kiddos.

image courtesy of YouTube

Turns out desperation truly reeks, as Don takes meeting after meeting and is met with continual rejection, a feeling he ain’t used to in the slightest. SCDP is teetering on the edge without Lucky Strike, and everyone in Manhattan seems to know it.

Hey, remember Midge? One of Don’s OG boho mistresses, she happily runs into him in the lobby of the Time Life building, but all is not as it seems. Don’s genuinely happy to see her at first, this familiar link to who he was just a few years back.

When he told her that he had been expecting to run into her in The Village, maybe he was hoping they would reconnect or have a catch-up sesh about all the seismic changes in his life this past year; he seemed crestfallen to learn how far she had tumbled, and that her reasons for seeking him out were motivated by cash. Ugh.

Turns out Midge is married to some idiot and lives in a real shithole now, with no use for a check. Said dolt lets it slip that she sought Don out and didn’t just happen to be in the Time Life building that day.. thanks, heroin.

Don gives her some cash for a painting, staring at it once he gets home, lost in the void. Maybe he’s not that dissimilar from the trapped junkie who sold it to him; someone willing to whore himself out for cash from Lucky Strike. Seeing Midge could be a partial wakeup call for him, maybe an extreme glimpse at what could’ve been had he not cut back on his boozin’ earlier this season.

image courtesy of Uproxx

Snapping out of the void, Don starts writing. After all, part of Don’s entire life mantra includes “if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”. Midge’s knob of a husband informed Don that the painting is an after-image– what she sees when she closes her eyes. Time to change the after-image of SCDP post-Lucky Strike.

Tearing the pages out of his sobriety journal, he’s set on moving forward and can’t seem to shed that dark period of his life quickly enough. In the process of creating this defiant statement, Don ditched an honest part of himself with his journal’s pages to make way for this very public (and fundamentally faux) declaration of independence.. looks like he’s done dabbling with authenticity for the time being. Nothing like splashing out for a page in the Times, huh?

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

I mean, GODDAMN. Natch, the other partners do not react well. Don didn’t sign their names, nor did he tell anyone about his plan. Then again, it seems to have done its job; the phones are ringing off the hook at SCDP, and it’s not all bad news.

Both Don and Betty act out of self interest in this episode, damaging others in their wake. Sally is growing up and becoming more of her own person, to Betty’s chagrin and vague confusion. Sally is absolutely a different person than Betty is at this point, and she has limited context for how to relate to her daughter outside of Dr. Edna’s sessions.

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Sally and Glen have stayed in touch, and sneak off to hang out in secret as kids sometimes do; Betty finds out and has a fucking meltdown. In a fit of bizarre jealousy over Sally and Glen, she announces to Henry that it’s finally the right time to move. Poor Sally.

Paired with Lucky Strike leaving, Don’s tobacco tantrum on a full page of The New York Times gets a lot of people laid off.. Faye Miller included. Time for all the partners to pay up, let people go, and keep the lights on. The junior partners have to put in 50 grand apiece to keep the company afloat, and Pete doesn’t have that kind of cash. Turns out it’s not that big a deal, as Don pays Pete’s share; a very generous nod to his discretion with that whole Dick Whitman mess.

“I heard from all my clients this morning, mostly out of morbid curiosity. But one thing’s for sure, they’re not talking about Lucky Strike anymore..”

Everything is uneasy, but in the midst of it all, Megan lets Don know that she ‘gets’ the letter and what it symbolises; one of the few times that day that Don breaks his Draper façade. And, Megan is the other person in the office aside from Peggy who comes to Don with something resembling a positive reaction, some form of understanding what exactly it is that he’s trying to pull. It feels different that day at SCDP.

And she’s right, Don does stand for something.. even if it’s through the guise of an ad rooted in a self-serving motive.

“I thought you didn’t go in for those kinds of shenanigans.