“Everyone’s got somewhere to go today”
It has finally arrived, a season five episode of “Mad Men” that I don’t like. We made it five episodes together this season before this moment, and for me that’s pretty solid, certainly more than I had expected to like. I was digging the weirdness, and I kept on asking for more of it. Now that it’s here though, I don’t like it. The time jumping structure didn’t illuminate enough for me, especially the way each plot jumped back to the beginning. I would have much rather preferred we see all three plots at once as they bounce around, which would be really confusing but I think would be a better representation of how Don, Peggy, and Roger are unstuck and bouncing around the confusing 60’s.
Seems everyone is unhappy again, as Roger’s marriage finally collapses, Don and Megan crumble, and Peggy once again finds herself stressed out by work and doing scandalous things. Roger is dragged along to a dinner party with Jane that seems to be run by Timothy Leary, while Don and Megan play hooky and take an ill-fated road trip up North, and Peggy ends up blowing off work and going to the movies.
Each plot had its moments, especially the Roger plot as he dropped acid with Jane and her friends, but everything felt so disjointed. Nothing dovetailed at the end, beyond Don looking out from the conference room and seeing everyone walk by. It was a nicely framed final shot for sure, but it didn’t add anything new. Don is distant, the world is passing him by, holy cripes we get it! For a show relying so much on imagery you would think that they would find some new ones. Matthew Weiner and Co. were doing so well with being exciting and new, but in their most experimental episode they just come to the same conclusion they have come to roughly thirty times before.
“It’s not a destination, it’s on the way to some place”
It certainly was nice to see some quick payoff from Don’s hallucination strangulation as he lunged after Megan though, and the physical, dominant threat that always seems to be seething under Don’s practically plastic face finally emerged into reality. But then he cried, and he and Megan only took another step towards their inevitable end. I did really love Megan’s line “every time we fight, it just diminishes this,” and I thought their fight had real tension, especially as Don actually took Megan down, but him crying after just ruined the whole thing for me.
I was also really not a fan of how the stories slightly came together, as it cut to Don in the telephone booth as he called Peggy. Why? It would have been much better if we didn’t see Don at all. All it did was take me out of Peggy’s plot, which hummed right along until she called Abe, and went back to being her normal self. It’s going to be damn hard for her to go back after she gave a handjob to a stranger in a theatre, while stoned! That’s a huge, and hugely immoral, step for Peggy, bringing her closer to the person Don was, and then she just retreats. The episode could have broken so much new ground!
Off the three I preferred Roger’s plot the best, for the technical bravado and the fact that it actually went somewhere. Roger and Jane are through, and it’s going to be messy, but they both know that. The joys of dropping LSD at a dinner party and then tripping out for a night! The best humor was found in Roger’s segment as well, as it has been of late. My favorite was when a huge orchestra blared every time he opened the bottle of booze. Little tricks like that were delightfully weird, and were almost impishly funny the way they were shot. If there had been more of that, I would have been thrilled yet again.
“Mad Men” has consistently shown to be written by people who really do not care what sort of show the audience wants, with their overall peculiar episode structure of tiny scenes and no real overarching seasonal arc. It has always been about the minute emotional changes in rotten people, and I can live with that as long as they still make good television, television that comes together nicely at the end. All we got at the end of this weeks episode was Don brooding like he always does (after getting a dressing down from Burt, which was quite welcome) and Roger popping his head in to say how beautiful the day was going to be (which was not so welcome). I admire the ballsiness of the show, but sometime soon Matthew Weiner is going to have to get his head out of his ass and realize that he can’t just continue making things peculiar for the sake of it.