In the sixth episode of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner and his team of writers find a fresh method of telling his fantastic stories and also give the Mad Men audience something they haven’t quite seen before. Episode 6, entitled Far Away Places, brings a kind of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu/Robert Altman style of narrative storytelling to the proceedings. 3 separate character stories are very neatly intertwined making for one of the most engrossing episodes of the series and maintaining the high standard of the previous episode.
The episode charts the relationship issues between 3 of the series’ major characters: Peggy, Roger and Don, with all stories connected by a trip that Don takes to Howard Johnson’s, a diner/hotel close to the Canadian border. Each story is given an equal weighting of 15 minutes each, accumulating to the full episode. It starts with Peggy who is inordinately stressed over the Heinz pitch. After the original idea was rebuked during the last meeting, she is expected to pull out all the stops and deliver something the executive will like. Her stress leads to a falls out with Abe, her current boyfriend, and he storms out the apartment.
At the office Peggy is informed that Megan and Don are going on a trip. This leaves her and Stan to deal with the pitch, which goes disastrously wrong. When the Heinz executive turns down the second pitch, even though it follows his advice from the first, Peggy confronts him argumentatively which consequently gets her kicked off the account. Taking it badly she goes to the movie theatre where she totally out of the blue smokes pot with a stranger and proceeds to give him a hand job. Hey, it’s the 60’s.
This plot strand is particularly interesting for me on the level that it shows just how much the character of Peggy has changed since the show’s inception. From the moments of the first episode where she was simply an innocent, naive, winsome girl, she has now matured into a powerful and fiercely independent woman. She is Don Mark 2, very proud of her work and very quick to defend it. When she returns from the cinema she falls immediately asleep on Don’s couch only to be woken by a phone call from Don, who is slightly dishevelled and asks if anyone has called her.
Brushing that off, immediately she goes back to work with Ginsberg who tells her a little about his past. As it turns out he’s adopted and was born in a concentration camp. This puzzling revelation brings some more depth to this fascinating character, which are signs that he may be staying in the show for a while.
The second in the triumvirate follows Roger and his relationship with his young wife Jane. He brings a plan up that him and Don should get away for the weekend to Howard Johnson’s, away from the wives. Don insists that he takes Megan and suggests that Roger take Jane as well. He scotches the idea and instead goes with his wife to a dinner with some of her wacky friends. The dinner seems to be very formal and polite until it turns out that the after dinner cheese and biscuits is actually after dinner liquor and LSD.
If you hadn’t realised until this point that this new season of Mad Men was set in the Swinging 60’s then you sure will now. I completely admire Matthew Weiner‘s incredible daring approach to take the narrative wherever he wants and I initially thought that the sight of Roger Sterling on LSD was one trip too far. However, as a narrative device it works quite well. As both Roger and his wife delve deeper into their trip they discover that the relationship isn’t working and they decide to separate. On reflection, the section is kind of genius even if I did think whilst watching it: “Seriously?”
The third and final segment which ties everything together is Don and Megan’s trip to Howard Johnson’s. Taking off and leaving Peggy to deal with the Heinz commercial pitch, they drive north arriving at a cafe where everything goes wrong. Following a hefty meal, Don orders himself and Megan an ice cream to share, a fluorescent orange sundae called an ‘orange sherbet’. Some nice symmetry here with the episode Tea Leaves which ended with Betty gobbling down Sally’s leftover sundae. Megan immediately dismisses the taste which prompts Don to kind of jokingly question her about it, asking if she is deliberately doing it to embarrass him. As you can probably expect, that doesn’t go down well.
They have a spectacular argument which ends with Megan telling him to “Go call your mother,” which doesn’t sit very well with Don, as Mad Men fans will know. In a fit of rage Don drives away without her, abandoning her at the motel. Realizing what an utter shit he’s been, Don drives back, only she’s not there. After waiting a few hours he calls Peggy asking if Megan has called. She hasn’t. With search ending up futile he returns back to the New York apartment only to find Megan inside.
What ensues is another fight, only this time it gets more violent as Don chases Megan around the house before wrestling her to the floor. Again this is another shocking turn of events in the Don/Megan marriage. Despite him wanting it to be perfect, the relationship clearly isn’t. Don is trying very hard to convince everyone else that this is the perfect partnership when clearly it isn’t. At the end of the episode the relationships of this season have changed so much that now, I’m unsure where everyone stands.
Even Don’s position in the company becomes kind of precarious, Bert Cooper has become a very low key character this season but at the end of this weeks’ episode he confronts Don about how much time he’s been spending with his wife comparatively to the business.
The final line of the episode is spoken by Roger: “I’ve an announcement to make: It’s gonna be a beautiful day.” This may be true, but is it going to be a beautiful future?