In Sunday’s all-new “Mad Men” episode, the blissful promise of escape tempts Don, Peggy and Roger. Yet time is a prison — and keeps us guessing. Spoilers ahead!
As Peggy gets ready in the morning, she and boyfriend Abe argue over her consistent prioritizing of work. On his way out the door, he yells, “Have a shitty day!” This is an interesting way to introduce an episode which shows us the same day repeated three times — from Peggy’s perspective, from Roger’s perspective and from Don’s perspective. For all, the day proves to be both “shitty” and illuminating.
At the office, Peggy delivers a slick, confident pitch for the Heinz clients, which is met with dissatisfaction by Mr. Heinz. Peggy loses her temper — which, if she were a man, would be considered passionate defense of her ideas — and gets kicked off the account. She takes the afternoon to stew in a movie theater, but in the dark is approached by a young man with a joint and wandering hands. Peggy returns the come-on by giving the stranger a handjob. Meanwhile, lions tussle ferociously on the big screen in “Born Free.”
Peggy returns to Sterling Cooper Draper Price later that evening. While sharing on office with Ginsburg, he mentions that he’s “from Mars.” As Peggy listens, first with amusement and then solemnity, Ginsburg tells her he was born in a concentration camp, where his mother died, and later adopted from an orphanage. She recounts this story on the phone to Abe, and he verifies that children were indeed born in death camps during the Holocaust.
Roger’s day begins by convincing Don to travel upstate for a weekend of debauchery in Plattsburg. Don opts to take Megan as his plus one, which leaves Roger alone to contend with wife Jane’s dinner plans. Jane brings Roger to a party made up of bohemian intellectuals and hosted by her psychiatrist. The centerpiece of the night is LSD. While tripping, Roger’s insecurities about aging manifest as he hallucinates that his hair is half grey and half dark, like an image he sees in Life magazine. The Beach Boys croon “I Wasn’t Made for These Times,” which could be the anthem for Roger’s life this season.
Once home, Roger and Jane take a bath together and lie on the living room rug, both wearing pink towel turbans. They agree that the relationship is over. Jane confesses that she kissed another man since her marriage to Roger, but Roger’s sole concern is whether the other man was younger than him. The high has worn off by the next morning, and Jane’s trippy contentment with the break-up turns to tears.
Don’s day begins by inconsiderately pulling Megan out of the Heinz pitch to accompany him upstate. Don doesn’t take Megan seriously as a junior copywriter. He knows better than anyone how she got the job. Before and during lunch at motor lodge-restaurant Howard Johnson’s, Don is dictating everything for Megan: she shouldn’t be worried about the Heinz pitch and she should prefer orange sherbet over pie. Megan scarfs the ice cream crassly to embarrass Don, and it works, but nothing propels hims out the door like the doozy she spits at him: “Why don’t you call your mother?” Don takes off in the car, abandoning Megan in the restaurant parking lot.
When Don returns for Megan, she’s nowhere to be found. Time stretches on, and in some exquisite nighttime shots we see Don frantically calling Peggy from the parking lot’s payphone, with Howard Johnson’s red A-frame glowing in the background. Don returns to his apartment the following morning, and kicks in the door upon hearing Megan inside. He chases her violently around the living room and bedroom. They fall to the floor, Megan bursts into tears and says the line that all “Mad Men” husbands and wives should hear but don’t: “Every time we fight it diminishes us a little bit.”
She breaks just like a little girl:
Though Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” wasn’t part of this episode, I was reminded of the song — which, incidentally or not, came out in 1966. The line between women and little girls is blurry in this episode, and also troubling. Bertram snaps that while Don took his spontaneous vacation, he left “a little girl running everything,” namely Peggy. When Don panics over Megan’s disappearance from Howard Johnson’s, it plays as if a child has been abducted: He finds her sunglasses on the ground, and a waitress mentions to ominous effect that Megan was last seen with a group of strangers. Earlier Don has ordered desserts for her, much like a father would for a child. Even Megan’s pleated dress in the apartment scene looks juvenile.
In both Don’s and Roger’s marriages, there is the underlying issue that at some past point their wives were little girls while they were already young men. Now they are getting older, craving youth while also wanting to control it.
“Far Away Places”:
The title of this episode works on many levels. The exotic idea of a “faraway place” is represented in the African savanah of “Born Free,” while Peggy’s faraway place — momentary detachment from her work and relationship woes — takes the form of her movie theater fling. Don’s desire for a spontaneous getaway with Megan stems from his wish to return to the beginning of their relationship, and that first trip they took to California with Sally and Bobby. Roger’s far-out place is his LSD trip, which simultaneously disorients him and crystallizes the problems in his marriage.
In an elegant extension of themes from last week’s episode, “faraway places” also has sci-fi connotations. The parallel storylines and time jumps have a beautiful but bizarre quality, as if Don, Roger and Peggy are operating in different dimensions. The personal arcs of the characters are interrelated, yet also alien to one another.
Similarly, after Ginsburg’s Mars-turned-Holocaust story, Peggy asks, “Are there others like you?” As Ginsburg stares at his reflection in the window, we understand the most horrific faraway place of all.
Other ideas or interpretations? Thoughts from the episode?