04/25/2012 11:36 am ET Updated Jun 25, 2012

Mad Men Recap: Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out

I'm at Coachella. I just got back to my room and put on this episode. Is this show tripping or is it just me?

"It's the study of the way things are true and false. Some things are possibly true, some are necessarily true, some used to be true, some will be true, some are true on this planet, but not necessarily others." -- Acid Guide

"Far Away Places" takes both the characters and the viewers to an altered reality. We tune into Peggy, Roger and Don and drop out of linear time and familiar surroundings to see these various truths. Their three stories come together in an acid-like montage mirroring and mimicking one another as time loops around and around. Scott Hornbacher directed the shit out of this and the result is beautiful.

"Everyone has somewhere to go today." -- Bert Cooper

Cooper is great in this episode, presiding over the office with few, omniscient, narrator-like lines. Peggy, Roger and Pete each go on a trip to return with a new perception of their lives and truth.

Peggy fights with Abe, bombs the Heinz pitch and falls out of her life completely until Ginzo takes her on a trip to Mars that brings her back home. The fallout with Abe and Heinz crystallizes the dichotomy of her constant struggle as a 1960s working woman. Abe thinks she's too focused on work and Heinz can't believe the mouth on this girl. Abe tells her "most men wouldn't even have this conversation," and the Heinz guy tells her, "Miss, you're lucky I have a daughter." So, she's not woman enough in her personal life and she's not man enough in her work life.

Peggy pulls a Do-or-Don-style retaliation when Heinz doesn't like her pitch. She yells at him for not knowing what he wants and she gets thrown off the account, reminiscent of when Don freaks out at Jantzen in the Season Four premiere. Peggy continues to act like Don as she blows off steam, notably using his office as her own in this sequence. She drinks, goes to the movies, gets high and jerks off a stranger (her small form of control), washes her hands, and sleeps it off on Don's couch.

"I'm a full-blooded Martian." -- Michael Ginsburg

After an afternoon off from her life, Ginzo brings Peggy back to Earth with a story about space. He tells her he's a "full-blooded Martian" but not to worry he's not here to take over (maybe meaning her job, too), he's "just displaced." He tells her he must be from Mars because otherwise he was born in a concentration camp where his mother died and his father found him in a Swedish orphanage when he was five. He concocted this fantasy to cope with his horrifying past, one that mimics Don's with a horrific setting and dead mother. Sure, Ginzo's self-made origin story is more extreme and sci-fi but it mirrors both Don and Peggy with their self-created identities and forgotten pasts. They're all displaced. Peggy asks, "Are there others like you?" He says he hasn't been able to find any and doesn't yet realize this kinship with Don and Peggy, that they too know the need to recreate your story in order to live with it. Ginzo sends Peggy home and back into Abe's arms with a new appreciation, but perhaps something real could eventually develop between Peggy and Ginzo? I think that'd be nice (and funny).

*Note: Peggy spent the day displaced by her womanhood and what brings her back is a story about Mars -- women are from Venus, men are from Mars -- she goes to the other side and makes it back.

"Only awareness can make reality and only what's real can become a dream and only from a dream, can you wake to the light." -- Acid Guide via Bardo Thodol

Roger and Jane take the real trip of the night. Jane brings Roger to her psychiatrist's LSD dinner party to let the drugs say what neither of them can: It's over. It's so over they need a new word for over (anyone with me?). It's the psychiatrist and her Timothy Leary-like acid-guide husband who say above quotes about reality and truth that aptly reflect all three stories in the episode. This season has been overwhelmed by symbols of death and here's another one: They're quoting Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or the guide to dying, which (Wikipedia tells me) is the experience of consciousness between death and the next rebirth -- which like the out-of-body LSD experience they're having, waking in rebirth with the enlightenment of what they learned. You'll also notice how Roger reacts defensively in his head to both mentions of death: the girl on the floor who says "I don't want to die," and the guide who says "all absence is death." Roger's been dealing with his own fear of mortality hears these as more somber death comments than they're actually said.

Roger Sterling on acid is kind of like a dream come true and this is one of the show's best scenes ever. The singing Stoli bottle, the accordion-like cigarette, Cooper's face on the dollar bill -- it's (Sterling's) gold. Roger fixates on an ad of a man with a half white/half black head of hair, goes to the mirror and sees himself in the image. The mirror image confronts his age and mortality (you can see him wondering how he got so old), as well as his man-boy nature. When I first saw it I thought it was Half Don/Half Roger in the mirror, and then Don appears behind him to tell him, "You are okay." Roger sees Don as a younger version of himself and looks to him for reassurance and relevance. In the mirror, Don tells him, "Everything's okay," and instructs him to go be alone in the truth with his wife (some advice that Real Don could use at the moment).

"I knew we were going somewhere and I didn't want it to be here." -- Jane

Back at their apartment, Roger and Jane lay on the floor staring into the light until they find it. LSD is a very effective form of therapy and in the most honest conversation they agree that their marriage is over. The problem? Jane says, "You don't like me." He knows but insists that he did, once upon a time, he really did. It's nice/ironic that this scene finally humanizes the two-dimensional Jane we've assumed dumb the past two seasons. It's been hard for her, all she thinks about is cheating and is angry he doesn't appreciate her restraint. I get it. I bet it has been hard. Now, it's gonna be expensive...

Don and Megan take a physical trip, with almost equally revelatory results. Don finds out they're not as happy as he thought they were. Megan's pissed off that Don doesn't take her job seriously and pulls her off the Heinz pitch to help him scope out business at Howard Johnson's.

"You like to work but I can't like to work." -- Megan

Megan feels like she abandoned the team and Don doesn't consider that Megan might actually care about her job. Peggy, incidentally, just validated Megan's place on the team to us when she tells Stan that Megan would come to casting. Don doesn't realize that she's in the office for anything besides him. It's funny because I've been so charmed by the little ways he lets her control him (changing his jacket, going to dinner parties) but he's always got his hand on the wheel. It's all Don, all the time. He's very into being her boss/husband but she's not into being a wife/employee. Megan's frustration with her inability to distinguish her work and private lives mirrors Peggy's frustration at her inability to reconcile them.

Don's really annoying in this episode with that stupid orange-sherbet-grin on his face and I'm totally on Megan's side in everything that goes down.

Don's all excited for Megan to try the famous orange sherbet, which becomes representative of his telling her what she'll like without asking. He gets annoyed she doesn't like it and she mocks their relationship by stuffing the sherbet in her mouth and pretending to love it until she spits it out in disgust. Is that what's happening right now in their relationship? Is she done eating the bullshit he feeds her?

"Get in the car! Eat ice cream! Leave work! Take off your dress! Yes, master!" -- Megan

Yup, that pretty much sums up their relationship but it seemed like she liked being told what to do, didn't it? We find out she's been venting to her mother in French and when Megan gets upset he suggests she call her mother to yell (rude) and she suggests he call his (ouch, low blow), and he drives off in a huff, leaving her on the side of the road. We know that Don is such a baby, but he's usually a more charming one and this week it was just kinda nauseating. When he comes back and can't find her he freaks out for seven hours and then drives home. Don fantasizes about the road trip on their way home from Disney after he proposed, when Megan was still in shock and the full force of their fantasy still intact. From the back seat, Sally says, "I don't want the vacation to end," and we realize their vacation, this gleeful "honeymoon" that started in Disney, is finally over. What will they have left?

"It's not a destination, it's on the way to some place." -- Megan

When Megan says this about HoJo's, it reflects the temporary and volatile status of all the relationships. Nothing is a destination (besides death) and each of these significant moments and fights are stops on the way. You can't help but question if it's possible this is how she feels about Don, if he's just a stop on the way to another home.

Back at their apartment, they're back to this cat-and-mouse chase game we saw in the premiere. Don is so distraught but he's the one that left her alone on the side of the road! He expected her to wait for him, but she's a modern woman and she can get home on her own. It's telling that she doesn't expect him to come back for her, or does she just not want to be there when he does? She runs away from him and he wildly chases her around the apartment, kind of psychotically. After their whole hate sex game it's hard to tell how crazy this really is for them, but it's clear Don likes the chase.

"Every time we fight, it just diminishes this a little bit." -- Megan

He tackles her onto the ground and they're back on the white rug. The shot of them on the floor mimics the shot of Roger and Jane on the floor as well as the shot of Peggy on Don's couch -- the moment of catharsis for all of them. Just like Roger said, Don says, "It's over." He means the fight not their marriage, but we're not so sure. With each fight, as Megan says, their illusion of happiness diminishes and it's unclear what lies under it.

He holds her so tightly with his head on her stomach and says, "I thought I lost you." There was a pause there where I thought she might say, 'you just did,' but she just smiles and nods and takes him back.

When they walk into the office, Megan puts on a decidedly fake smile to let Don know everything's okay which feels like she's going to ignore everything that happened. She's angry but she can go back to acting happy to take care of Don who breaks down without her.

"Do over." -- Bert Cooper

Bert Cooper left a message for Don. It's a picture of a girl with a line through it that says, "Do over." He tells Don, "A client left here unhappy yesterday because you have a little girl running everything." He tells Don he's been on love leave (the perfect way to describe it) and its time to get back to work. He reminds Don and us that this is his business and it's like he's hitting the reset button.

Finally released from his prison of marriage, Roger walks in to announce, "It's gonna be a beautiful day!" and it feels like order is restored: Roger is happily quipping and Old Don is back. As the scene fades away, we see Don sitting alone in the glass box, looking out on the office as his team passes him by. He's isolated himself from the rest of them and needs to re-enter the office. That final image mimics the opening credits and I think we're supposed to know our Mad Man is back.

A few other things:

The song playing throughout the LSD sequence is the Beach Boys, "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times" from Pet Sounds and the lyrics reflect the entire episode so perfectly. The repeated refrain, "Each time things start to happen again/I think I got something good goin' for myself/ But what goes wrong" describes the problem of all three of them as they fight to try to keep their relationships alive.

At Howard Johnson's they closed the pool, "some kid had an accident" -- I think they mean peed in the pool, but the phrase suggests death, especially after the waitress says Megan was off with the kids and all the recent violence. When Don finds her sunglasses, it seems like she's been abducted, do you think she left them there on purpose?

When Peggy finds her lucky Don Violet candies she says, "Thank god, I couldn't take another omen of doom" -- kind of a meta comment about all the omens of doom hanging over the show this season.

Is it possible Megan's pregnant? She's hungry and extremely sensitive to smells, bothered by his smoke in the car and thinking the sherbet tastes like perfume. Plus, the way Don holds onto her stomach at the end.

And if she is, will another baby keep Don in another unhappy marriage? The psychiatrist says people repeat their mistakes.

In terms of waking from the dream to find the light, I wonder, could Megan just be the dream that wakes Don, since what he/we thought he has is not actually real... ?