Everyone On Mad Men Wants To Get Away, And The 1960s Can (Maybe) Help
Last night's Mad Men was such a departure from the show's established narrative techniques that it made me feel like I might be tripping a little bit. In a cool trick of editing, the story split up into three concurrently happening parts, tied together with the theme of “Far Away Places.” Like on previous episodes this season, a lot of things happened quickly and people were shockingly confessional about what they were really feeling. While some critics find this facile, I just can't get mad at it. Sorry pretentious film people, but if you'd rather watch Don drink Scotch and stare pensively out a window for a whole season before you find out what he's thinking, I think it's pretty safe to say you're in the minority. The exposition's over and the late '60s are in full swing. Each episode is payoff time now!
Peggy‘s “far away place” seems to be inside the body of a man. More specifically: that of her mentor. Saddled with extra responsibility by (new character alert!) Slacker Don Draper (he's on “love leave,” okay?) Peggy does her best to take his place. She drinks! She's mean to her boyfriend! She has anonymous sexual encounters! (Facilitated by the sexual revolution!) She treats the client like her bitch! This might lead to a successful (if not too happy) Old Don-like life for Peggy, except sexism. It might be 1966, but things haven't changed that much, especially for the infuriatingly dim old fogey who runs Heinz. The anger Peggy feels over being treated like a naughty little girl needs no set-up but history itself. What happens to a dream deferred? It might yell at you in the conference room, for starters.
Ginsberg‘s speech about how he's an alien (i.e. born in a concentration camp) fits into the episode's theme as well, as it takes someone we think we know and gives him a back story so exotic and unthinkable that the characters twice pronounce it “impossible.” I don't know about you, but I found it shocking to realize how recent the Holocaust really was in 1966.
Don, meanwhile, thinks a HoJo upstate is an ideal location for his “love leave,” mainly because a.) it's not the office, and b.) Megan‘s there with him. (It's interesting how much more appealing the country becomes to him when it doesn't involve going to Pete‘s house.) But all is not well in the Draper-Calvet household. Megan rightly thinks that he's abusing his position as her boss to tell her what to do outside the office, often to the detriment of her career development, which Don seems incapable of taking seriously as he no longer cares much about his own. In this episode, we see Don push up against the limits of how far he can expand the BDSM dynamic of their relationship and still have it be hot; as it turns out, “slack off from your job with me and eat this gross dessert I ordered for you” is going too far, and Megan fights back like the reasonable person she is. Watching Don freak out over Megan's disappearance is both painful and delightful, as it's payback for every shitty thing he's done to a woman, from cheating on Betty to driving off on Megan in the middle of their fight. It's clear by this point that Megan is Don's everything, so maybe he should stop being such a dick to her? Work it out in the bedroom with some slapping, guys.
And then there's Roger‘s epic LSD trip. “You always say I never take you anywhere,” he quips to Jane before swallowing his dose, and the two embark on a mission to “be alone in the truth of you” together. But despite all his hilariously Roger-y hallucinations (gotta love that singing vodka bottle), the sad “truth” of Roger is that he's done with this relationship and has been for quite some time, a fact Jane was not prepared to face sober. I'm not sure how realistic their acid trip was, but the shit most people see on acid is such a pop culture cliché at this point that I can see why Matthew Weiner went another direction with it. (And of course, different trips are different.) Drawing from my own experience with psychedelics, I will say that the line “now I know why your friends are so smart” is spot on, because this stuff can make you feel like a genius; so too the desire to get in a bathtub and laugh hysterically at something no one else can see.
But their break-up conversation was suspiciously clear and cogent for two people tripping balls. While psychedelics might help you reach within yourself for personal revelations, it's rare that you're able to express them to someone else in the moment, when you feel like a maniac and the walls won't stop moving. The one time someone tried to have a real conversation with me about a relationship while tripping, I had no idea what she was trying to say and couldn't figure out if it was because she was on drugs or I was on drugs or both. I only caught the vague sense that she was mad at me for some reason, which ended up totally ruining what should have been a nice comedown. (When we talked later, I told her she's never allowed to do that to me again. EVER.) But, like I said: different trips are different. Also, it's a TV show.
So where does this leave us? Besides maybe Roger, none of the characters transported themselves too effectively, but they can learn from the ways in which they failed. Peggy's going to need to find some way to cope with the way she gets treated at work, maybe by making something else the center of her life (join the feminist movement already, Peggy); Don's going to need to stop being so simultaneously dependent on, and controlling of, Megan if he doesn't want to lose her; and Roger needs to get back with Joan, already. At least they can all take solace in the fact that none of them is Pete Campbell.