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Mad Men: season 5, episode 6

Orange sherbet, purple candy, LSD.

New Statesman
"It's going to be very expensive." Roger and Jane Stirling, re-becoming Siegel. Photo: AMC

"Far Away Places" did not stray us all that far from Madison Avenue, though two journeys were at the centre of the episode. On a literal trip, Don and Megan head to a Howard Johnson's hotel in upstate New York, an orange roofed “destination spot” says Don; to Megan, “a place you go to on the way to somewhere else”. At the end of "Far Away Places", their relationship has indeed moved onwards; whether to more disarray or solidarity, we can’t yet tell. But if at the end this couple lie on their apartment floor distraught and breaking apart, earlier Roger and Jane, lying similarly together, are calm - their relationship decisively broken. For the viewer it does feel (as to Roger) like some kind of epiphany: a rare Mad Men moment where resignation flows from an untapped mouth, honest and clear: “Because it’s over. It’s dead. All I think about is having an affair.”

Perhaps here - in Season 5, Episode 6 - we’ve truly entered the Sixties, that Sixties, the decade we think we know.  Who would ever have guessed (even with his Bridget Riley-inspired office artwork) that Roger Sterling’s LSD trip - of all characters' - would welcome us to the decade? Here's the episode's second journey: we’re taken along on Roger's ride (not exactly seeing the World Series in his bathroom, though feeling unnerved by the "PLEASE HELP ME" note), into the recesses of his mind, among his playful thoughts (hearing glorious music sound when a liquor bottle opens!), and even sharing in the drug's sensorial weirdness. When an illusory Don - who himself has made a young, second wife of his former secretary - tells Roger in the mirror, “You are ok,” we believe him - for the moment. But is it Roger who we really want to share 1966 with? Even The Beach Boys sing out, in the psychologist's living room, “I just wasn’t made for these times”. 

How starkly his psychedelic trip contrasts with Don and Megan’s geographical one, so like that of a late-1950s nuclear family: in Don’s memory of them driving home Sally sleeps in the back seat, Megan wears the outfit of a kept and genial wife. Thinking about this generational gulf (compare the new Mrs Draper to Betty of Season One) may bring us close to the crux of Don and Megan’s troubles. How could she possibly care a damn for orange sherbet? Megan should be dropping acid! And his horror as she wolfs down the dessert reminds us how traditional (Midwestern and conservative) Don can be. Second-wave feminism is being explored here, though not overtly - not what's happening on the streets - but inside family cars, the domestic setting and in the workplace. Megan wants to be Don's employee as much as his wife.

In this episode Peggy, of course, is very straightfowardly a victim of sexism. In various ways her actions are typically masculine (remember that fear of hers in episode 4?): take her Draper Jr. sequence involving a drink, the cinema, a sex act, and falling asleep on the office couch (note the clean symmetry, so typical of Mad Men, of Dawn waking up Peggy), or Abe telling her she says things his dad would. But Peggy equally plays, or is expected to play, the female child: to Burt Cooper she's a "little girl", to the Heinz man she can be condescended to as he would his daughter. Where does Don's purple candy fit into this? Is it merely a good luck charm or something more convulted? And what of Don's anxious search for Megan: is it not more like a parent's panic for his lost child than a man's for his wife? Worrying she's gone off, as the waitress suggests, with "those kids"? Here again is this generational antagonism which Peggy expresses so powerfully that beans are the last thing on our minds: "You have to run with this," she demands of the grey-suited, middle aged man. "It's young and it's beautiful." 

Possibly the shortest and most beautiful scene is another on missing parents/missing children. In it we learn, as Ginsberg addresses Peggy through a mirrored window, that he was born in a concentration camp and found at age five in a Swedish orphanage. So earlier we find Peggy watching Born Free about an adopted lion cub; Peggy, herself, who gave up a baby. This is more than likely one of the reasons she's so touched by his Martian riff: “We’re a big secret, they even tried to hide it from me . . . And then I get this one communcation, a simple order: stay where you are.” Possibly this, his Mars, is the (titular) farthest away place. Not another planet, not a drug-trip destination, but the nightmare of the past.

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