Roger Sterling passed the Acid Test. It’s so like him.
I feel silly for not realizing there had to be an LSD episode coming in this 1966 this season of “Mad Men.” “Far Away Places,” written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner and directed by exec producer Scott Hornbacher (Weiner’s right-hand man on production matters) was certainly a trip. I loved it.
I don’t recall “Mad Men” ever employing the parallel-time storyline format to this degree before. I was thrown at first, but it wasn’t hard to settle in for the ride to Lake Placid after realizing that the time loop started again once Roger and Don parted ways in front of secretary Dawn’s desk for the second time.
I liked seeing Bert Cooper reassert some of his weight around the office when he calls Don out for being on “love leave” for too long. It does seem that Don has spent precious little time on campaigns lately. Bert had that same evil-elf look in his eye as he did in the big confrontation at the end of season two when he instructs Don to essentially move on from Dick Whitman already. I suppose Roger’s LSD-fueled vision of Bert on the five-dollar bill was foreshadowing of his whip-cracking to come.
Watching Peggy give some strange guy a hand job while watching “Born Free” in a half-empty movie theater was, um, unique, even by “Mad Men” standards.
Ginsberg’s backstory got much more interesting with his concentration camp revelation – it clearly had a big impact on Peggy and made her feel less sorry for herself after the conflict from the Heinz pitch. I wonder, however, if it’s true. After all, in the same breath Ginsberg asserted that he was a Martian. I still think he and Peggy are headed toward a romantic relationship. Ginsberg is as unconventional in his own way as Peggy’s reporter boyfriend is, and he’s likely to give her a lot less grief about letting go of work.
Obviously the central theme of this seg was the ugly side of love -– it even extended to Mr. Heinz and his hyper-fussiness about the portrayal of his beloved beans.
I have never enjoyed a Roger-Jane storyline as much as this one. I knew we were in for greatness when Jane donned a get-up that looked like a leftover from Liz Taylor’s “Cleopatra.” We wound up with “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” meets “I Love You Alice B. Toklas.” Amid a few cliché trappings –- the pushy psychoanalyst, the blowhard college professor, the woman crawling around on the floor babbling about death -- the Roger-Jane exchanges played out so well, a testament to the talents of John Slattery and Peyton List.
Big Tangent: It’s worth noting that at this point, LSD is still completely legal, and will be for more than a year. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters had already made the famous cross-country bus trip to visit Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert in New York two years before. (By all accounts it was bad vibes all around.) LSD had been bubbling up for a while, but this episode seems to capture the moment when it became cocktail-party chic. On the other coast, of course, Kesey and Grateful Dead were tripping around California holding “Acid Test” public gatherings with big vats of electric Kool-Aid and the challenge: Can you pass the Acid Test? (I’ve read my Kesey, my Tom Wolfe. For my money Ken is greatly underrated as a writer). An Acid Test was held not too far from my house in the Pico/Fairfax hood way back when. Sometimes late at night I can still hear the strains of an endless “Turn On Your Love Light” jam. End of Big Tangent.
So what did we learn from Roger’s experience? My take is that we learned Roger is a pretty well-grounded, self-aware guy. He didn’t flip out or freak out -– and thankfully he was pulled away from the mirror in the nick of time. In the end, Roger hit a higher plane of coolness and came to a resolution on a big sticking point in his life. And then he straightened his tie and got ready to go to work. In keeping with her true character, Jane tried to weasel out and then promised him the breakup was “going to be very expensive.”
Of course, the obvious joke here is that Don and Megan wish they’d had some LSD to ease the psychodrama they endured amid the garish colors of the Howard Johnsons in Plattsburgh.
The extended fight scenes between Don and Megan at the HoJos and in their apartment were compelling because they were very unpredictable. Her line to him about “calling his mother” was a spine-tingler and it reminded me to wonder about just how much Megan knows about Dick Whitman. I think the overall effect is to emasculate Don a little bit more every time they have a blow out -- which is essentially what Megan said to him. Couldn’t help but notice that they wound up on the floor in the same position as Roger and Jane but with very different results. Maybe Don should have washed his hair.
I have a feeling this is one of those episodes where I’ll wake up tomorrow with a many more ideas about What It All Means, or even a wildly different take. For now, I’m going to bed looking forward to watching “Far Away Places” again. Maybe after I listen to my reel to reel of “Pet Sounds.”
-- Cynthia Littleton