Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Mad Men," Season 5, Episode 6, "Far Away Places"

As has often been the case in “Mad Men,” gender is at the center of this week’s episode, entitled “Far Away Places.”  Both Peggy and Megan are frustrated that the men in their lives don’t want them to have a full role in the workplace. Meanwhile, the drug culture makes an appearance as we watch a dinner party drop LSD.

Once again, Peggy is more focused on her work than her personal life, a state of affairs that doesn’t sit well with her left-wing boyfriend, Abe Drexler.  Abe tells her that half the time she is not interested in having sex and then simply goes through the motions of doing it.  After Peggy says she needs a little time to rest after work, Drexler retorts, “You sound like my dad!”  While Abe works for the Village Voice and is often the house radical on the show, his attitude reminds us that the New Left of the 1960s drew the line at sexual equality.  In fact, second wave feminism grew out of the protests of women in the civil rights and antiwar movements who were upset about their exclusion from important decisions.

After an unsuccessful presentation, Peggy gets aggressive with the Heinz representative and he demands she be taken off the account.  It seems likely he would have had a different response if Don or another man had behaved in a similar fashion.  Speaking of Don, he continues to be indifferent to his work and demands Megan leave with him for a trip to upstate New York, even though she was supposed to help Peggy with the Heinz presentation.  Megan is frustrated and tells Don, “You can like to work but I can’t like to work.” After she doesn’t like the ice cream he orders and refuses to get in the car with him, the couple fights as Megan declares, ”Get in the car. Eat ice cream.  Leave work. Take off your dress. Yes master!”  The last phrase is likely a reference to the hit television show “I Dream of Jeannie,” (1965-70) where Barbara Eden’s genie routinely exclaimed, “Yes master!” to the requests from Larry Hagman’s astronaut character.  Reminiscent of his old battles with Betty, he drives off, leaving Megan alone at a roadside Howard Johnsons. 

Meanwhile, Jane and (gasp) Roger go to a dinner at Dr. Timothy Leary’s apartment where they “turn on” by dropping LSD.  With his philosophy of “turn on, tune in, drop out” Leary, who had a Ph.D. in psychology from Berkeley, was a real-life advocate for experimenting with drugs.  Though Roger is clearly affected by the LSD, he still enjoys his usual drinking and smoking while on his acid trip as the Beach Boys’ groundbreaking album, “Pet Sounds,” plays in the background.  Written by lead singer Brian Wilson while under the influence of LSD, “Pet Sounds” represented an important moment in the evolution of rock n’ roll from the sanitized music of the early 1960s to the more complex sounds of the latter part of the decade.  Released in 1966, Wilson’s work provided some of the inspiration for the Beatles recording of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” the following year.  The scene again reveals Roger’s disengagement from the events of the time, as the camera pans to Roger as Wilson sings, “I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.”

In another historical note, Michael Ginsberg reveals that he was adopted after he was born in a concentration camp.  The 1960s witnessed a growing awareness of the Holocaust as anti-Semitism diminished and American culture became more open to discussion of victimhood.  Many historians believe the 1961 war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel, when many survivors first offered public testimony about Nazi atrocities, served as a turning point.  The Six-Day War of 1967, where Israel quickly routed its Arab neighbors after weeks of rhetoric that the Jewish state would be annihilated, brought the Holocaust further into public discourse.

The episode ends with Bert Cooper reproaching Don for abdicating his responsibilities and putting “a little girl” in charge, a condescending reference to Peggy.  Don then stands alone in the conference room while the younger workers walk purposefully through the hallway, another sign of the rising power of the youth culture as well as Don’s diminishing importance.

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