Joe Chiarenzelli is an editor at The Gadfly Press and wishes he was Don Draper.
Mandy Lafond is a soon-to-be graduate of St. Lawrence University, studying philosophy with a minor in Asian studies. She’s currently writing a thesis on postmodernist film theory and Jean Baudrillard. In her spare time she likes philosophizing, playing with her pet rabbit and reading Wikipedia for fun.
If there is one thing that is truly the centerpiece of Mad Men, it is time itself. Far Away Places acknowledges this fact and puts it to the forefront. As an episode it is formally daring and serves to highlight how Don, Peggy, and Roger deal with the quickly changing times around them. We get three vignettes over the course of the episode exploring a day in the life of these three characters. Peggy has to try and pitch the Heinz executive on an ad campaign and miserably fails sending her off to the movie theatre and a long conversation with Michael Ginsberg. Roger has to attend a party that he forgot he agreed to, this of course seems like the typical Mad Men fare except we are informed that the party is an “LSD party”. Don decides to play hooky from work and drags Megan along to a Howard Johnson’s upstate for some orange sherbet and business. The episode tells these stories one at a time and then zooms back to a communal moment and tells another, with the exception of Don’s, which ends the episode.
Thematically what this episode does is show us how each of our protagonists deals with the quickly changing times and their relations with their significant others. Roger has continued to grow more dissatisfied with Jane as the season has progressed and finds clarity through the LSD experience. At first I thought presenting Roger as a tripping middle-aged man was going to come off hacky, but the show handled it well. There were a lot of nice touches, like having a bottle of booze burst into song whenever it’s cork was removed and Roger seeing himself as a younger man in the mirror. He also had a nice moment where he got to rewatch the 1919 World Series in the comfort of his bathtub. At the height of the experience he finally opens up to Jane and reveals that he isn’t happy with their marriage, which she agrees with. Unfortunately the newfound clarity from Roger isn’t something that fades and the next morning he must explain to her that even though he was lost in lysergic bliss he still meant what he said. As this played out the other two characters had romantic travails of their own that played out and thematically resonated with Roger’s plight, wouldn’t you say?
Definitely, as this episode also focuses on Peggy’s and Don’s romances. At the beginning of the episode we see Peggy getting out of bed with her boyfriend Abe, who chides her for caring too much about work. Clearly this relationship is not going to work out, as Peggy is very ambitious and career-oriented and I doubt she’d let a man get in the way of her goals. “Most men wouldn’t put up with it,” he says. “They’d just leave.” Even the progressive journalist Abe doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with a woman so career-driven. Later, after learning Michael was born in a concentration camp, everything gets put into perspective for Peggy and she and Abe temporarily make-up. However, things definitely seem to be headed in the direction of a Peggy-Michael romance, which I personally can’t wait for since I think Michael is a great addition to the show.
Your wife’s never been to a HoJo’s? Why not take her upstate for the weekend, because nothing sweeps a woman off her feet like orange sherbet and a crappy motel. Besides Don’s odd choice of romantic getaway, it seemed like a nice gesture and that he’s genuinely trying to be a good husband and be faithful to Megan. It came as a bit of a surprise when she didn’t want to go, but I had no idea the extent to which it would get blown out of proportion. After causing a scene in the restaurant and a fight in which Megan accuses Don of constantly bossing her around, Don drives off, leaving Megan at the hotel. He feels bad and returns, to find her missing. At this point I expected the worst, especially when Don is told Megan left with a group of guys. Holy shit, she’s in a ditch somewhere! Or you know, something equally awful. That’s what I thought was going to happen. Thankfully it didn’t and Megan took a bus home, but this really seems to be the beginning of the end of their relationship. While Megan and Don seem to make up for now, I can’t see this lasting too much longer, and I think it’s going to devastate Don when she leaves. What do you think? Will Megan leave Don soon?
Before I address your questions let me point out that Don’s seemingly inexplicable love of Howard Johnson’s completely makes sense in the context of the time period. During the mid and late sixties Hojo’s was a very well regarded restaurant and lodging chain. In fact they employed former French chefs to build their menu. But, what is more relevant to Don I think, Hojo’s also presented itself as a little piece of vacation for people traveling. Knowing Don’s past as a transient runaway I think he would associate Hojo’s with good memories of being able to find someplace to have some ice cream and lay his head. So I can understand why he would think it would be a romantic adventure for Megan to go along with him, almost opening up a part of himself to her. Of course that failed miserably when he tried to treat her as a pretty mannequin who must eat sherbet instead of pie. Still, addressing his control issues is one thing while invoking the memory of Don’s mother is quite another. It seems to me that Megan knows where and how hard to poke his psyche to provoke Don. The quick cutaway to the time period right after he got back from California having proposed to Megan in contrast to him driving back to the city alone shows how quickly things have gotten out of hand for him.
The scene back at the apartment was appalling to me. Not so much any of what Don actually did, but the fact that I watched him kick down the door and chase Megan around like a psychopath and still looked at the scene as if Don was justifiably angry. To make it clear, I do not agree with the sentiment or actions he took, but the show has its tendrils so deep into me that I can empathize myself into the protagonist’s shoes so completely (something similar with relating to Walter White on Breaking Bad, but substantially more subtle). Though we have seen that part of what makes Don Draper tic is a deep masochistic streak related to his sexuality, it hasn’t been too much of a problem in his life. But, now that we see Megan’s ability to bring this out in him I think these swings of anger and self-hatred are going to become larger. All of this is to say that when I watched Don chasing after Megan in the apartment, I had no idea what he was going to do if he caught her. I felt no boundary to what he was capable of doing to her in that moment and that isn’t something I have ever felt from Don before. He has done bad things, but I have never feared him hurting someone.
I honestly do agree that Megan leaving/dying/cheating on Don would crush him but I have no idea how long this relationship will last. But I will say that I hope it’s short and that he can extricate himself from it without losing what makes him a flawed but decent man.
Ah, I know exactly what you mean about feeling sympathetic towards Don. Logically I’ve always been able to disagree with the things he’s done yet somehow I always feel myself rooting for him, even when he’s in the wrong and I think that’s what makes Mad Men such a great TV show is that ability to make someone that’s so morally questionable so likeable. Even when Don was cheating on Betty, somehow it seemed justified to me. Likewise in this episode, I found myself cheering for Don as he drove away leaving Megan in the parking lot, but really what good did that accomplish? And when he finally got back to the apartment, I had visions of the first episode of the season of a spiteful Megan cleaning the house in her underwear. She knows exactly what to do to provoke Don, and making him kick down the door enraged him. Yet when he finally gets to her, he embraces her and drops to his knees, grateful she’s alive. Despite his sometimes objectionable behavior (not so much this season as seasons past), Don really is a good guy and you can tell he cares for Megan, yet ultimately I think this relationship will destroy him if it continues.
Overall this was a great episode, yet I still have no idea as to what will happen next. That’s the other great thing about Mad Men is that it’s not formulaic like other shows. Think Megan is dead? Think again. Did that really just happen? Oh wait no, Don was dreaming. Abe telling Peggy to “have a shitty day” only to have Roger announce at the end of the episode “It’s a beautiful day”? It’s things like that keep me watching every week, as well as the emotional complexity of the characters. I’m left with so many questions after last night’s episode. Will Don and Megan split up? Will Roger get back with Joan? As always though, I know there can be no simple answers with Mad Men, and so I leave our readers with a question:
What are your predictions for the rest of this season?
Will Don do something he will regret? Does music start playing when you open a liquor bottle like Roger and myself (although I don't need drugs to hear it)? What are your feelings on Hojo? Sherbet? Plattsburgh New York? Let us know in the comments.