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Mad Men 5x06: Lucy in the Sky with Draper

April 23, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

We’re not even halfway through the fifth season of “Mad Men” and already this year we’ve seen a sex kitten rendition of “Zou Bissou Bissou,” witnessed the show’s protagonist committing a brutal murder in a dream sequence, chuckled at a Marquis de Queensbury-rules fight between the two most effeminate characters, watched in disbelief as the closest thing to a moral compass in the ensemble gives an anonymous movie theater hand job (is there a better way to say “hand job” in a family paper? I can’t think of one) and, most amazingly or annoyingly, depending on whom you talk to, tagged along on a mind-bending, time-bending, audience-dividing, LSD-inspired trip into Roger Sterling’s heart of clarity and Don Draper’s heart of darkness. No one can accuse Matthew Weiner of playing it safe with his landmark drama as it moves toward its closing act.

Even though only one of the three perspectives we saw in “Far Away Places” (Peggy, Roger, Don) was actually psychedelic in nature, the whole hour had the feel on one of those half asleep, half awake dreams (or a garden variety episode of “Lost”!) with skewed reality and displaced time, leaving the audience (for the second time this season) asking exactly what was real life and what was just fantasy, like poor Jane, who tried desperately and futilely to hang onto the idea that a break up under the influence isn’t really a breakup.

The episode left little doubt that Don and Megan’s marital troubles are real (and really volatile). Again, Megan proved to be more than Don’s equal, pummeling him in an argument to the point that he literally ran away. And once again, we are given evidence that despite his declarations to the opposite, an equal is the absolute last thing Don Draper is looking for in a mate. We’ve already witnessed the dissolution of a Draper marriage where the woman wanted nothing more than to be a trophy wife, and now we’re seeing the dissolution of one where a supposed trophy wife proves to be nothing of the sort. That doesn’t leave many domestic avenues open for either Don Draper or Dick Whitman.

Meanwhile, the moments of clarity provided by Roger’s hilarious and poignant LSD trip (accompanied by the Beach Boys and a Russian symphony) leave him feeling like he’s got things figure out. “It’s going to be a great day,” he chirps amid the rubble at Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce in the episode’s final scene. It’s a declaration akin to Tony Sopranos’ “I get it!” after his peyote trip in “Kennedy and Heidi” and you know how that turned out. Whether Roger’s fresh perspective is fleeting or not, it’s hard to imagine happy endings for anyone on this show right now.

About midway through “Far Away Places,” we witness one of those egg-headed dinner party conversations about the nature of truth that seem to have only happened in the 60s. Is truth relative or absolute? Is it internal or imposed? And then the conversation takes a turn we didn’t see coming (neither did Roger) but should have as the host invites the guests to “turn on” with LSD-laced sugar cubes in the parlor. We think when all is said and done we might remember that conversation as a key moment in “Mad Men.”

Let’s remember what truth was for America and for our characters when the show began – people with white skin were better than people with black or yellow skin, men were better than women, America was good and our enemies were evil, our government was a bastion of morality and justice, and God Almighty oversaw it all with a benevolent hand. We know the rude awakening America was in for (and is now in the midst of in “Mad Men” time). We’re guessing the personal truths gradually being revealed on the show will be just as painful, if not horrifying.

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