In last night’s surreal episode of Mad Men, everybody was taking trips, with or without their loved ones. There’s trouble in paradise with Peggy and Abe, and Peggy’s dancing ever closer to the edge of her patience with being a lady in a man’s world. Roger and Jane take a trip together and come back apart. Don and Megan, whose relationship appears so idyllic, particularly to the likes of “miserable” Roger, do effectively the same thing. Oh, and Ginsberg may be from Mars.
Some of us (ahem) have been waiting with bated breath for the drug culture to make its surreptitious entrance to SCDP. Well, this was it. Peggy and Abe get into a giant fight because, as he says, she wants to take him to work, stick him in a drawer, and take him out whenever she gets bored. This, unfortunately, isn’t far from the truth. Abe throws a serious jab when he yells, “I’m your boyfriend, not a focus group!” Women’s work-life balance is still a contentious topic in feminist circles, and Abe’s dissatisfaction with Peggy is not unfounded (though nor is it fair). Unfortunately, she takes her anger to the only place she knows well: the office.
After Don takes Megan away on an impromptu trip to a Howard Johnson’s (much to Megan’s chagrin, as you’ll see below), Peggy’s short a team member and sans boss for her second presentation to Heinz – which she botched horribly the last time. When the Heinz gents rebuff her again, she goes on the warpath, trying a Don tack and telling Heinz what they want. This, of course, results in a number of comments meant to put her straight back in her place. “Women usually want to please,” says Stan, disappointed. “Little girl, you’re lucky I don’t…” cries the Heinz rep. Peggy, furious and impotent, fights back tears even as she gulps a shot of Canadian Mist.
Peggy, who’d turned down Abe’s invitation to the movies earlier in the day, goes to the theater by herself. She smokes a joint with a stranger, and when he tries to slide his hand up her skirt, she takes him in her own hands, so to speak. Feeling powerless in a world full of powerful men, she uses the stranger to get her mojo back. It’s not quite as depressing as Betty’s tryst in the restaurant bathroom, but it’s not exactly a happy moment, either.
Later, in the office, Ginsberg, whose father makes a quick appearance, tells Peggy he’s from Mars. That man in the lobby, that wasn’t his real father, Michael tells her. “He told me a story I was born in a concentration camp, but that’s not possible, is it?” he asks. He’s a Martian, he says, who’s gotten only one communication from his fellow aliens: “Stay where you are.” It’s no coincidence that when he looks at his reflection in the window, he sees Peggy in it. They’re both displaced, both miserable here.
Roger casts a longing look at pretty Megan, all youth and vivacity in her mod pink dress and loose hair, as she leaves the office with Don. Compared to Megan, Jane (who must be about the same age) is staid, coiffed and pancaked. In the elevator on the way to Jane’s “snooty” friend’s house, she’s more Mrs. Robinson than Elaine in her cumbersome satin armor and crunchy bouffant. Jane’s “friend” is in fact her psychiatrist, Katherine (Bess Armstrong, a.k.a. Patty Chase from My So-Called Life). And the party has a purpose: tripping on acid. “It’s a myth,” says Katherine, “that tracing logic all the way down to the truth is a curse for neurosis or anything else.”
So descend Roger and Jane into another world, one in which Roger hears the most amazing music blaring from the mouth of a Stoli bottle, one in which he can relive the 1919 World Series from the comfort of his bathtub. He hallucinates Don, whose relationship history is a bit tawdry to say the least, telling him to go to Jane “because she wants to be alone for the truth with you.” When the two of them get out of the bathtub, they lie with heads touching on the floor, discussing who’s cheated and who hasn’t, and the fact that Jane knew her relationship with Roger was over, but she needed to hear him say it. The next morning, Roger brings this up. It’s been over a long time, really. “This is going to be very expensive,” Jane says, and moves her head away when he tries to kiss her.
Megan and Don, whose relationship everyone envies, aren’t in a great place either. After he abruptly pulls her out of work, she shows him up by refusing the orange sherbet about which he raved for ages. When she asks him, cruelly, “Why don’t you call your mother?” he gets up. Don’s past is not up for discussion, not in public, and not as a weapon. “Leave work, eat ice cream, do what I say!” she cries in the parking lot. “Yes, master!” Against his better judgement, Don drives away. What he probably doesn’t consciously realize is that he was expecting Megan to be more like Betty – to just sit and wait for him while he did what he needed to do. He didn’t marry another Betty, though, and he spends hours waiting pathetically at the HoJo. Megan never turns up.
When he arrives at home the next morning, disheveled and anxious, she’s there. After he chases her around the house, finally getting hold of her, they tumble to the ground on their backs, where they lie in exactly the same position in which Roger and Jane so recently lay. (Is this an omen?) “It was a fight,” Don says. “It’s over.” Of course, when he says “it’s over,” he means the fight, not the relationship. “Every time we fight,” Megan replies, “it diminishes us a little bit.” It’s a direct parallel to Roger and Jane’s trip, but with an entirely different result.
After Bert Cooper admonishes him for leaving the team in the care of a “little girl” (poor Peggy), Don watches a parade through the glass window of the conference room. Peggy trudges one way while Megan, Michael, and Stan trek the other. Roger pokes his head into the room to say, “It’s gonna be a beautiful day.”
This season has served to remind just how bizarre this show can be, and just how thoroughly our characters can surprise us. How did you feel? Share in the comments.