“Everyone has somewhere to go today.” – Bert Cooper
This week’s episode of Mad Men, ‘Far Away Places,’ was by far the most daring and, dare I say, experimental of the series. Taking a narrative page from Kurosawa’s Rashomon, this episode focused on the same 24-36 hour time span for three different characters and the journeys they took within that time. This was a bold move for a show that’s normally very cemented in its storytelling methods, and I think it turned out wonderful.
Peggy kicks off the episode, panicking about her latest pitch to the Heinz company whilst fighting with her boyfriend Abe over whether she values her job more than him (news flash, Abe: she does). Just before the meeting Don announces he’s going out of town and taking Megan with him, leaving Peggy down a team member and now running the show. Despite delivering on everything Heinz asked for at their last meeting, they still aren’t convinced and this send Peggy into a tirade, berating them for continuing to turn down good work. It’s a move that’s worked for Don in the past, but Peggy’s not Don (not yet, anyway) and Heinz leaves flustered and Peggy gets booted from the account.
Having to get away from the office before she has a complete meltdown, Peggy heads to the movies. She notices a nearby patron smoking a joint that he gladly shares with her just before moving to sit beside her. He starts to slide his hand up her skirt, but Peggy quite literally takes matters into her own hands and shows that she’s the one in control.
Roger starts the day with a plan to get out of town and a dinner date with Jane and her friends by visiting a nearby Howard Johnson motel and taking Don with him. Don, in turn, steals the idea and heads out but, as we saw earlier, takes Megan instead. Roger reluctantly attends dinner with Jane, unaware, in part to his lack of paying attention, that he’s also about to do LSD.
The entire tripping scene is exquisitely put together, at time having an almost Lynch-ian feel. This scene, and frankly the whole episode, feels as though it was intended to make the viewer go through their own sort of reality displacement. Stoli bottles blasting opera when opened, characters speaking without opening their mouths, an instantly smoked accordion cigarette. Reality is played loosely, but somehow remains grounded and never topples over into the absurd. It’s also refreshing to see Roger, who’s had a pretty rough go of it this season, being on top of the world and enjoying life.
Roger and Jane end up back home and finally get to the heart of what Jane really wanted, for them to have a moment within “the truth.” The pair has a casual, yet heartfelt conversation about where they are with their relationship and how they both know that it must come to an end. Although they wake up the next day and Jane doesn’t recall the conversation, she admits that it was all true and that, not much to Roger’s surprise, that it will be expensive.
Don and Megan finish out the episode, and their part, to me, is the weakest. Having embarked on their weekend getaway, it’s evident that their “honeymoon period” is officially over. As in control of the relationship as Megan has seemed this season, it’s Don who is still calling the shots and his bossing around is driving Megan crazy. She wants to work and be a part of the team, but is constantly pulled away by Don, which causes her much embarrassment.
All of these issues come to a head during an argument that ends with Don driving off and leaving Megan alone in the Howard Johnson parking lot. Once Don calms down, he returns but Megan is nowhere to be found. Don becomes distraught and is thinking the worst. After seven hours of waiting, he finally gives up and heads home to find Megan in their apartment. On the way, he thinks back when he and Megan began this relationship, on the road back from California. Don loses his cool when she refuses to unchain their door and he kicks it in. They collapse in a huff. Don attempts to console Megan by assuring her it was just a fight and that “it’s over,” but she points out that each one of these fights “diminishes” what they have. Don clutches her tightly, saying that he thought he had lost her. Don comes off as an almost broken man.
They return to work the next day, both wearing forced smiles. Before he can make it into his office, Don goes into the conference room to talk with Bert Cooper. It’s here that Bert finally lays some truth on Don that he has needed to hear all season. “You’ve been on love leave,” Bert tells him, noting the obvious laid back approach Don has taken on since marrying Megan. The work hasn’t been as good and Don’s been none the wiser. Bert leaves him in the glass room, and Don just stands there, watching all of the up-and-coming employees pass right by.
Other notable moments:
– Peggy’s laugh when Ginsberg begins his “Mars” tale.
– Ginsberg’s story itself and the truths it revealed
– Roger intentionally saying “Frank Lloyd Rice” to Jane’s friends just to make them angry.
– The Beach Boys ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ playing during the tripping scene was not only worked within the scene, but was another perfect example of a song fitting this season as a whole.
– Megan gorging down all of that orange sherbet made my teeth hurt just to look at.
– I’ve seen it mentioned elsewhere, but could Megan’s reaction to cigarette smoke, immediate hunger and tasting perfume be nods that she might be pregnant?
– Don whistling “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”
– Bert Cooper telling Don to wake up and reminding him whose business SCDP is.
– That final shot of Don in the conference room. It’s this whole season in a quick glance.
– From the mouth of Roger Sterling:
“You always say I never take you anywhere.” (as he and Jane both take their hits)
“Well, Dr. Leary, I find your product boring.”
“I’m sitting here listening to these people have a conversation that has nothing to do with me. That’s incredible!”
“It’s gonna be a beautiful day!”
All in all, I felt ‘Far Away Places’ was another great Mad Men episode. I loved the narrative switch and thought it was pulled off beautifully. I did find the stories to be a tad uneven in their effectiveness, though. Roger’s was a homerun. I could have watched his side of thing for hours. Peggy’s worked the most towards growing her character even more. She’s becoming more and more like Don, for better and for worse. Don’s story fell a little flat for me and in some aspects seemed forced. He’s always been one to keep a moderately cool head, but this season he seems ready to snap at any second. On top of that, he’s almost childish in his reactions. I’m hoping that between Megan letting him know she’s not his slave and Bert reminding him he has a job to do that we see some of the old Don return. But if some comes back, does that mean all of him will?
– Matt Hardeman