TV in Review: Mad Men, “Far Away Places”
April 23, 2012 10 Comments
Loved it, loved it, loved it. From writing to direction, “Far Away Places” was my favorite episode of the season so far. The hybrid recap/review is about to begin, so if you haven’t seen it yet and want to avoid the spoilers, please turn away from the door now.
Okay, so after not being a bit too male-centered for my tastes last week, this week they open with Peggy searching through a drawer. One of my favorite aspects of Mad Men is when they move the drama forward via the small and the everyday.
PEGGY: Did you eat my pack of violet candy?
Peggy is acting all business, which pleases me as it suggests that we’re about to see her work through some issues, but it ticks off her boyfriend Abe. He is apparently less interested than I am in the drama of it all. Doesn’t he care about characterization?
ABE: You know what you want? You want to take me to work with you and stick me in a drawer and open it whenever you get bored.
There’s some truth to that, which is why it’s a compelling line, and he does not leave placated.
ABE: I’m your boyfriend. Not a focus group!
Cue interesting new guy at the office…
(By the way, I’d never even heard of it, but apparently, violet candy is still available.)
Don leaves Peggy to handle the Heinz account by herself, and it doesn’t go well. Sometimes we’re dazzled by the magic of advertizing. Other times, we see the artifical nature of it all.
PEGGY: It’s the beans that brought them together.
Peggy tries to win over the Heinz guy through force, but the Old Boys Network doesn’t take kindly to that. It’s a great point about institutional discrimination, although they hit us over the head with it a bit much when Stan says…
STAN: Women usually want to please.
Although that line does resonate well with Peggy’s behavior at the cinema, where she gives a handjob to a guy she just met. Now, I’m on board with the whole sexual empowerment thing, although shouldn’t someone should warn her that this isn’t the best way to achieve women’s lib? Of course, it’s a great entrance into the kind of self-destructive tendencies that Mad Men provides with flair.
There will be more self-destruction soon, but in the meantime there is still some advertizing going on at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Stan worries that his art is going to be an increasingly unnecessary part of the process.
STAN: I was buying dinner last night for this large-breasted girl who calls herself Salome and she’s looking at the menu ridiculing this Grandma Moses drawing and she’s balls-out funny but I ignore her because all I can think of is I’ll never be able to draw as well as a photograph.
Roger tries to get Don to play hooky with him, leaving work to go upstate and ostensibly check out the Howard Johnson’s in Plattsburgh.
ROGER: Alone I’m an escapee from some expensive mental institution. The two of us — we’re a couple of rich, handsome perverts.
DON: I love Howard Johnson’s.
But Don wants to go with Megan, so Roger winds up going with his wife Jane to some party with a professor and a psychiatrist.
Roger jokingly refers to Professor Orcutt as Timothy Lear. Yay, the ’60s have started! Although I have to say that this is not how I expected hallucinogenics to enter into Mad Men. But it works.
LEARY: This is an experience of self-fulfilling prophecy. You have to enter into it with a spirit of optimism. It’s like a boat trip. You don’t cast off thinking about sinking.
Mad Men shows off its skill here as they use the experience not for a cheap thrill, but in order to explore character relationships — most importantly, the tension between Roger and his wife, who don’t appear to be doing well.
Scott Hornbacher does a terrific job as director. There are no overwrought Austin Powers swirls of colors and light, but an experience shown with little jolts, including Roger’s cigarette suddenly shrinking, people staring at fabric, audio layers, and voice-overs.
I was very impressed with the writing as Roger and Jane come down. Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner combine the stilted logic of the drug experience with the end of couple’s relationship.
The play with time is also masterful, and that becomes a major theme in the episode. There are many ways to tell a story, and the linear method can be overdone. It makes extra sense in this episode because of the hallucinogenics, but we also get the narrative between Don and Megan told to us out of order.
The first sign we get that Don may be slipping into something bad comes in the guise of a frantic call to Peggy at the office from a pay phone.
Don has taken Megan out of the office, which puts her in an awkward position. For Don, it’s obvious that Megan should just take delight in being his wife, but Megan is starting to speak up for herself. (I wonder how many takes Jessica Paré had to do gulping down the orange sherbert?)
Don’s despair when he can’t find Megan was even more delicious than the desert. For me, it had a dab of the noir-ish aspect of some episodes from previous seasons that were part of showing us that not all is right with this man.
So, has the fun of season five finally begun? Don and Megan do make up, but them going to the dark places means we’ll get to know them better, and I like that. Even if it’s not a ride that they enjoy.
MEGAN: How could you do that to me?
DON: I don’t know. It was a fight. It’s over.
MEGAN: No. Every time we fight it just diminishes this a little bit.
AMC first broadcast Season 5, Episode 6 of Mad Men on April 22, 2012.
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