This episode is about transgression, and what transgression means for those closest to us as well as ourselves. Does acting out of character—whether via an acid-inspired paradigm shift, demanding that someone eat something neon-colored, or just handing out an “old-fashioned” in a movie theater—-does this move us anywhere or just “diminish” those closest to us? Peggy violates her own personal mores (“Don’t be such a strict Catholic,” sneers her boyfriend), Roger does drugs (though LSD won’t be outlawed until October 1966), and Don finds himself outside of his fairy-tale romance after pushing Megan too far. External pressures force Peggy, Roger and Don to re-examine themselves this week, but the main question is if all that self-examination will even do anything for them. Like the Leary-lite psychiatrist tells the party trippers, “It is a myth that logic is a cure for neurosis.” On the other hand, our characters this week act anything but logically.
Like Pete in his maze of dead-ends last week, Peggy isn’t exactly going places. She can’t find comfort at home. She can’t get the kind of workplace wins Don used to fill the void. (Ken has to go resuscitate the Heinz account at a dinner. What about that new genre he’s picking up?!) Peggy doesn’t fail for a lack of trying, though. After she butchers the Heinz hard sell, she pulls a Don and hits the town. Patrick Radden Keefe over at Slate nailed the Don/Peggy method of “filling the void” with a tried-and-true formula:
- ditch work for a movie
- betray your loved one by hooking up with a stranger
- lie on the couch, marinating in your shame (it’s even Don’s couch that Peggy lies on)
- telephone your loved one, and urgently demand a rendezvous
- (rinse, drink, repeat).
Last night’s episode leaves Peggy just where Don was throughout much of Season 4—treading water, in need of a breakthrough.
And seriously, who better to send on an LSD-inspired breakthrough than Roger Sterling? Despite his apparent shallowness, Roger is one insightful dude—you can’t be that sharp with the one-liners and the clients if you’re not. John Slattery’s been killing it both behind and in front of the camera this year. His snappy but self-serving insight was a blast to watch this week, with his joyous boyhood nostalgia of Model T’s and Model A’s, the ability to rock a pink towel on his head, and the realization that he simply doesn’t need Jane anymore. I feared for a moment that he would chalk his realization all up to a flight-of-fancy, or forget about it Paul Kinsey-style Season 2-era, or that Jane would become so upset that he would sweep his little eureka moment back under his newly-dried ‘do. He snagged Jane a couple of seasons back because she was the closest thing that he thought would make him happy at the time. Don appears to Roger in the mirror because Roger has always admired and envied Don for having it all. To Sterling, Don is the one to listen to when it comes to everything—how to control your various appetites, be serious and well-respected at work, etc. But the end result of “being alone in the truth” with Jane is that Roger realizes he needs neither her nor Don. His chipper “It’s going to be a beautiful day!” is the most hopeful shift from the three characters this week. I’ve been waiting for Roger to get his swagger back.
I think there’s a lot to be said about Don, but I want to leave it to y’all to go in-depth on his arc. One thing, though—Elise, you mentioned your ambivalence on Mad Men “on the road.” I find myself enjoying it because they’ve historically jolted us out of the stuffy Manhattan interiors. The on-the-road episodes also always nudge Don in a certain direction. The honeymoon period with Megan is over, and Bert Cooper, the only man on the planet who can tell it straight to Don, calls Don out on his lack of focus on work.
PS the song playing right before Roger’s trip is Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.” Perfect.
I’m sorry, I’m not a word person like you,