'Mad Men' Recap: The Taste Of Perfume

  @EllenKilloran on April 23 2012 1:22 PM

Jane, we hardly knew ye! Until now, Jane Sterling has been a pretty marginal character, for both viewers and (more recently) her husband Roger. Though seemingly well-intentioned, she's consistently clashed with the wrong people (Don, Joan, Roger's daughter Margaret) and has been little more than tolerated by both Roger's family and the crew at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. While it's probably telling that her dinner party host was not a friend but her therapist (!?), it was hard not to feel sorry for Jane: Her marriage was so doomed that -- at least in her mind --only a trip to another dimension could possibly save it.

The Scott Hornbacher-directed Far Away Places was trippy in more ways than one, and not all of them worked. It was groovy to see a group of self-important professionals hyper-intellectualize their acid trip; Hornbacher and Weiner deserve credit for their restraint in portraying the hallucinations (a charmingly musical vodka bottle) and the varying individual reactions to the drug.

Naturally, though Roger needs little arm-twisting to turn on, he and Jane are far from in sync on their acid trip. Still, they are warmer to each other than we've seen in a while; and their frank, long overdue conversation about their marriage undoubtedly had many viewers pulling for them to work it out. But come morning, while Roger is nearly walking on air at the prospect of being a free man, Jane denies ever agreeing that their relationship was over. This is going to be very expensive, she cautions him.

Weiner has never more obviously channeled David Chase, who brought him into The Sopranos writer's room on the strength of his spec Mad Men pilot. While far less dramatic, the drug trip and dreamy time-warp sequencing recall Tony Soprano's desert peyote dream and his season six drift between this world and a coma-induced parallel universe. But at least one anachronistic scene -- Don's flashback to a post-vacation car ride with Megan and his children -- betrayed Weiner's intent to confuse rather than enlighten us.

While it's clear that Megan is (justifiably) growing increasingly conflicted about her dual role as Don Draper's wife and SCDP junior copywriter, it's still unclear if there might be more to the story. With every new episode comes another suggestion that Megan abruptly fell to earth (perhaps from Mars, where new hire Michael Ginsberg called home?) This week's curious reveal: Megan has never tried (or maybe even heard of) orange sherbet. If Megan and Don really are two peas in a pod, like the writers sometimes would have us believe, what exactly is she hiding?

Whatever Megan might have up her sleeve, she's made no secret of the fact that she will under no circumstances pour herself into the mold that Betty Draper left behind. While Betty routinely kept it together in public and served Don his punishment after they got home, Megan revels in humiliating Don in front of a Howard Johnson's waitress -- after he whisked her away from the office for an impromptu scouting trip, forcing her to miss her team's Heinz pitch. First complaining that her sherbet tasted like perfume, Megan responds to Don's nudging by shoving heaping spoonfuls of the ice cream in her mouth -- to her husband's abject horror. And while he only leaves her alone in the HoJo's parking for a few minutes, Megan wastes no time in hopping on a bus back to their apartment while Don -- fearing the worst -- works himself into a froth before finally giving up and driving home.

At the apartment, he finds Megan home, and a locked chain keeping him out. After Don easily busts down the door, he tries to overpower his wife, who dashes around the loft trying to escape his clutches. For a hot second, it looked as though the frenzied chase would end like episode three's disturbing, borderline BDSM sequence. Thankfully, Megan only let a plaintively kneeling Don embrace her before brushing herself off and heading to the office, where the couple cheerfully resumed their delegated role of Enviable Newlywed Power Couple. You've been on love leave, Bert Cooper scolds Don, no doubt heralding an imminent shift from honeymoon-phase Don to all-about-business Don.

Peggy Olsen and Village Voice reporter Abe are the third coupling to teeter on extinction in Far Away Places. But their relationship is (temporarily) saved by a drug-fueled, movie theater handjob and Ginsberg's confession that he was born in a concentration camp. I always need you, Peggy lies to Abe, in a bid to lure him to her apartment for comfort the night of Ginsberg's reveal.

Peggy was bound to come undone sooner or later, but there's something unsettling about the way the writers insist on unraveling her. Perhaps we're being a tad sensitive, but it seems like Peggy might be getting something of a come-uppance for successfully living in a man's world. While she certainly should have known better than to pull a Don Draper on Heinz when she knows as well as anyone there is only one Don Draper; the punishment - and the little girl remark -- didn't seem to fit the crime. Is there a subtle message here that Peggy rose too high too fast and must come crashing down, to avoid upsetting the balance of the universe? If so, is it a sign of those times, or these?

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