Mad Men Season 5, Ep. 6 Recap 'Far Away Places'

As always, don't read the following post if you haven't watched last night's episode. There's spoilers in these hills.

Well, the honeymoon's over. As Pete nastily predicted last week, Don and Megan's period of wedded bliss has been punctured by the inevitable moment in a relationship when all the little things about the other person you thought were so cute and lovable mutate into irritating flaws.

But first things first. Peggy may have confessed her uncertainty about her ability to act like a man to Dawn a few episodes back, but she seems to have the man's role down pat both at home and the office. Forget sad sack suburbanite Pet, Peggy's the new Don: she puts work before her boyfriend Abe, and uses their relationship as fodder for her copy writing, if his "I'm you boyfriend, not a focus group" comment is any indication (Betty's "you know me so well" diatribe against Don in season two's "A Night To Remember" is also written all over that line).

The episode even begins with her searching for some candy her boss gave her in order to swing a little Draper swag  her way for her Heinz sales pitch. And the way she attempts to berate and manipulate the wishy washy client from Heinz into liking her presentation after he rejects yet another idea is pure Don Draper. Of course, his reaction makes it crystal clear that no matter how brazen or talented Peggy may be, she is still a young woman, and her behavior will almost always be viewed differently than Don's or any other man's at SCDP. There's little doubt if Don had pulled the same stunt (again anyway), or had simply been there to speak up and give an extra vote of confidence, the Heinz meeting would have gone in an entirely different direction.

Peggy reaction to the news she's been kicked off the account also reeks of season one/two Don shenanigans--she plays hooky, smokes a little weed and has a random sexual encounter all before heading back into the office for a post-misadventure nap. She wakes up to find see Dawn, who informs her that it's evening and that the other Don's on the phone. Peggy fesses up about how terrible the Heinz meeting went, but for some reason a disheveled, slightly frantic Don could care less. Though the strangest part of Peggy's story line is the bizarre, intergalactic conversation she has with Michael Ginsberg about him being a Martian (hey before Lil' Wayne, there was Michael Ginsberg! Who knew!), his father and his childhood.

Even after viewing it a few times, I wasn't quite sure what to make of Michael's speech. There may have been bits of truth in it--his mother dying, being born in a concentration camp--but the part about being at a Swedish orphanage is just too far out to be true. The Martian quip could be an obvious but apt metaphor for the alienation he feels from his father's old way of life and what it means to be Jewish in the post-WWII world; or it could be he's embarrassed the bumbling, old country part of his life has literally walked into the office and left dirt marks all over the socially awkward, off-the-wall genius ad man persona his been building. I'm not totally sure. But it the whole scene definitely contained some of the episode's best dialogue. Peggy ends up calling Abe and asking him to come over, saying "I always need you." Don rarely, if ever, leaned on Betty when things went wrong in his world, so maybe Peggy shouldn't start puffing away on Lucky Strikes just yet. Though she didn't really seem that broken up about her earlier indiscretion. But then again, weed is a hell of drug.

So is LSD, as Roger and Jane Sterling can attest. The couple's trip towards the truth was hands down the funniest part of the episode (was there ever any doubt? Roger on LSD? You know that shit had EPIC written all over it), as Roger's psyche opens up into a magical world where bottles play classical music, bathrooms broadcast the 1919 World Series, cigarettes burn out at the speed of light and Don Draper appears in mirrors to calm any jittery nerves. In another one of the episode's best scenes Roger and Jane, laying on the floor and high out of their minds, slowly peel back the layers of their doomed marriage until they come face to face with a simple fact: they can't stand each other. The two have been sniping at each other since the season premiere, so it's no surprise they're heading for divorce; what's really great is the writers chose to forgo the usual breakup scene of tears, accusations and screaming, although Mad Men has done that pretty well too. It would've been easy to simply play up the LSD trip for laughs and have Roger walking into walls or fantasizing about naked women. Instead, the trip sets the stage for a quiet moment of clarity for both characters, one that Roger is all too eager to remind Jane of the next morning. Forget an autobiography; Sterling's next book should be 100 Ways To Leave Your Wife. Tabs of LSD included.

Perhaps Roger and Jane still would unhappily hitched if Don had decided to take him to the Howard Johnson instead of Megan. In the season premiere we saw Megan playfully pushing off Don's "dirty old man" advances and leaving the office early without a second though. Now though,  the new Mrs. Draper is starting to resent Don's constant pushing and prodding to do everything from skipping the Heinz presentation to telling her what to wear and what dessert she should order. Don, caught up in the love and/or sex haze, doesn't seem to realize the effect his pushy, patronizing behavior is having on his young wife. But it all comes out with one scoop of perfume-flavored sherbet (did anyone else get subtle eat-the-cake-Anna Mae vibes from this scene?). The floodgates now open, Megan calls Don out for ordering her around and constantly pulling her away from work. The two trade barbs back and forth--Megan about his controlling, selfish ways, Don about her constant phone calls complaining about him to her mother--until Megan pulls the "yo Mama" card on Don, causing him to leave to walk out to the car and drive off, leaving a furious Megan in the parking lot.

Don eventually pulls around and comes back to the Howard Johnson to find Megan has taken off with some strangers. Hours of phone calls later, he returns home to find Megan's locked the door. After kicking in the door but waving no four four, the two have another heated fight that escalates into a good smack from Megan, causing Don to chase her through the apartment until he grabs her and they fall onto the floor.  However, this time instead of hot S&M, lingerie-clad make up sex, Megan bursts into tears and Don tries to console her in the limited way he can, saying it was a fight and now it's over. Don's words seem to recall the "moving forward" philosophy he's built his life around. It happened, now let's pretend it never did. But to Megan, it's much more serious than that; to her every squabble is strike against their relationship. When she gets up from the floor to go to work, Don turns totally vulnerable, grabbing her by the waist and admitting he thought he lost her.

I was slightly on edge during the whole chase scene. Although I knew Don wouldn't start wailing away on Megan--it'd take a miracle for the writers to bring Don back from the likability brink if he turned into a full-fledged wife beater--Bobbi Barrett and Betty will testify that he's not above a using a little strong-arm to get his way. Afterwards, when they walk into the office hand in hand, looking every inch the glamorous, happy couple, the storm seems to have past. But this fight looks to be a watershed moment in their relationship. Things are probably about to get a lot darker and more dramatic over at the Draper residence.

Of course, his relationship with Megan isn't the only problem our anti-hero's facing. So far this season, Don's been phoning it in at work, leaving the office early and leaving all the heavy creative lifting to Peggy. His wake up call comes from Bert Cooper of all people, who tells him in so many words to get out from under Megan and step his game up. Surprise folks, Bert's not senile or suffering the early stages of dementia yet! And just when Don's bad trip couldn't get worse, a jubilant, soon-to-be-single Roger swings open the conference door to announce "today is going to be a great day." Don shoots him a look that's equal parts "fuck you" and  "what the fuck have I been doing?" In case it isn't obvious by now, both Roger and Don's trips brought them to a place of truth. The latter's just brought him back to reality,  a point driven home by the closing shot of him staring off into space with a conflicted, anxious gaze as he watches the world move around him, contemplating his next move for how to navigate it. Ahh Don, we've missed you.

Other points:

--The disjointed, all-over-the-place editing style of the plot lines could have ended up one big hot mess, but in my opinion came off really well. It definitely made things more interesting to see how two decisions--Roger's to take a trip, Don's to invite Megan along instead--impacted the other characters on the show both in and out of the office, and to see them from multiple points of view.

--No Betty again? Yes the woman's tumor was benign, but come on! There has be something still stirring inside our favorite ice queen. Did she ever find out about Sally's brush with barbiturates? Is she trying to get back to her slim and trim Grace Kelly look? Is Henry still shook up about Don? Have vampires kidnapped her and locked her and the kids in the basement of that damn house?  There's lot to explore.

--Dawn is still on the fringes, but I'm holding out hope she and Peggy will have another intertwined story line soon, because I honestly can't see any other character aside from Megan interacting with her outside of the office.

--Chile, no Joan. That's all I have to say.

So what did you think of 'Far Away Places?' Discuss.