On the train into the city, Howard puts the insurance sales moves on Pete. More omens of death as Pete says his policy as junior partner covers him, even for suicide, while Howard says that all stops the moment he goes into the ground. Pete could be worth more to the company dead than alive. Howard is also following the Don Draper plan of a wife in the suburbs and a mistress in the city.
While the Creatives are pitching a knock-off of A Hard Day’s Night, complete with Beatles-clone music, Megan takes a suspcious call on the phone in the hallway, followed by a suspicious absence. The generational rift is apparent here, as Don expects Megan to know about current music, which baffles him.
Pete is (perhaps justifiably) paranoid of any news from Roger, but in this case it seems to be all good. Pete’s making a name for himself and clients want him to handle their accounts personally. People he’s never even met send him gifts. On the way home, he meets Howard’s wife Beth in the parking lot, who’s waiting for her husband. Pete loves playing white knight to a damsel in distress, so he drives her home. She’s upset about her absentee husband, but Pete covers for him. Yet he’s drawn to her sadness (or maybe it’s just her people are Nordic). Even as they go into the clinch, Beth talks about Howard, suggesting she’s a bit unbalanced. Afterwards, she brushes him off almost immediately. Later, Pete clumsily tries to arrange another tryst with Beth. As I said before, this is Don’s life from a few seasons ago, but as farce.
Peggy is pissed at Megan for putting her in the position of lying to Don. Megan explains that she was at an audition. She’s taken her father’s words to heart about her dreams and is looking into acting again. Peggy and Megan clash over their work, as Peggy is incensed that somebody would want to quit this job, while Megan talks about her fantasy of sabotaging her work so that she’ll be fired or have an excuse to quit. She’s realized that no matter how well or poorly she does her job, she’ll never be fired, because she’s the boss’ wife. And if she quits, she’ll have to face Don’s disapproval.
Harkening back to their conversations with their repsective parents last episode, both women are on paths their parents don’t approve of. The difference is that Emile knows her daughter, knows about her ambitions of being an actress, and says that by working as a copywriter and being Don’s wife, she is alienated from her labour. Peggy’s mom knows what her daughter ought to be, but dosn’t have any understanding of who Peggy is. It’s important to recall that Peggy got this job because she was discovered, not because she fought through an application process like Danny Siegel or Michael Ginsburg. We don’t know what her ambitions were before that point; probably just work a few years, meet some guy, marry him, quit and have kids. What Ginsburg said about himself could apply to her too: “I didn’t chose this profession. It chose me.” And as much talent and commitment as Peggy has for her job, she’s started to show a nagging awareness that something’s wrong, that other areas of her life are underdeveloped. Megan represents a challenge to her worldview, that a person can change their role in life because of internal desires.
Megan tells Don about her auditioning, and he’s more bothered by her lying to him. She talks about how excited she was, and she wants to get back to it. Like Peggy, Don says that she’s so great in advertising she should stick with that. For him, the thrill is in seeing the work on a billboard or TV. Megan says that she felt better failing in her audition than she did succeeding with Heinz. This is in sharp contrast to Betty, way back in S01E09 “Shoot”, who manifestly didn’t have the toughness to handle the rejections of a model’s life. Megan knows she’s feeling envy right now, and doesn’t want to reach the stage of bitterness (where her mother now resides). Don finally clues in that Megan just doesn’t want to do advertising, and takes the news without anger. Though we all know that Don hates being abandoned, and that’s how he experiences this. Instead of combining work and love, now he has to chose.
The next morning, Don comes in, looking like Megan has died, not that he just won’t see his spouse during the day, like most people. Megan breaks the news to the creatives, who wish her the best. It’s Stan, the skeptic and pessimist, who says she left because of the nature of the work: months of work and stress for baked beans. While Peggy and Don thrive on the process, Stan doesn’t lose sight of the product, and knows that’s not always meaningful work. For him, it’s a job, not a life.
Pete grumbles to Harry about women manipulating men, sounding like an early version of a Red Pill. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” he says, in classic frustrated entitlement form. “Why do they [women] get to decide what’s going to happen?” Harry says, “They just do.” (Compare this to Roger’s “Who cares?” response to “What do women want?”) He feels disempowered, as he almost always does, and his belief that women should be there to validate him has collided with reality.
After escorting Megan to the elevator, Don has a moment of near-magic realism, as the elevator door opens with no car, leaving him staring down an empty shaft. In his office, he takes another existential hit. A client wants a Beatles-like song for their commercial, and sends over a record they want. When Ken plays it, Don thinks it is the Beatles, while Ginsburg immediately hates it; he’s so sensitive to this that he experiences the difference as physical pain. Don’s losing his connection to the zeitgeist, surpassed by younger, hipper people like Ginsburg. The third hit comes when Peggy subs in for Megan with Don on their routine for Miracle Whip. Just as that’s not a perfect substitute for whipped cream, Peggy’s not a perfect substitute for Megan, as their presentation falls flat. Some things cannot be replicated. This leads to Don and Peggy having a fight in the Miracle Whip test kitchen.
Peggy and Joan talk about Megan’s departure. Joan writes her off as a future “failing actress with a rich husband”, but Peggy says Megan will be good at everything. At least Peggy isn’t jealous or bitter towards Megan. Considering that next time we see Megan, she’s barefoot, wearing an apron and in the kitchen, it looks like Joan might be on to something.
Peggy talks Howard into an insurance interview as a pretext to see Beth, and kisses her while her husband is in the next room. He tries to caller her to a hotel, but he’s left waiting there along with a bottle of chamapgne.
Don and Roger talk about Megan’s departure too. (Note that they’re sitting as if Roger is a psychiatrist and Don is on the couch.) Roger says he didn’t choose advertising; his father told him to do it. Like Joan, he says that this is a prelude to Megan wanting a baby. Don says, “I grew up in the 30s. My dream was indoor plumbing.” Don has achieved wealth and status (if not by ethical means) far beyond the wretched origins of Dick Whitman, at the cost of organizing his entire personality around the acquisition of wealth and status, and the constant intake of alcohol has become a necessity. Now that he’s older, he realizes something’s wrong but not sure what. “I don’t want her to end up like Betty, or her mother,” says Don, an acknowledgement that something was very wrong with Betty.
At home, Megan leaves Don with a copy of the Beatles’ Revolver LP, and tells him to start with the last track, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” She skips off to acting class. This song is a far cry from the mod-pop art of the first time the Beatles were mentioned on Mad Men, showing just how much has changed in a few years. Don refuses the message, and is left alone in his silent, empty apartment with a glass of scotch.