Mad Men Watch: Three Bad Trips

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Jordin Althaus/AMC

Jane Sterling (Peyton List) and Roger Sterling (John Slattery) - Mad Men - Season 5, Episode 6

If halfway through last night’s episode of Mad Men, the scenes started to feel like a David Lynch film, that’s because “Far Away Places” featured some of the most interesting narrative work we’ve seen from the series. Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, said he was motivated by serials of short French films and told three overlapping short stories that all take place in the same day and are linked thematically with the desire to go away.

The stories also shared the thematic connection of the struggle between professional and work life. For Peggy, this takes the form of her relationship with Abe and her inability to please the Heinz folks; for Don and Megan, the story showed the breaking point between their marriage and her role at Sterling, Cooper, Draper Pryce; and for Roger and Jane, a comical trip on LSD appears to be the last journey the two take together. The three stories intertwine as the narrative moves through the episode, only to return to the day’s beginning, showing snippets of scenes we saw before until the entire picture becomes clear.

(LIST: Top 10 Things We Miss About the Mad Men Era)

Throughout this season, Peggy has taken on a larger role in the firm and emerged as the leader of the team of junior copywriters. After completely redoing the Heinz account and telling off the head of the company when he doesn’t like the new new ad work, Peggy has her own version of what Weiner called “a Don’s day”: She drinks at work and partakes in risky sexual behavior in the form of a movie theater hookup. Ginsberg reveals that his adopted father said he was born in a concentration camp. “But you know that’s impossible,” Ginsberg says. Actually, it’s entirely possible, as Ginsberg is in his mid-20s in 1966. When she gets home, Peggy calls Abe and patches things up from an earlier fight, and her day away seems to have ended well.

Don’s day away consists of dragging Megan away from the team for a road trip to check out Howard Johnson, a potential client. There’s been a growing tension in their marriage when Don’s desire for her to be at his beck and call conflicts with her wishes to focus on her career. The situation comes to a head in the HoJo diner, and Don storms off, leaving Megan in the parking lot. After clearing his head, Don returns and that’s when the scenes take on a strange Lynchian quality: his call back to the office features in a snippet of Peggy’s story, and Don is clearly terrified when he can’t find his wife.

While Don is scouring upstate for Megan, Roger’s having his own inward journey, taking LSD with his wife Jane and her therapist. And so we get a chance to see the world of Roger Sterling on acid. It’s quite a ride. Between a band playing when he opens a bottle of Stoli to inhaling a cigarette in one second, it’s Roger’s world, only much more fun. Then he looks in the mirror and has an introspective moment to the sounds of Brian Wilson’s most contemplative tune from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. In a cute moment on the floor with their heads wrapped in pink towels, Roger and Jane decide to call it quits.

When Don gets home and finds Megan unharmed, he chases her through their apartment. Only this time, it’s not the precursor to make-up sex on the floor. This fight is brutal and violent, but when Don hugs Megan around the waist, we know that he’s turned a corner in the relationship, too. When they get to the office, Bert Cooper informs Don that while he’s been turned out and enjoying the married, partner life, the firm’s work has suffered, and it’s time to focus. If he can do that, as Roger says in the end, it’ll be a beautiful day.

(MORE: Mad Men’s Return: Surprise!)

The Ballad of Roger Sterling: Roger’s been one of the more interesting characters to watch as the years have gone by. A product of the old school in the most literal sense, his prewar attitude hasn’t aged well as we move into the late ’60s. The choice of The Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” as the soundtrack to Roger’s acid-dropping experience is potentially prophetic. Now that Roger’s moving back into bachelorhood, will he live his life again like he’s on shore leave?

The Beat Poet: As we learn more and more about Ginsberg’s past, he’s emerging as one of the more interesting characters this season. We caught a glimpse of his tense relationship with his father after he was hired, and with the revelation that he may have been a Holocaust refugee, the show’s producers have given us the most interesting back story next to Don Draper.

Wherefore art thou Pete? Last week’s episode focused squarely on Pete Campbell and his struggles to reconcile his married/family/suburban life with temptation and regret. Given the many questions last week’s episode set up, look for Pete to feature more in the coming chapters.

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