"Mad Men" Recap: "Far Away Places"
So it was in last night’s episode, which wove three relationship narratives together: Peggy/Abe, Roger/Jane, and Don/Megan all went under the microscope, and while two of those relationships survived, they did not come out from last night’s wreckage unscathed.
First up are Peggy and Abe. Even as the writer’s stretched out in bed, Peggy frets over the upcoming Heinz re-pitch. When she basically blows over his suggestion of meeting up for a movie later, Abe accuses Peggy of always thinking about work—“I’m your boyfriend, not a focus group!”—and he’s right: Peggy’s devotion to SCDP outweighs any of her other desires, and the two part under cloudy terms.
And it’s under those conditions that we come to what I’ll call the “relationship checkpoint,” at which Don announces that he’s taking Megan to Howard Johnson’s for an impromptu vacation, and the Creative team is left to pitch for Heinz by themselves. And during the pitch (with the crotchety “Let’s make beans hip!” Heinz account honcho), Peggy tries her best to sell the idea on her own: Home is where the Heinz is.
The Heinz man, however, is still unconvinced, and Peggy loses her cool in a spectacular way. Peggy’s personal life has always been uneven, so when even her professional life is in turmoil, well, shit’s going down. She gets in the Heinz man’s face and challenges him to understand the youth and “hipness” of the Creative team’s work, when he’s (accurately so) a stodgy old man. Everyone awkwardly exits the meeting, leaving Peggy alone in the conference room until Pete pops in to say: “You’re off the business.”
Where does a lonely professional woman go during an unexpected workday break? Why, the movies! Peggy sits alone until a friendly joint-sharing experience (it was a different time) turns into something decidedly more risqué. As the stranger in the theater moves his hand up her leg, Peggy turns the tables: She wants to be in control, and she takes matters into her own hands. But even that sexual dalliance carries a sinister undertone about Peggy’s relationships with men—she’s playing their game, especially in the office, but who’s the one getting off?
When she comes back into the office, she finds Ginsberg fighting with his father, and, since she’s no longer working on the Heinz account, decides to take a nap… which lapses well into the evening. She’s woken up by Dawn, who tells her that Don’s on the phone. The two proceed to have a convoluted conversation, as Peggy apologizes about Heinz while Don is obviously not talking about Heinz. He hangs up, and Peggy’s left even more worried.
In what might be an effort to catch up on work deferred, Peggy spends part of the evening typing alongside Ginsberg. She brings up the fact that Ginsberg does, indeed, have family members, but instead of opening up directly, Ginsberg tells Peggy his life story through a contrived anecdote about him being a Martian. Among his not-his-but-actually-his revelations: He was born in a concentration camp, and his mother died there. The story shakes Peggy’s need for companionship, and when she gets home, she calls Abe up and asks him to come over: Despite it all, a job isn’t going to love you.
Then the lens focuses in on Roger and Jane, starting at the relationship checkpoint. Roger wants Don to come with him to Howard Johnson’s to blow off some steam and avoid some husbandly duties; Don instead wants to invite Megan and Jane, and ends up leaving with Megan, leaving Roger.
That evening, Roger and Jane head over to a dinner party with some of Jane’s friends. They’re cold to each other in elevator conversation, and that coldness continues through the dinner party, which is hosted by a pair of psychiatrists. When the dinner portion’s over, Roger’s ready to turn in, but Jane reveals that the dinner has another course: LSD, anyone? And so the two, along with two other guests and the dinner’s hosts, tune in.
At first, Roger seems unaffected, but once music starts shooting out of a liquor bottle—well, he’s gone too. And through this subjective perspective, the viewer can look into Roger’s fears about aging directly.
When he and Jane come home, this generational divide comes into focus when Roger relives the 1919 Black Sox scandal, of which Jane could never have known. While the two lie down together in some pretty smashing hair wraps and trip out—“How can a few numbers contain all of time?”—Jane reveals more about herself than she probably has in all the rest of the series: the dinner’s host was Jane’s psychiatrist, and she thinks that both Jane and Roger want out from this relationship. Roger agrees, and the two seem glad to part on equal terms.
The next morning, Roger remembers this conversation, but Jane doesn’t. And while she still agrees that she wants out, “It’s [the divorce] going to be very expensive.” She refuses to kiss him as he leaves.
And we flash back to that relationship checkpoint. Don and Megan are in the car heading to Howard Johnson’s, and Megan tells him that she feels like she’s (as well as he’s) abandoned the Creative team. He blows off her concerns, instead telling her to just enjoy the vacation.
The cheery Howard Johnson’s backdrop quickly turns more lurid than happy when the Drapers begin to bicker. Megan’s unease at being whisked away by Don comes to a head when he orders orange sherbet for her, convined that she’ll like it. She lashes out at his need to control her, often at her embarrassment, and attempts to do the same by noisily enjoying the orange sherbet, which she doesn’t like.
Things get personal quickly, as Megan accuses Don of only seeing her as a wife and never a worker, especially in the office. Don, worked up in a rage, tells her that if she’s so unhappy, she should call her mother up, to which she retorts, “Why don’t you call your mother!” She quickly realizes she’s crossed an unspoken line and attempts to correct herself, but Don’s out. He storms off to the car, and orders her to get in. Desperate to get the last word, Megan continues pushing him—“Yes, master!”—only to be shocked when he drives away, leaving her in the parking lot.
Down the road, Don feels bad and turns back—but Megan’s already gone. He finds her sunglasses in the parking lot, and tries desperately to find her. He rings up Peggy, revealing the reason he’d called earlier (and again hearkening to the trust between them), and then even calls up Megan’s mother in an attempt to find his wife. Don’s distraught, as his idea of the cute getaway jaunt has quickly fallen apart. In an out-of-time experience, Don imagines a past family vacation with Megan and the kids, but that quickly turns back into a shot of him driving alone.
But when he gets home, his anger swells up again once he realizes that she’s been there the entire time. He ignores her pleas for isolation and literally kicks in the door to grab her. She flees from him, and they play chase around the apartment until he catches her. Megan looks to him in tears and screams, “How could you do that to me?” They continue to fight, but it ends as most of their fights so far have: with Don clutching Megan.
That “happy” moment lasts but a moment though, for as soon as Don walks into the door at SCDP, he’s got a message from Cooper: get your act together. Cooper calls Don out on his “love leave,” and leaves a chastised (but not stunned—he must have known it, even if subconsciously) Don watching his part-namesake employees walking around. And in an almost macabre touch, Roger stops by and cheerfully chimes in, “It’s gonna be a beautiful day!”
“Mad Men” has always been, to some extent, about loneliness, but the loneliness in this episode comes from abandonment: Peggy’s of Abe, Roger’s of Jane, Don’s of Megan and Megan’s of Don. They’re all scared of being left behind, and it sneaks up on them in different ways. Peggy gets let go of an account she’s worked hard on, and on which Don dropped the ball by choosing to spend more time with Megan. Roger and Jane come to the realization that Roger’s emotional distance is eventually going to drive them apart in more drastic ways. And Don and Megan literally abandon each other, in a move spurred by Don’s heedless treatment of his actually professionally-oriented wife.
And even though Roger and Jane agreed to move on, Jane originally didn’t want to split because of the security and comfort of being his wife. It’s the same security that Peggy has with Abe, and that Don has with Megan, but it’s a fragile thing at best, especially with the last pair. Don’s devotion to Megan is something that’s taking a hold of him, but it’s frustrating to him that she doesn’t feel that same mindless devotion back. Ultimately, his relationship with Megan is proving a distraction—something that Cooper brought to the forefront. Peggy may have been the one who blew her cool during the Heinz presentation, but any failures on that account come down on Don’s shoulders, for not being there when his company—literally, as his name’s on the masthead—needs him.
Some closing thoughts:
While Ginsberg’s Martian story may seem downright weird at first, it served as a delicate touchstone moment between him and Peggy. “Are there others like you?” / “I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find any.” – there’s no way Peggy heard that exchange and didn’t feel a deep pity for her fellow copywriter.
Speaking of heartbreaking dialogue: “You don’t like me.” “I did. I really did.”
The sound and music usage in this episode was chilling, especially in the groovy LSD sequence. Never before has baseball sounded so disorienting.
The episode name’s connotation of travel really carried through the entire episode, from Roger’s “You always say I never take you anywhere” to Ginsberg’s Martian story to Don and Megan’s literal and emotional travels.
Smoking is bad, kids!, but that pop-out lighter in Don’s car was pretty awesome.
The haunting shots of Don in the phone booth against the garish red roof of the Howard Johnson’s were absolutely stunning.
How cute was Don whistling “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”? And how stark was the contrast between that cute family vacation scene (remember Megan and Don with the family in season four?) and their vacation in this episode?
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