"The Collaborators," and "To Have and To Hold" both deal with different facets of one of Mad Men's central themes: the peculiarly American trait of never being satisfied with what we have.
The man born as Dick Whitman had to die once to escape who he was, and now—as the world has changed unrecognizably around him—the carefully constructed persona he created just feels like another stagnant, stifling identity he longs to shed and leave behind.
Our latest two episodes of Mad Men each feature a major character leaving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. One leaves in a considerably more permanent fashion than the other, but I'd still be hard pressed to say which departure is sadder.
I had, this week, a moment of clarity about Mad Men: it was the realization that none of these people—not a single goddamned one of them—will ever, ever be happy.
America is changing rapidly: roles are becoming less narrowly defined, identities are becoming more fluid, and self-fulfillment is becoming more important than stability and the traditional markers of success.
"Far Away Places" plays out in three short stories, occurring simultaneously, in which characters grapple with the tentative solidity of their own lives, the slippery hold they have on who they are and what is important to them, and the changing, sometimes elusive nature of reality.
A few thoughts about The Short and Happy Life of Peter Campbell.
Mad Men is largely about the moment when white, middle-class America awakens from that squeaky-clean, all-white, suburban fantasy of itself. This season is the transition point where the dark undercurrent that has always run beneath that fairy tale begins to overwhelm it.
"When is everything going to get back to normal?" Roger asks Don towards the end of this episode. The answer, of course, is never. Normal, as Roger understands it, is officially a thing of the past.
The white men have ruled the world of Mad Men all along, and their entire way of life has been built on racial injustice and the subjugation of women. Change won't come quickly, but it is coming.