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Friday, 5 of March of 2021

Mad Men – “Far Away Places”

“Well, Dr Leary, I find your product boring.”

Megan left behind as Don drives off angry.

What a grown man hissy fit looks like in the 60s.

Knowing Don will turn your life into hot garbage.

Last week, we explored how knowing Don has ruined Pete’s life as he tries to chase an ideal that ultimately will lead to emotional ruin despite the outward appearance of success. Even Don tells him that his track is not a joyful or smart journey. But Pete isn’t the only one sucked into the Don Draper Mystique.

The same personality that gives us deeply-capitalist GIFs and helps us hit on girls is what dominates and affects the lives of everyone on the show. They’re all just orbiting Don’s cult of personality and, while he is a good example of someone chasing that Draper ideal, Pete’s not even the most obviously affected.

As the show turns to more classic format gimmicks this season (a fever dream episode?), “Far Away Places” is told in parts that chronologically overlap as we follow three different characters and how Don ruins their lives: Peggy, Roger, and Dick Whitman. I know, I know. Don’s purpose is to ruin Dick Whitman. But stick with me.

We start with Peggy. She might be the easiest to tell that Don has ruined her life by example as we’ve watched her rise from naive secretary to work-all-night, lead-the-team copywriter. She’s taken on is affectations and vices, his antisocial behavior and his midday boozing. So when Don not only announces that he’s not going to be in the room with a huge account but also plucks part of her team away, she doesn’t panic. She puts on her Don face.

And it promptly leads to disaster. Her presentation to Heinz is Carousel-like, trading on the same sentimental angle as the only pitch Don made that you probably remember. And, in fact, the pitch Peggy makes does inspire the nostalgia that helped Don’s work. Her execution is soft and subtle, the support affecting. But, like most of the obstacles in Peggy’s career, she doesn’t pull it off because she lacks a weiner. In fact, none of Don’s moves work and it’s hard to not feel like it’s because she’s a she and not a he. When the pitch fails to really grab the client, Peggy resorts to the tough love Don loves to employ in those kinds of situations, to which the client merely replies that he can’t believe a woman is talking to him like that.

This is her glass ceiling. Until the times change, she can’t move beyond where she is. She can’t be Don until her lack of member doesn’t makes her opinion worth less. It’s not that she doesn’t have the drive or the ability to be the professional side of Don Draper. It’s just that she was born too early for a woman to be so capable. So she’s hard on herself, she smokes a little weed, jerks a dude off a theatre (to regain some control), and listens to Ginsberg tell her about how isolated he is. Not only are we opening the door a little wider for a Peggy/Ginzo pairing but his feeling of isolation reflects on her. And, at the end, she calls her boyfriend over because she realizes that the Don Draper in her is that thing that makes her all alone.

How Peggy ends her section is symmetrical with how Dick Whitman ends his but the polar opposite of how Roger lives his Day in the Shadow of Don. One of the funniest parts of the first episode this season involves the contempt brewing in Roger’s marriage. Roger clearly dreams of the “good old days” of carousing with Don, picking up women, boozing, feeling around free despite the bonds of marriage that were supposed to tie their hands. But Don with Megan is a different person which makes Roger stew in misery not only stemming from dreams of yesteryear but also because he can’t make himself as happy in his marriage as Don is in his.

Roger and Jane discuss the ramifications of their high-inspired talk.

I'm sure there were words spoken in this scene. Almost positive.

Roger and Jane fall into another television trope/gimmick while at an LSD dinner party that night, In Vino Veritas. Even though there are certainly hallucinations and Pet Sounds on the stereo, the point of the sequence isn’t the shared bond by being together on acid but the truth-telling on the carpet as they stare into the ceiling. And that truth is the only thing we as an audience know about Jane after years of being on Roger’s arm is the only thing that Roger likes about her at all: that she’s beautiful. The agreement is what Roger wanted to hear so he can go back to being a stud, which opens the door a little wider to an inevitable Joan/Roger pairing with the simultaneous collapse of her marriage. Roger remarks to Don later that it’s a beautiful day as he begins the separation process. He gets to live the Don Draper Mystique all over again.

And then there’s the man that wants to leave the Don Draper Mystique behind. What’s adorable about Don ditching work and plucking his wife out of meetings with him is that he’s so excited about it. Rarely do we get to see this side of Don anymore, where he honestly wants to share himself with someone and introduce her to things he enjoys. He loves the idea of spending the weekend with Megan at a Howard Johnson. He can’t wait to see her face when she tries orange sherbet for the first time. The man is giddy. It may have been Don Draper that pulled strings and forced his will in order to get the vacation but it’s Dick Whitman that’s excited for the ride.

Unfortunately, it’s Don Draper that rears his ugly head when everything doesn’t go according to plan. Don doesn’t consider the feelings of his young bride so the trip is doomed from the beginning. When she doesn’t appreciate the orange sherbet like she should, you get the feeling that Dick is disappointed but Don is embarrassed. And Don is not a fan of being embarrassed. So he throws a man-sized fit by leaving her there, driving away.

Because it’s only a man as disconnected emotionally and high on himself as Don who could leave his wife at a HoJo in the middle of nowhere.

Her absence, though, drives all the Draper out of him. When he comes back and can’t find him, you see that he goes through the desperate acts of being alone. He’s already lost Anna. Megan is to be her replacement as truest confidante (much to Peggy’s chagrin but, to be fair, Peggy isn’t willing to be nurturing). Losing Megan might be too much for him to bear while he transitions into a better hybrid of Dick and Don. He gives up on her return and goes home to find the door chained, evidence that Megan is still alive. And that’s when he gets a Hulk-like surge of Don.

At the Howard Johnson, Megan complains about not knowing the schedule for “when I’m working and when I’m your wife.” Which is to say she’s tired of the Don to Dick to Don mood swings. The man that kicks in the door and chases his scared wife around the house is Don, a monster that sensitive to appearances and will not have his manhood slighted. The man that falls on the floor is Dick and is certainly that person when they go to stand and he rests his face in her stomach, the universal sign for a weepy, desperate Don who just wants a woman to stick around through his breaks.

At the end, after watching everyone that is tortured by the Don Draper Mystique, we see what suffers in its absence. While Don has tried to become a different person, the company is suffering without his special kind of guidance. Draper tries to issue his brand of confidence to a browbeating Bert Cooper by telling him to stay out of it. But Cooper is quick to remind that this is his business, his only business, and Don’s “love leave” is screwing it up. You need a Don in the office and a Dick in the sheets. That’s how that phrase goes, right? Decent episode. A little gimmicky, particularly for Mad Men but, as long as it’s not a trend, I’m okay with it.

Some other things:

  • ABE: “You sound like my dad.” After the gender issues Peggy has to deal with all the time at work, this is (probably, sadly) a compliment.
  • “There’s no place to pee in this city.”
  • Cosgrove: just doing the best he can in the face of everyone else’s emotional breakdowns.
  • What’s a character from an Antonioni flick doing at this movie?
  • I really like Ginsberg’s dad. Hard to capture that sensitive man who loves his son while also being hardened by life.
  • I want to go on a fact-finding boondoggle.
  • “Alone, I’m an escapee from some expensive mental institution. But the two of us, we’re a couple of rich, handsome perverts.”
  • My dinner conversations never discuss relative truth and logical paths to self-discovery. They’re more Seinfeld-ian in nature. And sometimes they’re about Seinfeld.
  • Of all the World Series to remember, Roger goes to the one that was fixed and scandalized.
  • “I did.” Heartbreaking, even when dealing with a character that we haven’t seen in ages.
  • I don’t feel like Mad Men capitalizes too often on scenarios that wouldn’t exist with modern technology. Megan would be easy to find if this situation happened now. She could totally get “first friend” points by checking into Port Authority. Unless she was friends with Sally on FourSquare.

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