Monday, April 23, 2012

"Mad Men" recap: Hide and seek

Spoilers for this week's episode of "Mad Men" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

This week's episode, "Far Away Places," was not unlike season three's "Seven Twenty Three" as it told three more or less separate stories about three of our characters, all united by a common theme. That episode saw how Don's neglect and secrets took a toll on him and the women in his life (mainly Peggy and Betty). This episode focuses on three (four, if you count Megan) of our characters making escapes big and small, with mixed results.

I'm going to work backwards, here, starting with the story the episode ends with -- Don and Megan's ill-fated trip to Howard Johnson's. The two blow off the Heinz presentation to make their getaway, which Don is fine with. But Megan feels like she's neglecting her new job and never gets comfortable. She ends up chastising Don for bossing her around and treating her like property. They fight and Don, in a shocking display of his worst impulses, leaves her alone and the Howard Johnson's. When he returns to find her gone, he thinks the worst. (The Kurt Russell "travelers in peril" epic "Breakdown" was still several decades from release, but I'm sure that Don imagined Megan in a scenario similar to the one poor Kathleen Quinlan undergoes at the hands of JT Walsh. Man, "Breakdown," was kinda underrated, no?)

But Megan's fine and at home, and the Drapers have another lusty confrontation on the floor of their apartment, during which I was sure Don would chase Megan onto the balcony, leading her to plunge to her death. But, no -- everyone's fine. And the marriage seems on solid footing when the two return to work the next day. But come on -- Don LEFT HER AT A REST STOP!! That's pretty hard to come back from. Don's new marriage is starting to look just as doomed as his previous one. We know that Don's marriage to Megan has flaws -- we saw it in the season premiere. But he's determined to keep he thinking he can control his new bride -- that he can force her (and their life together) to be perfect. Meanwhile, Megan's starting to realize that the prince who swept her off her feet with that surprise marriage proposal has demons she can't begin to imagine or handle. Their relationship is arguably better than what he had with Betty, as Don and Megan hash things out instead of hold them in. But seems like they're headed down the same path as another marriage between ad exec and secretary -- that of Roger and Jane.

Speaking of which, our middle story focused on Roger and Jane's union, which ended during an acid trip instigated by Jane's therapist. Given the timeline of the show, at least one of the characters was bound to try LSD, but Roger was kind of an odd choice. Yet he's a fairly hilarious one as, not unexpectedly, Roger's first evidence of the drug's effects was music blaring out of an open bottle of Stoli. Heh. Things get less funny from there, as Jane and Roger both eventually admit that their marriage is over. Whether or not Jane meant it is unclear, as she's initially upset the next morning when Roger announces he's leaving. But she eventually seems resigned to the fact that the relationship has ended and even her quasi threat that the divorce is going to be expensive isn't really delivered with malice. On some level, she's as happy to be out of the relationship as Roger. After all, as she points out during their drug trip, he doesn't like her. She clearly cared for him on some level (she never cheated on him, for example, while he's the not-so-proud father of young Kevin Harris), but, with little reciprocal affection from Roger, she became angry and frustrated. Take a look, Don and Megan -- this is your future.

Lastly (at least here), we have Peggy Olson, the girl Don and Megan left behind to fend for herself at the Heinz presentation. Peggy's sweating over the presentation, to the point where her boring journalist boyfriend is griping that she's emotionally unavailable (Seriously? A man in 1966 would do that?). Just as Megan believes Don treats her as a slave, Abe believes Peggy treats him as a plaything, taking him out of her desk when she feels like it. Peggy, however, has bigger things to think about than her whiny uninteresting mate. She's in a panic when Don bails on the presentation, but does her best, only to be shot down by the Heinz guy yet again. Peggy calmly confronts him, much the way Don would, telling him that the presentation is good and that, despite his protestations, he actually likes it. But, while this might have worked for Don, a middle-aged man in 1966 wouldn't accept that kind of directness from a young woman. The Heinz guy practically storms off and Peggy is off the Heinz account.

She handles this calmly, heading off to the movies. Interestingly, her choice is "Born Free," the story of a couple releasing their pet lion into the wild. Contrast that to "The Naked Prey" -- the movie Abe suggests at the episode's start -- which stars Cornel Wilde as a man being hunted by natives in Africa after the rest of his party is brutally murdered (at least according to IMDB -- I've not seen it). Peggy's choice is about growth and freedom. Abe's is much darker -- and probably a more appropriate backdrop for getting high and giving a handjob to a random stranger. Honestly, Peggy -- "Born Free" is a FAMILY movie. Have you no decency?

After blowing off steam, Peggy feels better and returns to the office to find Ginsburg in a confrontation with his father. Curious, she strikes up a conversation and the guarded Ginsburg tells her he was born during the Holocaust and that his mother was killed. He also tells her he's a Martian, so it's tough to separate fact from fiction. But Peggy's intrigued enough to forget her own troubles (and a weird phone call from Don, which we later learn is a frantic attempt to find Megan) and seeks out Abe when she gets home.

Nobody ends this episode truly happy, but Roger and Peggy come closest, each finding a certain amount of peace after their respective escapes. Don, meanwhile, has his peace disturbed yet again, and is slowly coming to the realization that his marriage is much weaker than he portrayed it as to Pete last week. At any rate, it was an OK episode -- thought-provoking, but not nearly as good as last week's "Signal 30."

As I'm short on time this morning, I'm skipping the bullets and just asking what you thought of the episode. Do you like it when "Mad Men" does these anthology episodes? Do you like a more straightforward approach? Do you really think "Born Free" provides a suitable atmosphere for drug-fueled sexual encounters with strangers? Thoughts below.

1 comment:

Bill Scurry said...

That Weiner didn't employ a device to indicate a change in perspective when he jumped through time left me confused, wondering if the episode had been scrambled in the editing bay. It wasn't until some time in that I realized it was nonlinear.

I like the fact they explicated Peggy washing the "material" (to quote Lena Dunham) off her hands in the SCDP bathroom, just so there was no doubt a man can get aroused by watching lion cubs in a dark theater.

Regarding the LSD trip -- I've heard this episode described on Twitter as "fan service," seeing as to how on the series outset people conjectured wild fantasies about Roger and lysergic acid. I guess there's some validity to that, but it doesn't bother me...