Mad Men: Life's a Trip

Last night's stories were not told concurrently which lent a trippy sensibility to the episode—perfect for experiencing dreamy memories, stoned matinees, straight-up hallucinations, and confronting the reality of some very uncomfortable truths. Oh, and hand jobs.

Taking a half-step back from the more macabre themes of this season, this episode checked in on three of SCDP's pivotal players to see where they were in their personal journeys. First up was Peggy, who had a shitty day, as was wished upon her by her boyfriend Abe, who is pretty progressive about having an ambitious career woman for a girlfriend. But even he has his limits. He's trying to be supportive but she's allowed her work to completely monopolize every aspect of her life, which extends to the bedroom, where Abe and Peggy are otherwise stripped down, in only their underwear. They get in a fight, and instead of talking it out, Peggy angrily suggests they break up. It seemed like a harsh and unnecessary response to a tiff. Perhaps paving the way for women in advertising has given Peggy tunnel vision in which she's can see the future she wants up head, but is unable—or unwilling—to recognize that whatever pops up along the way is anything but a road block that needs to be mowed down.

At work, she bombed on the Heinz presentation. Frustrated with the pain-in-the-ass client, she took an aggressive Don-style approach to trying to convince him to like her work. But instead of sounding convincing and confident, she came off as a desperate bully. After the client essentially reduced her behavior to being gender inappropriate, she blew off work for a movie (prompting Cooper to speak the episode's motif: "Everyone has somewhere to go today"), where she smoked a joint with a stranger and then gave him a hand job. For what though? Maybe she wanted to be in control of something that day. Maybe she wanted to actually take the wheel—and drive stick! No, but seriously, she spent her day thus far trying to please men on her own terms and she'd failed. At least this way, she could get some kind of result without having to really compromise herself. Or maybe she thought it was a nice way to thank him for sharing his weed.

Back at the office—after sleeping off her debauchery on Don's couch—she got back to work, because it's just what she does. She ended up having a conversation with Ginsberg about how he was born in a concentration camp where his mother was killed. It was such a sad, terrible story that she didn't even want to believe it was real. Still, it snapped her out of her self-involved funk, and called Abe to tell him she needs him. It took a train wreck of a day for her to understand that Abe isn't in her way—he's along for the ride. And she needed to just appreciate that.

And then we're back in the office in the morning. It seems like the next day, but Don is there and Megan is wearing the same outfit and they're talking about Howard Johnson's again and it's clear that it's actually the same day being retold, now through Roger's point of view. The momentary confusion is a great set up for one of the bests subplots in this show's history: Roger Sterling on acid.

At the office, Roger suggested that he and Don take a road trip upstate to visit a Howard Johnson for some kind of vague work reason. In truth, it was an attempt on his part to get out of going to a dinner party with his wife Jane and her friends he doesn't like. However, it backfired on him, with Don co-opting the trip for himself and Megan. But Roger ended up taking a trip of his own anyway.

At the dinner party, there was a lot of psychobabble about the truth and neurosis. It turns out this isn't Jane's friend but her shrink, who uses LSD as a therapeutic method. Roger initially wanted to leave, but stayed for the experience at Jane's behest. While everyone else was getting all groovy and grope-y with each other, Roger's trip was different. Opening a bottle of vodka unleashed a lush symphony, one drag on a cigarette made it collapse, a 1919 baseball game being played out in his bathroom—meanwhile Jane's shrink was dropping bombs like, "All absence is death if we let ourselves not it." Jane said that's how she feels when Roger goes to work. But he doesn't hear her. Instead, he gets caught up in an ad in a magazine for male hair dye, featuring a head that's half-gray and half-black. It speaks to the nature of Roger Sterling. The silver foxiness shows his age but belies his maturity. In the background he hears the Beach Boys' "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" playing over some older song, which further helps to reveal his real problem: He's a boy in a man's body. He's not young at heart. He's young in the head. And it must be really hard for someone who hasn't mentally matured to have to face the ultimate consequence of aging: Death.

Maybe that's what he started seeing in the mirror, which is why the shrink—who appeared to him in the form of Don Draper—told him to not do that. First of all, that's the quickest way to turn a trip bad. Secondly, this exercise wasn't supposed to be about Roger's self-realization. Instead, it was meant to strip him down of all his cynicism, wry jokes, and defenses so that Jane could "be alone in the truth" of him.

The couple went home, took a weird bath, and then stared at a ceiling fixture, where they eventually saw the light: They shouldn't be together. They're miserable. And Roger doesn't love Jane. It turns out that having a young wife wasn't the anti-aging remedy he'd thought it would be. They were so honest with each other. The next day Roger feels great. A weight has been lifted from his chest. They've arrived at the truth of things! Jane, however, is sad. She understands, but maybe she'd held out hope that the acid would make Roger more receptive to her feelings. Instead, he broke up with her while she was hallucinating. "I knew we were going somewhere," she said, "And I didn't want it to be here." Now that the trip is over, the crazy train of their marriage stops here. She mentions to him that it'll be "expensive." Roger is used to paying his problems away, so that's not a bother to him.

But is he really cured of his misery? The night before at dinner, the psychiatrist said something important that Roger probably didn't hear:

Your mistake is that you're assuming that because something is true, it's good. It's a myth that tracing logic all the way down to the truth is the cure for neurosis or anything else.

If Jane takes Roger to the cleaners, will he still have enough of that Sterling cash to fall back on? Without his carefree lifestyle, there isn't much left to Roger. Perhaps thinking that he's out of the woods is a bit premature (or immature?).

And then the day restarts, and Megan's boss orders her to blow off work and take a trip with her husband. The fact that they are the same person is problematic for Megan and she tries to say as much to Don. Don's definitely a better husband to Megan than he was to Betty, but that's still not enough. It's become increasingly obvious that Don likes having Megan as a passenger, but he needs to be driving.

Their fight at Howard Johnson wasn't part of some dom/sub foreplay. When Don begins brainstorming for a campaign at the table, she points out, "You like work but I can't like work." Megan was frustrated at not being treated as her own person with her own opinions and desires. He was treating her like a child, even trying to smooth things over with some orange sherbet. But she didn't like the sherbet or the sentiment behind it. They begin to bicker and Megan drops a low blow about his mom. Don becomes so enraged that he leaves her there, but eventually turns around to get her. By then, though, she's gone. He panics. He thinks she may have been kidnapped by someone. But Megan isn't Betty. She didn't go running to her parents who were only an hour away from the Howard Johnson. Nor did she end up in some ditch. She returned home, taking the bus like an autonomous adult. When Don finally returned home, she let him know that while she was perfectly capable of traveling alone, she resented having to do it. They're married. They should be able to have arguments without abandoning each other in the middle of nowhere. They get in a physical fight in which they're running around their cool apartment, knocking over awesome lamps and pottery, with Megan giving him a warning that this bullshit is going to chip away at their happiness and Don just holding onto her for dear life saying, "i thought I lost you."

There's a brief flashback of Don and Megan driving home from the airport after their trip to Disney the year before. Sally sleepily pops up and says, "I don't want vacation to end." Don replies, "Me either." And shortly thereafter he proposed to Megan, in an attempt to elongate his vacation from his real life. But now the honeymoon is definitely over.

Or so says Bert Cooper, you know, the guy on the five dollar bill. Back at the office the next day, he reprimands Don for being on "love leave" and for letting a "little girl" run everything. Don is left alone in the conference room to face the truth: He and Megan can't work together if they want to succeed in advertising or their marriage. That firing will no doubt be awkward. Just then, Roger opens the door and says, "I have an announcement to make: It's going to be a beautiful day!" It seems like LSD therapy could be really helpful for him. It has been known to treat alcoholism after all.

But it's unlikely that Roger will stay this happy. Just like Peggy did with her relationship and Don did with his marriage/work situation, Roger has arrived at a new understanding. But just like a Howard Johnson, life is not a destination, it's on the way to some other place.