Mad Men: Far, Far Away
We're going to need a room at that Howard Johnson motor lodge to process everything that happened on Mad Men last night. What a trip!
Strange things are afoot at the Howard J.
Since we assume you watched the show too, instead of a straight recap we focus on the parts we found most interesting to talk about each week. Be sure to join in in the comments, and cast your vote in our Mad Men Hunger Games!
Don-ing of a new era
Is it just me, or have the episode titles becoming increasingly literal this season (maybe I never noticed? I bet I just never noticed). This week's episode, "Far Away Places," described destinations and situations both real and unreal and all entirely "far" and "away." Abe is irritated that Peggy's mind "is always elsewhere" when they are bickering about seeing a movie. Ken, in trying to keep the Heinz pitch alive post-Peggy's throwdown, tells the client that he saw his face during the pitch and that he looked like "you were somewhere else" (the pitch itself relied on nostalgia). Don and Megan take a trip to Howard Johnson. Roger and Jane take a "trip" themselves (GET IT?!). Ginsberg tells Peggy he's from Mars (and reveals exactly how far away his own roots are from Peggy's comprehension).
Peggy took the prize, however, in terms of going far away (at least, far away from Season One Peggy). As much as Peggy's behavior and actions thematically fit in with the episode, what really struck me was her increasing Don-ification. As mentioned before, Peggy's episode arch starts with Abe accusing her of having her mind elsewhere (= work) whenever she's with him. Neglected (and ultimately cheated on) partner? Check. When the Heinz client isn't happy with Peggy giving him exactly what he wants, she blows up at him with an ego-induced rant. Being convinced that you are smarter than and know better than your client? Check. Peggy, out of frustration, then leaves work to go to the movies, clearly avoiding her own bad behavior. Running away from your problems? Check (this one was an easy parallel, since Don literally drove away from Megan in this episode). Once Peggy makes it to the movies, she then gets high with the dude in the row behind her, who then tries to feel Peggy up. In her rejection, he turns the roles around. While he initiated the hand job, Peggy took over the role of aggressor. Establishing power through sex? Check. Lastly, our final shot of Peggy shows Don watching her walk by the conference room, having just been informed of her poor behavior, with the rest of her Heinz cohort then walking in the opposite direction. Lone wolf status within the office? Check mate.
Clearly, Peggy predicted her own Don-ification two weeks ago when she asked Dawn if she acted like a man. If that heart-to-heart demonstrated Peggy's conflicted feelings over shedding traditionally feminine rules and conduct, this week confirmed that she is no longer on the fence. What's frustrating however, is that when Don throws tantrums (of which there have been many), the rest of the firm chalks it up to his creative genius or dark, mysterious air, etc. etc. However, the way Bert talked about Peggy to Don, he described her more like a daughter who acted out. Peggy being the victim of double standards is absolutely nothing new (Hello? That's been her stock and trade from the start). But it will be interesting to see how others treat her if she continues down the Don Draper spiral. Don is a character for whom power and control mean everything, and that's largely okay because he's a confident, handsome, straight, talented, white man. Given her gender and the fact that her talents have never been given as high of praise, how soon will Peggy have to check herself or leave SDCP?
Bess Armstrong A.K.A. Patty Chase(!!!) played Jane's clinician to the stars slash acid dropping party host! This was so bizarre and distracting to me, if anything because I could NEVER picture her doing anything like that on My So-Called Life. Keep up the amazing guest appearances, Mad Men! If they are working their way through my DVD collection (as it appears they are), a familiar face from The Wire or Freaks and Geeks should be showing up soon.
What a long, strange trip it's about to be.
What time is it?
In an episode full of tension, dread, and HJs, what stood out most in "Far Away Places" was the collaged timeline. Has a Mad Men episode ever felt so much like Pulp Fiction before? (When Don and Megan sat in that booth I was half expecting Don to ask the garçon for a coffee.) Beyond the obvious drug references, I took the jacked-up chronology to mean that these characters are not what they seem to each other—especially since the signifier that we were back where we started was always Don pulling Megan out of a meeting at the SCDP office. To their coworkers—and to one another—Don, Megan, Peggy, and Roger are having a typical day. Through the magic of editing, though (and last night gave us some fine editing), we learn that they are simultaneously having anything but.
From Don and Megan's hard-to-watch fight (if you listened to Matthew Weiner's Fresh Air interview you may have, like me, been expecting that chase scene to end with sex instead of sadness) to Jane and Roger's balls-tripping, to Peggy's Naked Prey, the main characters of last night's episode reminded us that you can never really know anyone. The facades these people present at the office and in their relationships are just that—facades. The Don who'll drive away and leave Megan at a HoJo, the Roger who'll laugh his ass off at a hallucinated baseball game and ask for a divorce, and the Peggy who'll hook up with a stranger during a nature film are barely concealed, and as this season progresses they're showing themselves more and more. If all it took for Don to lose it was Megan's dislike of orange sherbet, what's next? At the start of their courtship (ignited by her reaction to a spilled milkshake—don't eat a frozen dessert with these two), Don loved Megan's maternal instincts and her easygoing joie de vivre. Now that she's speaking her mind and rejecting the food he orders for her, Don's back from "love leave" and it looks like the honeymoon's over. (For what it's worth, I disagree that the writing's on the wall for this marriage, but I've been wrong before.)
While the tension was certainly palpable, I for one like the high stakes and fast pace of this season so far. Similar to how life felt during the late '60s (well, based on what I've read, anyway), it's a dangerous world out there for our Mad Men characters and anything could happen.
As someone who hates orange sherbet and loves the song "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," this episode had me as thrilled as Roger Sterling hallucinating a baseball game in the tub. That song served to underscore the awkward displacement all of our characters were feeling (Peggy at work, Roger in his marriage, Don in his life) and it made for a great soundtrack to that LSD dinner party too.
I said she DIDN'T LIKE THE ORANGE SHERBET. Yes, I'm serious.
Like "The Suitcase" and "The Jet Set" before it, "Far Away Places" shrinks down Mad Men's world to the size of a short story—or, in this case, three short stories—populated by only a handful of characters and untethered from the show's larger narrative trajectory. Not everyone's a fan of these almost-standalone episodes, but I love them—like the extended dream sequences in The Sopranos (again, not a hit with everyone), they are a chance to plumb the show's juiciest psyches, allowing (if not urging) the audience to play armchair analyst.
So, we've got two couples—Don and Megan and Roger and Jane—on parallel trips. If Roger had gotten his way, he and Don would have been the key couple of the episode: His suggestion to Don that they ditch the wives and head to the HoJo's in Plattsburgh as a couple of "rich, handsome perverts" was both an attempt at recapturing their past rapport as each other's wingmen, and a desperate grasp at the hope that Don is as unsatisfied in marriage as he is. When Don proves him wrong, plucking the recon trip right out of Roger's hand as a getaway for himself and Megan, Roger shrugs to Dawn, "It was a dumb idea."
But Roger has his own getaway with Jane. The dinner party he was hoping to avoid attending is at the tony digs of Jane's glamorous psychiatrist (the awesome Bess Armstrong—yeah, yeah, My So-Called Life, I know, but also: Jaws 3 in 3-D, people) and her bespectacled, professorial husband. After a bunch of dinner-table conversation about truth and neurosis and more truth, the guests are herded into the living room to "turn on." Hey, it's LSD-o'clock! And, in other news, I am validated in my prediction that Roger would be the first SCDP employee to drop acid!
As drug trips on film go, the acid-reaction scenes managed to be both relevant and witty—how awesome was it, for instance, that Roger only realizes he's tripping when he's made up his mind that nothing's happening and heads to the bar to mix a drink, only to be greeted by a symphony emanating from an uncorked bottle? And since 1966 was more or less the dawn of the acid era, a time when it was educated sophisticates like Roger, rather than music-loving teenagers, who were most familiar with the name "Dr. Leary," the concept of psychedelia is much more mental than it is aesthetic.
Obviously, the key function of the party scenes was to drive home just how incompatible Roger and Jane are, even in a mind-altered state. While Jane is absorbed in the textures of the couch and rug, Roger is, as ever, self-focused. He's unable to heed his host's advice not to look in the mirror; he's unconcerned that Jane isn't able to see the scenes of the 1919 World Series broadcast in his lit-up brain; and, of course, he can't stop himself from literally seeing himself reflected in a magazine ad for hair dye, an image that manifests every bit of his neuroses about aging in its black hair/gray hair binary. Even when he and Jane are finally in the same place—wide-eyed and flat on their backs, their heads wrapped in pink-towel turbans—and seemingly on the same page of wanting to end their marriage, they're not looking at one another. So it's no surprise that the next morning, Roger has come down from the drug refreshed and revitalized, while Jane (rocking a proto–J.Lo chiffon robe cut down to the waist) takes far longer to recall where their trip took them. But even her parting warning—"It's going to be expensive"—can't dampen Roger's Merry Prankster-ish spirit as he heads to the office to let everyone know the good news: "It's going to be a beautiful day!"
Seriously, though, there was so much amazing stuff in the party scene. The cigarette that shrank as soon as Roger began smoking it, the five-dollar bill featuring the face of an obviously disapproving Bert Cooper, and, of course, the apparition of Don appearing in place of the party's host, guiding Roger along his addled path.
Had drugs been involved in Don and Megan's trip north to the turquoise-and-orange wonderland of Howard Johnson's, it would have ended up more on the Requiem For a Dream side of things. Megan has already been put off by Don's cavalier attitude in pulling her away from the ever-important Heinz presentation—recall from episode one of this season that she's mindful that Peggy and Stan see her as a dilettante—so his glib "order" that she accompany him to Plattsbugh spells disaster right from the jump, despite the fact that she's already dressed in the appropriate color scheme for the trip.
Like Roger and Jane, Don and Megan's getaway amplifies the disconnects between them. Don can't understand why Megan sees work as a calling/ responsibility, given that she's in a position to see it merely as a spiffy little distraction. Megan can see all too clearly that Don is unaccustomed to having his wife call him out, and bristles at his assumption that she's doing it to embarrass him, rather than assert herself. The panic evident in both of them at the climax of the episode, when he's chasing her through their apartment, before they both lose their balance and fall backward into the sunken living room, are two different kinds of panic. Megan's is an angry panic—a realization that she fell for someone of a different generation who may be fundamentally unable to see her as an autonomous person. And Don's is a primal panic: When he clutches at his wife's midsection after they rally from their fall, it's the most emotional we've seen him since the death of that other key woman in his life, the OG Mrs. Draper. These two should definitely wait before dropping acid together, although you know Roger's going to try and talk them into it.
Did anyone else have the weird notion that the guy in the movie theater—the recipient of Peggy's defensive hand job—was supposed to be, like, someone? Maybe it was the black turtleneck, stripy jeans, and soft jawline, but I was getting major Brian Wilson vibes from the stranger, which were then amplified by the episode's strategic use of one of his songs.
I can't decide if I care about "the case" Ginsburg's father (or "father") wants to build that necessitates the use of the photocopier at SCDP. Is there some conspiracy theory afoot, do you think?
Notable Historical/Cultural References: Cornel Wilde in Naked Prey, Frank Lloyd "Rice," LSD dinner parties, "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times," orange sherbet (pronounced "sherbert" by Don), "I Wanna Hold Your Hand (the flashback version)"
Inappropriate Office Behavior: Peggy's boozing and napping on the couch, Stan's mention of a "busty" ladyfriend, Don dragging Megan out of the Heinz meeting to head to the motorlodge
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