TV Review: Mad Men S5 E6, Far Away Places

After such a long wait between the end of the fourth season and the premiere of the highly anticipated fifth of Mad Men, it seems somewhat sad to recognise that Sunday’s episode Far Away Places marks the mid-point of the latest series as the sixth of the thirteen episode run. Following on from the introspective character work regarding Pete Campbell in the previous instalment Signal 30, episode six seemed far more concerned with a more experimental and candid look into the state of relationships on the show. Ever the beacon of sharp and allusively-driven dialogue to maintain the exemplary drama of the show, Far Away Places continued the trend of excellent and compelling episodes that are stacking up this season and the risky chances the production team are taking is beginning to prove more than ever that this isn’t a show content to rest on the laurels of reputation and is in a state of perpetual evolution.

While the previous episode had been far more linear and true to the usual format of the Mad Men series, in Far Away Places the episode is distinctly cut into three separate stories, following Peggy, Roger and Don and their respective issues. There is little crossover between the three stories other than a phone call from Don to Peggy which is disconcerting with how the episode diverts from the chronological order of the drama, playing with the linearity of the events in a perhaps minor and presumably unintentional homage to Groundhog Day.

What is far more disconcerting though is the content of Roger’s story. This season of Mad Men has been far more divergent from previous series purely due to its proximity to the 1970s, as I noted earlier here on RhettMedia (https://rhettmedia.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/tv-review-mad-men-season-5-premiere-a-little-kiss/ ) how Megan is a physical symbol for the impending decade. The times are changing on Mad Men, and it was never more prevalent than on Sunday night when Roger of all people literally tripped into the 70s spirit by experimenting at his wife’s behest with the psychedelic drug LSD. That the producers chose Roger as the character to drop acid first on the show is mind-boggling in itself, but for a show that seems to pride itself on the realism of character and drama, this combined with Don’s feverish dream of adultery and murder from Mystery Date a few episodes ago show how the stability of the show is being rocked. On the LSD front, John Slattery looks like he’s having a whale of a time in selling the bizarre absurdity of the trip, and as always his humour and sense of fun proves infectious for the audience, and when Roger’s journey through the trip with Jane ends with them reaching an impasse to their diminishing relationship, it’s clear that the drug has opened the door to divorce and likely an inevitable reunion for Roger with his true paramour Joan.

Roger’s drug use preceded a far more uncomfortable trip for Don and Megan, when Don forces Megan to leave work for an impromptu business trip to scan the potential new client of Howard Johnson’s. The resentment smoulders from Megan in the car and reaches an ugly head when they finally reach the restaurant portion of the roadside hotels when Don supersedes Megan’s order and changes it to ice cream. Unhappy with Don imposing on her wishes and overpowering her desire to stay at work in the continued theme of nepotism, Megan reverts to a child and has a disturbing tantrum that throws Don off his game. Bewildered by the prospect that Megan may be more of a handful than his previous nightmare of a wife Betty, Don takes off in his car leaving Megan at the rest stop. It is clear he is only leaving to clear his mind, and after fond memories come flooding back from their get-together on the trip from season 4 episode Tomorrowland, he turns around only to find Megan has disappeared. Don guiltily wrings his hands for much of the rest of his segment, before eventually having to return home.

When he makes it home, Megan is there having locked the door and upon childishly refusing to let him in, Don kicks the door in which sparks off a fraught and disturbing chase scene. The scene is gritty, angry and unlike many television fights in that the alarming gravity of the realism of what is happening resounds on a more troubling of notes. The couple acquiesce upon a peace treaty between them, but it is clear that the cracks are beginning to show just six episodes into the marriage, and the far-away places of the title of the episode representing the memories of the happy times that now seem so far away.

Elsewhere, Peggy’s descent into unhappiness and her isolation in a world of masculine dominance is resulting in erratic behaviour, her depression manifesting itself in sexual and drug-related indulgence. Her part of the story starts with a volatile argument about her working life with her on-off boyfriend that has been largely kept to the sidelines for the majority of the season, and results in her taking out her frustrations during a pitch on the picky client representing Heinz beans seen a few episodes ago. This leads to her removal from the project, and she reacts by storming out of the office to the movies. Her unhappiness manifests itself in the cinema, as she engages in sexual activity with a stranger offering her marijuana during the film. It is clear that Peggy is becoming lost to the same degree as Don was during last season, as represented by the shot of her sleeping in Don’s office as day turns to night. The ramifications of her actions are put into perspective by co-worker Ginsberg, as he allusively and sombrely reveals that he was potentially born in a concentration camp. The revelation affects Peggy deeply, and her growing dissatisfaction with her working life is leaving her more and more empty and alone as the season progresses.

In all, the episode builds on the excellent character work of Signal 30 and moves its lens onto the relationships of the more central characters. It’s clear that Far Away Places is an episode working to the fundamental Mad Men formula of using shifting social attitudes to place strain on the characters’ relationships, and while this was not as disturbingly dark in places as some of the images and scenes of this quite shocking season, there was enough absurdity and painfully unstable moments to make for a riveting instalment that made us question the foundations of the relationships on this show, particularly when the Don-Megan marriage will inevitably implode.

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~ by jrhett on April 26, 2012.

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