"Mad Men's" quarter-million-dollar decision is a great one

I nearly jumped out of my seat when the latest "Mad Men" wrapped up this weekend. In an episode that beautifully established the generational divides emerging in the mid-1960s, the show pulled out one of rockdom's greatest surprises in a perfect dramatic juxtaposition: "Tomorrow Never Knows" by the Beatles.

It's the last track on the album "Revolver," and it marks the huge pivot the Fab Four were about to make as men and artists. Their next record would be the colorful "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," an unprecedented collection of songs that probably lost as many fans as it gained in a time of massive cultural change. The mop-tops from Liverpool weren't so easily placed in the pop-music box anymore; their bright gear and interest in the Maharishi likely scared the bejesus out of the parents of those formerly screaming teenyboppers.

In short, they weren't so easily branded anymore. Maybe because they started talking about change, the self, and peace a lot more and a whole lot less about teenagers in love, broken hearts and dancing. They had become unpredictable as they turned inward and conjured more authentic expression.

It's a shift not unlike Megan Draper's, who over the course of episode 508 decides to quit her gig at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in pursuit of her lifelong dream of acting. Yes, she's a natural at ad pitches, but in her mind, she's a born actress.

It's a move that confuses the hell out of Don and scores admiration from Peggy. While Don doesn't quite comprehend why anyone would leave a good job at which they excel, he supports his wife's decision (so far) out of consideration for her happiness. This is progress. Here's hoping he's learned a thing or two about change from his bohemian young wife, the product of fiery French parents who place a high (snooty) premium on art (dad) and love (mom).

Peggy, a relative youngster at SDCP, is first surprised and then an advocate of Megan's move. For blue-collar-Brooklyn-born Peggy, Madison Avenue remains the big dream, but she's still part of Megan's generation and naturally knows change to be the name of the game — particularly in the ad game.

In a brilliant display of all of the above, Don and Peggy attempt to demo a proposed TV commercial script for new client Cool-Whip. The gig was Megan's initially, but falls to Peggy after Megan leaves the firm. When Don and Megan run the lines in an early rehearsal, they win over the room. When Don and Peggy run them for the client, it's a giant flop.

It appears maybe Megan does have some acting chops, after all, but for her, an ad pitch does not a theater make. Too bad for SDCP, which needs all the aesthetic sensibilities it can get as the late 1960s approach.

Had she stayed, I'll bet Megan would've advised against building the Chevalier Blanc commercial around a band that "sounds like" the Beatles. She knows there's no such thing. She just bought "Revolver," and at episode's end, she tells Don to give it a listen while she's away at acting classes and suggests he start with "Tomorrow Never Knows." As Don sits back and listens, we catch portraits of other characters in flux: Peggy smoking a joint at the office with her team; Pete longing for a married woman that's not hsi wife, Trudy; Megan splayed out on the floor in an exercise at acting class; and, finally, back to Don, alone in the apartment — who stoically turns off the Beatles mid-stream.

It's a complicated and beautiful scene; just like all the tamboura, distortion and other psychedelic noises that make "Tomorrow Never Knows" so effective still — effective to the tune of $250,000, the reported cost to Lionsgate (which produces "Mad Men") to license the song.

But the song establishes the very delicate place we're in as season five skids toward its finale. Can Don evolve with his wife and the times, or will he surrender as Old Man Grumpus, alone at home with a drink in his hand? Will SCDP respond at all to the Age of Aquarius? Is Megan really a born actress or will she fail as Joan predicts? What does that mean for her marriage?

Maybe Sterling will come up with the answer to it all after one more trip down Lysergic Lane. Anyone want to bet he ends up at Woodstock? Fingers crossed.

Follow me on Twitter: @TheMDesk

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