SONIA BRAND-FISHER: This Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men” lived up to its title and certainly took us to some far away places, like the deep subconscious of Roger Sterling, the most unstable anxieties of Don Draper, the biggest resentments held by Megan Draper, and the ever-changing thought processes of Peggy Olson. We tripped out and got cerebral, dropped some jaws, and actually started to like Megan a little bit more. We watched our heros feebly try to negotiate the territory between time, space, and good intentions. With another destructive relationship crossed out, “Mad Men” travels deeper into the knots and snarls that this season, and seasons past, have left to be slowly untangled.
The scene where Roger and Jane take LSD at the party of an intellectual that reminds us heavily of Fellini’s Steiner could have been excruciating, but it wasn’t. Leave it to “Mad Men” to even make an LSD trip subtle, contemplative, and brooding. The humor in the anticipation following Roger’s surprise at hearing “The Song of the Volga Boatmen” coming out of a bottle made you almost wish that the scene didn’t have to end. Roger has been such an enigma for us this season as it seems that there is absolutely nothing in his life that he cares about, enjoys, or has any control over. He will emerge from his silver office looking hungover and agitated, but not aggressive enough to do anything about his current state. This LSD trip let us play in his world for a little bit, which is a simultaneously exciting and horrifying experience. The black and grey hair that transposes itself from a picture in a magazine onto his head fiddles with his ambivalence about his aging and his romantic life, as well as how people see him. Don emerging behind him as a voice of reason and suddenly characteristic monogamy is crucial in leading Roger and Jane into their conversation about their relationship (ironic, as both men married young secretaries at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce). A divorce is mentioned with mutual anxiety and relief. “It’s going to be a beautiful day,” says Roger.
The insight that we got from this episode into Megan Draper’s resentment of Don and her position as his wife inside and outside of the office was fascinating and interestingly played. I really haven’t liked her thus far in this season, or last season for that matter, because of her playful complacency with Don’s pigheadedness. She will challenge him coquettishly until he has the last word. In this episode, the dialogue began and erupted in a sherbet colored diner and strained and stretched itself all the way to abysmal grayness of their home in New York. When Don tries to do with Megan what he tried to do with Betty in regards to his level of control and internalized assumption of command, Megan has none of it. A woman of her own agency, she gets herself back home to New York from the diner of doom and because she isn’t standing right where Don left her in the parking lot, we assume that she is a victim of forces more sinister and dominant than her own. She is perfectly capable after a fight with her husband who deserts her of calling a taxi, buying a bus ticket, and getting herself home unharmed. In assuming the absolute worst when Megan isn’t where he left her, Don victimizes Megan so that he can maintain his position as her boss in marriage and at work. After a chase around the apartment and some tears shed, everything is back to normal with few signs of damage until Bert Cooper steps in and reminds Don of his duties to the business. A shot of Don staring out from the conference room with venetian blinds reflected in the many windows look like bars across a cell that Don has put himself in. Has his newlywed transformation officially plateaued?
…..so we can assume now that Joan and Roger are single that they’ll run away together, raise their baby, and live happily ever after, right? Eh, a girl can dream.
HOWARD MEGDAL: Exactly! Roger and Joan getting out of their entanglements, back-to-back! Guessing it isn’t that simple, but that’s certainly what I thought of as well.
Again, it is fantastic rooting of the episode to time and place to put Roger and Jane into the living room of Dr. Timothy Leary, a reminder that LSD was actually hatched by intellectuals and has a lot more in common with Sociology than with, say, cocaine.
But probably the best part of the LSD episode, as I assume it will be known in shorthand from now on unless Roger moves from habitual drinker to habitual tripper, was the multi-part perspective. And yes, Megan does a lovely job asserting herself. It allows us to see that Don isn’t just devoted to Megan in times of high-flying sexual escapades, or even when Megan reacts calmly to spilled milk. When things got rough with Betty, Don ran to a string of other women. His reaction this time? Looking everywhere for her, and calling every 20 minutes.
One more thing that ought to be pointed out: how much did we love Peggy Olson channeling Don Draper, circa Cuban Missile Crisis? I mean, more than the Heinz guy, who we know would have taken that speech Peggy gave, exactly, from Don and not thought twice about it. But Peggy in the movie theater, too- how liberated she was. Certain things are available to women like Peggy Olson in 1966, and others have to wait. But I love seeing Peggy reaching for all of it- after all, that’s precisely how she and others like her will get them.
Would be remiss not to mention: looks like Michael Ginsberg’s path to becoming Mad Men’s Neil Simon included a dose of Primo Levi. Really fascinated to see where his character goes next.