I just wasn’t made for these times
Well, where to begin about the first Mad Men episode I can remember that played with its own chronological beginnings? I have to admit being a bit slow on the uptake. When the screen closes on Peggy waiting in the dark for Abe to rescue her from her strange day and long loneliness, and reopens on a cheerful Roger bounding into Don’s office to pitch a “debauched and unnecessary boondoggle” in upstate New York, I assumed we were in the next day. Even when it becomes clear that Don is planning to grab Megan and head to a Howard Johnson, leaving Roger behind or forcing him into a couples get-away, my first thought was “how many days in a row will Don make Megan skip work to go to HoJos?” My tired brain didn’t piece it all together until I saw Megan was still wearing that fabulous orange dress. No matter how many orange sherberts Don wants to eat, Megan wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the same dress to work two days in a row.
I am sure the fact that it took Megan’s wardrobe to clue me into the repeat chronology says more about my tired brain than some master plot in the show, but Megan’s sartorial sense has been a marker of her difference from those around her, and this episode took us on several parallel trips through the new age Megan represents. I loved and hated Megan this episode. I’ve wondered when she would have it out with Don about their different levels of ambition and her own precarious position as wife/employee. Don imagines the biggest perks to being his wife must be the afternoon joyrides to family-friendly motor-lodges, where Megan is probably imagining something like a faster track to writing her own serious copy. We haven’t seen Megan in her working element all that much, but we’ve gotten little hints here and there that she takes her work seriously and wants to work with the team. I loved her self-confidence and assertion, calling Don on his double standards and his inability to imagine her desires beyond his own. But wow, she can play dirty if she wants to, bringing up Don’s mom in a way that felt just shy of calling her a whore and devolving into that childish ice cream act in the restaurant. We glimpsed Megan’s hot-headedness when she stripped off that robe to “clean the house” during their last fight. But this fight confirmed that it isn’t just French marital tactics in play, but a kind of childishness and impetuousness we haven’t really seen before. Their chase scene through the apartment was magnificent and horrifying, and when it didn’t end like the last roll on the carpet, there was a sad certainty that the honeymoon was really over. When Cooper finally calls Don on his “love leave” we have to wonder if the Draper marriage can survive the real world, or if it was always best as a retreat from the responsibilities and necessities of life that no longer seem like they can be kept at bay.
We don’t really know why Roger stopped liking Jane or why their honeymoon ended, but how perfect a foil to Don and Megan’s diminishment that they were able for one moment to be “alone in the truth together.” Jane imagined taking LSD might bring them closer, and she was right: their pink-turbaned conversation was probably the most honest and intimate portrait of marital understanding we’ve seen on this show, even if it was all about the end of their marriage. Roger was pitch perfect throughout these trippy scenes, from his childish amusement when the vodka bottle starts playing music to his exuberant glee to relive the 1919 World Series. I expected him to be petulant and Roger-y the morning after, but he experienced a real moment of grace in peaceful honesty with Jane and his optimism the next morning was a welcome sight, even as Don faces the sober truth of his situation.
I’ll leave it to you to talk more about the Peggy sequence. I thought, at first, this might be a “Peggy episode” much like last week was all about Pete. Instead, I found myself confirmed that Peggy is becoming the new “old Don” – trying her hand at bullishness but finding that without that penis everyone reminds her she is lacking, she’ll always be treated as the “little girl” or daughter. I am not sure how to read her unexpected movie encounter – an attempt at pleasing like women are supposed to do (according to Stan) or just one more attempt to follow in the old Don’s footsteps? The fact that she ends up asleep on Don’s couch and then calling Abe to make up makes me think the latter, but the fact that she refused the hand job for herself points to the former. Or probably to some confused combination of the two.
The scene with Ginsberg and his confession of being born in a concentration camp along with his too serious insistence that he is a full-blooded Martian was chilling. Where do you think they are headed with these more persistent reminders of post-Holocaust and Jewish identity? Abe and Jane both made specific and off-handed references to their Jewish identities in a way that would have seemed impossible, or at least more important, a few seasons ago.
It tastes like perfume to me.
First of all, thank you for this amazing photograph you found! That scene of Don chasing Megan through the apartment was utterly terrifying, and this snapshot captures that terror perfectly. Megan was surrounded with visual clues this week that I can’t resist naming, and this was one of them: as the violence of the chase recalled Don’s dream-state murder of his ex last week, Megan leaping over the bed under which that body had been stashed made me wonder if this was an exuberant declaration that she, unlike the dream ex, is going to get out of here. Pair this with all the play with orange throughout the episode, and I think we’ve got a promise that as much as Don is Peggy’s future (hand jobs and all), Roger is Don’s, and Don and Megan’s dissolution has truly begun the path to something perhaps like what Roger and Jane entered into here. So, first I interpreted Megan’s bright orange dress as subconscious affirmation of their quick trip to HoJo’s, even as its jagged lines revealed the fraught way in which she experienced that affirmation (and I would usually resist the temptation to read too much into these things, but given Tom and Lorenzo’s brilliant read of how roses appear on Joan’s costumes, I’m willing to assign much more intentionality to the costuming than ever!). Then, her eating of the orange sorbet echoed so brutally Betty’s dipping in to the ice cream sundaes a few weeks ago – and both cases marked their defiance of the women they were being asked to be, Betty through outright defiance, Megan through some strange sort of parody. And in this final scene, which as you note so perfectly echoes their falling onto the carpet after make-up sex a few weeks ago, Megan’s orange lips and nails seem to have shrunken any affirmation she had of Don’s whims to a few key, but nevertheless small, locations of her body. The episode ended with the two of them smiling and parting ways back at the office, which brought up the question: has she forgiven him? And I think the answer is somewhat irrelevant. The episode at the HoJo’s revealed how out of sync with each other they are. Had Don left Betty at the side of the road, she would have known he would come back. That possibility was not even on the radar for Megan – she assumed she was on her own, and needed now to take care of herself. And she did take care of herself. In the end, this is not what Don wants in a woman, even if he wants to think it’s what he wants. Such independence quite literally leaves him terrified and impotent.
The HoJos itself was an interesting character for me in this episode – with the LSD trip offering a somewhat obvious symbol for the transitions in which everyone is participating to varying degrees of success, the Howard Johnson’s offered an incredible image of a somewhere that really is a nowhere. As Megan put it, “it’s not a destination; it’s on the way to someplace.” And the radical newness of something that looked so old to me was shocking! Americans really didn’t know roadside motels like that in the mid 60’s?! Was “being on the way to someplace” and searching for something familiar in that transition (“Home is where the Heinz is”) really a cultural phenomenon invented by cultural revolution in the late 60’s? Social unrest and upheaval feels as commonplace to our generation as the proliferation of HoJos, Denny’s and Waffle Houses that appear at each exit of the interstate. It’s no wonder that these signs of stability were invented by the generation who also introduced chaotic social instability to the fabric of American life. Poor Don and Roger, though, mistake this non-destination as the destination itself – revealing just how out of the loop they are going to be in the weeks and years to come (“I knew we were going somewhere, I just didn’t want it to be here”).
The one shining hope in Peggy for me, then, that revealed that while she’s walking down Don’s path, there might be another one for her, was the fact that she fell asleep on Don’s couch in the same position that Dawn did a few weeks ago. Much ado is being made about the Peggy-Don connection – but I think we need to recognize how many other Mad Men memes Peggy embodies to make her character intelligible. There’s more to her than Don’s protege.
One of the more alarming of these of course is the connection forged between her and Ginsberg in this episode – at first I wondered why his own narrative of adoption captivated her so, but then I remembered her birth-child is out there being raised by someone else too. Ginsberg is shaping up with some interesting potential psychoses (he didn’t seem to be kidding about the martian thing; pair that with the weird Cinderella shoe violence from a few weeks ago, and we’ve got an unstable mix here brewing). But in this story, with his as the adopted child, Peggy is left as the martian who gave her child away…which might just explain why she struggles so much to find a way in to the world she wants to inhabit.
What’s tragic about it all is that she knows the truth of her own situation: there is no happy ending, “she’s not going to make it out there on her own!”
Wishing my vodka played music,
Jumping back in here just to say that I loved your take on the parallels between Megan and Don’s mad chase around the house and Don’s fever hallucination murder from two weeks ago. There was so much menace in that scene, as well as hilarity and childish possessiveness, but I hadn’t thought about why exactly. It also echoes the menace I felt during all of Megan’s absence, what with the abandoned sunglasses in the parking lot. After the specter of the Speck murders and the Whitman shootings, we’ve been trained to think about random violence intruding in ordinary life. While I didn’t really think it was going that way, I had at least moment where I wondered if something really horrible did happen to Megan. The fact that I could actually think that about Don Draper’s new wife in a show like Mad Men is proof of how well the fear and suspicion of this new historical moment have crept into the viewers consciousness as well as the characters’.
Thanks for helping me make the connection back to the domestic menace of Don’s subconscious too!