Throughout this season, Mad Men has been suggesting a sense of disorientation around the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and much of it has to do with Don Draper (Jon Hamm) finding himself romantically sated by his new wife Megan (Jessica Paré). The degree to which this causes a shift in the nature of things around him has been documented from the season’s premiere. Don has been so ensnared by his new temperament it is as though he’s been absent from SCDP.
The trick of ‘Far Away Places’ is how it distorts the viewers’ perception of events by layering the chronology so that the same day is told from the perspective of Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Roger (John Slattery) and finally Don. It’s disorienting at first, but it leaves the characters examining a truth they had been unaware of, or unwilling to acknowledge after taking, literally or otherwise, some kind of trip. While Peggy and Roger are marched down the road through the use of mind-altering substances, Don has been, to paraphrase Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), drunk on love. And by episode’s end, it’s time to sober up and get back in the game.
The effect of Don’s absence is evident in a miserable pitch to Heinz where Peggy and Raymond Geiger have it out over a campaign he says is based on a memory that’s sentimental for him, but not going to get kids to buy beans. Peggy labels the client as purposefully argumentative, basically rejecting Raymond’s rejection of her work and getting herself removed from the account. Since Don’s off with Megan inspecting a Howard Johnson, there’s really no one to answer to, and, rudderless, Peggy finds herself going to the movie her boyfriend Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) wanted to see with her that evening. She ends up sharing a joint with a complete stranger, who takes a seat next to her and things progress in a relatively unwholesome manner.
Later, Peggy is woken by Dawn (Teyonha Parris) who tells her Don is on the phone. A disheveled Don is in a state, which Peggy assumes is due to the Heinz pitch. Things only get weirder from there as she speaks with Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) about his father – only Ginsberg claims the man she met is not his real father, apparently. Ben refers to himself as a Martian and says his (false) father told him he was born in a concentration camp, and was found in a Swedish orphanage years later. Ginsberg continues by saying he received a communication (from Mars?) telling him to stay right where he was, but that he’s yet to find anyone like him.
Like Don at the dinner party in last week’s superlative ‘Signal 30,’ Roger Sterling finds himself a guest at a home he’d rather not be in, until his wife Jane (Peyton List) coaxes him into taking LSD, that is. And like the dinner party at the Campbells, we get the clearest sense of what the episode is trying to convey. Roger overhears: “Only awareness can make reality. Only what’s real can become a dream. Only from a dream can you wake to the light.” And with Don appearing in the mirror as a spirit guide, of sorts, Roger understands he needs to be alone with Jane in the truth – and the truth isn’t necessarily good.
While the two are in the bath, Roger sees the 1919 World Series and tries to point it out to his wife, but she simply cannot see it. Like another planet, or a Howard Johnson in upstate New York, a lifetime of memories can also be a far away place that keeps two people apart. Eventually, the two come to the conclusion that the marriage is over and agree to split amicably, but expensively.
Don and Megan’s reactions to the Howard Johnson speak volumes about where they see themselves as individuals and as a couple. While Don is seemingly pleased to be at the HoJo, writing up copy on the fly, Megan is not so impressed, referring to it as a stop on the way to some place, not a destination as Don described. The fact that Don pulled Megan away from the Heinz pitch comes to a head after she confronts him that, even though being his wife comes with some perks, she’s not necessarily looking to take advantage of them all. The wake up call being that maybe Megan sees this marriage as brief stop on the road to her eventual destination, while for Don it may be the end of the line.
They fight and Don leaves her in the parking lot, returning a short time later to find out she’s left with a group of young men. Fearing the worst, Don stays the night, reluctantly returning home to find Megan already there. As in ‘A Little Kiss’ the fight turns physical, and after settling down, the pair reveal to one another that they essentially put one another through their worst fear: being left by the other.
To a certain degree it comes down to these three characters realizing the situations they’ve somehow trapped themselves in. While Roger seems to have woken to the light, Peggy and Don, as much as they seemed to have it together, may still be in the dark.
Mad Men continues next Sunday with ‘At the Codfish Ball’ @10pm on AMC. Take a look at the typically cryptic sneak peek below: