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MAD MEN RECAP 5: FAR AWAY PLACES

Television
by Deborah Lipp
April 23, 2012 2:03 AM
20 Comments
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"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.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."

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20 Comments

  • Carol | April 23, 2012 11:22 PMReply

    Did anyone notice that Don called Megan "Betty" when he asked her to talk to him and asked her about going away? I listened twice to be sure.

  • David Handelman | April 23, 2012 10:54 PMReply

    This is a great read. One minor point: "doesn't force Contractually Obligated Scenes with characters who aren't integral to each week's episode." True, but they also save money on actors that way. An actor gets, say, 10 of 13. Happens all the time.

  • Charlotte | April 25, 2012 12:07 PM

    I missed the characters, although I get the point that they weren't necessary. Especially the office characters- even if they were not the center of attention- could have been there like extras. I know that they are too expensive, but still.

  • FC | April 23, 2012 12:12 PMReply

    Someone posted the link on the open thread to that issue of Life magazine. The ad is in there. The whole issue is fascinating!

    http://books.google.com/books?id=o1UEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PP1&dq=doctors+and+the+rx+scandal&hl=en&sa=X&ei=9Q2VT4q3N4agiAL28pXZDw&ved=0CEIQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=doctors%20and%20the%20rx%20scandal&f=false

  • Deborah Lipp | April 23, 2012 7:51 PM

    I've got the ad here: http://www.lippsisters.com/2012/04/23/hair-today-gone-tomorrow/

  • Joanne | April 23, 2012 3:45 PM

    The link doesn't work for me. Was the ad real or not?

  • Marsha | April 23, 2012 9:55 AMReply

    I wrote a few thoughts on my Facebook wall; my focus was completely different from yours. I just stumbled on your blog. I love your comments, so I will return. I was disappointed in Peggy at the movies; at least she washed her hands. For now, Peggy has no female role model except for Joan who has advanced in a different direction. And Megan took a different approach to get ahead. All three women are dedicated to their jobs. Each of them is trying to liberate herself.

    Don seems to be stuck while he is surrounded by others who are evolving. He was actually being nice to Megan, wanting to share some amazing sherbet. Who knew how important it was to Megan to choose her own food? I love how he chased Megan and how Megan ran, but there was absolutely no violence. I said to myself, "Please don't have Don forcefully TAKE Megan at the climax of their fight. Fortunately, the show took an original approach.

    The sober LSD leader didn't do such a hot job taking care of the others. He led them to thoughts on death. I loved Roger acid trip. I wish Don would have a similar awakening. Jon Hamm is handsome; Don Draper is almost vapid. I'm not sure what women see in him.

    I've missed Betty lately, but I didn't notice the absence of others. Pete makes me uncomfortable. I appreciated the break from Pete.

    This episode was Mad Men meets Pulp Fiction. I'm not someone who appreciates scenes out of sequence, but these scenes were handled perfectly. This was clearly my favorite episode.

  • Jane Kramer | April 24, 2012 4:31 PM

    That was really dull what you wrote.

  • Amy | April 23, 2012 9:50 AMReply

    Great episode/analysis. I did notice that the one thing Megan left behind were her rose-tinted glasses...

  • Deborah Lipp | April 23, 2012 7:52 PM

    Amy, that is a FANTASTIC observation.

  • Pam Dougherty | April 23, 2012 9:50 AMReply

    'Don did talk to his mother—last week, when he visited a whorehouse.'

    Didn't Don's mother die while giving birth to him? Am I missing something?

  • Bunting | April 23, 2012 9:16 PM

    And the actress played Felicity's mother on "Felicity." Not sure *what* that parallels but I was inordinately proud of myself for catching it.

  • Pam Dougherty | April 23, 2012 3:36 PM

    Carlo,

    Yes, I know she was a prostitute. I totally forgot it was a brothel last week and he was FIGURATIVELY speaking to his mom.

  • Carlo | April 23, 2012 1:24 PM

    Don's mother DID die in childbirth. She was a prostitute; Don was talking to the "madame" of the bordello they went to in last week's episode. It could be argued that he was metaphorically speaking with his mother.

  • Judith in Florida | April 23, 2012 8:07 AMReply

    Thank you Deborah. Brilliant as usual. The second wave of feminism and the battle of the sexes will soon be public discourse.

  • Andrew | April 23, 2012 4:25 AMReply

    "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."

    I assume it's the opposite, that they're contractually obligated to not use certain characters for X number of episodes, which made Pete's ten-second cameo all the more odd.

  • Deborah Lipp | April 23, 2012 7:40 AM

    At 2 am I suddenly woke up and thought, "Pete's not in it either!" And then I remembered that tiny scene. Of course, it wasn't meaningless; I can easily see that Ken wouldn't have been allowed to tell her or would have refused to tell her, but you're right it was odd that it was practically a cameo.

  • EB | April 23, 2012 3:42 AMReply

    The hair color ad was a photo of actor Ted Knight. A real ad.

  • Virginia | April 23, 2012 8:44 AM

    I thought that was Ted Knight -- good catch!

  • Deborah Lipp | April 23, 2012 7:39 AM

    Thanks, EB, I just *knew* someone would know.

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