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TV Diary | Mad Men – “Far Away Places”

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TV Diary | Mad Men – Episode 5.06 – “Far Away Places” – Original Airdate: 4/22/12

Episode Grade: B+

I think it’s safe to say at this point that, between “Mystery Date” and now “Far Away Places,” Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner is testing the limits of what he can and cannot do with his show. Don strangling a woman to death in a fever dream stood as the weirdest moment in the show’s history for, oh… two weeks or so, because Roger and Jane tripping on acid is now easily at the top of the list. I had a somewhat strange reaction to “Far Away Places” after seeing it [1] but, after reading some reviews [2] I came to appreciate what Weiner was trying to do so much more. It was jarring to try to adjust to initially as it wasn’t clear as the episode started that it was going to be presented vignette-style, beginning with Peggy blowing a meeting with Heinz by trying to act a little too much like Don, her gender betraying her in 1966. Coupled with the deterioration of her relationship with her boyfriend Abe, her frustration then causes her to take off for a mid-afternoon movie where she ultimately ends up smoking a doob and giving a random stranger a handie in the theater. Yeah – that happened. After slinking back into work [3], she falls asleep on Don’s couch only to be awakened by a cryptic call from Don [4], eventually making her way back to her office where she encounters Ginsburg, who tells her that he’s a Martian or something [5]. So… yeah, at this point I’m wondering what in the actual fuck is going on. But then, “Far Away Places” returns to earlier edit point in the episode and we move on to Roger’s perspective on the day and now I’m thinking, “OK… this is going to be a Rashomon-style storytelling device. I can get behind that.” So, of course, Roger’s journey leads to he and Jane dropping acid – literally – and ends in the utter dissolution of their marriage. Uh… what? Obviously, Mad Men has been hinting at the fact that Roger and Jane were on a road to nowhere all season, what with their open hostility and disdain for one another. But the way that they eventually come to that realization was both jarring and utterly masterful, particularly in John Slattery’s performance. Roger seems much more at peace with the decision than Jane does, as she warns him that a separation is going to get expensive. His enlightened response? “I know.” His cheery disposition at the episode’s end suggests that perhaps the black cloud that’s been following Roger all season may be on the verge of moving on. The final sketch finds Don and Megan on a daytrip to scout out Howard Johnson’s, a company that seems to be painted as desperately wanting to do business with SCDP. After he and Megan arrive at the HoJo’s, Don receives further clarification that the woman he married is nothing like Betty, in that she has a mind of her own and isn’t about to kowtow to his every whim. She’s not entirely thrilled that he’d pull her away from her work and her job on a lark, and his trying to push some orange sherbet on her after she’d wanted pie is the final straw. She gives him an over-the-top sarcastic response that ultimately ends with her cutting him deeply: “Why don’t YOU call your mother?” Don’s response? He gets in the car and drives away, leaving her there. He spends the rest of the next eight or so hours frantically searching for Megan (who’s now disappeared), wondering all the while whether something awful has happened to her. He returns to the restaurant and tries to wait things out there before deciding to head home, where he finds Megan and a chain-locked door. After breaking the door in, he chases her around the apartment in a, quite frankly, chilling scene that’s more than a little reminiscent of a horror film. It’s becoming ever clearer that Don and Megan’s relationship is not healthy: It’s a radioactive one that is liable to explode at any time. Without question, the uniting thread in each of “Far Away Places’” vignettes is the crumbling of relationships and the episode as a whole is a strong statement. I’ll admit that I didn’t think too highly of “Far Away Places” after first viewing it, but after some time to think it’s clear that its charms just didn’t immediately reveal themselves. Because they really are there. You just have to look harder than usual to find them. But they’re there.

[1] I said to my wife something to the effect of, “This is just Matthew Weiner fucking around because he can.”
[2] Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall and The AV Club’s TV Club are always the go-to places for these situations.
[3] And still more than a little high.
[4] At this point, the only thing we know is that he and Megan have taken off on a day trip and his solemn tone when speaking to Peggy on the phone hints at something going wrong. Very disorienting at this stage of the episode.
[5] Subtext that actually did happen – Ginsburg was born in a concentration camp, and the Martian talk is his way of coping. That character instantly just got about 137% more interesting.

Miscellany:
*Perhaps the storm cloud that seems to be leaving Roger has found its new target: Megan. The resentment of having to leave her own work behind in order to accompany Don on his jaunt to Howard Johnson’s was pretty blatant. This is not a woman who is entirely pleased with her current occupational situation.
*Bert Cooper’s usefulness has long since passed, but he makes two rather poignant observations in “Far Away Places.” The first comes when Peggy departs for the movies when he remarks, “Everyone has somewhere to go today,” which says a lot about the state of the agency. The second is after Don and Megan return to the office after the disastrous HoJo’s trip. We’ve seen this season that Don’s taking his work less seriously, and apparently we’re not the only ones who have noticed because Don has a mark-up for a campaign returned to him with the note “Do Over” scrawled on it. After confronting Bert about it, Bert tells Don that he’s been on “love leave” and the time has come to get serious about his duties at SCDP once again. Again… Bert can seem superfluous at times – almost mascot-ish – but Weiner is wise to allow him to have his moments like this.
*Roger and Jane at some weird dinner party where they’re taking acid = A line I never expected to write in a Mad Men review.
*Some of Roger’s hallucinations during his acid trip: Opening a bottle of Stoli and hearing symphonic music emanating from it; lighting a cigarette and having it collapse; looking at a $5 bill and seeing Bert’s face on it.
*Roger with a towel wrapped up on his head is not an image I can say that I ever cared to see.
*The shot of Don outside by a payphone smoking a cigarette underneath the light of the orange Howard Johnson’s roof? Magnificent.
*Roger Sterling Line Of The Week, in pitching Don on checking out the Howard Johnson’s headquarters in upstate New York: “Did you ever hear the one about the farmer’s daughter? This is where it all started.”
*Roger Sterling Line Of The Week Part II, on not being impressed with the initial effects of his LSD trip: “Well, Dr. Leary, I find your product boring.”
*Perhaps I’m missing something, but if Howard Johnson’s is so desperate to work with SCDP, why is Don even taking the trip? To decide whether they want their business? And if so, doesn’t that seem backwards from how things usually work?
*In many respects, “Far Away Places” is an even weirder episode than “Mystery Date,” yet it’s a much more effective one. Not sure what to make of that.
*One of the observations I liked best came from Sepinwall when he noted that the entire episode was about the various “trips” that the three central characters took.
*”Have a shitty day!”
*”I’m sorry. I’m not a ‘word person’ like you people.”
*”You don’t like me.” “I did. I really did.”
*”There has to be some advantage to being my wife.”
*”A little more notice and I would have rolled out the orange carpet.”
*”Maybe you could make up a little schedule so I know when I’m working and when I’m your wife. It gets so confusing.”
*”Every time we fight, it diminishes what we have.”
*”I have an announcement to make: It’s going to be a beautiful day.”

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