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'Mad Men' recap, 'The Runaways'

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What’s in the box?

One of my biggest complaints with Season 6 was the unresolved plotline with Michael Ginsberg’s crumbling mental stability. That answer arrived in a box in "The Runaways." I almost wish it hadn’t.

Ginsy waltzing into Peggy’s office with that plain white box was a less gritty version of the climatic scene in "Se7en." Just like Kevin’s Spacey’s character, Ginsy was eerily calm and collected — an odd disposition after spewing manic racing thoughts and pouncing on Peggy just the night before.

“What’s in the box, Peggy?” I kept thinking to myself, as my stomach dropped. “What’s in the box?!”

Peggy opens it in horror. It wasn’t a head, but a mutilated nipple. Ouch, and on Mother’s Day! Talk about subtext — he did say he was shutting off the valve.

In a move straight from the van Gogh’s relationship guide, Ginsberg severs a body part to profess his feelings for Peggy.

But in reality, to which Ginsy sadly said “bye-bye” in this episode, he’s not actually attracted to Peggy; he’s merely overcompensating his potential attraction to Stan.

I say “potential,” because while he did swoon over Stan’s shoulders (funny, I always thought Stan’s beard was his most dashing attribute), his delusions could be taken at face value. With that severe of a psychotic break, he might have been convinced that the computer is turning him into what he fears the most: a homosexual. 

This anxiety over homosexuals is nothing new. “Tell me the truth: Are you a homo?” he asked Bob Benson during a mental breakdown last season. Turns out, he was right. A broken clock is right twice a day, even if it happens to be cuckoo. 

On the flipside, his paranoia could be his latent homosexual feelings coming out. He does share the surname of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, who was gay. Also telling: Allen Ginsberg’s mother suffered from schizophrenia and was hospitalized for her mental illness. Sound familiar?

Ginsy’s breakdowns and severe homophobia rise to the surface whenever he feels threatened. Last season, the trigger was a heated argument with Cutler (aka ‘The Man’) over Vietnam. This time, it’s the fear that he will be replaced by the office’s newest shining star — and star counter — the computer. 

The SC&P staff has mostly forgotten about the looming, whirring machine. Ginsberg, however, obsesses over it. “The machine came for us one by one!” He tinkers with the radio, convinced the radio waves are sending him messages, and shows up to Peggy’s house unexpectedly. You can bet Peggy will be locking her front door now after that visit.

“There’s this pressure in my head that feels like a hydrogen bomb is about to go off,” he tells Peggy, staring at her intently until she wakes up. Get this guy some meds.

The bomb did go off. Like van Gogh, Ginsy probably suffers from a severe form of bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, a blend of bipolar and schizophrenia. The racing thoughts and paranoid delusions are all there, and his mind is not.

Peggy, in tears, glares at the computer, humming smugly with a printed sign that says, “THINK.” But in Ginsy's mind, the machine was out to destroy their creative thoughts.

“That machine came for us one by one,” he cried at the beginning of the episode. It already claimed its first victim, defiant not to adapt. This is the price for fighting against technology.

Watching Ginsy restrained on a gurney was the bleakest "Mad Men" scene since Lane’s suicide. One by one, the SC&P office is devouring its victims. “Get out while you can!” he warns.

Don, meanwhile, keeps pushing onward to reclaim his old spot at SC&P, only to end up back at square one. “Why is he marching in circles?” one of Scout’s Honor’s speech bubble says.

Because as long as Lou’s in charge, there needs to be someone with talent and leadership traits at SC&P. 

“I’m not taking management advice from Don Draper,” Lou sneers. Don’s fault was never that he was an ineffective leader. In fact, the creative team still respects Don more than Lou — even if they don’t take him as seriously as they used to.

Like the subject of Lou’s pitiful comic, "Scout’s Honor," Don’s problem is simple: He doesn’t respect authority. Neither does the rest of the creative team, as Don points out. Or Sally or Betty, for that matter, but we’ll get to that later.

Don’s first truly egregious act of disrespect (to the SCDP partners, at least) was the “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” ad that he personally ran in the New York Times a few seasons back — a petty retaliation to Lucky Strike dropping SCDP.

In the letter, Don said SCDP was no longer taking tobacco clients and listed other agencies that would. Cutler, Gleason and Chaough was one of them. Not surprisingly, Cutler’s found a way to get his tobacco client and smoke out Don, too.

Lucky for Don, he’s got friends in the right places. And, no, it wasn’t Ginsy’s lip-reading abilities that gave Don the tip; it was pro-technology Harry. What a pleasantly unexpected surprise. Nothing is ever so clear-cut in "Mad Men" world, and that’s what makes it so interesting. 

Even as Harry presses the agency forward, leaving Don and the other obsolete partners behind, his nostalgia is what keeps him loyal to the very people who could be holding the company in the dark ages. But Don, as he knows, is far too brilliant to be stuck in his cave of an office forever.

“I’m going to make sure you’re still important,” he assures Don at a dark bar in LA. He’s got that Hollywood hustle down. Even if his ego is overinflated, his heart is in the right place. So, he tells him about Lou and Cutler’s meeting Phillip Morris’ Commander cigarettes. 

There’s no need to fear! Don, the Underdog is here! And showing up unannounced to a secret client meeting that’s intended to kick him out of the agency.

Meeting with clients and going with an unapproved script — that’s two strikes against Don. He should have been fired on the spot. But it doesn’t really matter if he’s willing to leave the company.

Of course, that’s not Don’s final offer. He has an idea to give Phillip Morris’ competitors a run for their money: “[Make] me apologize and force me into your service.” Don’s already working for his protégé — a little more humiliation won’t hurt. 

“You don’t think this is going to save you, do you?” Cutler says to Don after the meeting.

That’s the thing: While Lou’s too worried about taglines, Don’s always looking to the future, hammering out the strategy, which just so happens to be the next episode. 

Watch out, Cutler. Just like the Waylon Jennings song “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” that plays out at the end of the episode, Don’s going to keep stepping on everyone’s toes until he gets what he wants.

Last time we saw her, Megan vowed that this was the end for her and Don. Yet, here she is again going through the same insecurity-and-jealously-complex song and dance.

And, yes, it’s an actual dance — and a lame one, at that. Megan tangos with a scruffy-yet-chic hippie to make Don jealous. It barely works. What a far cry from the Zou-Bisou days.

The pained expression on Don’s face was the same the last time he saw Megan dance in front of a party of strangers at their house: Annoyed to be surrounded by P.Y.T.s of a generation that he doesn’t understand. Even worse, his “niece” Stephanie is wandering the streets, seven months pregnant and alone. All thanks to Megan.

So, Megan goes with plan B to snare her man: Having a threesome with her acting friend, Amy from Delaware. Because if he’s going to cheat with his “niece” Stephanie (even though he didn’t), Megan figures cheating is OK if she can join.

The ménage à trois felt as stiff and awkward as most of the episode. The theme of rebellion against overbearing authority figures (see: Betty vs. Henry, Sally vs. Betty, Megan vs. Stephanie, Don vs. Partners, Ginsy vs. the computer) is fitting for the cultural shift at the end of the '60s. In other words, transitioning from Don’s white-male-centric world to Peggy’s counterculture world.

But Ginsberg’s meltdown felt out of place. Letting his paranoia build up over a couple episodes made sense, yes. But in the end, juxtaposing a severed nipple to a sex scene felt jarring, disjointed and disturbing.

But if there’s anything this season has to offer, it’s hope. Don’s the comeback kid, if the writers will have you believe. He hit rock bottom, and just like Underdog, he’s tough enough to make it out on top. Take that, Scout’s Honor.

A friend and her baseball-obsessed husband (seriously, he watches Every. Single. Detroit Tigers game) pointed out that the 1969 Mets were a miserable team, only to rise to the top and win the championships that year. Will that white flag of a pennant turn into a victory banner? 

For the end of this half of the season, I wanted to say yes until I saw that the title of the last episode is called “Waterloo.” That’s the kind of title I was expecting for the last episode of the series, which I’m optimistic will end on a pessimistic note.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM "THE RUNAWAYS": 

BEST MEREDITH ONE-LINER: “I’ll cancel my plans!” Meredith says in earnest response to Don’s request to change his flight. “Not yours, just mine,” he responds. Roger was MIA this episode. Thank goodness Meredith was there to step up to the plate with the zingers.

BEST EXIT MORNING AFTER AN AWKWARD HOOK-UP: “Hi everyone. Bye everyone.” – Amy from Delaware to Don and Megan after their tryst.

BEST COMEBACK: “I’m not stupid. I speak Italian!” – Betty to Henry. Note the Italian opera music playing in the background. Bravo, Mrs. Francis. Betty undoubtedly acts like a spoiled brat at the event they were having at the event, but Henry has fallen far in my book. “Leave all the thinking to me!” he says domineeringly to his wife. I don’t care how childish Betty is, no one should be told how and when to think.

SLEEP TIGHT: Two different people tell Don that they’re tucking him in: Lou Avery and Amy from Delaware. Don only goes to bed with one of them and wakes up with two people. Bizzaro Mr. Rogers is not one of them, thankfully. 

MEETING OF THE MINDS: The Phillip Morris meeting was held at the Algonquin Hotel, the meeting place of the Algonquin Round Table. This group of famous NYC writers and critics of the '20s boasted the likes of Dorothy Parker, Tallulah Bankhead and even Harpo Marx as members. There was no set list; people could come and go as they please. Fitting for Don’s “I can quit if you want me to” attitude at the meeting.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY: Betty and Sally’s fight was beyond brilliant. I live for Sally’s snide remarks: “Where would Mom be without her perfect nose? She wouldn’t find a man like you. She’d be nothing.” Imagine that on a Hallmark card.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Mad Men (tv program)Missing PersonsDetroit TigersNew York Metshere! (tv network)
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