Mad Men, “The Runaways”


I was kind of wondering when we’d start to see more of the chaos of the 60s in Mad Men, and man, we got it this week. We’ve already gone through experiencing sex, psychedelic drugs, and rock and roll throughout the course of the series, but now we continue to explore a more disturbed psyche, a psyche influenced by science fiction, which therein leads us to mental illness. By this point, we know 2001 had entered the public sphere, and lest we forget One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (the book, anyway) was released in this era as well. I couldn’t help but think of both, at least for one particular storyline. There was actually a strange potpourri of everyone’s storylines, all of which touch on the idea of secrets, and the unravelling that occurs once those secrets are revealed.

Let’s go from small-scale to big scale, starting with Betty and the Draper kids. We get a whole family affair this time around, after Betty and Henry Francis plan their section of a neighborhood-wide dinner party meet and greet. We know there’s a lot stirring in Betty at this point in her life, if not just this season – she’s feeling a loss of purpose, a loss of meaning. She’s given up a life in the spotlight as a model, has failed at being the model housewife at least once already. She’s endured struggles with her weight and thereby her own self-image and self esteem. This all culminates into a moment where she tries to assert her own thoughts and ideas – no longer the quiet, docile housewife. She enters a conversation midway, kind of missing what the conversation was originally about in the first place, and drops a bomb of her own (and fairly ignorant) perspective of the Vietnam War. She immediately recognizes her embarrassment, and gets put in her place, when Henry Francis has to reassert his political stance on the war and deflect conversation away from her. As a result, Betty bows out of the rest of the evening of house hopping and food sampling with her neighbors, to Henry Francis’ chagrin. Up until now, it seemed Henry Francis was a good enough fit for Betty – someone who was able to at least tolerate her childish, insecure approach to her adult life, and probably because it managed to be kept separate from his public, political life. Now that she’s taken a step out of her bounds, Henry Francis lashes out in a very dickish way, perhaps worse than Don ever treated her necessarily. Betty fights back – saying she has her own thoughts, and revealing instead that they never discuss these sorts of things together, also adding she would’ve known better if she even knew Henry’s stance. Bobby overhears this in the darkness of his room – and it feels like a spitting image of a younger, damaged Don, growing up a little too fast for his own age.

Betty’s continued displaced anger and insecurity gets aggravated by news of Sally’s nose being broken at school. Henry Francis goes to sweep her up, and the interaction the two women have is scathing. The gloves are off now, as Sally sees right through Betty’s crap, and Betty continues to project her own insecurities as she scolds Sally. We get the first “adult” brother-sister moment between Bobby and Sally when Bobby sneaks into Sally’s room to confide in her about Betty and Henry’s fighting, already fearing divorce. The two kids in the dark is a wonderful image – they’re generally kept in the shadows of their parents’ lives (both of them), as I’m sure their parents want to keep them in the dark of the uglier truths. At least that’s how they’ve been treated up until now. Bobby also was too young to probably understand the first divorce, so he’s struggling to understand what it means for his mother to maybe go through a second one. Sally, in her maturity, takes lead and comforts Bobby. Here, the unravelling occurs as a result of the secrets kept between Betty and Henry, and the reverberations are felt in the kids. Betty seems now reawakened – perhaps in a misguided way, but maybe we’ll see her move toward feminism? When they yelled at each other again, Henry challenged Betty to run for office if she has so many thoughts of her own. Well, maybe she might.

I’d say the next big secret to come out and unfold its impact unto itself and its surroundings would be the emergence of Stephanie, Anne Draper’s niece, seeking Don out for help with her pregnancy. Don immediately recognizes the need to cater to her, and tries to sneak out of work for an early weekend. More on this in a bit. Don then reaches out to Megan, who seems to have reconciled their imperfect relationship status again (talk about a woman who can’t get herself out of an unideal situation), to host Stephanie until he arrives. Although Megan is fully aware of Don and the former Anne Draper’s relationship, there’s still a level of insecurity with Megan. She’s definitely trying hard to be the cool, hip actress embracing the counter culture of the late 60s. She seems to be comfortable with the relationship with Don until she’s not – that’s how every interaction with her has been since the end of last season. There’s a lashing out – a moment where you think she’s really had it, but she stays comfortable. Lest we forget – she totally couldn’t live her lifestyle without Don’s monetary support. But anyway – anything that pokes a hole into her comfortable veneer will sour the mood, and when Stephanie casually states she knows “all Don’s secrets,” Megan immediately cracks the veneer and finds a quick way to get Stephanie out, cutting her a check for $1000. Megan tries to act like it’s not a big deal the next day, when Don arrives, and she’s preparing to have her house party. After a steamy threesome, she still loses – the next day, Don gets a phone call from Stephanie, and decides to head out immediately to get back to work, and even her friend won’t stick around, after they’ve been intimate. Megan puts on quite a show to live her life, but if it crumbles, she crumbles. I just feel we’re moving towards worse things happening to Megan, and yeah, there are tons of conspiracy theories on that.

Lastly, at SC&P, all the screws go loose, one after the other, like a spiraling set of dominoes falling onto one another. First, we have Stan discover Lou’s secret life as a wannabe cartoonist. The creatives laugh and joke about the cartoon – a very patriotic pun-filled cartoon called Scout’s Honor – up until the point where they’re caught, literally with their pants down in the bathroom not knowing Lou is in a stall presumably wrapping up a dump. (Gross, and kinda funny if you think about the circumstances) Lou immediately lashes out at Stan for mocking his dreams – he even waxes poetic about the achievements of big dreamers. He punishes the team by pushing their pitch meeting till later, causing Don to miss his flight.

Meanwhile, Michael Ginsberg continues to be disturbed by the computer, taunting the woman who works the computer from behind glass. He tries to work on a Saturday and is so disrupted by the sound. He steps out of the room to uncover a secret meeting between Cutler and Lou (another one of Lou’s secrets!), their words hidden by the loud hum of the machinery. On the other side of the country, Harry reveals to Don that this isn’t the first of Cutler and Lou secret meetings – they’ve been secretly working on landing an account with a cigarette brand with Phillip Morris, who Don chided in his infamous letter he published about advertising so many years ago. The correct cat is out of this bag now: Cutler and Lou want to land the account to effectively push Don out, and the account could possibly buy out Don and assert Lou in Don’s former seat. Ginsberg’s grave misinterpretation of the secret meetings spiral into homophobic paranoia, causing him to visit Peggy at her apartment and rally her up against whatever cause he’s trying to assert – hetero procreation he’s otherwise unable to fulfill (we’ve known from the start he has had struggles with a regular dating life, let alone a sex life) It all goes up into flames when he slices off his nipple as a sign of, I don’t know, trust, or affection, for Peggy. The fear and confusion in Peggy’s face is amazing as she slips out of her office, shuts the door, and makes the call to commit Michael Ginsberg. I’m sure this is the first Peggy has had to deal with mental illness at this stage, and you feel it as her glossy eyes can’t look away as they wheel Ginsberg out. The 60s wasn’t just the fun of sex, drugs, and rock and roll – there was war, counterculture movements (that cult Roger’s daughter joined, remember the infamous Hare Krishna scene of seasons past?) and the general disintegration of the American psyche, and it’s really hitting SC&P for the first time with the removal of Ginsberg.

And, finally, Don takes the news from Harry as an opportunity to sneak into the secret pitch meeting with Lou and Cutler and assert that Don would actually be more helpful than hurtful to them, having worked with the anti-smoking side. The war is on, as Don puts Lou and Cutler into their own cab, and Cutler threats that it won’t be enough to save him.

All this unravelling is definitely going to set itself up for a cliffhanger – this episode was chock full of story arcs, and is probably the most focused on the entire ensemble than the show has been for a while. I was happy to see Don become stronger and more like his old self with these last two episodes- Freddie Rumsen planted the seeds to fight, and now Don has more of a reason to fight, thanks to Harry Crane, of all people. Change is a-coming, and watching how everyone deals with it has been intriguing to pick apart. It causes me many levels of worry, because it does just feel like everyone will fall apart at the seams. I guess the bigger question is who can fight against the adversity and failures that keep barreling through.

A few odds and ends before I leave this off:

-Welp, I’m glad Shirley was moved from Peggy to Lou and she wasn’t so marginalized into the office.

-I find it both sad and endearing that the only man’s company Peggy gets in her life is the son of her tenant. They were going to just hang out and watch TV together. Is this all Peggy is reduced to – a life of loneliness with a kid that isn’t even hers?

-Stan played the Scout’s Honor thing so well in this episode. All the jokes they made were actually genius. And him trying to save himself in that meeting was so comical and sincere. I’m glad to see this side of Stan again, and that he’s the one who can rise above the crazed mood of the 60s a bit.

-Let me take a moment to commemorate Michael Ginsberg. He came in with such a bang – bringing pop, bringing in something different to the office. (We must assume he’s the only devout Jew in the office, since they played it up so heavily when we first met him) Who knew he’d be so fragile and fall so victim to the fears of technology? Maybe it’s because he still lives with his old school father. I was hoping he’d have a different future paved for him, but I guess it’s also fitting considering the tantrum he threw when the computer was initially installed. Fare thee well, Michael Ginsberg.

Till next week’s madness…

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