Wednesday, 25 April 2012

MAD MEN, 5.6 - "Far Away Places"


Even better than last week's "Signal 30", if you can believe it, "Far Away Places" was a damn fine hour of entertainment. In an unexpected shift of format, this gave us three vignettes (loosely themed around the desire to escape reality), and played around its day-long chronology to delightful effect.

The first focused on Peggy (Elisabeth Olsen), whose relationship with Abe Drexler (Charlie Hofheimer) doesn't seem to be going so well. Abe's aware she's there in body but not spirit, and Peggy's situation at work took an unusual turn during the second presentation for Heinz—where the old-timer exec wasn't sold on her great idea to link beans to an evocative childhood memories of sitting around a campfire with friends. Having been left to deal with Heinz by herself, with Don (Jon Hamm) enjoying a weekend away with his wife, Peggy refused to acquiesce easily to this frustrating client's concerns, asserting herself in a very Don-like way that didn't go down particularly well. Perhaps frustrated with her current situations, romantically and professionally, Peggy later escaped THIS reality with a trip to the cinema to watch "Born Free", where she unexpected smoked pot with a stranger before giving him a handjob. Retiring to the office to sleep on Don's couch until the evening, it was clear Peggy's head is somewhere else entirely just now. Like Pete, Don's her exemplar, but it just doesn't work when she tries to copy him.

Secondly, Roger (John Slattery) escaped reality in a far more overt way; attending a dinner party with wife Jane's (Peyton List) "snooty friends", which took an unusual turn when the hosts handed out post-meal cubes of lysgergic acid diethylamide (LSD). There followed one of Mad Men's most memorable sequences, with Roger trying to cope with his change in consciousness (opened wine bottles poured music, his hair colour was bisected into black and white, and he later hallucinated a beloved 1919 World Series baseball game from the comfort of his own bathroom). For a series that deals heavily with symbolism already, this was a veritable feast! The hair colour suggests Roger's awareness of his advancing years (young and old), but what about the vision of Don telling him "you're okay" in the mirror? This was a throwback to a line of dialogue in the premiere, where Don was listing things that advertising does to comfort people. Is Roger in need of comfort?

The surprising thing about Roger's story is how it appears to have triggered his second divorce from Jane, who admitted their marriage is over while under the effects of LSD herself. So rather than fireworks of emotion and anger, the Sterling's appear to be peacefully closing this chapter in their lives—even if poor Jane's surprised Roger's taken her words seriously. Clearly Roger was waiting for the perfect excuse to divorce and this drug trip afforded him the ideal way to end his marriage—after all, it was technically his wife's idea, instigated at a time when they were being honest with each for the first time.

Finally, Don whisked Megan away for a planned "dirty weekend", but once again found that his new wife isn't so easily manipulated. Megan wants to believe she's more than just the bosses wife, but when she's yanked out of work on a whim it doesn't go down too well. Try as he might, Don just can't really get to grips with a wife who knows her own mind and isn't a plaything. Even when he's trying to be nice (introducing her to his childhood favourite sherbet), it just feels patronising to someone like Megan, who doesn't want to be a pretty bauble but a working girl of genuine value—like Peggy. Things got memorable worse when the Drapers had a public fight in a stopover restaurant, with Don continuing to treat her like a little girl even then ("get in the car!"), before driving away without her.

Guilt inevitably persuaded Don to turn the car around and head back to find Megan, but the punishment was reversed when Don realised his wife had vanished and was left to go crazy wondering what had become of her. Things reached a truly explosive conclusion once Don arrived back at their apartment to find Megan already there, with an angry story about her trouble getting home by herself. Both Don and Megan's fury over their awful night spilled over into a literal chase around their apartment, before collapsing together on the floor... where Don vocalised how desperately he needs Megan, which he never realised until he thought he'd almost lost her. Interesting that the Drapers and the Sterlings both had breakthrough moments analysing their marriage while sprawled next to each other on a floor, staring at the ceiling, although very opposite outcomes came of it.

Each story was terrific in its own way, playing on the idea of the characters being removed from themselves: Peggy's attempts to become Don at the Heinz pitch, before indulging her own version of his decadent behaviour at the cinema; self-centred Roger getting to see things from different viewpoints thanks to dropping acid, which appears to have helped his broken marriage conclude amicably; and Don coming to see things from his wife's perspective after their terrible fight and an anxious evening believing the worst had become of her.

Another fantastic episode with some amazing moments and performances from this cast. Slattery was fantastic, Peyton List was really good (what a shame the show has ultimately been wasting her all these years), and Hamm's final scene was remarkable. Frightening, tense, then heartbreaking.

Asides

  • I'm starting to see Megan in a more positive light. It's probably true that Don's the only real danger to their marriage, because he's not used to having someone less pliable than Betty. That moment from a few episodes ago, when Megan behaved like a slave to drive him crazy with desire, was probably an insight into what Megan knows turns Don on. But that was a fantasy moment, and she doesn't want to be that everyday.
  • Great to see Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) involved in a few nice scenes, particularly the closing one where he admonished Don for going "on love leave" and reminded him this is his business. He's still someone to answer to, despite how everyone has come to treat him as a relic who just hangs around the company that bears his surname.
  • Interesting revelation that Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) was born in a concentration camp. Not sure where this leading, but my guess is that he's going to become Peggy's new boyfriend at some stage. There's just that feeling in the air. Considering this episode's emphasis on "escape" as a theme, it's interesting that Ginsberg is real-life evidence of his father's lucky escape from the Nazis.
written by Semi Chellas & Matthew Weiner / directed by Scott Hornbacher / 22 April 2012 / AMC
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