Mad Men – Far Away Places
I need to stop opening these reviews with exclamations but Sunday night TV is just so full of surprises, so… Wow! Here I though that Game of Thrones had gone dark this week but Westeros ‘aint got nothing on New York City circa Nineteen-Sixty. If last week’s episode, Signal 30, was pornography than this one was a horror movie. It started out safe enough, establishing a world that we knew and related to but then it turned and turned so sharply that by the end of the episode the men had turned into monsters, they started tearing down the walls and chasing after the women whose screams went sharply unheard. Sure there was no blood or literal beasts, two marks of modern horror, but the genre is actually about more than that; horror is about having the abject held up in front of you and finding that however much you may hate seeing it, you also love the vicarious viciousness just as much and for me that is exactly how Far Away Places made me feel: awkward, uncomfortable, horrified and utterly entranced.
To be honest with you this sense of horror went so deep that I was almost certain that Megan was only going to be returning to the show as a corpse; and i’m one of those people who have scoffed at the prevalence of serial killer theories out amongst the fandom. I mean when you look at the signs it only makes sense that she would die, it seems fated like when the busty blonde gets up of the Quarterback and says “I’ll be right back.” then heads out into the foggy woods. In Tea Leaves Don was given word that there was a chance that his wife might die, of course this was in reference to Betty but the symbolism seemed ominous in retrospect; was the cancer scare just a premonition of another death, of another wife? The next week in Mystery Date after an hour all about women’s bodies being mutilated Don awakes in his marital bed and brutally kills the woman that is leaning over him, caring for him, the maternal or wifely figure; again this wasn’t his wife but the implication is certainly there that perhaps this wasn’t just his imaginary demons that he was slaying. Factor in the shocking car crash footage of the Signal 30 video and all those references to Speck and snipers and its hard to hear lines like “That was a dumb move” or the single buzz of the intercom as anything but dramatic irony and foreshadowing.
That it didn’t actually happen, that Megan miraculously appeared home and safe, doesn’t dissolve these anterior meanings because as the pretentious professor preaches, truth is subjective. In this reality Megan wasn’t murdered, but perhaps in another – maybe Mars Men, a much more bombastic program – she was. For what seemed like forever Megan held the role of Schrödinger’s cat; she was both alive and dead at once, trapped in the limbo of imagination until she was actually observed either way. For me this is how the entire show functions; every element is so mercurial and ambiguous that I have to hold two or three meanings and interpretations in my head at all times until one is actually revealed to be the definite truth, something that rarely ever happens (Though we did finally get confirmation that Roger’s wife is Jewish). This, not the slow pacing, is what puts people off the show and it’s what makes me love it so much; the mystery and openness of the meaning makes us get involved in the process so much more than any other kind of program allows. Killing Megan would have made a splash for a few seconds, but keeping her fate from us had me enraptured, it had me sitting in Howard Johnson’s with Don wondering whether or not we’ll ever see her alive again, or if the next time will be in a gory crime scene photo.
That though was only one go the episodes that played last night, one of a total three. See Far Away Places was something of a trilogy, one that when seen as a whole represents the course of a trip (and i’m not talking about driving to upstate New York). There were drugs and highs of all sorts scattered throughout the episode – sugar, pot and LSD being the main three – and while the characters all went through their trips quite quickly ours was elongated over an hour: Peggy’s episode started us off with some sanity then slipped slightly off kilter as she found herself aping the men around her: taking their tact in meetings, watching the movies they wanted to see, smoking their weed, pleasuring them, playing into their fantasies and sleeping on their couches. Ken tells her early on that He thought women were supposed to want to please men and it seems like she took that to heart this week as she wittled away her good standing. Then Roger came along and took something much stronger, as befits his character. The way that this scene was shot absolutely blew me away; the escalating insanity of the trip from mundane to madness was amazing and the ways that they showed his world melting were so damn creative (that cigarette shot!). This was where we hit the peak and started dropping rapidly off the deep end as he and his wife spoke frankly for the first time from down on the floor, only to wake up and find that their time there wasn’t a dream, that it was true and thus had true consequences. From there things got weirder still as the trip went bad and Don and Megan’s story erupted like a swarm of bats in the Nevada desert.
Roger was told during his trip not to look in the mirror, but he couldn’t help it. I too cannot help but see reflections all through this episode: for one everyone ends up on the floor, Peggy alone and Roger and Don with their requisite wives, the latter of which also mirrors that rough sex scene from the premiere, though now the kink has gone from their relationship and only the anger remains. Another reflection is this, Roger and Don perhaps both had the same realisation down on the floor that day, they realised that marriage maybe isn’t for them. For Roger this is a good thing but for Don it is devastating; he was happy with Megan, or at least he had convinced himself that he was, but now his Honeymoon is over and his love leave is turning to hate. He’s horrified by this thought, as are we; Megan may not be dead but he may have lost her anyway.
The episode ends with what appears to be a return to normal: everyone is back in the office, everyone is stone sober and Don has woken up from his dream, he’s now back to being the guy we have been watching for so long. He and Megan walk into the office with everyone else, the couple painting smiles on their dials and Roger announcing that it’s going to be a great day, but all of this good will feels false; these are the end times, or at least everyone has been acting as if they are and no facade will hold them back. I almost expected the episode to end with a wink of the villains eye, as if to say that discontent is not dead either, that it’s still coming to get them, that no-one here is safe.