No one traveled a terribly long distance in “Far Away Places,” but most of the characters in question might as well have taken a trip – to borrow a locale from Michael Ginsberg – to Mars when it came to how much they wanted to escape from reality. The episode was neatly divided into three vignettes starring Peggy, Roger and Don, respectively, each one ending his or her journey with a reconciliation or, in the case of Roger, a resolution. After taking LSD at a dinner party (yeah, that one threw me – I was banking on either Harry or Megan to be the first), Roger is given the clarity he needs to end his insufferable marriage to Jane. But the flimsy, Band-Aid-esque appeasements at the end of Don’s and Peggy’s story lines did little to repair the obvious cracks in their work and personal lives.
Sometimes all it takes is a little perspective to get you out of your funk. For Peggy, let’s just hope it’s not too late.
She starts off the episode having a lover’s quarrel with Abe, who’s tired of playing second fiddle to her career: “I’m your boyfriend, not a focus group!” Sounds like Peggy has mastered one facet of being Don Draper, now she just has to learn the other one – not being distracted by work when it’s time for sex. At the office, Peggy pitches SCDP’s latest ad campaign to Heinz exec Raymond Geiger, who once again is unimpressed – even though they’ve given him exactly what he asked for (young kids, nostalgia). Fed up with Geiger’s wishy-washy attitude, Peggy pulls a Draper and lays into the client for being so indecisive. Try as she may, Peggy Olson is not Don Draper, and her antics get her pulled from the account.
Peggy’s not able to leave the island of Manhattan, so instead she escapes to the movies. She loses herself in the film Born Free, taking several hits off of a fellow moviegoer’s joint and giving said moviegoer a hand job (sorry, Abe). Upon her return to the office, she meets Michael Ginsberg’s father, Morris, who stopped by to mooch off of SCDP’s photocopier – and whom Michael is all too eager to escort out. As Peggy and Michael work into the night, she asks him why he said he didn’t have a family in his interview. And that’s when we get our first insight into Michael’s cryptic background: “He’s not my real father,” he says. Truth is, Michael feels more like a “Martian” than anything else, which is certainly a more comforting story than the one he grew up with: He was born in a concentration camp, where his mother, an inmate, died. “Morris” adopted him from a Swedish orphanage when he was five.
The fact that Michael makes no mention of a biological father, and that he believes his birth in the camps to be “impossible,” leads me to surmise that he could be the product of a rape between a Nazi officer and a Jewish prisoner. This could be the rationale behind the writers giving him that disturbing “Cinderella” pitch in the episode “Mystery Date.” He knows he is part of something tremendously harrowing that is now an ingrained part of his psyche.
Distraught over Michael’s revelation, Peggy goes home and calls Abe, asking him to come over (“I always need you”). Michael’s story has helped her to realize that maybe things aren’t so bad in her life, but even though I like her with Abe, her true love is still her career. Which may be in trouble, if Bert Cooper has anything to say about it.
Listen to the Color of Your Dreams
We always wondered who would be the first Mad Men character to drop acid – and it was a real trip watching Roger Sterling turn on. In what is evidently a last-ditch effort on Jane’s part to give her flat-lining marriage one final jolt, Roger is dragged to a dinner party hosted by his wife’s psychiatrist, where the guests are encouraged to sample LSD. Roger initially demurs, but Jane begs him to join her in the experience, as if she knows this will be the last time they share something this intimate. What follows is a hysterical trio of scenes beautifully underscored by both John Slattery’s sharp performance and the characters’ somber acknowledgment that their marriage is over.
Roger, who is quick to dismiss the drug shortly after taking it (“Well, Dr. Leary, I find your product boring”), soon hears music playing when he opens a bottle of vodka – with the music coming to an abrupt halt when he caps the bottle (not-too-subtle suggestion that he’s only happy when he drinks). Eventually he’s hallucinating things like his head looking the same as a magazine ad (half white hair, half black hair) and Bert Cooper in place of Abraham Lincoln on a $5 bill, while the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds track “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” emanates from a tape machine. Brian Wilson may have written it as an anthem for his own frustrations, but the tune acutely speaks to Roger’s aimlessness.
While Roger and Jane have completely separate experiences on their acid trip (Roger can see the 1919 World Series, Jane can’t), they both come to a bittersweet moment of lucidity as they lie on the floor of their bedroom, their heads wrapped in hot-pink towel turbans. The saddest moment comes when Jane says to Roger that she doesn’t think he ever liked her, and he chokes up when he tells her, “I did. I really did.” The next morning, Roger is refreshed and relieved at the previous evening’s conclusion. Jane, however, has no recollection of anything they said and is blindsided at Roger’s announcement that they’re “leaving each other.”
So what are the odds that Joan and Roger can try to have a legitimate relationship now that they’ve both gotten rid of their dead-weight spouses?
The Orange (and Blue)-Carpet Treatment
It’s hard to criticize Don for wanting to take his wife on a getaway, even if it’s on the pretense of business. Except that for all his good intentions and his apparent love for Megan, he still forgets that she is an independently minded woman who genuinely feels guilty abandoning her team during the workday – and that she’s not going to be ordered around by anyone, not even her husband. And unlike most of the other characters at the forefront of this episode, Megan is the only one who doesn’t want to escape her reality.
Don decides to take a trip upstate to visit a potential new client – the Howard Johnson’s hotel and restaurant chain. He persuades Megan to join him, further blurring the line between Megan, SCDP junior copywriter and Megan, Don Draper’s wife. Once they arrive at the Plattsburgh HoJo’s, Megan is in a foul mood, frustrated that Don doesn’t value her opinions (woman doesn’t like orange sherbet, Don, deal!) and won’t just let her be an employee (“You like to work, but I can’t like to work”). Don gets agitated, mainly because he’s never had a woman stand up to him like this, not even Betty. Their argument escalates to the point where Don needles Megan about her phone calls with her mother, and she retorts, “Why don’t you call your mother!”
Now that Megan’s hit the all-too-sensitive Dick Whitman nerve, Don storms out of the restaurant and drives away, leaving her behind. By the time he comes to his senses and returns to HoJo’s, Megan is nowhere to be found, and Don spends the next 12 hours frantically searching for her. Even though he let the old Dick Whitman bubble to the surface, Don exhibits enough of a change during these tense hours – especially during his panicked call to Peggy at the office – to assure us that instead of being angry that he’s been inconvenienced, he is absolutely worried sick about Megan.
Don arrives back in New York to find the chain on the door and Megan infuriated. She refuses to let him in so he kicks the door down, suggesting a violent fight ahead. She’s heartbroken that he left her the way he did and that she had to spend an agonizing six hours on a bus to get home. She starts smacking him, but because he’s Don Draper, he’ll use whatever force necessary to get her to desist – even if it means chasing her around the apartment. Just when it looks like this is going to end badly, they both crumple to the ground with Don grabbing Megan tightly and whimpering, “I thought I’d lost you.” Well, Don certainly wasn’t lying to Pete last week regarding how he felt about his second wife.
By the time Don and Megan get to the office, they seem to have put the episode behind them and have rekindled their love. But how long before that kind of fight erupts again? Don needs to accept Megan’s dual role as his wife and a dedicated SCDP employee before their marriage goes the way of Roger and Jane Sterling.
Wrap-up: In the final scene, Bert takes Don to task for being on “love leave” for too long, causing SCDP’s accounts to suffer as a result: “A client left here unhappy yesterday because you have a little girl running everything.” It’s time for Don to get his ass back in gear, not only for the future of the company, but for the sake of Peggy’s career as well.
Last episode: Drive My Car