Mad Men Season 5 Episode  6 recap

I don't mean to start with a rant, but I need cable companies and AMC to get it together. PVRing Mad Men is an exercise in frustration, and even when it's noted as 1 hour, 5 minutes, that doesn't help if everything starts late.  Could we fix this already?  Or do we have to go back to the antiquated practice of watching the show in real time? Heh.
The only reason that matters, beyond regular irritation, is that this episode was specifically a time trip. Figuring out when Roger's acid trip was happening in proportion to Don's dark night of the soul was slightly taxing on the brain - but then, did it really matter? Don's and Peggy's and Roger's hellish nights happened independently of one another, each reminding them that no matter what they do to mask the problems they have, they'll come back and find them as soon as they let their guard down.
Perhaps it's unfair to refer to Peggy's night as so terrible but then, her bad night got started in the daytime. It's nice to see that her anxiousness about Don is shrouded in a veneer of casual attitude, but when all's said and done, she likes him close by. Not just in person, but little talismans of him and how he does things; I wonder whether we'd have seen the violet candies again had things gone well in the Heinz pitch.

But of course they didn't, and I felt so incredibly bad for her so early on.  "Stop writing down what I asked for, and start trying to figure out what I want!" Ugh. UGH.  This is the punch in the stomach all creative types have heard at one time or another, often veiled as "I know I wanted it then but I don't now" or "I don't know who came up with that but I don't like it". It's unfair.  It's demoralizing. It is, of course, sadly the cost of doing business.  It's the client's prerogative to change his mind, and Peggy - left without Don to shore things up - tried to handle things like he would have. She pushed a few of the client's buttons, got him a little riled up. Told him it was important to feel something.

I was so enthralled with her power in those few moments. But you know, as I do, that a raging Don Draper is considered attractive, passionate and unfortunately for Peggy, the double standard is in full effect.  Even though she did exactly what her boss would have in this situation. Even though she's studied hard how to get out of these sticky situations. Even though Ken fully bought what she was selling and backed her up (albeit cautiously). It's still not enough, and not only does her outburst get her belittled and "you're lucky I have a daughter"-ed, it gets her kicked off the account. Her close attention to how Don behaves - how Pete manages clients - it's all for nothing. Of course, the way they treat their wives doesn't work out that well either, since her muttering excuse that her mind might be on work is not enough for her boyfriend (and I got mighty irritated here, let me tell you. Peggy, find a guy who's obsessed with his work, too, and then it'll just become a problem when you're both 30 and whine that you never have time for one another!).

So from that angle, going to the movie to give a hand job to a stranger is...well, let's put it this way: it's one thing she can control, and has a reasonable attempt at feeling like she can do well. Sometimes I wonder if guilt or inhibitions were lower then, because while I'm no prude, scenes like this still surprise me coming from Peggy. But then I realize how restricted everything else in her life is - we've never even seen Peggy wear jeans! - and I guess the freedoms you have, such as they are, demand to be taken on cue.

Roger, of course, never had this problem as he's never known a freedom restricted.  He's basically an inconsiderate ass, of course, and I hate the way he treats Jane, but I can't help loving the sort of impish, goofy way he goes about new experiences.  For all his groaning about not wanting to do it (especially with Angela Chase's mother!!!), he's exactly the kind of lackadaisical open-minded dork you're supposed to be when dropping acid - so you can have the best trip. I do fundamentally believe that while Roger's life is kind of a mess, he has a unique compartmentalization quality that allows him to see the fun in almost anything.  So while the music coming out of the bottle made me laugh and watching him in the bathtub was kind of hysterical, I didn't feel as much from the breakup conversation as I wanted to.   Yes, Roger's been horrible to Jane. No, he never should have married her. But I've never felt real emotions from Roger, except where Joan is concerned. I didn't even believe him when he said he liked Jane once - I don't think that's true. He only liked looking at her - never being with her or laughing. If I'd thought he was a little more sincere about where things had gone wrong, I might have felt something.  But because Jane made no bones about being angry and unhappy, neither did Roger.  So I shrugged. In fact, look at their reactions in the morning. After a few seconds of pouting, re "Are you going to leave me?", Jane gets her act in gear and simply tells Roger "It's going to be expensive".  So pragmatic, these two. So much easier if they don't pretend there are emotions involved where they aren't.  And of course, when he's tripping, Roger's greatest interest is himself.   

But it's Don who tells him what to do, then as ever. This week's episode is one of the first times Roger's problems are exactly Don's problems.  It's a sign of the shifting times that both men had long first marriages and the problems show up much more quickly in the second ones.  Jane and Megan, roughly the same age, don't swallow their problems and emotions quite as easily as the earlier generation.  Betty Draper Francis may be closer to their age than to Mona Sterling's but she stuck to the elder women's code, at least at first.  Shove everything down and cover it over with chardonnay. But that's not Megan's style.

If she's unhappy, by God you're going to know about it and she won't pretend to like your stupid ice cream (I love sherbet, for what it's worth.)  I think this has less to do with her age, per se, and more to do with who Megan is - we hear an awful lot about her family relative to, say, Betty's (or even Peggy's, these days) and she seems like a pampered child who talks to mama all the time, and isn't used to being in a position where she has to defend her feelings - or keep them hidden.  Why should she?  She's a beautiful girl in her 20s who's married to the boss.  Doesn't everyone want to hear what she has to say? I feel for Megan at work because she's in a truly unenviable situation.  She'll never really be a part of the crowd (though I LOVED that visual at the end, showing that it's Peggy who's really separate from all the other young creatives) and she wants it both ways.  I hear her with the whole "when am I working and when am I a wife?" but frankly, she likes it that way or she wouldn't be in her position.  In fact, she wouldn't be in her position at all if she weren't married to Don.  It's such a catch-22, and she's not totally innocent.  It's not as if she worked her way up, though she wants to be treated as though she did. Similarly complicated are the fights between her and Don.  Somehow when Don and Betty fought it felt much more like they were equals - or, at least, fighting with the same tools: silence, cutting remarks, hurtful inferences.  It was ...WASPier, I suppose, but the chances of who could come out on top were much more 50/50 back then - at least morally.  With Megan, though, Don's fights are much more dramatic and kinetic.   He is at once more physical with her and more surprised at being so.  She cries that each time they fight, it diminishes them but I can't help seeing a side of her that gets something from it - something from Don, brought to his knees at the end.  

This is maddeningly tricky territory as the show skirts the edges of what constitutes domestic violence and whether they can infer it was instigated by one party or another.  Based on what little we've seen, however, it seems that, as always, Don's anger is about control.  Raising his voice and barking, or forcing (remember Bobbi Barrett?), has always been the way he makes his points clear. Megan, on the other hand, seems to get something out of being physical in her evasion of him.  Flying around the room proves something to her - that she's younger? Swifter?  That she can get away from him if she wants to?  It's unclear, and I may be naive, but I can't see Don ever striking her.  But he plays into it. Someone can't run away from you if you aren't chasing them.  He's chasing something, of course. We know from how anxious he was about Megan and how wistfully he thought back to that trip back from California.  Don, unlike Roger, really does want something real.  I just don't know if he has the words or the humility to ever find it.

So now what?  Peggy's been knocked down once again but she's not the only one with a hard road to walk, we realize; interactions with Michael and Dawn this episode remind us that even Ms. Olsen, who's lost her private office, is in a position of pretty extreme privilege, relatively.  Don's finally been called out on the extendamix vacation he's been on since the season began.  Roger's once again free, and not even pretending he's not happy about it.  In many ways, we're back to basics.  So...

Will we ever get back to the business?  I want these people to learn and change and develop in their lives but in the past - even last year - it had to do with how they handled their clients and the last minute inspirations for their business pitches.  I want to see the products I know in forms from before I was born.  There's something about the realism of the clients being familiar to us that grounds the rest of the ethereal, emotional series, and I wonder whether the second half of the season (as IF we're almost there) will be a return to form or an indication that, like the '60's, nothing's ever going backward.

Photos courtesy AMC