Roger Sterling and Acid: A Trippy Mad Men Chat With Julia Turner

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
April 23 2012 4:28 PM

“ROGER STERLING IS TOTALLY DEAD!”

Julia Turner chats with readers about a trippy episode of Mad Men.

Jane and Roger in Mad Men.
Jane Sterling (Peyton List) and Roger Sterling (John Slattery).

Jordin Althaus/AMC

Julia Turner was on Slate’s Facebook page on Monday to chat with readers about the latest episode of Mad Men. The following transcript of the discussion has been edited for length and clarity. To see the full conversation, click on this link.  Also in Slate, read David Haglund’s interview with John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.

Julia Turner: Hello everyone! What did you think of last night's episode? I loved Roger Sterling's Kool-Aid acid test, but some colleagues here at Slate are grumping about the cheat of using hallucinations to convey character. Did you think it worked?

David Haglund: Yes! Such scenes often fall flat, but that one had just the right blend of jokey and spooky. And it didn't seem overly on the nose. What do you think the future holds in store for Roger Sterling? Will his mornings continue to be beautiful, or was this just a blip? He seemed kind of in a downward spiral before this episode.

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Troy Souther: I found it a lot less heavy-handed than other hallucination-based episodes of great shows—I'm thinking the peyote episode of The Sopranos in particular. Also, the contrast between the three relationships in their various stages of development was a lot of fun to watch.

Julia Turner: That's how I felt. Don's dream sequence was fairly obvious and mundane, but Roger's hallucinations were sprightly and delightful. And I think he'll have a new lease on life. He's so much fun—and the show is so much more fun—when Roger's in a good mood. I hope the writers will have the good sense to let him enjoy this for a while.

Adam Offitzer: I think "using hallucinations to convey character" is only cheating if it's completely unclear until the end of the dream sequence that it was a dream. But in the case of the LSD moment in particular, much of what was happening was real, and was what Roger saw/felt... in that respect, it completely worked.

Anne Pilikia Bagasao: I thought it was some of the best television ever. Julia, tell your colleagues to put that in their pipe and smoke it.

Julia Turner: Ha! I will, Anne.

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Maggie MacFarland Phillips: Was I the only one who thought for a split second that Ginsberg really thought he was a Martian? Peggy's statement to Abe on the phone later that it seems impossible that he would have been born in a concentration camp leads me to think she's not sure what to make of it, either. Also, why was Ginsberg at the office that late? The Heinz pitch?

Nicole Southern: It was probably because he said two or three times, "I know you don't believe me." I was wondering too, until he said he was born in a concentration camp, and Peggy asked (twice, I think) if that was possible.

Julia Turner: I agree that scene between Peggy and Ginsberg had its own tinge of trippiness. The line that stuck out for me was Ginsberg's comment that he hasn't found anyone else like him yet. But there he and Peggy are, both working late on some project, both products of immigrant families, both driven and out of place at SCDP. It's unclear whether the pair will become allies or rivals, but I think it's possible that Peggy's a "Martian" too, in some sense.

Rebecca Koetting: I was wondering if the adoption part of his story made her reflect on her own child that she gave up for adoption.

Sally Koslow: Loved Ginsberg's reflections on being born in a concentration camp. To be born in a concentration camp or misplaced persons camp is almost like being a Martian, which rings true.

Charles Van Deventer: But seriously, could he have been born in a concentration camp? I'm guessing he was born in the 1941-1945 era of the war? Seems impossible.
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Jaclyn Mosher: Don showing up in Roger's mirror sequence had me questioning again what that relationship means for him, and vice versa. Don has distanced himself from Roger in the past two seasons, but he was integral in his initial success, so he will always play a crucial role in his life. And this season has seen Roger seethe with jealousy at Don's supposedly happier marriage. What do you make of their relationship in Season 5?

Julia Turner: I've been moved by the sympathy Don has for Roger, even if they are more distant than they've been in the past. I liked how Don excused Roger in his post-brothel conversation with Pete last week: "Roger's miserable. I didn't think you were."
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Troy Souther: Did anyone else notice the slightly lingering shot of Peggy smoking the cigarette? I can't recall seeing her smoke on the show before, and it seemed like an important signal that she's officially become a “company man,” with the relationship stresses and coping mechanisms it entails.

Julia Turner: Have we not seen Peggy smoke before? I've never noticed that. We've certainly seen her smoke a joint, as she does in the movie theater. But it's interesting to watch how the substances are changing over the seasons. Pete has become abstemious this season; and he might be happier if he were drinking more!

Terry Price: Actually we've seen Peggy smoke a couple of times before, most notably in the wonderful scene when she goes into Joan's office to commiserate after finding out about Don's proposal to Megan. I think I also remember her smoking in the scene long ago when she has to call Don and tell him that she went against his judgment and staged a scene in a grocery store with women fighting over a ham. It ended badly. I tend to associate Peggy's smoking with either stress or a negative event, not a regular occurrence.

Julia Turner: Good points. I thought we'd seen Peggy smoke in the past.
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Anne Pilikia Bagasao: On a more superficial note: Jane's ensemble that she wore to the acid party was amazing!

Rebecca Koetting Abma: ‎I didn't realize that was a skin belt until she got up from the table. Loved the "belt buckle" on the front.

Julia Turner: I agree about Jane's ensemble. It was I Dream of Jeannie (1965) meets Barbarella (1968). Fashionistas, are there other references I'm missing?

Terry Price: And in addition to Jane's ensemble, was the "yes, master" from Megan to Don during their fight another reference to I Dream of Jeanie?
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Julia Turner: One natural question is the future for Roger and Joan. They're both recently single—and they've got a newborn together—but it's hard to imagine them setting up housekeeping.

Laurie Kaufman: Although we know that these characters, and people in general, tend to make the same mistakes over and over again, I also can't see Joan and Roger getting back together in any permanent way. I'm sure that he will try, though Joan's rejection of Lane last week, I think, is pretty indicative that she is not interested in pursuing the next wealthy thing to fall into her lap. I think that she is looking for stability—whether it is as a single mother or with a partner who she loves and who is also responsible. Roger Sterling is the opposite of responsible.

Julia Turner: I wouldn't put Roger and Lane in the same camp. For one thing, she and Roger shared a spark that Lane seems incapable of, much as I love him. And although I don't think money would be a motive for Joan, it's worth noting that Lane's not wealthy—note his conversation with his wife about paying for prep school—and Roger is about to get a lot less wealthy. As Jane notes of their impending divorce: "This is going to be expensive."
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Forrest Wickman: What did you think of how the show jumbled the timeline, all Tarantino-like? (With Don calling in from the later in the episode, etc.) I found it unnecessarily disorienting, but haven't given much thought to it—maybe I was just tripping.

Keli Vøn Schimelpfenig: I liked the jumbled time-frame because it took the viewer on a similar journey as these twisted characters. The whole episode was littered with jarring moments of weirdness that seemed like snapshots from a strange vacation. Then each character had a similar "come home" moment of mental recap that brought no real conclusion.

Julia Turner: The jumbled timeframe also had the benefit of adding suspense to the episode—making you wonder what Don was so upset about on the phone. I wrote down "ROGER STERLING IS TOTALLY DEAD" in my notes at that moment. I'm glad it wasn't true!

Jen Handler: I thought it was a bit of a conceit that did not add that much. That sort of structure would have worked with a big reveal (like if Megan had gotten into some horrible accident), but not just with Megan coming back to the apartment on her own.
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Phil Rauch: Megan's line about how every time they fight their relationship is "diminished" was ridiculous. I actually laughed when she said it. My wife and I have been married 22 years, and guess what? We fight on occasion, and sometimes the fights are bad (although when I chase her around the house it's for other reasons). Fighting and reconciling is a major part of any healthy relationship.

Amy Boone: I thought Megan's "diminished" comment underscored how tenuous their relationship is. And Don was treating Megan like a child. All of us have been beating up on Betty for her childishness for five seasons now, but that's certainly what Don wanted from Megan—childlike obedience.

Julia Turner: I too am confused about what Don wants from Megan. Sometimes it's childlike obedience, but often he likes that she has her own opinions and ideas. He goes to Fire Island with her. He puts on the plaid sportcoat for Pete's party. He lets her boss him around from time to time, and for the most part I think he likes sharing that power with her.

Peggy Brown Thornton: The question is whether or not his expectations of Megan can grow with her. I know a lot of people don't care for the Megan character, but I like her!

Julia Turner: I've been very impressed with how Megan has emerged as a central character this season. She really holds her own against these characters we've known for years in a way few others have. (Lane-centric episodes are rarely as fun as Megan-centric ones.)
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Ken Fuson: In years past, I thought it was pretty easy to identify the main narrative engine—will Don and Betty stay married, will new company survive, etc. Until last night, I wasn't sure what was driving this season forward. Thought it would be the decline of Cooper and Sterling. But now it appears the empire is prepared to strike back, while Don, Pete and Peggy are falling. Megan's character gets more compelling each week.

Julia Turner:
You're very right that it's been hard to see what the through-line is this season—although of course Mad Men likes surprises, and none of us saw the Megan proposal coming last year. We thought Don was going to have a mature relationship with Faye!
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Ken Fuson: Anyone else get the sense that Weiner and the writers have gotten as bored with Betty's story as some of the rest of us have?

Dan Watson:
Well, the Betty episode was one of the worst of the series and otherwise MM is continuing to show that each season is better than the last.

Julia Turner:
Thank goodness for Sally, who can anchor the Betty-centric plotlines. Per Jody Rosen, next week's episode is named after a Shirley Temple film—At the Codfish Ball—so maybe we'll get some Sally and Betty in our lives.
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Ken Fuson: Hey, while you're here, Julia, just want to say how much I enjoy your group's analysis. First thing I look for after watching the show.

Julia Turner: Thanks Ken! It's a pleasure to recap with readers as great as you all. Thanks for chatting.

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