Thoughts on Mad Men s7e5, “The Runaways”

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“stop humming, you’re not happy!” images courtesy of Idyllopus and imgur

Oh my god, what a fucking straight-up bizarre episode this was. More 2001 parallels, especially in this scene where Ginsberg is attempting to lipread Cutler and Lou  á la HAL-9000 lipreading Dave and Frank talking about shutting HAL down. Ginsberg takes on the role of HAL, and we learn that Cutler and Lou are talking about how to shut down Don, via Commander Cigarettes.

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It’s ironic that Ginzo takes on the “computer” role since he loathes and fears technology so much. More on that in a bit.

images courtesy of tumblr.

This episode is about people trying to find their role of importance – seeking that all-important feeling of being needed, and how to get it. On a small scale, Lou tries to make himself important with his flop idea “Scout’s Honour”, and loses his damn mind when Stan finds it, lashing out at the creative team like an uptight teacher punishing children for no real reason. In my experience, guys who have a personality comprising of 98% dick tend to not be packing much “elsewhere”. Lou is an example of that dude, and it’s becoming clearer with each episode that airs.

Betty and Henry sure are bickering a lot, yeah? That was awkward. Henry (unintentionally) undermines Betty and her opinion of the Vietnam war at a block party event, and Betty has no idea how to cope. Her previous experience being some Important Man’s Wife(TM) meant that Don coached her on what were the right and wrong answers ahead of time. Even in her final scene with Henry in the episode, she feels the need to assert her worth as a real person, that she’s indeed intelligent and capable of independent thought. She’s surrounded by people telling her what to do or what to say, her older kids fear and loathe her, and she’s fed up. Betty embodies the very principles of The Feminine Mystique. I feel very sad for Betty, she’s really lost in this changing decade. This is a woman so damaged by her upbringing (and atrocious marriage to a controlling Don) trying to figure out where she fits. Her real opinions and thoughts apparently are not needed by Henry, not while he’s in politics. Her thoughts and feelings are not needed by her kids who don’t want to listen.

One nice thing from this episode is that we get to see Sally and Bobby have a sibling moment. This is something that’s been pretty much absent from the series thus far, save for Sally taking on a parental role taking care of the boys from time to time. They’re both terrorised by their mother, and Bobby seeks out Sally for comfort. Bobby needs positive attention and non-creepy love from a family figure, and I’m sure Sally is seeking that same thing from Bobby. As a girl who is growing wise to Betty’s outward focus on looks as life currency in finding a husband, Sally spits straight venom back at her mother. While at boarding school, she gets in a swordfight with one of her friends and ends up getting bashed in the face. Naturally, Betty thinks Sally’s life is over because something so absurdly minor as a broken nose will prevent her from getting places in life, since she inherited Betty’s “perfect” nose. Yikes.

“The Runaways” has, for sure, one of the most shocking and flat-out dark things I’ve seen on Mad Men thus far. Let’s do a fun recap of previous horrifying dark moments on this show! In no particular order:

  1. Lane’s suicide in the office.
  2. Sally catching Don in the bone zone with Sylvia.
  3. Joan being raped by her dickbag fiancé in Don’s office.
  4. Flu-ridden Don hallucinating strangling/murdering some broad post-bang and shoving her under the bed.
  5. Joan landing Jaguar for SCDP by bonking hambeast Herb.
  6. Old lady burglar in Don and Megan’s apartment, threatening and intimidating Sally and Bobby.
  7. Betty’s senile elderly father grabbing her boob in front of the family, mistaking her for her dead mother.

And now, we have Ginzo and his Nipple Gift to Peggy. I was, in actuality, screaming. Ever since the great Michael Ginsberg neurotically graced our screens in s5, there was obviously something up with this guy. He was born in a Concentration Camp? He’s a self-proclaimed martian? Dude is also obsessively and hilariously fixated with who’s a homo and who’s not, no doubt some sort of headspace fuckery thanks to his dad’s constant probing of his own sexuality. We don’t know much about Ginsberg’s past, but this particular passage from s5 is very telling in light of what we’ve seen in “The Runaways”.

“Actually, I’m from Mars. 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.. just displaced. I can tell you don’t believe me. That’s okay. We’re a big secret. They even tried to hide it from me. That man, my father, told me a story I was born in a concentration camp, but you know that’s impossible. And I never met my mother because 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.”

“Yeah, and then I got this one communication. Simple order. Stay where you are.”

Peggy: “Are there others like you?” 

“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find any.”

-Ginsberg and Peggy, s5e6 “Far Away Places”

After the hum of the monolith drives him out of the office, a weary Ginsberg shows up at Peggy’s apartment on a Saturday. He’s rattling on about how the computer is damaging everyone and building pressure inside of his body, and he has no way of releasing it. It’s invaded his head and apparently it’s turning everyone into homos, which is admittedly ridiculous/hilar, but not too far out of his realm of past absurdity. Peggy shrugs it off as him being a weirdo as usual, until she wakes up with him staring at her a few inches from her face. He kisses her, it’s hilarious and awkward, and Ginzo insists they have to reproduce though he’d prefer to do it without having sex if he could. L O L. Yikes. Exasperated Peggy brings him back to earth for a second when she yells at him that “IT’S JUST A COMPUTER”, and he agrees.

I was uneasy at their interaction that weekend, because.. yeah. So when Monday rolled around, and he goes into Peggy’s office with a jewellery box, I worried that he might be proposing to her on the spot. He tells her not to worry and reassures her that he’s back to being himself, and even among his yapping about data and outlets, I wanted to believe him. But then, he presents Peggy with his goddamned bloody right nipple, hacked off of his own person, in a fucking gift box, with some hair still intact. I CANNOT. Apparently, hacking it off has “relieved” the “pressure” from the “computer”; he tried to get it done by a doctor (???), but said that they’d only “sew it up” and not .. take it off like he needed. What in the world?! He’s gone full Van Gogh. He’s lost the fucking plot.

In more astute terms, he has no grasp of the consequences of his actions and that what he’s done is completely not ok; he’s now a danger to himself. Does he have a brain tumour? Is he a full fledged paranoid schizophrenic?? Signs of schizophrenia tend to manifest in people in their late 20s, so it’s not entirely implausible that his once endearing neuroses would take a turn for the worse around his age.

This is a remarkably sad turn of events, considering how people with mental illness are treated in the 1960s and 1970s. A prime example is Beth, Pete’s married love interest from s5. Her husband sent her off to a mental hospital to receive electroshock treatments when she was “feeling blue” but most likely seeking male companionship elsewhere, to keep her in line. Fucked out for sure. Heartbroken Peggy makes the tough call to get an ambulance, and we see Ginzo being wheeled out, strapped to a stretcher. He’s been cracked by the hum of the monolith, yelling “GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN!”, and it’s genuinely upsetting for everyone at SC&P. A visibly upset Stan accompanies him to the hospital. Super jarring, especially compared to his singular “order” as a martian.

I’m scared for Ginsberg’s future, and I hope we get to see him again on the show. Forming a prayer circle for Michael Ginsberg right now.

As Ginzo loses touch with reality, Stephanie reappears. Anna’s niece from a few seasons back pops back onto our screens as a knocked up filthy hippie seeking help. She calls Don from LA, who tells her to head to Megan’s apartment in Laurel Canyon and that he’ll be there soon. Stephanie represents a few things in this episode. She is what Don wishes Megan could be – pregnant and dependant on him, and what Megan wishes she could be – more confident, gutsy, and spellbinding. Don moves mountains to be out in LA ASAP, which is upsetting to Megan since he hasn’t done that for her unless it was to “check in” like when her agent called.

And the obvious ace in the hole is that Stephanie knows that Don Draper is Dick Whitman, and has known all her life. Between Don and Megan, this secret was something that provided a sense of intimacy, something that was “just the two of them”, so coming into contact with someone who knows more about Don’s past leaves her shaken. Also, something interesting I noticed: Megan has no trouble wielding Don’s checkbook to cut Stephanie a “please leave” check for $1000, yet she balks at Don buying her a colour television saying it reflects badly on her image? Guuuuurrrrl.

Let’s talk about Megan’s effervescent, unrelenting thirst. Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d say: in what was probably the most excruciating threesome ever, Megan uses her vacant friend Amy to attempt to lure Don’s indiscretions back into their marriage, to draw him back in. Naturally, it backfires because she misread him entirely; Megan trying so goddamned hard to be what Don chases is really sad. She even tries to keep his attention and make him jealous by flirtatiously dancing with some basic Charles Manson doppelgänger at her party, which Don rightfully ignores.

Don leaves the party to go have a drink with surprise guest Harry Crane, which is a square punch in the solar plexus for Megan since she knows how much he generally dislikes Harry. This turns out to be a lucrative outing for Don – Harry has always liked Don from day one, and Don doesn’t have a hell of a lot of allies at SC&P right now. Harry lets him know that Cutler and Lou are pursuing Commander Cigarettes in secret (which is what Ginsberg spied in the computer room), knowing full well that if they go with SC&P then Don will have to bounce because of his damning Lucky Strike “he didn’t dump me I dumped him” letter in the NYTimes back in s4. Shady shit.

This is another devious attempt from Cutler and Lou to get Don the hell out of SC&P, and Don delightfully intervenes thanks to Harry’s intel. The main reason Don is “allowed” to stay at the firm is that the partners don’t have the cash necessary to buy him out; however, if they land a big tobacco account, they would for sure be able to do just that. Don crashes their secret meeting with Philip Morris, and acknowledges the letter and that he’d quit if need be. By acknowledging this, Don takes that trump card and spins it right the hell around. Instead of Cutler and Lou having a threat to hang over his head, Don has the advantage. He surprised them all by stating that fact, which gave him some time to plead his case and explain. He’s an impressive ad man with a keen business sense and invaluable tobacco experience, and everyone in that room damn well knows it. He can offer the opposing strategy as well, since he took a meeting with the American Cancer Society post-Lucky Strike letter. Suck on that one, Cutler and Lou.

Above all else, he places the good of the agency above his own personal vendetta, effectively shutting down Cutler and Lou for the time being. He did it in a classy albeit sneaky way, but he didn’t lose his cool. He knows he’s needed when it comes to American tobacco. Well done, Don.

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Thoughts on Mad Men s7e4, “The Monolith”

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(theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey plays somewhere in the distance) images courtesy of Slate

My God, this episode had SO MUCH jammed into it. So many Kubrick references. So many self-referential moments. So many goddamned hippies. Where the hell do I even begin?

In short, The Monolith” is about evolution and advancement, fear of technology and change, and how if these characters don’t begin to evolve, they’re going to be obsolete. Or, you know, clubbed to death by the apes that have learned to use tools. That massive computer taking over the creative lounge is both a literal and figurative symbol of the way things are headed – everyone has to get on board with it or be left behind.

On a deeper level, these characters have to move past the failed versions of themselves in order to get on with it, to continue to exist in any meaningful capacity. They have to learn, move past what does not work, and just get on with it already. Don being popped in a dead man’s office is no mistake – and in order to become relevant again and remain that way at SC&P he needs to Do The Work, both in the sense of Peggy’s requested tags, and the sense of actually working on his damn self in his own life. Keep moving forward, another recurring theme on Mad Men.

Don walks into the SC&P office to what appears to be telltale signs of The Rapture; abandoned desks, a phone hanging off the hook. Sadly, no Jesus is kind enough to rapture Lou – it’s just LeaseTech Lloyd yapping about the new gigantic computer they’re going to be installing. Cutler enthusiastically shares the news of the agency entering the future, appropriately at a time when man is so close to the moon. 1969 brings in some hope after the turbulence of 1968, and that computer brings in a giant leap forward for SC&P; One Giant Leap for Mankind, as it were. As much of a boob Harry Crane tends to be on a regular basis, he’s on the nose about needing a computer to move forward and keep ahead of their competition.

Lloyd Hawley is eerily reminiscent of HAL-9000, and that’s absolutely no mistake. His calm, near-monotone inflection, his generic happy face and demeanour, all point HAL to me. Their interactions are laced with an undercurrent of bizarre antagonism, The Future versus The Ape, and if Don doesn’t get with it he’ll soon become the fate of the now-defunct creative lounge.

(And don’t think the irony of Don playing Solitaire at his desk while the engineers are installing the new computer was entirely lost on me.)

True to ridiculous form, Lou is attempting to grasp at whatever sense of glory he has as Creative Director. He immediately denies the need for Ted to come back east to work on Burger Chef, entirely so he can pit Peggy against Don and keep Don at bay as much as possible. As an aside, I’m glad that Pete isn’t totally lost in the LA haze. Running into a former Vick Chemical colleague, he manages to snag the Burger Chef account while bonding with him over his former father-in-law having a heart attack. Apparently, the guy’s a nightmare to work for so I suppose this is good news? He ain’t dead, but incapacitated for the time being, so I guess it’s okay that they both joke about it. But hey, Pete’s still got it!

Shocking news at 11pm: Lou doesn’t perceive Peggy as competition for his job or even as anything close to resembling an equal. He has an agenda to keep Don from actually accomplishing anything and taking away “his” glory, and uses Peggy to do his bidding. He throws some money at her (much more tactfully than Don did in s5’s “The Other Woman”) in just the right way with some guidelines, and his plan is set into motion. I mean, it’s always been obvious that Lou is a complete dick from the first episode, but this just cemented it for me. He’s manipulating Peggy because he’s too damn lazy and entitled to deal with Don himself, and frames this grunt work as a promotion to her. Rude.

We’ve seen Peggy evolve from mousy secretary to junior copywriter to copy chief, and watching Peggy become Don’s boss is pretty satisfying. As this reality slowly sinks in to Don, he ain’t too happy about it. In fact, it looks like he’s trying to telekinetically burn a hole in her fucking head as she’s diplomatically asking him to be on her team and turn in tags for Burger Chef.

daaaaaaaamn, Don. image courtesy of Previously.tv

Turns out he accepted SC&P’s offer because he thought he was calling their bluff, and it appears they were playing it straight after all. Don, still ever-resistant to being taken down a few pegs, sees an opportunity with Lloyd’s needs to advertise LeaseTech and floats the idea to Cooper. And of course, Cooper knocks Don right back down to size. He firmly reminds Don that he needs to show he can crawl before he can run, and Don takes this .. not so well. He backslides with a bottle of Roger’s vodka, which is understandable given his shitty circumstances of returning to work, but nonetheless still hard to watch. Don is forced to embrace being a dead man for the second time in his life, and it’s not going well.

As an aside, Don being in Lane’s old office is a trip for sure. He finds Lane’s discarded NY Mets pennant under the radiator, and hangs it on the wall as something of a reminder. The only other things on the walls in there are his advertising awards, so to have something so personal hanging up is a little different for Don. After all, him and Lane started that agency together. And hey, 1969 is the year of the Miracle Mets! Initially dismissed as a team that year, they rose from a season of mediocrity to defeat the Orioles in a massive World Series upset, since that particular Orioles team was one of the most flawfree in the history of Major League Baseball. I guess we’ll see how this parallels with Don’s own hopeful rise among the ranks at SC&P.

Switching gears for a hot second, let’s talk about Roger Sterling. Roger has a pretty meaty storyline in this episode with his absurd adult-ass daughter suddenly running off from her life and marital responsibilities (and her kid who strongly resembles Danny from Kubrick’s The Shining) to join a bunch of filthy hippies at some gross commune upstate. Roger and Mona team up to retrieve her when Brooks gets arrested for punching some yokel at a bar, and seeing their version of Park Avenue faux-royalty at a terrible commune is pretty great. Roger sticks it out and stays overnight, as he’s more in tune with the counterculture than Mona. His bottom line is that he wants to bring Margaret (Marigold?) back home so she can be a mother to her kid and wife to Brooks, to stop running away from her responsibilities. Remember the last time we saw her, she smugly told Roger she forgave him for being an absent father; I guess “hippie cult” was the answer to her self-satisfied faux-lightenment. As someone who’s supposedly happy and at peace, she sure has a lot of vitriol to sling at Roger when he tries to forcibly get her to come home already.

“But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.”

-Don, s5e12 “Commissions and Fees”

A recurring theme on Mad Men is the pursuit of happiness, whether it’s within reach, and what that specifically means to each of the characters. Margaret seeks instant gratification, and Roger has been doing the same for decades in different forms. Margaret is more similar to Roger than she’s willing to admit, and Roger is faced with this fact when he tries to step in in a legitimate parental role for probably the first time ever. At first he thinks she’s being idealistic in shirking her nice life for a simpler existence, but instead he’s faced with his own glaring irresponsibility. It serves as a wake-up call.

Lying in the open-roof barn and staring up at the stars, Roger and Margaret talk about everything except what’s actually happening in their lives right now. Roger has pretty much had it when some unwashed creature comes into the barn in the middle of the night to bang Margaret and they sneak off together. Something in that moment clicks for him, and the next morning he’s set to bounce. Seeing all of this in the daylight, he snaps back into reality, recognising that they’re all running from real life – just like he has been in his haze of booze, drugs, and weirdo orgies of free love. He doesn’t end up getting her to come home, but I feel that it’s the start of some heavy self-realisation for him. It all remains to be seen, of course.

Speaking of Roger, watching how Don uses booze as a crutch really makes me wonder if Don just shouldn’t drink at all. I know that’s a taboo thing to say about a character who exists in 1969, but the guy has gone too far down. The fact that when hit with an obstacle he immediately makes up an excuse to raid Roger’s bountiful stash is troubling. He’s not the type to become a Friend of Bill W. anytime soon, but the fact that he calls Freddy in his drunken stupor is telling. How many allies does Don have left at this point?

Don’s drunk ass thinks they’re going to a Mets game, but Freddy instead brings Don home to sleep it off. Right back there the next morning, Freddy drops truth bombs and black coffee, since he’s been in something very similar to Don’s shoes before. He simply states, “Do The Work“. He reminds Don that he’s been given a second chance and to not fuck it up. Freddy is the closest thing he has to an actual friend at this point in time, and Don realistically doesn’t have any options anymore but to listen.

Relinquishing that kind of control is difficult for anyone, for Don especially, as this series has shown us time and time again. Sure it’s degrading, but he’s been given another chance at work, and at life: this is not something everyone gets. Start at the bottom, play by their rules, work your way back up and prove yourself; wise words from Freddy Rumsen, a man who’s been there/done that. Freddy is living proof of the “after” side of that equation. He’s freelancing all over the place while living a sober life, and trying to help Don get back to where he’s supposed to be. If Don behaves as he’s been clearly instructed, things will fall into place in due time. Arriving at the office that morning, Don gets right to work on tags for Peggy.

As much hope as the end of last week’s episode gave me with how he handled himself, I wasn’t expecting Don not to stumble; nobody is that good, not even Don Draper. Don’t run, Don: Do The Work. Evolve.