TV Club

Mad Men recap: Roger takes acid, Don goes to the Howard Johnson’s.

Don and Roger both take revelatory trips.

Roger Sterling and Don Draper
Roger Sterling and Don Draper

Still by Frank Ockenfels/AMC.

Read an interview with John Slattery about this episode of Mad Men.

Hallelujah, gentlemen! Roger has been returned to the wild.

This was an episode with two marvelous set pieces—Roger’s excellent adventure with Jane, and Don’s Howard Johnson noir—but it was fundamentally about the families you make, and how it feels when they fall apart.

The more delightful of the two—and perhaps one of the most delightful scenes in Mad Men history—was Roger and Jane’s brutally honest acid trip. What music plays when you fellas open up the vodka bottle? John Slattery was deft throughout. That business of staring nervously in mirrors during a hallucinatory voice-over can go very badly, but I loved the moment of recognition at the liquor cabinet, the childlike joy in the bathtub, and the bravery of the confessional in pink turbans, not least the incredulity with which he asks: “You never cheated on me?” The scene was full of great visual detail—Bert Cooper on the dollar bill, Jane’s midriff-baring let’s-go-tripping getup—and in that final, superbly written conversation, it managed to get Roger and Jane (who became a real character here, as rarely before) where they need to be (and where we need them to be): apart.

The one strange note in the acid trip was Don appearing in Roger’s mental kaleidoscope as a paragon of marital good counsel, telling Roger to go to Jane: “She wants to be alone in the truth with you.” Thankfully, the real Don and Megan are not living happily ever after. Their impromptu jaunt to an upstate HoJo became a dark echo of the Disneyland adventure that launched their relationship— and this time, Megan is far less equanimous about the frozen desserts. Instead of charming Don with her easy grace—“Megan gets along with everybody,” Don boasts to Roger before they set out—she’s full of her own opinions. She likes work. She’s mad that Don made her ditch the Heinz pitch. She wouldn’t mind visiting her mom in Montreal. And she really, really, really doesn’t like orange sherbet. Again, the writing is sharp—note how the scene escalates from “I like everything,” to “You like to work but I can’t like to work,” to the moment when she tells Don “Why don’t you call your mother?”; essentially calling his mom a whore, and Don abandons her at the restaurant. It’s believable, and sad. When they reunite after Don’s night of terrified brooding under that garish orange roof, I loved and was crushed by Jessica Pare’s final heartbroken line reading: “Every time we fight it just diminishes this whole thing.”

The episode opens with a similar escalation—Peggy and Abe, fighting about her commitment to work. Peggy does have the “shitty day” he wishes her, or at least a weird one. She blows the Heinz pitch when she tries a little of Don’s patented “You’ll like it because I say it’s good” salesmanship. But the I’m-brilliant bullying that works so well for the gander fails for goosey Peg. After Heinz storms out, Stan—who somehow snagged all the clunky lines in the episode—tells Peggy, “That was a completely suicidal move. Women usually want to please.” So she skips work, smokes a joint with a stranger at a matinee of Born Free, and opts to please him instead.

I found the Peggy plotline a poor third string in this episode, and I’m beginning to worry about a trend I’m noticing. The writing for Peggy has been so on the nose this season—so focused on gender and work, “acting like a man,” the lure of the domestic—that she is beginning to feel more like an era archetype than a specific woman. On the other hand, she did pry out of Ginsberg that he’s an alien—or perhaps from a Holocaust camp—and he offered these comforting words. “Don’t worry, there’s no plot to take over earth. You’re just displaced.” I fear for Peggy’s future at SCDP.

Not Bert’s though: I loved the talking-to he gave Don. Between that and Roger’s new lease on life—“It’s gonna be a beautiful day!”—I think the agency is poised to be the center of the action in coming episodes, and I’m glad about that.

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