This should have been expected. After "Signal 30," one of the most thematically tight and emotionally profound episodes of Mad Men, the series gave us one of its most difficult and emotionally diverse episodes in "Far Away Places."
I enjoyed "Far Away Places" because I have always been fond of stories told from multiple perspectives. The "Wandering Rocks" episode of James Joyce's Ulysses is one of my favorites because it allows us to see all of the characters in the full scope of Dublin life as well as in relation to each other. While the scope of "Far Away Places" didn't have the same ambition, it certainly used the technique to a similar level of effectiveness. It will become increasingly difficult to discuss the Fifth Season of Mad Men (as well as future seasons, I imagine) without mentioning the chaotic and changing times of the late 1960's. Last night's episode further exhibited how the changing times are effecting our characters lives, this time by focusing on Peggy, Roger and Don in particular.
Roger's story had the most direct connection to the changing of the guard of the 1960's than either Peggy's or Don's due, of course, to the LSD experience Jane and Roger volunteered for. It was common knowledge that Roger and Jane were both unhappy in their marriage even before Don muttered, "Roger's miserable. I didn't think you were," to Pete in "Signal 30." And through the LSD experience, Roger and Jane were able to explore the depths of their unhappiness. Beyond heightening the senses (the blasts of music, especially the Beach Boys "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times," which is a personal favorite of mine, were a nice trick to relay the effect) and causing visual confusion, LSD was originally used as a tool for emotional therapy; and Roger and Jane found themselves carrying on their own therapy session on their bedroom floor. In a very touching scene, they both opened up in an articulate way about their unhappiness in their marriage and came to an understanding that it was, indeed, over. That is until the next morning when Roger, very effected and refreshed by the LSD experience, reminds Jane of everything that happened and Jane reacts in a more reluctant way, stating that she was "on drugs." In the end she does admit that her marriage to Roger is over, albeit not in the same positive, open way that Roger is able to accept it.
Peggy, too, had her own drug experience. After a rough morning with Abe where the couple fights over the issues in their own relationship, Don tells Peggy that she will be handling the Heinz presentation by herself. After her failure in "A Little Kiss" to please Heinz, Peggy fails again with her "campfire" campaign. However, Don is not there to put his spin on the failure and instead Peggy loses her cool, lashes out at Ray from Heinz and is taken off the account. Peggy then goes to the movies, seeing the film that Abe wanted to take her alone. While she is there, she shares a joint with a stranger and then gives the man a hand job. She finishes off her day by listening to Michael Ginsberg's story about his "alien" origins and then going home and calling Abe in the middle of the night and telling him to come over. There has always been something dark in Peggy Olsen and she is continually able to surprise us by her actions. Peggy's storyline showed us that there is something in her that refuses to be satisfied or tied down. She fights with Abe and Heinz and so she says "why the hell not" and smokes pot and performs a sexual act in a movie theatre. She is intrigued by Michael's made up story. There is no longer a "normal" in the world and Peggy's willingness to give into and accept the strange and unexpected urges that rise in her exemplify her ties with the changing culture of the 1960's. Yet, her ordering of Abe to come over echoes the way Don later orders Meghan around. That sense of dominance is simultaneously a call-back to an earlier era of one sex (male) ordering around another (female) and a look into the changing of sexual roles in the 1970's and onward. By 1966, the age of women being able to call the shots in a relationship is not that far off. And Peggy, as she reminded Dawn in "Mystery Date," has always been a pioneer.
Then we have Don and Meghan. In "Signal 30," when seen in relief to the life of Pete Campbell, it appeared that Don had everything under control. He was the guest of honor at Pete's dinner party and he and Meghan overall seemed like a healthy married couple. "Far Away Places" showed us that perspective is everything. Don is constantly domineering towards and belittling of Meghan throughout their sad trip to the Howard Johnson's in Plattsburg, New York. Everything about the trip seems stale: from the destination itself, to Don's smoking in the car with the windows closed, to the orange sherbet that Meghan doesn't like. Don is trying to place an old world on Meghan and even though Meghan "gets along with everybody" and "likes everything", there are truly things she doesn't like. The orange sherbet is just the culminating symbol of Don putting an image on and taking advantage of Meghan's openness. And his carelessness is starting to drive her away. There is a part of Don that needs Meghan-the flashback to their car ride post-California trip in "Tomorrowland" as well as Don hugging Meghan's waist while he is on his knees, clearly exhibit his need-but how sincere and how far will that need carry their relationship. Don, like Peggy, doesn't get what he wants; things don't go the way he expects them too and so he throws a tantrum and leaves Meghan at the Howard Johnson's. And in the end, both Don and Peggy expect the other person to just be there waiting for them. They both tell their significant other that they
"need" them, but what does that even mean? What does it mean when you tell someone that you need them but you don't even actually know what you want or who you truly are?
In the Mad Men world, it is 1966. Things aren't right and aren't normal all over the United States and all over the world. Yet, it is ironic that an old man like Bert Cooper, someone everyone at the SCDP office takes to be senile, is the one who points out to Don that things are falling apart. Cooper, using his gravitas of old, tells Don in so many words that the world is moving forward while Don is looking the other way.
Roger from his new LSD-enlightened perspective says "it's going to be a beautiful day," but if Don can't catch up to the changing times, he may not be able to say the same thing.