TV Talk: MAD MEN 5.06 “Far Away Places”

Henri asks the big questions about motor lodges, sherbet and splooge in this week's episode of MAD MEN.

Whoa, we are LATE to the Mad Men party this week. I was at a friend’s wedding on Sunday and didn’t get a chance to watch this week’s episode until last night, but HOT DAMN that was a great episode, so there’s really no excuse.

Last week we had Pete and Lane getting into some classic fisticuffs, and there was a lot of conjecture that all of the elements of mass murder and Whitman shootings were alluding to some sort of big, violent event in the lives of SCDP. Meredith disagreed, and in her post last week she wrote, “I believe that ultimately, Mad Men is a small story. An incredibly important, brilliantly realized story, but a story about normal people living out their lives in a very contentious time and place in history.” There was a moment in this week’s episode where it looked like Weiner and Co. were going to prove her wrong, but ultimately I think this week’s episode served as the first turning point in the arc of Don’s happiness this season and Meredith was spot on. Don’s not going to lose Megan and go on a shooting spree or jump out the window in a meta reenactment of the show’s opening credits. He’s going to act like an asshole and his world is going to slowly fall to pieces around him (in an even more meta reenactment of the show’s opening credits). But we’ll get to that in a minute.

This week we focused on three simultaneous storylines; each one got its own focus before the clock turned back and we joined new characters at the same point in time. First up, Peggy and her pitch to Heinz.

Ouch. First she has to deal with a boyfriend who seemed to like the fact that she has a real job, but who no longer seems to enjoy the fact that she brings her work home with her. Sorry, boys, but that goes with the territory. But while Peggy obsesses over work like Don, she’s not quite ready to stand on her own in a presentation. She gets nervous ahead of time,which is something I can’t see Don doing. And when she tries to present her idea in a classic Don style - the whole "Home is Where the Heinz Is" campaign is a pretty terrible re-working of the now classic carousel speech - she doesn’t add in Don’s signature blend of personal touch with product boosting. Instead she just has a picture of college kids sitting around a campfire, and one of them is eating beans. Yawn. The best exchange in that entire scene is when Heinz comes back at her with, “Stop giving me what I’m asking for and give me what I want!” It seems Peggy is having a hard time giving anyone what they want, until she gets high with a stranger at the movies.

Sidenote - she gives that stranger a handjob at the theater, and then they cut to her washing her hands. But when she comes out of the bathroom, she’s all the way back at the office. I hope she washed her hands at the theater, too. And the way they drew attention to the mess kept me distracted - where does all the splooge go when your pants are on and you’re getting a hand job in a movie theater? Sadly I’ve lived a very sheltered life so I can’t answer that question myself. Devin?

Next we have Roger and Jane in what could be one of the greatest television sequences of all time. Unbeknownst to Roger, the dinner party he tried to get out of attending with his wife who is so beautiful that he has to say it all the time is also an LSD party. (Read Devin's post about the time before LSD was illegal here.) And man oh man. The first signal that Roger is feeling the effects was a little odd - I’ve never heard horns in a bottle when I’ve been on a hallucinogen before - but the rest was kind of spot on. Especially the sudden shrinking of the cigarette and all of that watching himself in the mirror. And then Roger and Jane are on the floor, in the truth, and they break up - not in a huge fight, not with Roger having a heart attack, not in a big, dramatic way where Roger finds Jane with another man. They just both admit that it’s over, and then it is. There was a certain beauty in that moment.

Of course, LSD doesn’t wear off the same way alcohol does, and I’ve known the lingering effects to stick around throughout the next day. So maybe Roger shouldn’t have acted on being in The Truth immediately the next morning. Jane certainly seems to regret it, and Roger is of course now just being as smug about LSD as he normally is about cocktails. I can’t wait to see where that takes him throughout the course of the season.

And then the clock goes back once again, and we finally get to see what happened to Don when he called Peggy, panicked at a payphone at 8:30 at night. Was there a car accident on their way to Howard Johnson’s? Did Megan get murdered by a psychotic trucker? Nope. Don skipped out on the Heinz meeting because he thought it would be cute to take Megan on a little road trip and he REALLY wanted her to try some orange sherbet.  He’s somehow already nostalgic for their trip to California and wants to revisit that feeling, but this time without the kids. But Megan wants to be part of the team at the office, and she doesn’t like sherbet, and she resents that Don is working but she can’t, so she gets stupid with the sherbet, Don throws a temper tantrum and ultimately drives away. Oh shit! Then Megan gets murdered while he’s gone!

Nope. Don just goes back to Howard Johnson’s and waits all night while Megan gets a ride to a bus station and then catches a cab from the Port Authority at 5 a.m. Although the bit with the sunglasses on the ground was a little more misleading than it had to be.

Don kicks the door in at their apartment and we get a little bit of violence, but after he chases Megan around the house, he doesn’t choke her to death and hide her body under the floor. Instead they collapse on the floor, echoing the moment when Roger and Jane lay on the floor in their Truth, and in the same room where Don tackled Megan while she cleaned in her underwear, they end their fight and both get a little unhappier.

And so it begins. The fairy tale is ending, and it seems that it won’t end with a bang but rather a series of whimpers.

On the upside, Bert Cooper finally decides to step in, because he sees what’s happening and is sick and tired of Don neglecting work and playing like the boss who can skip town with his wife whenever he wants. He gets mad at Don for being on love leave and tells him it’s time to come back down, and as the episode comes to a close Don lets that whole reality sink in. The honeymoon is over. But without that fantasy, what does Don really have?

Whatever it is, we’re bound to see it show up in a new pitch for Heinz. But it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not he still has his old knack. Devin, what do you think?

One other quick note:

It was fun to see Howard Johnson’s in its heyday. By the time I was going on road trips with my parents in the early ‘80s HoJo was already kind of a cutesy quaint relic. But while it’s not as big of a loss to culture as the transition from film to digital that we’ve been talking about so much here on BAD lately, I still got a little nostalgic for the days of the Motor Lodge. I love stopping off at Pea Soup Anderson’s whenever I’m traveling through California, and it’s a shame that those roadside rest areas have been replaced by the bar at the Chili’s Too in the airport. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to that time, and if I ever have kids I’ll be real excited to fly with them to Disney instead of taking them on a long car ride - my brothers and I were HORRIBLE in the backseat growing up - but getting out of the car to stretch your legs and have a sherbet was so much more of a treat than trying to kill time in an airport during a three-hour layover.

Of course, if Don and Megan had the other modern convenience of cell phones then their entire fight could have been shrunk down and they’d still have a door that worked, so progress isn’t always a bad thing.

I’m off on a bit of love leave of my own after this week, as Sarah and I are getting married next weekend and then we’ll be in our literal honeymoon phase, but I’ll be back for the end of the season full of ennui and disappointment so hopefully I can dig in and let that influence all of my work here again. Until then I leave you in the highly capable hands of Devin, Hulk and Meredith, and I look forward to seeing what they think. Was this a turning point in the season, or just a hiccup? Will  there still be violence after all? Will we be treated to an all Sally episode? How long will Betty stay fat, and how when will Henry stop putting up with her? There’s a lot to look forward to!