If anyone forgot why Mad Men is one of the greatest shows on television, possibly ever, last night's excellent, non-linear episode should have served as a reminder. "Far Away Places" delivers just what it says, a trip (several, actually) that takes the characters to an entirely different place than where they started, and then, mirroring the episode's structure, back to the beginning again.
The cyclical plot, which loops us back through several different perspectives during the course of a single day, zooms in on relationships—what it takes to make them work, how to know when you've reached the point they no longer can, and how to traverse the complex space that lies at dead center between the two.
Roger And Jane Take LSD And Find The Truth
Roger (John Slattery) and Jane (Peyton List) weren't going to last; their extinction was inevitable. They were fated to fall from the start, when Roger presumably married her because he couldn't have Joan (Christina Hendricks) and he no longer wanted Mona (Talia Balsam). We saw mounting intimations of it since this current season's first episode, a growing spite festering between the two of them that reared its discontent for the first time in "A Little Kiss," when they both admitted they wanted eachother to be more like someone else.
And for an instant in "Far Away Place," for a few hours, even, each are someone else. The change in perspective happens courtesy of LSD, administered on a shiny silver tray by Jane's therapist (although Roger doesn't entirely grasp her identity at the time) and guided by the philosophically inclined older gentleman, who says the drug is "an experience of self-fulfilling prophecy." We were inclined to be skeptical, given his pompous discussion about the logic of truth earlier in the hour, but our friendly professor is actually right on the money. Jane wants her and Roger to be "together in the truth," and that's exactly what she gets.
But first, Roger is alone in his own truth, which is his very real fear of aging making him insignificant. Roger finds himself under the initially subtle spell of LSD, amused with the ecstatic opera music unleashed when he opens a bottle of Stoli and the clown sounds his cigarette makes as it collapses like an accordion into his mouth. He's talking but his mouth isn't moving, and when he looks in the mirror, he has become the Grecian formula ad he wearily placed his palm over in Life magazine, half old, half young. Luckily, Don (Jon Hamm) suddenly appears (as the LSD chaperone from earlier), coaxing him away from the mirror and towards Jane, acting as the voice of reason.
The place Roger visits with Jane isn't a sight you can leave behind. They reach an inconvenient truth: Their marriage is over, and Jane is just waiting for Roger to acknowledge it. She admits that she isn't happy, either, saying, "All I think about is having an affair. I see them everywhere." Roger takes the admission easily, which gestures at the larger issue which Jane points out: "You don't like me." Roger's response ("I did. I really did.") is poignant, and well-delivered by Slattery in a gorgeous scene that shows them making the discovery that they are no longer in love, together, lying on the carpet, hair wrapped in towels, limbs intertwined.
In the morning, Jane wants to forgot about the conclusion they've reached, but Roger reminds her that she effectively took him on an LSD trip to dump him (which, by the way, is probably the best break-up route imaginable). He's relieved to be given such an easy way out, even if "It's going to be very expensive," as Jane dutifully points out.
Peggy Smokes A Joint And Spends Some Time In The Wild
Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) is under some dating duress, too. Her day starts with her boyfriend Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) lamenting about how she's lazy and unenthusiastic in bed, and how she only uses him as a diversion from work rather than actually engaging in the relationship. In contrast, Peggy seems more alpha-female than ever, annoyed at Abe's nagging and emotional needs and more focused on work than his feelings of neglect.
Still, she's a little shook about their early morning/pre-work argument (or maybe Abe's "Have a shitty day" closing statement just jinxed her); as a result, she bombs the Heinz presentation and is swiftly punted off the account. It wasn't her awful pitch about "the beans that brought them together on that cool summer night" that was lethal; rather, it was her strong-arm approach to Raymond's (John Sloman) dissatisfaction. She tries to pull an aggressive move straight out of Don's playbook on him, telling him, "You do like it. I think you just like fighting." But Raymond, infuriated by the idea of a female pushing him around, isn't having it.
To let off a little steam, Peggy takes a trip to the movies in the middle of the day (again, mirroring Don's old habits). She watches Born Free, a 1966 flick about a woman who has to get a lion cub acclimated to living in the wild. And maybe that's all Peggy is, a once tame animal trying to sharpen her claws at SCDP, but finding she can't quite sink them into anything yet. Peggy observes the cub, saying, "She's not going to make it out there on her own," and it seems that she's narrating her own self-doubts. But before she gets too deep on it all, Peggy eases the stress by smoking a joint with a stranger and giving him a hand-job, because, well, why not? It's worth noticing that she refuses being pleasured by him, and instead chooses to be the one in control. She's getting the job done, and it serves as a confidence boost of sorts, rather than a source of shame, as it might have been it'd gone down, so to speak, the other way around.
But it's not her cinema cheating that leads Peggy back into Abe's arms. It's a bizarre conversation with Ginsberg (Ben Feldman), who tells a story of being a displaced Martian to reveal he was born in a concentration camp, where his mother died, and that his father adopted him from a Swedish orphanage. Peggy's mind is blown by the admission, which is strangely intimate, especially when she plays along with his Mars bit and asks, "Are there others like you?" To which Ginsberg glumly says, "I don't know. I haven't been able to find any." Of course, we immediately have visions of Peggy and Ginsberg connecting on some weird, romantic level, a prediction which probably won't play out, if only because series creator Matthew Weiner is not a man who caters to viewers' expectations, but instead revels in overturning them.
Code Orange: Don And Megan's Trip Turns Radioactive
When heard in a hospital, the term "code orange" acts warning to the staff that there's a threat on the loose, and for Don and Megan (Jessica Pare), the deafening neon orange of a Howard Johnson hotel serves as the setting where they see the first signs of impending romantic disaster. Don steals Megan away from an impromptu trip to Plattsburgh, giddy over day-glo back-scratchers and Clementine-tinted sherbet. Megan, meanwhile, is far less thrilled to get away, angered that Don has forced her to burn the team and leave them to present to Heinz alone (which, thanks to the episode's fragmented sense of time, we already know has ended disastrously)."Maybe you can make up a little schedule and let me so I know when I'm working and when I'm your wife," Megan protests, before spitting out Don's beloved orange sherbet.
Don is incredulous that Megan is unhappy, in part because he is genuinely happy to steal her away, and mostly because he doesn't see her (or any woman, one could argue) as a full person with desires that are independent of him. But unlike Betty (January Jones), who would've overlooked Don steamrolling her choice of dessert, Megan isn't happy about the disrespect. She's not going to hold in her hurt, like Betty, to the point where she becomes physically sick (remember when Betty vomits after learning about Don's affair with Bobby Barrett?). Megan has the confidence to express her dissatisfaction, and she makes it clear that Don is going to grow in this relationship, learn to treat her like an equal, or lose her.
"You care more about what some truck stop waitress thinks than what I say," Megan screams at Don as he tries to drive away. "Get in the car. Eat ice cream. Leave work. Take off your dress. Yes master," she says mockingly, acknowledging Don's attempts to dominate her, but also making it clear that she's no compliant puppet.
Don is used to blowing tantrums in the candy aisle and getting a lollipop for his troubles; but this time, Megan is reprimanding him. She's holding him accountable for his bad behavior, something he's not used to and clearly doesn't enjoy. It's as if he's in a grown-up relationship (oh, my!) for the first time, and he really doesn't know what to make of it all.
He's driving home, remembering the trip to Disneyland they took when they were first falling in love and entering into "Tomorrowland." Now they've reached their destination, and it's in great contrast to the reality of the relationship they're confronting now. Still, Don seems willing to tussle with that truth. He finds Megan at home, and chases her around the apartment (Why is she so terrified? Has he hit her before? What does this say about how she sees him if she thinks he would?) before finally showing his feelings. We see him holding on to her like a little boy who's had a nightmare, hugging her at the knees, and the genuine relief he seems to have at having her is somehow enough to make things right.
When Don gets back into the office, and Dawn asks, "How was your trip?", Don says, "Great." Don, like Roger, has taken an important trip, and even though it hasn't resulted in anything nearly dramatic as Roger's, it has helped them realize something important. As Megan points out, "Every time we fight it just diminishes this a little bit." If they can figure out how to learn from their squabbles, they'll survive, but as of now, the divide between them seems way too wide to breach.
Other Points Of Interest
- Roger's best line of the night is a toss-up between either "Alone I'm an escapee from some expensive mental institution. But the two of us? We're a couple of rich handsome perverts." Or his admission that he purposely misstates Frank Lloyd Wright's name as Frank Lloyd Rice to get a rise out of Jane.
- The underlying issues of Don and Megan working together. He puts her on the team but doesn't allow her to feel valued for her work. Is it possible he's driven to do this out of insecurity? Maybe the last thing he wants is an equal, a fully actualized person who can demand respect and be as confident and as capable as he is. In other words, Don doesn't want an independent Beyonce; he wants another Betty to keep under his thumb, to serve as an accessory rather than an equal.
Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)