'Mad Men' recap: Ginsberg's nipple, Don's three-way add to the madness of 'The Runaways'
Grab a cigar and pour yourself an Old Fashioned. Each week, Times TV mavens Michelle Stark -- a young go-getter in the Peggy Olson mold -- and Sean Daly -- the Roger Sterling-esque, smiling-through-the-chaos smartaleck -- will vigorously debate Sunday night's episode of Mad Men.
"IT'S MY NIPPLE."
Sean: Hey Michelle, remember that episode of Mad Men when the entire show devolved into Bonkersville, as if the Coen Brothers had tied up creator Matthew Weiner in the back room and assumed the helm? You know, LAST NIGHT'S EPISODE. Holy severed areola, Batman! All this season we've been waiting for some seismic narrative shift, something leading us not just into next year's second-half of the final run, but toward the series' ultimate resolution as well. Where would everyone wind up? Well, the answer just may be the loony bin. I'm not sure if I liked this neck-snappin' ep or not; heck, I'm still not sure what I just witnessed.
Titled "The Runaways," Sunday's installment slapped us with so many eye-popping, drop-jawed moments, it's as if halfway through this middling, measured season, Weiner deliriously opted for a re-do, a mulligan. Smart? Desperate? I dunno. Reminiscent of that Brit getting his foot sawed off by an in-office riding mower, tech-crazed Ginsberg, all that plugged-in buzzing in his ears, did a Triple Lindy off a crazy diving board. "That's the computer's plan. Turn us all homo." To prove his manliness, to show that the monolithic box at SCP couldn't best him, he pulled a sorta Van Gogh and gifted poor Peggy with a lovely little box -- containing his bloody, hairy right nipple. WHAAAT??? And here we thought Don was having trouble adjusting to the future.
Speaking of Mr. Draper, who seemed to be quizzically bemused (and relatively sober) about all the insanity going on around him, he was lured into a Cinemax soft-core threeway with hot-cold wife Megan (truly embracing her Cali '69 side) and pal Amy. Draper, being Draper, may be tired and confused and on the verge of termination, but hey, he's Draper. Hello, ladies! Nothing takes your mind off career devastation and office back-stabbing like a menage a trois.
I'm getting exhausted just writing about it. After all, there's still: Sally's nosejob, Lou's dumb Scout's Honor comic strip (and comparing himself to Bob Dylan!), Henry's machismic outburst, annoying hippie "niece" Stephanie's preggo reappearance (I always wince when someone calls Don "Dick," although he seems to be warming to it), Don's ambush of the Philip Morris meeting. Not to mention more Charles Manson teases. Yikes, over to you, Michelle. I get the feeling you hated the whole thing.
Michelle: Quite the contrary, Sean, I love when Mad Men does episodes like these, injecting a little crazy into business as usual. Let's start with Michael Ginsberg, the most affecting (and devastating) part of the episode for me. Ginsberg is a great character, a late-era Mad Men addition that was immediately compelling for his off-centeredness. But here's the thing: Ginsberg is almost certainly schizophrenic, or something of the sort, right? I worry that, especially in an episode like last night's, when his activity ramps up a lot compared to the rest of this season, his off-the-wall actions can come across as comic relief. Ginsberg has been the jokester so many times this year (and actor Ben Feldman is such a charming presence) that it's easy to dismiss his very serious condition. Remember when he said he was from Mars? Or talked about the voices in his head? Things are changing rapidly in this decade, and the fragile Ginsberg can't handle it all. That final scene of him being taken out of the office on a stretcher was essential, and I loved this episode most for including it. Not all shows would. (Bonus points to Elisabeth Moss and Jay R. Ferguson for Peggy and Stan's devastatingly spot-on reactions.)
Aside from that, I think "The Runaways" was a one-off episode, Sean, like the zaniest eps of Mad Men usually are, and all part of Weiner's plan for this final season (more on that below). I wasn't as bowled over by the episode as you; it mostly seemed a little cluttered, like the writers threw a bunch of ideas in the pile and didn't worry about how they'd fit together. Plus, there are just far too many characters on this show at this point, which is why we get another week (two out of five now) with no Pete Campbell, or even Joan. Squeezing that Betty plot in, as great as it was, made things feel disjointed. There's already SO MUCH going on. (That said, Betty - and even January Jones! - was terrific in the moments she got to play here. Also loved that, even though he sounds like a sexist pig while he's doing it, Henry finally blows up his normally placid demeanor and yells at Betty for being a thoughtless, immature brat.)
Plus, a couple of last night's emotional beats felt really off, most likely due to this season's shortened episode count. First, why is Megan so eager to talk to/see/forgive Don? Are we just supposed to chalk that up to her warm nature? Seems odd there weren't at least a couple scenes between them since their big fight a couple episodes ago. Also, the Don-Harry man date came out of nowhere. I honestly wasn't even sure how to read that scene - since when do they like each other? I get that Don would grab on to anyone from his SC&P world to get out of Megan's hip party, but the Harry-reveals-all move felt a tad too on-the-nose, like something that happens just to move the plot forward.
But hey, at least the plot seems to be moving forward, with that bold move from Don in the tobacco meeting surely setting off something big. But what? Is he that confident SC&P will keep him around? Does he want to start his own agency in California? There's only two episodes left, and Mad Men especially might suffer from this idea to split the season in two. Where is the show heading in just two more hours? I've heard that Weiner thought of these half-seasons as mostly separate entities that will stand on their own; and remember, these seven episodes were all written and filmed in one burst, before they aired, which means Weiner likely conceived of them as a whole. What happens next week - where is Don going in that cab?! - should be a good indication of what this half-season is trying to accomplish.
MVP OF THE NIGHT
Sean: It'd be easy, and accurate, to give the award to Don, who was composed throughout all the wocka-wocka carnal delights, Harry Crane's you're-doomed bartop revelation and near-death by tobacco industry. (They'll kill him one way or the other, I guess. But man, his ambush of that meeting was the definition of cool.) But you know who I loved in this nutty hour? Betty, who mirrored Don in winnowing through the chaos. She still matches Frozen's Elsa for ice-generating abilities, but she's had just about enough of hubby Henry's "Leave the thinking to me" condescension. January Jones was pretty darn good in this ep; there's fight in June Cleaver after all. I used to yawn at that plot thread; now things just got interesting. Go get 'em, Bets.
Michelle: My MVP is Lou Avery. Now, hold on, it's not what you think. I still hate Lou with every fiber of my being, but I have to give credit to the people responsible for creating him. Played by comic Allan Havey, Lou is an unbelievably well-drawn character, someone who seems like a real person with just a few brushstrokes of characterization. We've all know someone like Lou - old-fasioned to a fault, casually sexist/racist, spiteful, petty. In just a few scenes across five episodes, he's managed to become one of the show's most hated characters ever. And to top it off, he's now an indignant cartoonist!
Sean: So here's a theory, and maybe it's been floated before, but what are the chances that Don Draper, when all is said and done, simply goes back to being Dick Whitman? Not literally, not schlepping back to Hersey, Pa. Just living an honest life. Just being one true person.
Michelle: I think that's a good thought, Sean, especially after watching "The Runaways." Why is Stephanie featured so prominently, if not to remind Don - and us - of his past as Dick Whitman? I don't think it's an accident that, after all this time, Don has a built-in escape route. He could just stop being Don Draper. He has another identity waiting for him if he gets sick of this one.
QUOTES OF THE NIGHT
Sean: "It's a nose job, not an abortion." -- Sally, not wanting to look like mom anymore, to, well, her mom. (Maybe when the bandages come off, she'll look just like daddy.)
"I'm not stupid. I speak Italian." -- Betty to Henry
Michelle: "You think this is going to save you, don't you?" - Jim Cutler to Don after the tobacco meeting. Judging by Don's taxi whistle, yes, he does!