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In a season that has pretty much gone from strength to strength, it was only a matter of time before Mad Men hit the obligatory questionable episode that at least gives other shows a glimmer of hope that the Emmy for best drama might actually be within their reach. With “Far Away Places,” we got exactly that. The Scott Hornbacher-helmed episode took on one of the more interesting storytelling approaches that we’ve seen on the show: showing three stories that unfolded at the same time, but in a singular fashion rather than simultaneously. Neither the unusual approach to the story nor the directing were to blame for the episode’s slight downfall; however, it was simply the content (or lack of) therein.
The first of the three stories revolved around Peggy, something that was more than welcomed following her fairly narrow exposure in the previous episode. A little while back, a pitch for Heinz didn’t go quite as planned when the theme of nostalgia failed to impress, and today was the day of the do-over pitch. Despite her dissatisfaction with what she was becoming due to her work a couple of episodes back, Peggy was perhaps as motivated as she’d ever been to work well, which put a strain on her relationship with her boyfriend (and not for the first time). I’m not entirely how to describe what followed, as Ms. Olsen snapped at the client during another failed pitch and then went into a mini downward spiral before being brought back up again.
After getting removed from the account following the verbal altercation with the Heinz man, Peggy quickly got back into that “I hate my job” mood that she’d found a few weeks ago and decided to skip out to watch “Born Free,” the catalyst in her prior argument with her boyfriend. After the somewhat eventful screening, she returned to work to be greeted by Ginsberg and his father arguing in the hallway. Though the new guy is running on around one scene per episode, what followed demonstrated that absent strange writing, he’ll probably see it through until at least season six. In a fairly depressing story, Michael explained to Peggy how he’d been told that he was born in a concentration camp but refused to believe it, and instead had created an elaborate story in which he is actually a Martian. Seeing that her problems really weren’t that important on the grander scale, Peggy made up with her boyfriend and that was that.
Story number two was, without a doubt, the most entertaining portion of the episode. Although, thinking about it, it was also fairly depressing, as Roger was forced to spend time with his wife after Don decided to spend time with his (story number three). After laboring through a dinner with some of Jane’s psychiatrist friends, Roger tried to skip out early to no avail, and eventually ingested LSD alongside the rest of the group. Admittedly it wasn’t quite as out there as it sounds, as it really was more of an experiment than anything else, but the effects were still the same. Cue five minutes of weirdly hilarious, yet slightly confusing footage before the Sterlings finally found themselves alone at home, finally speaking honestly with each other as a result of the lucidity from the drugs.
Though it was under the influence, the two finally admitted that their marriage was well and truly over and, surprisingly, amicably decided to split. The cold light of day shone on the previous night’s events slightly less positively, but it does seem that we’re probably going to manage to avoid another messy divorce storyline for Roger. Where this leaves him and Joan, I’m not entirely sure, given that they are now both single (or at least will be in time) and have a child together, but it does leave some interesting possibilities for story that also doesn’t involve the repetition of used plots. It always seemed logical that Roger and Joan would end up together and despite it being an extremely roundabout way of getting there, if that is the endgame here, all’s well that ends well.
The aforementioned third plot was probably the most interesting of the three as it continued to develop a relationship that I’m becoming a big fan of as time progresses: Megan and Don. I have to admit that when Don asked Megan to marry him I actually laughed out loud a little. Yeah, she was great with his kids and looks like she does, but it seemed like a bit of a leap. Throughout season five however, they’ve shown a relationship that I actually buy into and, despite this episode’s events, I’m still rooting for. Inspired by Roger, Don decided to take Megan out of work just before the Heinz pitch and go on a trip. Though she appeared appreciative at the gesture, as the day wore on, Megan slowly revealed her dislike for Don’s treatment of her and her relationship to work, leading to another in a series of fights.
Long story short, it seems that the two of them get something out of putting each other in emotional distress even though neither of them likes it. Megan and Don clearly love each other and fighting is a natural part of a relationship, but the way this episode tilted things, I’m not sure whether they’re being geared towards a breakup. Their fights are just a bit too intense to be considered regular marital activity, yet I can’t see any logic to putting the two of them at odds. When they’re doing well Megan and Don really work—just about the only relationship on the show that does right now—and that’s a good thing. The show is one of the best written you’ll ever see, but there does come a point when people need to do more than drink and fight. As I said, it’s interesting. I do not know where they’re going with this relationship and it leaves me somewhat unsettled.
Believe it or not that really was it, very little happened in this episode. The departure from the usual storytelling method somewhat narrowed the episode’s focus at a time when I’m not sure that it was the best thing to do. Don’t get me wrong, Mad Men is Mad Men and good television is good television, but when you leave a host of characters with potentially interesting story lines to be explored off-screen for entire episodes, it can be frustrating. I remain clueless as to how Betty fits into any of this anymore (I assume that January Jones’ pregnancy must have been a factor) and am never all that happy when Joan stays off-screen for too long, but that really is just personal preference. Though I suggested that episodes like this might give something else a shot at the Emmy, I think we all know I was joking.