The 1960s brought sweeping changes to the American landscape and this season of Mad Men has been largely about the widening gulf between the older and younger generations. Earlier this year we saw Don backstage at a Rolling Stones concert, talking to a young groupie as though she was his daughter, not a prospective sexual conquest. This week we see Don unable to tell the difference between a Beatles song and an olde tyme tune that makes Ginsberg cringe. By the end of the episode, when Don lifts the needle off the Beatles’ Revolver, which his young wife has given him to listen to, and walks into his empty bedroom, it’s hard not to wonder how long he and Megan can relate to one another.
Speaking of the new Mrs. Draper, after seeing her lack of enthusiasm about scoring the Heinz business and her father’s pointed remarks about her abandoning her dreams in favor of her husband’s, it comes as no surprise when she confesses to Peggy she wants out of the ad game to once again pursue an acting career. Megan overcomes her initial fear of disappointing Don in favor of going after her true dream. And, while Don smiles and plays the supportive husband (“You’re everything I hoped you’d be,” Megan tells him), he’s rocked by her choice. He doesn’t want her to end up miserable like Betty and knows a little something about going after a dream, but he’s a man of his era (“I grew up in the ‘30s, my dream was indoor plumbing.”) and he was very happy having Megan all to himself—at home and at the office. After she leaves SCDP, Don’s faced with the symbolic void of an empty elevator shaft. With Megan leaving to pursue her passion, Don’s once again confronted with an empty space in his own life.
Meanwhile, the emptiness and lack of control Pete feels—despite his marriage to the adorable Trudy, new baby, and house in Connecticut—continues to spur him to selfish, reckless behavior. He’s running from a life he feels is stifling and less than he deserves, but to what? Try as he might, Pete can’t fill the void within himself, but he’ll keep railing against the world to try. Somewhat hilariously, after sleeping with, and then being rejected by his commuting buddy’s wife (played by Gilmore Girls’ Alexis Bledel), Pete bitterly asks Harry, “Why do [women] get to decide what’s going to happen.” “They just do,” Harry replies.
The women of SCDP, Peggy and Joan, who have spent the past few seasons fighting for respect and contentment personally and professionally, would surely disagree. Still, Peggy sees Megan as “one of those girls,” who’s good at everything and for whom success comes easily. Joan, however, suspects Megan will soon end up “a failing actress with a rich husband.” Her derision shows how far Joan has come since season one, when she was eager to find a husband and live out her days as a housewife. But, Megan is more like Joan and Peggy than Joan realizes. All three women have recently made big life choices (Peggy moving in with her boyfriend, Joan leaving her husband, and Megan quitting SCDP)—choices that would not have been available to them a few years before. Women may not get to decide everything that’s going to happen, but the changes in the world are opening up so many more possibilities for them than they could have imagined even just a few years before.
As the episode ends, a montage contrasting the older generation and the younger, the contented and the troubled, is set to the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the final track on Revolver—the album that bridged the gap between the early ‘60s loveable moptops and the more progressive, experimental Beatles of the latter half of the decade. Don’s disaffected response to the record hints that he has no desire to be swept along by the tide of change, but where will that leave him?
photo credit: AMC