Mad Men: season 5, episode 6

Orange sherbet, purple candy, LSD.

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

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
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The best film soundtracks to help you pretend you live in a magical Christmas world

It’s December. You no longer have an excuse.

It’s December, which means it’s officially time to crack out the Christmas music. But while Mariah Carey and Slade have their everlasting charms, I find the best way to slip into the seasonal spirit is to use a film score to soundtrack your boring daily activities: sitting at your desk at work, doing some Christmas shopping, getting the tube. So here are the best soundtracks and scores to get you feeling festive this month.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Although this is a children’s film, it’s the most grown-up soundtrack on the list. Think smooth jazz with a Christmas twist, the kind of tunes Ryan Gosling is playing at the fancy restaurant in La La Land, plus the occasional choir of precocious kids. Imagine yourself sat in a cocktail chair. You’re drinking an elaborate cocktail. Perhaps there is a cocktail sausage involved also. Either way, you’re dressed head-to-toe in silk and half-heartedly unwrapping Christmas presents as though you’ve already received every gift under the sun. You are so luxurious you are bored to tears of luxury – until a tiny voice comes along and reminds you of the true meaning of Christmas. This is the kind of life the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack can give you. Take it with both hands.

Elf (2003)

There is a moment in Elf when Buddy pours maple syrup over his spaghetti, washing it all down with a bottle of Coca Cola. “We elves like to stick to the four main food groups,” he explains, “candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.” This soundtrack is the audio equivalent – sickly sweet, sugary to an almost cloying degree, as it comes peppered with cute little flutes, squeaky elf voices and sleigh bells. The album Elf: Music from the Motion Picture offers a more durable selection of classics used in the movie, including some of the greatest 1950s Christmas songs – from Louis Prima’s 1957 recording of “Pennies from Heaven”, two versions of “Sleigh Ride”, Eddy Arnold’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and Eartha Kitt’s 1953 “Santa Baby”. But if a sweet orchestral score is more your thing, the Elf OST of course finishes things off with the track “Spaghetti and Syrup”. Just watch out for the sugar-rush headache.

Harry Potter (2001-2011)

There are some Christmas-specific songs hidden in each of the iconic Harry Potter scores, from “Christmas at Hogwarts” to “The Whomping Willow and The Snowball Fight” to “The Kiss” (“Mistletoe!” “Probably full of knargles”), but all the magical tinkling music from these films has a Christmassy vibe. Specifically concentrate on the first three films, when John Williams was still on board and things were still mostly wonderful and mystical for Harry, Ron and Hermione. Perfect listening for that moment just before the snow starts to fall, and you can pretend you’re as magical as the Hogwarts enchanted ceiling (or Ron, that one time).

Carol (2015)

Perhaps you’re just a little too sophisticated for the commercial terror of Christmas, but, like Cate Blanchett, you still want to feel gorgeously seasonal when buying that perfect wooden train set. Then the subtly festive leanings of the Carol soundtrack is for you. Let your eyes meet a stranger’s across the department store floor, or stare longingly out of the window as your lover buys the perfect Christmas tree from the side of the road. Just do it while listening to this score, which is pleasingly interspersed with songs of longing like “Smoke Rings” and “No Other Love”.

Holiday Inn (1942)

There’s more to this soundtrack than just “White Christmas”, from Bing Crosby singing “Let’s Start The New Year Off Right” to Fred Astaire’s “You’re Easy To Dance With” to the pair’s duet on “I’ll Capture Your Heart”. The score is perfect frosty walk music, too: nostalgic, dreamy, unapologetically merry all at once.

The Tailor of Gloucester (1993)

Okay, I’m being a little self-indulgent here, but bear with me. “The Tailor of Gloucester”, adapted from the Beatrix Potter story, was an episode of the BBC series The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends and aired in 1993. A Christmastime story set in Gloucester, the place I was born, was always going to be right up my street, and our tatty VHS came out at least once a year throughout my childhood. But the music from this is something special: songs “The Tailor of Gloucester”, “Songs From Gloucester” and “Silent Falls the Winter Snow” are melancholy and very strange, and feature the singing voices of drunk rats, smug mice and a very bitter cat. It also showcases what is in my view one of the best Christmas carols, “Sussex Carol.” If you’re the kind of person who likes traditional wreaths and period dramas, and plans to watch Victorian Baking at Christmas when it airs this December 25th, this is the soundtrack for you.

Home Alone (1990-1992)

The greatest, the original, the godfather of all Christmas film soundtracks is, of course, John William’s Home Alone score. This is for everyone who likes or even merely tolerates Christmas, no exceptions. It’s simply not Christmas until you’ve listened to “Somewhere in My Memory” 80,000 times whilst staring enviously into the perfect Christmassy homes of strangers or sung “White Christmas” to the mirror. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules. Go listen to it now—and don't forget Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, which is as good as the first.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.