Mad Men: The One Where Roger Drops Acid

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Mad Men S05E06: “Far Away Places”

At the Howard Johnson's, before the orange sorbet-induced meltdown, Megan told Don that Howard Johnson's itself wasn’t a destination, it was “on the way to some place.”

Despite the implications of the episode title, “Far Away Places” wasn’t a destination, either. It was a pit stop. It was an exotic pit stop—a little bit weird and a departure from the norm. At most, it was a roadside attraction. It was the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine, the “Future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk” or the remains of New Jersey’s defunct Desolation Palace; something whose meaning will be derived from its position in a larger picture of the world, rather than its own singular existence.

The three major storylines in “Far Away Places” were uncharacteristically isolated from one another, taking place on the same day, at the same time, but in starkly different locations. First, Peggy argued with Abe the Journalist Boyfriend, then unsuccessfully pitched yet another sentimental campaign to the people from Heinz. This time, Peggy and the gang presented Heinz with college students longing for home. They still wanted college students with picket signs. Peggy channeled her inner-Don in an attempt to sway the bean people, but it didn’t go over too well. The grand poobah didn’t appreciate Peggy’s sass. A woman’s place is BAKING the beans, not selling them.

Ultimately, Peggy was kicked off of the account.

The storyline that everyone is going to remember is the one involving Roger and Jane tripping the light fantastic. For a while there, Roger held his own. As his fellow party-goers licked the couch cushions and Jane contemplated death, Roger poured himself a glass of Stoli and took it all in stride...until the Beach Boys began to sing about not being made for these times. It was all downhill from there, with Roger’s deepest neuroses being dragged to the surface. One of the other acid-trippers, later revealed to be Jane’s doctor, described neuroses as an illogical obsession with the truth. Roger has struggled for much of this season with being perceived as obsolete and useless by the younger crowd at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. He fretted over his struggle to relate to his much younger wife.

Despite a rough patch, Roger seemed to accept the inevitability of his truth. He has grown and evolved. Jane has grown and evolved. But they moved away from each other in their growth. At one point, still high as a kite, Jane told Roger that he just didn’t like her. Roger conceded that he didn’t like her anymore, he HAD liked her, at one time. Before. He decided to leave her, rationalized that they were really leaving each other and that they had been all along.

The next day, at work, Roger was a cheerful ray of manic sunshine. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Give it another episode or two.

Okay, Storyline #3: Don kidnapped Megan from the office despite her insistence that she needed to be present for the Heinz presentation. He wanted her to help him check out Howard Johnson's as a potential client...but left that detail out of the conversation as they embarked on the drive upstate. Megan was under the impression they were just jet-setting off to some new hotel to play hooky from the office. The pieces slid into place after some over-the-top hospitality from the Howard Johnson's staff, complimentary food (one of everything), and Don not-so-stealthily trying to find an angle to advertise the now-legendary chain.

The final straw arrived with dessert, when Don, clearly a fan of the orange sorbet, insisted that Megan try it. Megan remarked that it was like eating perfume, asked if she could try the chocolate.

The ensuing meltdown, in which a miffed Don, perhaps intending to build a grand advertising campaign around the bright orange sorbet and the matching orange roof of the motel, cried mortification over Megan’s rejection of the crown jewel of the dessert menu. The culmination of their battle resulted in Don leaving a crushed Megan in the rearview mirror...for a few miles, at least. He ultimately went back for her, but by then, unbeknownst to him, Megan had hopped a bus back to the city and locked herself in the apartment, where she was ignoring his sincerely concerned phone calls.

Don and Megan, despite the altercation at the diner and later, the startlingly violent fight in the penthouse after Don went full ninja on the locked door, found themselves in largely the same place they started at the beginning of “Far Away Places.” The sheen has certainly worn off their marriage, but they remain committed, mostly.

Don’s attitude toward Megan, while in many ways different from the attitude he had toward Betty, is the same in one key point: Don fears losing her. In “Far Away Places” it was implied that he's concerned with losing her in the physical sense; he worried for her safety and well being. However, for all of his good intentions, Don Draper has always been, on some level, a very possessive man. That possessiveness, the need to control every aspect of his life, was front and center this week.

For all of her (many) faults, one good thing that can be said about Betty is that she ultimately didn’t stand for it. She made the decision to leave Don and once free of his reign, she flexed her own muscles during the fight over the house and the children. Certainly, she reached the point of being unreasonable, but one could argue that her rigidity was the result of an overindulgence in the sudden freedom she found when Don wasn’t allowed to call all the shots in her life.

As we left her last night, Megan is in a tough position, one that we have seen glimpses of all season long. She is strong-willed, intelligent, and ambitious. She also loves Don Draper, warts and all. The survival of Don and Megan’s marriage will ultimately come down to whether or not Don can accept Megan’s ambition and allow her to be fulfilled as an individual by her own work, both inside and outside of their home. I’m not saying that he can’t do it, but the portrait of their relationship painted is “Far Away Places” is currently a dark and uninviting stop on a long, winding road.

What are your thoughts?