TV in Review: Mad Men, “Far Away Places”

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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I care about politics, but also enjoy tabloid talk. So what’s a boy to do?

10 Responses to TV in Review: Mad Men, “Far Away Places”

  1. rheumadroid says:

    Thanks for your review – lets me think over the episode a bit and not just revel in the entertaining aspect of it all.

  2. I was wondering what Bert Cooper was still around for. Apparently he’s the ombudsman for the company. And to appear on five dollar bills.

    • Matthew says:

      Bert was used perfectly this episode, just a couple brief appearances where he added a needed perspective. Comic the first time, dramatic the second.

  3. Isadore says:

    I believe way back in Season 1 or 2, Don tells Bobby that his father liked violet candies in silver wrappers. I thought it was interesting/meaningful that Don had given those to Peggy.

    • Matthew says:

      That’s a pretty impressive memory you’ve got! It’s a really interesting insight, and another testament to their attention to detail.

      • Isadore says:

        May not be so impressive given that I’ve watched the whole series multiple times! I’m of the opinion pretty much everything that happens on that show happens for a reason. Violet candy is kind of weird, and I think the only other time I’ve heard someone mention it was when Don mentioned it. I don’t know why he’d give that to someone for luck, though, considering he didn’t much care for his dad.

        There were other callbacks – I thought Megan being a baby and making a scene stuffing the sherbet in her mouth (in a circular booth in a family-style restaurant) was a reference back to when she was so cool about Sally/Bobby spilling the milkshake in California. I think Don pretty much fell in love with her for not getting all Betty-ish over that shake spill, and then here she is, embarrassing him with ice cream like a child.

  4. It was an interesting episode. In a way, it reminded me of the Season 3 episode, “Seven Twenty-Three”. Although I cannot say that it was better. I had to struggle to stay awake during Roger and Jane’s LSD trip. And Peggy’s story was not exactly moving me . . . aside from her attempts to become Don Draper 2.0. I wish that Jessica Pare was a slightly more skillful actress. But other than that, it was a pretty good episode.

    By the way, that was not Timothy Leary at the party that Roger and Jane attended. Roger simply called the guy by that name as a joke.

    • Matthew says:

      Thanks for your insights — and thanks in particular for the correction on the professor’s name! Leary was all that I heard, but of course it should have occurred to me that Mad Men doesn’t tend to bring in the central characters from history a la Forrest Gump.

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