Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mad Men: Far Away Places (5.6)

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. A+


- 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.


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

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.

Guest stars Peyton List (Jane Sterling)
Writers Semi Chellas, Matthew Weiner Director Scott Hornbacher

1 comment:

  1. It was pretty good, but I think it's overrated.