Mad Men, Season 5
The Pulp Fiction chronology of "Far Away Places."
Photograph by Jordin Althaus.
Read an interview with John Slattery about this episode of Mad Men.
MY NAME IS ROGER STERLING. I HAVE TAKEN LSD.
Julia, John—this was a trippy episode in more than one respect. Can you remember another instance of Mad Men experimenting with chronology? Just like Roger, who doesn’t quite appreciate that he’s experiencing a psychedelic episode until the vodka sings, I was a little slow to ascertain that the three crazy evenings we witnessed last night were actually three versions of the same crazy evening, played out back to back. I love those "Garcon, coffee!" moments in films, when you realize you’re about to re-experience a sequence you’ve already seen, but from a different angle. How appropriate that when Mad Men elected to dabble in these formal games, the cue that the record is about to skip would be Don saying, in the starchy tone he reserves for secretaries and subordinates, “Megan, can I have a moment?”
Just think: If only Don had taken Roger up on his offer of a “debauched and unnecessary boondoggle”—in Plattsburgh, no less—the Sterling marriage might be intact right now, and the Draper marriage less diminished. (Though Peggy, alas, would still be off the bean account.)
Dr. Leary, I am more than satisfied with your product. I never would have guessed a tab of acid was all that Roger needed to resuscitate his dormant mojo. Not that Roger could have guessed himself. When Jane’s pals suggest that they “turn on,” dear Roger, grateful for the apparent reprieve, confesses that he’s about ready to turn in, too.*
I agree, Julia, Jane emerges as more of a character in this episode—but I was a bit confused by what I saw. Where did she pick up these pompous friends? Has she simply been adopted, socially, by her psychiatrist? Or is there some other milieu in which she might cross paths with this graying tribe of pseudo-intellectuals? I laughed at the thought of Roger tweaking these swells by praising the architecture of Frank Lloyd Rice, but the notion of Jane running with the smart set still feels a bit discordant. Is she pursuing a master's at Columbia that I don’t know about? Eastern religions, one can only assume.
You’ll get no argument from me on the unfortunate broadness of Peggy’s dialogue these days, but I still found plenty to like about her plotline last night. Having invested such hope in Peggy’s ambition and creative instincts, it was a bit unsettling not just to see her fail, but to recognize the extent to which she is still in thrall to Don. “Don loves this work,” she says defensively, when the Heinz guy asks whether Draper has approved her concept.
Of course it’s obvious (perhaps a little too obvious) that Peggy is channeling her mentor in her umbrage that the client doesn’t get it. But I didn’t interpret her stoner groping matinee as a retreat from Don’s example, much less an effort to “please” anybody in the way that Ginsberg suggests. On the contrary, when Peggy’s Don act gets her canned (sorry) from the beans account, she processes that defeat by doubling down on the Draper MO. The formula is so simple, we should know it by now:
(1) ditch work for a movie
(2) betray your loved one by hooking up with a stranger
(3) lie on the couch, marinating in your shame (it’s even Don’s couch that Peggy lies on)
(4) telephone your loved one, and urgently demand a rendezvous
(5) rinse, drink, repeat
As for Don himself, I’d like to take credit for predicting a backlash over Megan’s workplace privileges, but I never guessed that it would come from Megan.
Everyone in the office seems to tip-toe around the dual status of Mrs. Draper: When she learns that Megan will miss the beans pitch, Peggy grumbles, “She’s kind of been my junior on this.” Roger advises Dawn (the Paul Revere of East Midtown) to give one buzz if she spots Don coming, and two “for Mr. and Mrs.”
Up to now, Megan has enjoyed some of the perks of her position, but I suppose it was only a matter of time before Don’s various “I’m your boss, so I’m ordering you” formulations grew tiresome. I loved the HoJo’s cornucopia, especially in light of our earlier speculation about Megan’s fraught relationship with food. You know they’ve rolled out the orange carpet when the waiter promises “a sampling of everything,” clams and all. I developed an eating disorder just watching it.
Nothing is funnier than the hysterical consumption of orange ice cream, and you’re right, Julia, it’s a devilish inversion of the famous milk shake spill. But there was something dark and ugly about the drill sergeant tone Don adopted to snap orders at his wife—a tone we recognize, of course, because he used to use it with Betty. But unlike the original Mrs. Draper, Megan isn’t having it. “Get in the car. Eat ice cream. Leave work. Pull up your dress,” she mimics. “Yes, master.” (That last zinger felt a little flat, until I caught the reference.)
When Don chased Megan around the apartment, I found myself hoping this was a bit of madcap foreplay, a frisky prelude to reconciliation. It looked like Don might have thought that was where things were going, too. But instead we got three scoops of bleakness: You’re right, Julia, Megan’s last line is devastating. Did you two share my sense, when the Drapers returned to work at the end of the episode, that Plattsburgh was where the honeymoon finally ended?
I have some bad news. We had to close the pool.
Correction, April 25, 2012: This post originally misquoted a character in this week's episode as suggesting the party "tune in." She said "turn on." (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Patrick Radden Keefe is is a fellow at the Century Foundation and the author of The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream.