Tonight’s episode of MAD MEN ran a bit over an hour but, honest to goodness, it felt like days. I’m not complaining of course. In fact, “Far Away Places” is one of the best constructed episodes of the entire series. After watching, I thought back of the show’s opening scene. “Was that really only an hour ago?” I asked.
“Far Away Places” focused on three characters: Don, Peggy and Roger. Of course, it also featured a lot of Megan, Abe and Jane too because they are their significant others. At least I think they are. After tonight, I’m not sure where their relationships stand.
As the title suggests, all three of our heroes went in several different directions. So who went where?
First there was Peggy, who went on a journey of individuality. After a particularly bad pitch to Heinz, Peggy storms out of the office and hits a movie theater, where she proceeds to get stoned with the stranger sitting behind her, showing her appreciation with a gesture that would make her good Catholic mother faint. I won’t get too graphic but let’s just say Peggy’s wrist got a work-out.
What drove Peggy to the intimate moment in the theater? Was it the fact that she and Abe had a big fight that morning? Was it the domineering male environment of work? Not to be crude but maybe it was the fact that she’d get an immediate, satisfied reaction instead of what she usually receives at pitches and meetings. It’s hard to tell where Peggy’s head was. One thing’s for sure: she’s not in a great place right now.
Next up in the three act play is Roger, who was attending a stuffy, intellectual dinner with Jane and her friends. Well, that’s what he thought. It turns out Jane had invited Roger to an LSD party. You see, back in the 60s, people would get together, have dinner, make small talk and then trip out on LSD. God, I’m glad I was born in the 80s.
At first Roger hardly seems affected by the drug. But soon he starts having vivid, bizarre visions. Don is standing next to him, telling him to care for his wife. Then Roger sees his hair, half grey and half black. His cigarette shrinks, his alcohol makes noise. It all culminates with Roger and Jane, still high and laying on the floor of their condo. They become totally honest with one another and admit their marriage is over. Jane says Roger never liked her. He disagrees. “I did,” he says sweetly. “I really did.”
We all knew Roger and Jane’s relationship wasn’t bound to last but I never in a million years expected it to disintegrate like this. It was sad, honest and, as Roger said, beautiful. But where does this leave him? There are obviously some other issues dwelling beneath that crisp grey head of hair. Will a divorce with Jane help Roger resolve some of this or will it just set him back, reverting him to the boozey ladies’ man he was before?
Last but definitely not least was Don, who surprises Megan (and the rest of her Heinz team) by telling her she’s going away with him for the weekend. Off to a Howard Johnson’s no less. This plan was originally hatched by Roger in an attempt to cavort and be merry with Don. Don decided he’d like Megan to attend instead. Cold, man. Megan, feeling conflicted about leaving her team, reluctantly comes along and seems to be having a good time at first. Of course, as is so often the case, things go bad. Sitting at the Ho Jo’s (is that what they called Howard Johnson’s? I’m out of my element here), Don and Megan start to argue. The fight is about work, of course, but it quickly becomes about everything else, including Don’s controlling personality. Don, flustered and overreacting, drives away. He comes back a little while later, expecting Megan to be there ready to forgive and forget. She’s not. She’s gone. What comes next are seven hours of panicked hell for Don, who even goes so far as to call Megan’s mother in hopes that she returned to Canada.
But where is Megan? Back home in New York. After a long drive, Don kicks the door in and tries to patch things up with his young wife. After much yelling and an awkward, heated chase around the condo, they finally reconcile. Well, mostly. It seems like Megan has forgiven Don but she says something painfully honest.
“Every time we fight it just diminishes this a little bit,” she says, crying on the floor. God damn, that burns. In an equally honest moment, Don wraps himself around Megan’s waist and says he thought he lost her. She pets his head, assuring her husband that he hasn’t. I’m not so sure. Megan’s right: every fight does diminish their marriage.
Notice that it’s Don clinging to Megan, who is standing up ready to head into work. How many times have we seen Don at such a low moment? He’s rarely been as open and vulnerable as he was in tonight’s closing moments. But what about Megan? Will she be like Betty and persevere through all these knock-down, drag-out fights? Or will she grow weary of the scarred man she’s married?
In a surprising and scary twist, “Far Away Places” ends with Bert Cooper telling Don that the firm is suffering because of his lacking work ethic. “It’s amazing things are going as well as they are with as little as you are doing,” Cooper says. Don looks stunned. Before, Don’s work was always in tip top shape, regardless of what sort of fights took place at home. But it’s not that way anymore. Sitting alone in the conference room, I think Don is noting the unreliable shakiness of his entire life. It’s never been like this before.
Ginsberg tells Peggy a really sad story about his life. Born in a concentration camp, he has never known his parents and feels like an alien from another planet. It’s the most sincere he’s been yet but he never looks Peggy in the eyes, telling the entire tale through a reflection in the window.
I love Don’s reaction to Cooper requesting a meeting. “Bert Cooper?” he says. It’s been awhile since Bert threw his weight around.
The flashback of Don, Megan and Sally in the car after Disneyland was really touching. You felt the excitement of young love between Don and Megan. The abrupt cut to Don alone in the car was a stroke of brilliance.
The LSD sequence proves that MAD MEN is never afraid of being daring or trying something new. The same goes for Peggy with her theater partner. This is a show that continually pushes its characters and never feels silly or unrealistic.