“Lady Lazarus”, in Plath’s own words, is about “the agony of being reborn.” And Megan spent a good deal of the last episode attempting a career rebirth — an agony we can all vibe with. Not only did she have to contend with her own ambivalence about the situation, but with the risk of bringing her all-id husband dangerously close to an existential meltdown. The man cannot handle even tacit questioning of his liiiiiife.
I am your opus I am your valuable […] Ash, ash— You poke and stir. Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—
A cake of soap, A wedding ring, A gold filling.
Operating not so much as her own character but rather an agitator of the characters around her, Megan may be bringing everyone else to a frothing analysis of her motivations before burning out in a flash of phoenix-like glory like the Lady Lazarus of the poem. (The peanut crunching crowd/Shoves in to see) Notice that “wedding ring” is one of the primary material symbols that the speaker claims does not represent her. Megan is impossible to analyze, refracting attempts to do so into a million opinions on how to feel about her (in us too!), but she is an extraordinary illuminator of the people around her.
With all the death talk this season (cancer scares! nurse killings! snipers!), many Mad Menites are wondering if Matt Weiner is in the mood to finally pay up and off somebody. Rumors swirled last season about Greg Harris and Roger Sterling, but this season the likely friends we have on offer are either young sad Peter or young happy Megs. Let’s consider Pete first:
Do you remember all the way back in “Pilot” where there was some scoffing discussion of a small consideration called the death wish? Don may have blown it off then, but he’s not laughing (down an elevator shaft) now: the man is facing mortality somewhat brutally at the hands of his heedless young wife. Who wasn’t laughing all the way back in 1960? Why, Pete Campbell, of course, who has always understood the morbid urges we all feel: the man and his erstwhile rifle have been hurtling down that metaphorical Freudian highway onto an oncoming car for five seasons now. And now, he’s kind of literally hurtling down that highway. With a re-introduced rifle. And he’s a bad driver!
Speaking of metaphors and psychology, this episode is named after Sylvia Plath’s famous, stunning poem “Lady Lazarus”, which in large part is about the speaker’s fractured identities making it impossible for her to liiiiiiive. Based loosely on autobiographical circumstances, the speaker details her various suicide attempts, and the struggle to reconcile her reluctant, warring body and mind with the facticity of life. Pete, who attempts to mirror Don (and is now seeking out a brown[haired] Betty of his own) while maintaining a complex and frighteningly sad inner life of his own, has to balance his multiple personalities as well in what is becoming an increasingly tenuous situation.
It’s the theatrical Comeback in broad day To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Which is clearly how Pete has begun to view his existence of coming home on the 525 train. Pete hasn’t attempted to kill himself (yet), but ever since his woeful Job-ian cry of “I have nothing”, it’s been clear he feels he’s dying a small death each time he lives a life he has begun to see only hollowness in. This was also an issue Plath wrestled with, loving her complicated and destructive husband and young children as well as seeking to free herself from it in due course.
“There’d been no escape. What did she so desire to escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: and what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited upon her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disc jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?”—
Thomas Pyncheon, The Crying of Lot 49
What do you think Pete’s reading material means?? Consider the captive maidens (Betty, Beth, Peggy to some degree) and the women questioning that malignant magic (Megan, Joan) in your answer.