“You always say I never take you anywhere.”
There are episodes of Mad Men that I’ve had to watch over and over. There are secrets hidden in the way scenes are cut, the way shots are composed, the way words are repeated. Last night I saw something beautiful, and confusing, and challenging. There’s no way I can do it justice after only one viewing, but I’ll try.
Far Away Places was about a lot of things. It was about echoes: about memory, reliving, and things that recall other things. The echoes begin, but don’t end, with the same day repeated—relived—three times. The episode was about time—it was filmed in a time-distorted way (the same day motif was not Rashomon, although I imagine someone will say it is; unlike that great film, Far Away Places took us to three different far away places). Jane says that time is just numbers on a clock, Don and Peggy both reference the time, and we see Don looking at his watch. At the LSD party, the Beach Boys sing “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” which sounds like a shot at Roger, worrying over his white hair, but Roger seems, suddenly, to be genuinely renewed. Maybe he is made for these times after all.
When I wrote about Signal 30, I suggested it was about identity and secret selves. Certainly, Far Away Places addresses that as well, but it’s more about being known, rather than about being secret. Peggy’s pitch is about being included, and feeling safe, but no one feels safe. Jane is sure that Roger is laughing at her, and Don is sure that Megan and her mother talk about him behind his back. Paranoia runs deep around here; Ginzo wants private conversations when he’s in an open office and when he’s standing in a public hall—like that’ll happen, ever.
No one here feels truly known: Am I a Martian? An orphan? A covert sex goddess? (Hey, let’s watch Peggy give another hand job—that’ll never get old!) Perhaps we are all more than anyone imagines when they look at us.
Most importantly, it’s about relationships. The three fights these three couples had are hard to describe because they swirled around the very heart of what it means to be in a relationship, to try to touch another soul, to know and be known, and inevitably, to fail, because even the most loving and connected couple is composed of two people who are separate individuals and will never fully know each other.
All that blather at the LSD party about truth and reality and neurosis and logic never really got to the point for Roger or Jane, but it is about truth: Jane wants Roger to like her, and to know her, and to really see her, to notice she’s there. When Jane realizes that Roger never even heard her say they were going to drop acid, she knew exactly how invisible she was.
Roger, too, wants the truth, although he’d be the last person to admit it. But the truth, even the truth that he doesn’t like his wife or want to be married to her, is liberating. Roger, of all people, has been freed.
Why this order, though? Why Peggy, then Roger, then Don? Ending with Roger might have created more of a sense of optimism, since the truth was told—or pessimism, since the relationship was over. (It’s striking how much younger and prettier Jane looked in the post-LSD scenes, as if artifice and unhappiness aged her.) Maybe Roger’s story is a kind of warning for Don: Tell the truth to one another before it’s too late.
“Every time we fight it just diminishes us a little bit.”
When Roger and Jane tell each other the truth, they are lying on their backs on the rug. When Don and Megan get to the end of their fight, they are in the same position. (Watch it again here–it’s an amazing piece of physical acting.)
Throughout the episode, what we see is couples fighting over the intersection of work and life, unable to find a way to just be together, but needing one another for comfort. Roger and Jane don’t fight about work; she’s trying to bring him into her life. Don and Megan are struggling to find a balance. It’s funny that she doesn’t want to get pulled away from the Heinz team, just as Bert Cooper doesn’t want Don to pull her away—it’s like everyone is lining up and telling Don to just work already, while it’s pretty clear that the message for Peggy is the opposite: don’t work so much. Again, that’s the message from Abe and from Bert, who tells Don quite pointedly that he’s making a “little girl” do his work for him.
It’s almost ridiculous to ask how Peggy’s story parallels Don’s; it’s never been so clear that Peggy is Don, and yet simultaneously wants nothing more than to be Don. We see a close-up of her smoking, we see her berate a client about having feelings, we see her drinking, we see her leaving the office in the middle of the day to see a movie, we see her having illicit, unfaithful sex in the middle of the day and then washing up afterwards (remember Don washing his hands in disgust after a similar encounter with Bobbi Barrett?), we see her fall asleep on her office couch, and we see her being woken up by a secretary—Don’s secretary, in fact. We’ve seen Don Draper do every single one of these things, and I look forward to analyzing certain scenes shot-by-shot, because I’m pretty sure that the compositions of some of them are identical (the hand waking Peggy, for example).
Peggy declares her fidelity to Don in the opening scene, when she’s looking for the special candy he gave her as a good luck charm before the pitch—candy, we learned in Season 2, that Don associates with a memory of his father. Can Don be painted any more clearly as Peggy’s father-figure?
While she’s in the process of finding her “I am becoming Don” magic candy, she’s having a fight with Abe that is clearly every fight Don ever had with Betty: You don’t include me, all you do is work, I’m an afterthought. Peggy is so sure she’s being abandoned at every moment that she doesn’t know how to just have the fight: she just can’t speak truthfully with Abe without being sure he’s leaving her. Abe doesn’t want to leave, he wants to connect. He wants what Jane finally got, but too late. And Peggy wants someone she can please: hence a hand job. She moved Stoner Guy’s hand away from pleasing her. She wasn’t seeking her own pleasure, she just wanted to know, at the end of the day, that someone was happy with her. If it wasn’t her boyfriend and it wasn’t her client, Stoner Guy (politely credited as “Man”) would do.
Another way the three couples parallel each other? Each main character has a partner who declares his or her foreignness. Abe says “I’ll say a brucha” (the Hebrew word for a blessing prayer). Roger recalls that Jane spoke Yiddish while she was tripping (he thought it was German). Megan and Don argue over the fact that Megan speaks French with her mother.
Finally, this episode is about parents, and about being an orphan: parents who are foreign, inaccessible, or both. Don talks to Marie (his mother-in-law). Megan thoughtlessly tells Don to call his mother. Ginzo is visited by his father, but then declares, “He’s not my real father.” Roger sees Bert—a father-figure for him—in his money. Peggy wants Don’s good luck candy, which is multi-generational; it’s from his father, and it symbolizes him as a father to her. Don, trying to be a good father, forgets Gene, who he claims will never even know that he was slighted (like Don never knew his mother, like Ginzo never knew his mother).
Parenting is somehow identified as foreign: Megan’s mother is French, Jane’s father speaks Yiddish, Ginzo’s father has a thick accent. Ginzo was born in a place of death, a Concentration Camp, which so disturbs Peggy that she needs Abe (reaching for comfort and safety, like her college kids by the campfire eating beans).
Some additional thoughts:
- Don did talk to his mother—last week, when he visited a whorehouse.
- Was the advertisement of the guy with gray/black hair a real one? I bet it’ll be all over the Internet by the time I get up in the morning.
- Quote of the week again goes to Roger: “Well, Doctor Leary, I find your product boring.”
- I love that Mad Men is a show that doesn’t force Contractually Obligated Scenes with characters who aren’t integral to each week’s episode. This week we had no Harry, no Betty or Henry, no Lane or Joan, because none of them were necessary for the story Far Away Places had to tell.
- LSD was legal to possess in the United States until 1968. California was the first state to make it illegal, in October of 1966.