Mad Men: Far Away Places

"It's young and it's beautiful, and no-one else is gonna figure out how to say that about beans."

A lot can happen in a day. Like Seven Twenty Three in the third season, this was another episode that experimented with non-linear narrative, all of the three stories here linked by that collective desire to break out and escape. It's a theme that's always been at the forefront of much of Mad Men, that wanting to experience adventure and break up the monotony of everyday life. We can all relate to that, but it was even more daring back in 1966 -- doing something bad, abandoning your responsibilities, reaching that high. Every story here had that same sense of momentum, and the three characters anchoring their own vignettes all wound up experiencing some kind of epiphany or emotional break-through. And only one of them was helped by a little LSD.

Peggy's story is likely the most transparent in its use of escape. Peggy herself has been at something of a crossroads this year, at the top of her game but struggling to truly be heard. The Heinz account has been a brick wall that she's repeatedly slamming her head against, and her latest pitch and subsequently her latest shut-down pushes her to breaking point. Because it's beans. And it's ridiculous. Yet this guy is never happy. So she flees the office, goes to the movies, smokes pot, gives a stranger a handjob and returns to work. All of this is so wild for her, Peggy just cutting loose and doing whatever the hell she feels like doing in the moment.

But it's also so intriguing from a time stand-point. What this episode does so well is in exploring the unexpected detours that we go down on any single day. Peggy's story opens with an argument with her boyfriend, Abe's exchanges implying that this is the latest in a line of frustration. Things have been festering for a while. The fight is put on hold, and Peggy ventures into this day filled with shock and spur-of-the-moment nuttiness. In just a couple of hours, she becomes this different person. And later, when she calls Abe and reaches out to him for some kind of late-night intimacy, only she is aware of the day she's had, and what she's done. It's just a fascinating mode of storytelling, the intricate moments that occur within a couple of hours, and the lives you lead far removed from your typical personality, that no-one but yourself is even aware of.

Time itself has been an integral element in every episode this season, cemented here by Roger's experience with LSD while the Beach Boys' I Just Wasn't Made for These Times plays in the background. Roger is somebody who breezes through life in his own little bubble -- it's his universe, and everybody just sort of orbits around him. But the drug opens that bubble up, allowing Roger to finally see the emotions and vulnerabilities in others. There are metaphorical warnings at first, notably the declaration to not 'look in the mirror', but he eventually gives into it. Age plays an important role in his LSD trip, as he sees his dual selves (the young and the old Roger), fantasizes about the 1919 World Series and begins to see the vast differences between him and Jane.

While Roger has his eyes opened in the experience, Jane seems to react badly. She becomes fearful, regretful, concerned about her weight and appears disgusted at her own form. But maybe that too was a warning. As the very next morning Roger confronts her with their mutual dissatisfaction, the trip exposing how distant they've grown from one another. And it appears to be the end. Jane attempts to salvage things, but Roger's mind seems pretty made up. Later, at work, he seems ecstatic. There's a tragic irony to this, Jane's determination to get Roger to stay and experience the high with her only backfiring on her marriage and lifestyle. Poor Jane.

Don's story was all about the confronting of home truths. For a short time here, Don almost treated Megan like a child. He drags her around to places she doesn't want to go, is bothered when she appears distracted by work, and encourages her to try desserts she's never eaten before. It's at that moment that he snaps, finally angered so much by her own aspirations and, gosh, 'personality' that he abandons her at the Howard Johnson's and drives off on his own. Only for it all to quickly come crashing down on him when he returns to the restaurant and finds that she's vanished.

Don does love Megan. He values her, he adores her, and is genuinely ruptured by the possibility that something has happened to her and that he is responsible. But there's also that longing for a better time, now that they've settled into their post-honeymoon period. He dreams of their Disneyland vacation last season, his children in the backseat and Megan this adoring, intriguing woman in his life -- before she exhibited her own character and became more relaxed with her flaws. Before she became more willing to confront their issues. Megan has suddenly become complicated, and this story pushed the feeling that Don is struggling to maneuver himself into this new incarnation of their marriage. We saw a similar idea earlier this year in regards to Don's place in the world itself. Here he wishes his time with Megan could just stand still, somewhere before the pain began.

Yet Megan is taking it hard, too. "Why doesn't this man respect my work and my talent?" "How could he leave me like he did?" They get over their fight and return to work with smiles on their faces, but that image of a gorgeous, compatible power couple is slowly coming unhinged. Like she tells him, "every fight [they] have only diminishes this a little bit". In the end, everybody goes back to work -- the events of yesterday, with the excitement and the epiphanies and the terror, all but a distant memory. But those feelings still linger, masked by smiles. Because those feelings are private, even if you wish you could confront them more openly.

Notables

- Scott Hornbacher's direction was gorgeous, especially his use of lighting. I loved the dimming of light-to-dark as Peggy slept, as well as the dimly-lit night-time scenes as she spoke with Ginsberg and later called Abe.

- Gold acting stars to John Slattery, Peyton List and Jon Hamm. Especially List, for whom this appears to be her curtain call.

- So Don Draper as we know him is back. The world is seemingly back to normal, and he's been confronted with his recent lack of effort. Good job, Bertram.

- Of course we now know that there were babies born in WWII concentration camps, but it must have been horrible to consider that possibility so unimaginable -- therefore thinking the circumstances of your birth and parentage are mysterious and impossible to discover. This kid is growing on me.

- Loved Jane's strange intergalactic-space-princess dress.

Quotage

Roger: Did you ever hear the one about the farmer's daughter? This is where it all takes place!

Roger: Sitting here listening to these people have a conversation that has nothing to do with me. It's incredible.

Previously posted at Unwelcome Commentary.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Loved this episode.

Roger on LSD was extremely funny and sad at the same time. And boy, this man can wear a pink turban :)

Don chasing Megan around made me scared for a second. Thin line between passion and violence. But I begin to wish that their relationship will last. Maybe it gets better when Don seperates work and private life a little more. Btw, it was Bert Cooper who harangued Don not Roger.

I found it very interesting that at the movies Peggy wanted to stay in control and pleasured the guy instead of getting pleasured. She took back what she lacked before at the office - control. Her being Don and confronting the client like that didn´t work out at all.

Suzanne said...

I am finding that these episodes really stay with me throughout the week (and not just because of good reviews like yours). A lot is packed into each episode, and some of it doesn't sink in until a little later.

One thing that stood out to me this week is how obvious it was that Peggy was pulling a Don on the client, yet it didn't work at all for her in the way it would have for Don. Even earlier in the season when she was upset that Don didn't stand up for her, she came off looking harsh when she criticized him for it; yet I recently rewatched episodes in the first season of Mad Men, and sure enough, Don has an almost duplicate scene where he is upset with Pete.

In that scene, the client doesn't like the pitch that Don makes involving steel and cities with iconic buildings in the ads. When Pete sides with the client, Don is very upset; the scene plays in a way where we as the audience instantly see Don's side of it, and Pete comes off looking like a jerk. However, in the exact same scenario this season, it appears to be Peggy who comes off looking like she is expecting too much when she questions Don for siding with the client. Then when she confronts the client this week, she comes off looking too aggressive and "inappropriate," but when Don does the very same thing (often), he looks strong.

I really like the way exploring Peggy's struggles as a woman in a man's world this season isn't as heavy handed as one might expect when the sexism is so obvious in that time period. Somehow, the way they are handling it makes it clear that perceptions of women haven't changed all that much even if opportunities have changed; they do this by playing with the audiences perceptions of parallel scenes several seasons apart from one another. I wonder how many viewers are noticing it.

maxpower03 said...

Anonymous I also want Don and Megan to last, and I think having that argument, if anything, made them stronger. I always feel that you need to experience the bad in order for a relationship to survive, you know? They never really had a huge blow-out before this.

And that's a great point about Peggy regaining control. I hadn't spotted that at all.

Suzanne Agreed about the show lingering. It's only after a couple of days that you begin to realize certain metaphors or whatever. The show always leaves a lasting impression.

I loved what you wrote about Peggy. It was made clear a couple of weeks back that the idea of becoming one of the guys has been playing on her mind, and it's interesting to see this running theme of that kind of attitude constantly backfiring on her. Like you said, opportunities have changed but perceptions haven't. She's still less-than, and can't get away with the kinds of things her co-workers are so used to getting away with.

Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Read an interesting comment on imdb. Namely the fact that Megan not only forgot her honeymoon bathing suit, she also dropped her lavender-tinted sunglasses in the parking lot.

An indication that honeymoon is over and Megan begins to see Don as he really is?

Billie Doux said...

This episode made me laugh out loud, especially Roger experiencing LSD. I felt for Peggy, who, as Suzanne commented, was simply acting the way Don acts, but couldn't get away with it because she was a woman and it was 1966.

I actually don't care all that much about Don and Megan as a couple, and I really was afraid he was going to hurt her. Did he lash out at her in the first place because she mentioned his mother? I think she did.

I'm more than a week behind with Mad Men. I'd better catch up. DVRs make it so easy to put things off, even shows we really like.

Terrific review, Max. I'm so glad you're reviewing this show for us.