“Far Away Places”
April 22nd, 2012
Given that I still have a half dozen things to finish before my evening comes to an end, I am risking falling into a deep hole responding to this episode of Mad Men immediately after it airs, but there was a point I wanted to make that I decided wouldn’t fit comfortably into even a shorter series of tweets.
Accordingly, presenting this as a “review” of the trippy “Far Away Places” is perhaps a bit disingenuous, but I hope that a few thoughts about the structure of tonight’s episode will be worth your time despite not being surrounded by another two thousand words.
There is a great narrative power in that moment when you realize Roger squatting in Don’s office is taking place on the same morning during which “Far Away Places” began. It’s a subtle revelation – the show doesn’t come right out and announce it, allowing the viewer to come to those terms itself. Once you do, your mind goes to what Don was doing on the other end of that phone call and what had him in such a panic, but the episode purposefully halts your progress. Roger’s storyline is a diversion, an LSD-fueled journey into a marriage that the show has largely ignored since it began and which comes to an end with the help of the psychadelics in question, but it puts off the narrative reconciliation promised by the device it introduces. It builds suspense for the inevitably glimpse at Don and Megan’s trip to Howard Johnson’s, a journey that needed only orange sherbet to devolve into a tense deconstruction of a marriage that seems built to explode like Linguo, the grammar-correcting robot.
However, this was one of those cases where AMC’s incessant commercials felt like a point of distraction. The commercials kept interrupting stories before they could truly get a rhythm going, disrupting the sense that these were three stories. While all dramas would have this problem, with no network on television airing dramas in “three acts” in the traditional sense, there’s something about AMC’s commercials that seem more common than the traditional program, perhaps in part based on the decision to run the episode in 64 minutes instead of 60. It’s normally not so much of an issue, but here the unnatural act breaks felt more unnatural than ever.
While this might lead some to make the argument that the show would be better if there were no commercial breaks at all, as if the show were on HBO or watched on DVD, I’d actually disagree. To me, the commercial breaks are a valuable break from the different timelines in the episode – in fact, I almost wish I had been watching in real time (I was catching up with my DVR recording) so that I could have had at least a few moments to reflect in the middle of the episode. Even when I’m not sitting down to write 2000 words about these episodes based on time commitments, there’s something valuable about being forced to sit down and think about what you’ve watched, and commercials build that into the episode.
It would just have been nice if, in the case of this episode in particular, they could have built them into the moments where they would be most useful, rather than scattered throughout the episode at seemingly (if not actually) random intervals. There’s a logic to including more smaller commercial breaks, forcing the viewer to stay glued to their seats in case it comes back quickly, but I wish we lived in a world where the show could have at least bundled commercials into longer blocks at two points over the course of the episode to better reflect the content therein.
I need to restrain myself from discussing that content, but I did want to make one observation. While I quite liked Bert stepping back from his benevolent observer role to chide Don on his careless lack of attention to the actual business, I almost would have liked the various threads not to be linked together. That scene at the end felt a bit too cute, having all of the characters walk by Don in the conference room like that. Peggy’s storyline was in part so interesting because she never really rationalized her behavior, with no scene that “summed up” her experience: she imploded in a pitch, she went to the movies, she gave a dude a hand job, she fell asleep, she found out Ginsberg was from Mars (or a concentration camp), and then she called up her boyfriend to reference the Holocaust during a booty call. That’s a lot to process, and the show really leaves it to the viewer – while we see Peggy the next morning in that final scene, her perspective is still the sum of these parts crammed into a suitably screwy equation. Something about the ending seemed to try to do the math for Don more than the show did with Peggy (and more than it would have to with Roger, where the LSD did the math for him), and it felt like it worked against the narrative device more than it helped it.
However, I’ll leave the larger thoughts to those who have deadlines and commitments, and look forward to seeing how others parse out the episode (and how some of you might parse it out in the comments below).
- I’m curious whether the implied handjob was what drew the show the Sexual content disclaimer, or whether it was Jane in her robe the morning after the LSD trip. And yes, this is what I think about when I see one of those disclaimers.
- The close focus of this episode obviously allows for the show to save some money by not featuring certain actors, but it’s interesting that we do see Pete, who briefly informs Peggy that her frustration with Heinz has her off the account. That might be part of Kartheiser’s contract (note that he’s third-billed behind Hamm and Moss), but it also reflects his prominence within the day-to-day of the business.
- While I won’t be able to drop in every week, I hope to be able to at least return to the game later in the season once the semester is over in a month or so.