Sunday, April 22, 2012

"What a Short, Strange Trip It Was"

Mad Men, Season Five, Episode Six, "Far Away Places"

This second half of the '60s in which the Mad Men characters now dwell is taking them to some "far away places," but they're not places one needs to hop onto a plane or into a car to travel to; one need only delve deeply into the mind--or into the nature of important relationships. And if a little LSD might help to jumpstart the journey, well, they're lucky it's 1966. The entire episode felt surreal and had me questioning what was really happening. The broken chronology; the fact that everything happened in just one day, when it felt like the time span was much longer; the questioning of 'truth,' 'reality,' what's 'good' and 'bad' that occurs at the dinner party (and by Ginsberg, who feels a sense of unreality in his tragic birthplace and subsequent time in an orphanage)-- all of these made the entire episode feel rather trippy. But, as it turns out, the most perplexing problem of the episode is the prosaic issue that these characters have been challenged with before--that of gender. More precisely, we watch middle-aged men (and even the otherwise radical Abe), who are used to calling the shots, setting the terms for their relationships with women, and controlling their wives have to contend with things not going the way they wanted them to go. And these changes don't make for an easy trip.

Roger Sterling has always been cavalier in his approach to women. He maintained that his long-term affair with Joan was one of the heart, but then left his wife for the much-younger secretary Jane, assured in his sense of entitlement that this was the right thing for him to do and that it would lead to happiness. He was wrong. While in tonight's episode, he tells Jane, "I did [like you]. I really did." It's been a long time, though, since he did. She and he have nothing in common. It's Joan he repeatedly goes back to, on the last occasion making her pregnant. He's accepted the script of his time, though, that women are not his equals and so Joan would have been difficult for him. He likes the idea, though, that he and Jane are leaving each other. "It was so beautiful." He and she (who, surprising to me has been seeing a female psychiatrist who has helped her realize that life with Roger isn't working out) are accepting the 'truth' of their relationship and moving on.

At the same time that Roger and Jane take their acid trip, Don and Megan take a trip to Montreal to visit a Howard Johnson hotel/restaurant, a potential client. While with the Sterlings, Jane was pushing for both the trip to the dinner party and the taking of LSD, with the Drapers, Don pushed this trip on Megan. She was part of the team that put the Heinz campaign together (it's still hard to tell if she has any talent or not), yet Don pulls her away to visit the hotel with him: "There has to be some advantage to being my wife." He really believes that she wants what he wants and Megan seems to acquiesce at first, but the more time passes, the more she lets her resentment out: "You like to work, but I don't get to like to work." She sarcastically suggests that he set up a schedule and "let me know when I'm working and when I'm your wife." When he expresses his dislike of the fact that she always talks to her mother in French (putting him in a situation where he can't be the omnipotent male), she childishly retorts, "Why don't you call your mother?" But, then when Don orders her into the car, she comes out swinging: "Get in the car. Eat ice cream. Take off your dress. Yes, Master." I can't imagine Betty ever fighting back like that. Passive aggression was her mode. Megan might betray her youth at times, but she's direct and she knows that she wants to work and have a career at the agency, not just be Don's wife. And, she's willing to fight with him for that. It's hard to say how this will work itself out. The scene toward the end--after Don has chased Megan around the apartment (thankfully, that didn't end in some weird, ritualistic sex scene like after the party)--is partly shot from above, focusing on them lying next to each other on the floor, in the same pose, same style of shot that Roger and Jane were in when they discussed their break-up. Does this signal a similar ending to Don's second marriage? Or will the fact that Megan is very different from Jane allow this to work? It clearly seems to be working for Don. He has much more interest in Megan--the spunky, modern woman--than he did in Betty or than Roger did in Jane. But, will she be able to put up with him for long? Or will she get him to change?

With Megan calling Don on his controlling behavior as a husband and Bert calling Don on his shirking of responsibilities at the agency, Don had a difficult 24 hours. At this almost half-way point in the season, will it be a turning point for him?

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