Mad Men Review: "Far Away Places" (Episode 5.06)
I don’t think any of us ever thought we’d see an episode of Mad Men where Roger Sterling comes out looking like the mature, level-headed one. We’re just six episodes into this season (about halfway through), but we’ve now already witnessed the dissolution of two marriages. Joan’s split with Greg was something fans have been waiting for for three seasons now, and while no one can really say they thought Roger and Jane would last forever, their decision to part ways somehow felt a little more surprising—but equally satisfying.
Let’s back up a bit. “Far Away Places” focuses on three relationships (Peggy and Abe, Don and Megan, Roger and Jane) that all seem to be suffering from some gender dynamics that are a little out-of-whack. Told non-linearly, the episode jumps from one couple to the other over the course of roughly 24 hours, where we see each couple address the inequities within their relationship.
We start with Peggy and Abe. Interestingly, Peggy’s the one wielding all the power in this relationship, and Abe feels like he’s being used. We see them arguing in bed in the morning over whether or not they’ll go to the movies. Peggy says she’ll be tired from work, and Abe begins to feel like he’s no more than a booty call to Peggy, declaring, “I’m your boyfriend, not a focus group.” Last week we saw how Pete’s slowly but surely turning into Don, and this week we see how Peggy’s made that transformation as well. When her Heinz presentation doesn’t go well, she skips out on the rest of the work day to go to the movies by herself (something that Don used to do pretty frequently in past seasons). There she winds up smoking pot with a stranger before giving him a handjob in the middle of the theater. Oh, Pegs. Seems like ages ago that you were a naive, young secretary.
The mid-movie sex act (which resulted in a special “viewer discretion” warning before the episode) is significant for several reasons. For one, Peggy’s a cheater now too. Over the course of four-plus seasons, she hasn’t always been 100 percent in the right when it comes to the treatment of her love interests, but up until now as far as we know, she’s never been unfaithful. Now, she’s just like the Don of past seasons, drinking, smoking, skipping out of work early and yes, philandering. It’s also important to note that Peggy stops the stranger from putting his hand up her dress before putting her hand down his pants. She wants to be in control of the situation, and she takes the lead. Maybe this stems from her early encounters with Pete and her accidental pregnancy—where she was decidedly not in control—but new Peggy sure is dominant.
However, after she returns to the office (still a little baked), Peggy has a conversation with Ginsburg in which he reveals that he was born in a concentration camp. She’s not quite sure what to make of this, and so she calls Abe and asks him to come over, admitting that she needs him. It’s obvious that these two have a connection that isn’t just sexual—it’s intellectual as well, and Abe seems to realize this (for the time being at least) and heads over.
Meanwhile, Roger and Jane drop acid at a dinner party being hosted by Jane’s therapist. I could dedicate an entire article to Roger’s (brilliantly shot) acid trip and what it reveals about him, but I’ll stick to the highlights. He’s bemused at first by the music he hears coming out of his bottle of booze, but he slowly becomes unnerved as he sees his white hair turning black in the mirror and The Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times” plays in the background. It’s certainly not subtle, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. Jane’s young and looking for a philosophical experience. She’s looking to expand her mind, man. She and her intellectual friends discuss things like the nature of truth and reality at dinner. Roger, on the other hand, isn’t interested. He’s set in his ways. His truth is the only truth that matters to him. This all sets the stage for the lovely moment when, lying on the floor looking up at the ceiling together, he and Jane realize their marriage is over. Roger tells Jane she’s beautiful. “You always say that,” she says. “It’s all you ever say.”
Jane seems to realize she’s a trophy wife, seen only as a piece of meat. There’s no intellectual connection between the two of them. She can’t see the Black Sox throwing the World Series from their bathtub like Roger can. Rather than get angry or upset, however, they’re both relieved by the revelation, and there’s a tender moment of acceptance between them. In the morning, Roger tells her he’s going to move into a hotel, and Jane tries to take back what she said, attributing it to the LSD. Rather than cling to the charade, however, Roger finally decides to grow up a bit and walk away.
Finally, while all this is happening, Don and Megan have skipped out on work to go to a Howard Johnson. On the way over, Megan tells Don she feels guilty about having abandoned the rest of the team. He dismisses it, saying, “There has to be some advantage to being my wife.” At lunch, she tries to order pie for dessert, but he forces her to try orange sherbet. She hates it (of course she hates it), and it sparks another argument between them. Megan realizes that Don doesn’t take her work seriously and fears that she’s just a trophy wife as well. She then has a temper tantrum of Sally Draper proportions, stuffing her mouth full of the sherbet to the point where I thought for sure she’d be sick and storming off. In the parking lot, Don’s reaction is equally childlike; he drives away in a huff before finally returning, only to discover Megan’s gone missing. He freaks out, calling the office and Megan’s mother and staying at the restaurant into the wee hours of the night before heading home to find Megan at the apartment.
They have a scary blowout of a fight, with a livid Don running full speed and literally chasing Megan around the apartment. They both wind up on the floor, angry and upset, but things appear to be somewhat smoothed over when a kneeling Don clutches Megan and admits he thought he’d lost her. It’s touching (sort of), but it almost feels like Don’s a parent reacting to a runaway child. Ah, the perils of having a much-younger wife, I guess.
The episode ends with Bert Cooper telling Don his work’s been slipping because of his relationship with Megan, which adds a compelling new layer to this season’s storyline. Everyone else seems to be becoming more and more like Don, while Don himself seems to be morphing into someone else. Who exactly this new Don Draper is, however, remains to be seen.
-“The two of us, we’re a couple of rich, handsome perverts.” Way to hit the nail on the head, Roger.
-The color orange played heavily in this week’s episode. The Howard Johnson color scheme, the orange sherbet, Megan’s orange dress and matching jacket…even the campfire Peggy mentions in her Heinz pitch. Meanwhile, Roger and Jane were dressed and surrounded by beiges and creams. Is this supposed to symbolize the heat and passion these couples have or lack?
-Don whistling “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in the flashback he has indicates to me that, unlike Roger, he’s maybe a little more willing to adapt to the times (and to his younger wife). Just last season he was wearing earplugs to the Beatles concert he took Sally to, and Megan’s reaction to him whistling the song makes it apparent that he used to hate it. He’s willing to give a little, to adapt, however, and now it’s stuck in his head.