BY EMILY VIVIANI
This Sunday Mad Men was chock-full, jam-packed and bursting-at-the-seams with Violet candy! Orange sherbet! Drugggggs! Everyone had somewhere to be, no one liked anything and all the girls cried.
The hour was divided into three overlapping stories about one day as it unfolded, first from the perspective of Peggy, then Roger and finally Don. The stories were unified by blatant plot similarities, but also convoluted by dramatic decadence and disorientation (dreams, memories, what time is it? etc.). Peggy jerked off a stranger at the movies. Roger took LSD and divorced his wife. Don lost Megan at a Howard Johnson’s in upstate New York.
Structurally, I think it worked, but thematically nothing seemed to fit. Maybe this was intentional, but I thought there was so much, too much other intentional stuff that in the end, everything felt like the band-aid for some disjointed message that Weiner seemed to be molesting with allusion.
People want to escape? Truth is irrelevant? Relationships are transient? So what? In an episode all about people going to “Far Away Places,” I found the episode’s clearest, most conclusive message came from Mars, via Ginsberg: stay where you are.
It was spoon-fed to us within the first 13 minutes of the episode, in a quiet, perfect scene between Peggy and Ginsberg at the office, after hours. Peggy, who had just come back from her day as Don, asks Ginsberg why he never mentioned he had a family, having met his father in the lobby earlier that day. Ginsberg responded with an explanation that the man she met wasn’t his father, since he, himself was from Mars. At this Peggy laughs, but Ginsberg continues in earnest:
“It’s fine if you don’t believe me, but that’s where I’m from. I’m a full-blooded Martian. Don’t worry, there’s no plot to take over earth, we’ve just been displaced. I can tell you don’t believe me and that’s okay, we’re a big secret. They even tried to hide it from me. That man, my father, told me a story that I was born in a concentration camp, but you know that’s impossible. And I’ve never met my mother cause she supposedly died there. That’s convenient. Next thing I know Morris there finds me in a Swedish orphanage. I was five, I remember it. [Peggy: “That’s incredible.”] Yea, and then I got this one communication. A simple order — stay where you are.”
In contrast to everything else that was said by everyone else in this episode, which seemed to be followed by either a gigantic exclamation point or an enormous question mark, Ginsberg ended everything he said in this scene with a simple, definitive, period.
The scene itself played with Ginsberg’s back to Peggy as he continues to scribble on his memo pad, head down while talking. Peggy in her desk chair is turned toward him, struck by the strange, sad story. When it ends, Peggy asks if there are others like him and Ginsberg looks up at his reflection in the dark window, in front of his desk (so he is not really, but is looking at Peggy through a reflection of himself) and tells her he doesn’t know because he hasn’t been able to find any.
Maybe it was the mention of concentration camps in an episode where major plotlines pivoted around 27 flavors of ice cream, or maybe it was the look on Peggy’s face or in Ginsberg’s reflection, but what struck me most about the sad scene was how much I liked it compared to everything else this episode. The exchange felt genuine and ironically omniscient, in an hour that otherwise played like, well, a show. The final scene, Bert Cooper reprimanding Don for his love leave and reminding him that while he had been going places, he hadn’t been doing anything, was similarly affecting.
“Stay where you are” is something your parents tell you to do when you’re little. It’s their guidance, if you should get lost in a crowded place where people are bustling around, going places. There is no way to know what Weiner was trying to have Ginsberg say, if anything, through his one communication, one simple order from Mars, but in an episode where all the adults were behaving like a bunch of kids running around in circles (Don and Megan, quite literally), I’m glad somebody said it.