Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: Mad Men "Far Away Places"

Non Spoiler Review:
Mad Men throws out a surprisingly experimental episode that traces three different stories—Peggy's troublesome Heinz pitch, Don and Megan's derailed trip to a rural Howard Johnson hotel, and Roger and Jane's unsettling evening with some college types. It takes awhile to sort out exactly what's going on, but it really makes for another tense hour.

The writers had fun teasing the viewer with the nature of time—we got things from a variety of perspectives and finally figure out just what's going on and where it's all coming together halfway through. There's also a welcome appearance from Jane, and Michael's backstory is an eyeopener.

It's still unclear what the ultimate course of the season is going to take, but the characters (like us) this episode are having a hard time figuring their way along. Additional praise to the Howard Johnson set, which really helped set the mood for Don and Megan's story.

Spoilers Now!
Peggy is fretting on her Heinz presentation, while Abe's having trouble managing a relationship with her continued distractions with work. Don and Megan have to miss the presentation, which leaves Peggy on her own. Peggy makes her pitch, but the Heinz exec wants her to stop giving him what he asks and give him what he wants. Stan and Ken struggle to save it, but all he cares about is if Don signed off on it. Peggy gets confrontational and says she thinks he likes it but just likes fighting about it. He isn't impressed with her hard sell so Ken offers to take him to dinner and get him out of the room. Stan is impressed with her suicidal move. Pete comes in afterwards to tell her she's off the business.

Peggy leaves for the day and goes to the movies, sharing a joint with a stranger next to her and ends up giving him a hand job (!). She returns to work, finding Michael's father has paid an unexpected visit. She introduces herself, and Michael quickly ushers him out. Peggy falls asleep on her couch and is woken up by Dawn at night.

Then Peggy answers the phone from a somewhat frantic Don, asking if she's gotten any calls. She tries to tell him the presentation didn't go well, but Don says he has to go. While she and Michael work late, she asks about his family. The man isn't his real father, he explains. His father told him he was born in a concentration camp, which is impossible (he adds), and his mother died there, so he was found in an orphanage. Peggy later phones Abe, asking him to come over to her place. She also relays Michael's story and asks if it could be true. Abe says it's possible.

In the morning, Don comes into work to find Roger wanting him to join him on a trip to a Howard Johnson in the country to review their service. Don isn't in for the whole bachelor style trip Roger has in mind, so suggests he take Megan and Roger can bring Jane. That doesn't fly with Roger.

Roger and Jane's marriage is quite icy these days. They attend a dinner with weighty philosophical talk that bores him, and then the group reveals they're going to take LSD, which Roger hadn't been paying attention to. He just wants to go home, having indulged Jane, but she convinces him to stay. Most of the group take it, including Roger, who then notices he has been given a card that shows his name and address and that he's taken LSD, ending with please help me.

Roger goes and gets a drink and starts tripping (he hears music coming out of the liquor bottle when he takes off the cap). Roger looks in the mirror and sees Don telling him to go sit with his wife because she wants to be alone in the truth with him. The sober professor advises him not to look in mirrors. Eventually he and Jane go home and sit in the bath and Roger thinks he's watching the world series. Jane muses that her psychiatrist, Catherine (from the party) told her she knows their marriage is over and Jane is just waiting for Roger to say it.  She admits she never cheated but she knows he never fell in love. He really did like her in the beginning, he admits as they lay on the floor together.

In the morning, Roger tells her she's beautiful. They both enjoyed the night. He figures he'll just check into a hotel for awhile and she can take her time, but she doesn't know what he's talking about. They're leaving each other, just like she said. She protests she didn't mean any of it. Roger repeats what her psychiatrist said, and Jane remembers what she revealed. She comments that it's going to be very expensive. She doesn't want a kiss goodbye. 

Don tells Megan about the Howard Johnson trip for the weekend and drags her away from the Heinz presentation. On the road, she wonders how Heinz went and feels she abandoned the team, but Don (of course) doesn't feel guilty. They check in, but Don has taken over every aspect of the trip and isn't letting Megan make any decisions (including what to order for dessert). Don attempts to brand the hotel for the campaign, and she gets annoyed that she doesn't get to work but he does. She's confused when she's supposed to be working and when she's his wife. Don insults her mother so he tells her to call his mother, which prompts Don to walk out. He tells her to get in the car, so he drives off without her when she refuses. 

Don returns to the Howard Johnson but can't find Megan. All he hears is that she was talking to some men in the restaurant and they went to the parking lot together. He finds her sunglasses. He spends the day looking for her but there's no sign, so he calls Peggy asking if anyone called her, and then her mother, but no one has heard from her. Megan never comes back that night, so Don keeps searching.

Don remembers when Megan and Don were driving Sally and her brothers to their new house after vacation, and what a sweet moment it was. Don snaps back to reality and returns home, finding the door bolted. Megan tells him to go away. He's sorry, but she doesn't care, given he abandoned her there. She took the bus home. They get into a fight and fall onto the floor together (mirroring Roger and Jane). Don thought he lost her. He tells her it was a fight and it's over. 

They return to work in the morning, seeming having made peace. Bert calls Don in telling a client left unhappy because he has a little girl running everything. It's time he gets back to work. Don says it's none of his business. Bert tells him this is his business, and Don is done at playing love. Roger pops in and announces it's going to be a beautiful day.

The Verdict:
This experimental episode was a nice change of pace, and kept one guessing as the storylines crossed halfway through. Seeing only one side of each story at a time kept the tension high (Don's frantic phone call). The LSD scene was a new adventure for the show, as well, and was quite funny and disturbing at the same time. Especially with the ominous tone from last week, I keep expecting some tragedy to spring out of left field at any moment.

A shout out to the set design again this week. The Howard Johnson served as the backdrop to a lot of the episode's drama and it really set the tone. The technological generation gap was very evident in Don's frantic struggle to locate Megan via phone booth, which gave it a great sense of isolation.

While Megan might have come off whiny, I found she had some valid points. Don certainly doesn't treat her job with any seriousness at all, and drags her off at the least provocation so he can dote on her and treat her like a child. It's understandable she would rebel against that. But it's very clear he's worried about ruining this relationship. Megan's youth is something he's continually struggling to understand. It's interesting we get treated to yet another physical fight between the two of them, with Don chasing her down like a little girl.

Meanwhile, the LSD trip provides Roger his exit from his loveless marriage, in contrast to Jane, who feels closer to him once it's over (despite having revealed the troublesome information about her psychiatrist). How will his new found freedom affect Roger in the office?

Michael's backstory was an odd bit thrown into the mix, but it certainly added quite a bit to his character (and makes sense why he was so agitated by everyone looking at the crime scene photos a few weeks back). He's certainly struggling with his own past and all the baggage that comes with it. It makes me wonder if Peggy's going to fall for him, given it seems her relationship with Abe has run its course.

Everyone seems to be trying to emulate the old Don, including Peggy, and she's failing miserably, like Pete last week. I'm still wondering what direction her career will take. Will Don return to his old form? Can he even do that now, and if he does resurrect his old self, will it mean sacrificing his relationship with Megan?

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