"Mad Men" — "Far Away Places": Good Trip, Bad Trip
Through all the demands and refusals, comings and goings in “Far Away Places,” the sixth episode of “Mad Men’s” fifth season, the greatest success came when two characters realized they were in the middle of a failure. All it took was a little LSD for them to see their lives clearly by first seeing them differently. The Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” played as Jane and Roger dropped acid, echoing the struggles of the characters this season as they come to terms with the changes around them. Not everyone made progress in this trippy, time-jumping and often troubling episode, and some simply repeated past mistakes. It turns out not all trips are worth taking.
Peggy’s morning rush to prepare for work and her second pitch to a Heinz executive — the previous one being the failed bean ballet number — wasn’t the most opportune time for Abe to accuse her of being consumed by her job, and his behavior is similar to Roger’s toward Jane and Don’s toward Megan in that none take their partner’s desires seriously. Peggy is rightfully worried about impressing Heinz’s Raymond Geiger (John Sloman); her “Home is where the Heinz is” pitch was perfect, but without Don around to persuade him, Raymond can’t make up his own mind. (Interesting that this is the only scenario in the episode in which someone practically begs to be told what to do by one of the main men — and it’s a man.) Peggy trying to make it up for him — “It’s young, and it’s beautiful, and no one else is going to figure out how to say that about beans!” — may have been too harsh an approach for her to pull off, but it is nothing short of what Don, or at least the old Don, would have said to a client. Peggy needed support in there, but all she got was her second helping of belittlement for the day: “Miss, you’re lucky that I have a daughter or I wouldn’t be so understanding,” Raymond says. She’s off the account.
She did, however, take Abe’s suggestion to see a movie, although she picked Born Free instead of The Naked Prey. Leaving work to catch a matinee, smoking pot with a stranger, unzipping his pants and telling him to “just watch the movie” also likely wasn’t what Abe had in mind. Peggy was reeling from a lack of control, but she won’t find it through recklessness. Ginsberg’s story sobered her up later that night: Reportedly born in a concentration camp, where his mother died, he was found in a Swedish orphanage at age 5 by Morris (Stephen Mendel) and adopted. He has come so far he may as well be a Martian; it’d be easier to comprehend. “Are there others like you?,” Peggy asks. “I don’t know,” he says. “I haven’t been able to find any.” This conversation still on her mind at home, Peggy calls Abe. “I always need you,” she tells him now that both are calm.
Cool-headedness was in order as well for Roger and Jane to come to terms with their failed marriage — or as cool-headed as one can be while imagining music playing from a vodka bottle or the 1919 World Series taking place in the bathroom. Roger doesn’t want to go with Jane to her psychiatrist’s dinner party; he wants to take a road trip with Don to the flagship Howard Johnson hotel in Plattsburgh, N.Y. But as Don decides to take Megan, Roger is forced to attend Philosophy 101. He must really not pay attention to Jane if he missed her telling him to clear his schedule — LSD would be on the menu that night. But he goes with it — “You always say I never take you anywhere,” he tells Jane as he takes the drug — and eventually his boredom turns to wonder. “She wants to be alone in the truth of you,” Jane’s doctor, Catherine (Bess Armstrong), tells Roger, and heading home to continue their trip together enables the pair to face reality in the midst of unreality. Lying on the floor in bathrobes and matching pink towels on their heads, hand in hand, they admit their relationship is over. Each was waiting for the other say it first, Jane says, quoting Catherine. “So what was wrong again?” Roger asks. “You don’t like me,” Jane replies. “I did,” he said. “I really did.”
Just as Roger has moved past Jane, Don can’t seem to get enough of Megan, dragging her away from work and the Heinz pitch and on toward Howard Johnson. He’s like a kid, giddy to play with his buddy but failing to see that Megan, as both a wife and co-worker, isn’t around just to meet his demands — Come with me here, Like what I like, etc. “You feel bad because you got to take off while they had to work?,” he asks Megan on the way. “I don’t. There has to be some advantage to being my wife.” Megan is a sport about the excursion at first, but as Don makes decision after decision for them both, her temper flares. Unfortunately, so does his. Each lash out immaturely, with Don’s leaving Megan in the hotel parking lot nicely recalling Abe’s declaration to Peggy in their argument that “Most men wouldn’t even have this conversation — they’d just leave!” Don returns but underestimates Megan in thinking she would wait for him. No, she kept moving. But once they reunited at home, after Don spent the night worried out of his mind for her, they were back to fighting, and physically. The two had this same go-around after Don’s birthday party, and while both times Megan acted childishly, Don acted dangerously. As much as she is good for him, his obsession with her is destroying him. Ending up on the floor, mirroring Roger and Jane’s scene and their previous fight from the premiere, Don and Megan are equally defeated. “How could you do that to me?,” Megan says through tears. “I don’t know,” Don says. “It was a fight. It’s over.” “No,” Megan replies — “Every time we fight it just diminishes this a little bit.”
It’s no use pretending everything is fine and that nothing has changed. Bert is there to remind Don of this as he calls him out (and continues the condescension toward Peggy, calling her a “little girl”) for slacking off in his duties. “You’ve been on love leave,” he tells Don, but the honeymoon is long over — so is the idyllic trip to Disneyland that Don so fondly recalls. Don is just the only one who can’t see it.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in Texas.
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