Monday, May 12, 2014

Mad Men S7E5 - The Runaways

Back in Season 4, and just off the nadir of Anna's death, and his own bottoming out in a haze of Canadian Club and reckless womanizing, we first heard Don Draper in voice over, he said:

When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere, just as him. If you listen, he'll tell you how he got there. How he forgot where he was going, and that he woke up. If you listen, he'll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel or dreamt of being perfect. And then he'll smile with wisdom, content that he realized the world isn't perfect. We're flawed because we want so much more. We're ruined because we get these things, and wish for what we had. [1]

The Runaways was a lot about flaws, about wanting more, or getting the things we thought we wanted but discovering we wanted something, anything, else. And when that realization hits, our inclination may be to run away, whether that is literally so, as Stephanie did (turning her back on a college education and dropping out from "society"), as Sally threatens to do (unimpressed with the wealth and prestige her parents have separately accumulated and wanting nothing more than evading the overbearing thumb of her mother), or as Megan appears to want (able to pursue her career without living hand-to-mouth but too fearful to leave her husband and trying to make it on her own). It is not coincidental that this episode echoes that mid-Season 4 vibe. Like then, Don is trying to claw his way out of a hole he has dug for himself, except this time, it's not the death of the one person who knew everything about him and still loved him [2] that he is trying to overcome, but rather, the crumbling of his marriage and his nascent attempts to regain his good name at work. 

So it was apt that Stephanie Horton, the niece of Anna Draper we last saw as a sun-kissed college co-ed calls for help as she's devolved into a seven-months pregnant hippie whose "old man" is locked up. Don may have only been, according to Stephanie's mother, "a man, in a room, with a checkbook," [3] and maybe he is that to Stefanie too, but Don's inclination is to help. As luck would have it, Stephanie is in the City of Angels and Don offers her Megan's place as a temporary home until he can get there. Megan, planning a party and hanging out with her friend Amy, seems sympathetic, but once Stephanie gets there, their interaction is decidedly chilly. It goes south when Stephanie comments on Megan's engagement ring (which was Anna's) and the whole thing dissolves in backbiting and Megan's writing of a $1000 check to move Stephanie along before Don makes it out to see her. You see, Megan can't countenance the presence of others knowing Don's secrets when that redounds to making her look the fool - someone who has tolerated a mountain of bad behavior (and may be engaging in some of her own - but more about that later), is living this odd fiction of a bi-coastal, but on-life-support marriage, or just the fact that Don has this odd past that she would just as soon not be reminded of. 

By the time Don arrives, preparations are in full effect for a late 60s hippie shakedown - complete with banjo-led jam session and Megan engaging in a revealing pas de deux with a fellow long hair that doesn't sit well with Don. When Harry Crane shows up with his latest paramour, he and Don alight to a bar, where Harry shares the news that the firm is in discussion with Phillip Morris to rep their cigarette, "Commander." Of course, Don realizes the consequences of this, he's persona non grata in the tobacco world because of "the letter" he wrote after American Tobacco left SCDP, [4] and realizes this is a management ploy to force him out. When Don returns to Megan's "pad," she graciously offers up her friend Amy for a threesome. Don protests, but not too much. The next morning, Stephanie's call sends Megan off again and Don heading for the exit. 

Upon his return to New York, and with the confidence of that Don Draper, Don strolls into a private room in the Algonquin and reminds the Phillip Morris executives just what they would be losing if they forced SC&P's hand and got Don to quit in exchange for their business. The not-so subtle jab did not sit well with Lou Avery or Jim Cutler, but swaggering Don chews up guys like Lou and Jim for lunch and washes them down with an Old Fashioned. Jim Cutler may have angrily shut the door to his cab in Don's face, but the effect was akin to that of a fly being swatted away by an elephant - Don barely registered a response other than his well-known dismissive, and unspoken "fuck you." 

Indeed, this snippet echoed even further back in the show's history, to another California jag Don went on during yet another tumultuous time - Betty's kicking him out of the house in the wake of his affair with Bobbi Barrett. [5] Back then, after escaping to California and renewing his energy at Anna's home, [6] Pete Campbell let Don know about the pending merger Duck organized between Sterling Cooper and PPL. [7] This information allowed Don to deftly knee cap Duck by letting the PPL team know he (Don) did not have a contract and was planning on leaving the agency if Duck led it. [8] Unspoken in his threat was how much weaker the firm would be without his singular talent. Now, faced with a conspiracy to minimize him, Don pulls a similar stunt, reminding the Phillip Morris executives that he and Lou have the same amount of experience working with tobacco, but Don has the added benefit of knowing the other side's strategy (and oh yeah, he's Don Draper and the other guy is Lou Avery). In both instances, Pete and Harry were not enamored with the devil they knew, but the devil they did not know looked even worse, allowing Don to avoid whatever fate would have otherwise befallen him. 

The Runaways had an incomplete feel that also closed loose ends. Ginsberg, who blew onto the show with so much promise, dissolved in a weird, conspiratorial puddle, his sliced nipple (?!) the result of perhaps some undiagnosed mental condition or just the whirring of that IBM computer (I'm guessing the former). Betty tuned up her petulance to 11, first, scrapping with Sally after Sally broke her nose horsing around with her friends and then, speaking in an impolitic manner during a dinner party she and Henry threw. Betty's feelings of frustration are understandable - she questions whether her children love her, and she is watching as other women go into the work force, earn their own money and put the home maker lifestyle behind them, while she just burns through cigarettes, nursing whatever petty grudges she has. She wishes she could run away from a life that once upon a time was fully formed and accepted, but, in the exponential societal shifts occurring in America in the 1960s, is quickly becoming passé.  

And what of Megan? The obituary for her marriage to Don has been written for some time, just waiting to be published. Because we are not privy to what goes on off screen, we do not know if Don has again asked for another chance (likely) or if Megan simply likes the "bread" (to use Stephanie's term) Don provides, which allows her to cut $1000 checks without a thought. [9] But Megan's facilitation of a three way with her friend Amy may have just been an inelegant way of disguising some other affair she's having. Her flirtation with another party guest harkened back to her Zou Bissou Bissou days, [10] but this time, Don was not her intended target. And maybe she just wanted to underscore Don's amorality by watching him with another woman (even though, in fairness, he didn't seem overly enticed by the idea), or run away from their marriage in a haze of drugs, or wash away her own guilt at whatever she is doing in Los Angeles without his knowledge, or wearing the ring of a woman who meant more to him than she (or anyone else?) ever will, but appealing to Don's darker side rarely turns out well for others (or him). 

As we head into the home stretch of the first "half" of Season Seven, it appears corporate lines are being drawn - basically, the partners, save Roger, are on one side, aligned to torpedo Don in one way or the other [11], with Roger, and now Harry quietly drifting to Don's side. Out of loyalty? Perhaps. Out of an interest in securing their own place within the hierarchy? Definitely. The wild card, as always in Peggy. It was promising that Don and Peggy had what passed for a civil conversation in the elevator. When Don needs Peggy most, he can sometimes step in it, [12] but can always appeal to her interest in doing good and creative work. In the meantime, it is still thrilling to watch Don work his creative magic even as his personal life is a complete and utter mess. 

PS - Godspeed, Martian. 

END NOTES

1. The Summer Man, Season 4, Episode 8. 
2. The Good News, Season 4, Episode 3.
3. Ibid.
4. Blowing Smoke, Season 4, Episode 12.
5. A Night to Remember, Season 2, Episode 8. 
6. The Mountain King, Season 2, Episode 12. Though in fairness, Don probably recaptured some of his mojo in Palm Springs as well. The Jet Set, Season 2, Episode 11. 
7. Meditations in an Emergency, Season 2, Episode 13. 
8. Ibid.
9. $1000 in 1969 is equivalent to $6,564 in 2014. http://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/inflation.php?amount=1000&year=1969
10. A Little Kiss Part I, Season 5, Episode 1. 
11. How Don's impromptu "pop in" to the Phillip Morris meeting didn't violate the "terms" of his return to the agency is beyond me. 

12. Shut the Door, Have a Seat, Season 3, Episode 13. When Don advised Peggy he's leaving Sterling Cooper to open a new agency, he simply assumes she will come with him. It is not until he goes to her apartment and makes a more heartfelt plea, that she agrees to leave with him. 

10 comments:

  1. Harry... An unexpected ally...

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    1. Seriously! Did not see that coming, though I do recall when Harry got kicked out of the house back in Season 1 and was crashing in the office, he and Don had that weird "handprints" conversation that led Don to come up with the "wheel" pitch.

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    2. So excited to next episode.

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  2. I was satisfied with Ginsberg's end. I felt like they were dropping hints from the second we met him that there was some schizophrenia lying dormant in him. I thought it was a fair good-bye with Peggy being the one to compassionately send him off. Poor Ginsberg...more than anything, that's what I was thinking about when I tried to fall asleep after watching this episode.

    On a related note, the humming of the heating system in my office sometimes makes me want to go off the deep end too.

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    1. I was .. less so. When Ginzo first came on board back in Season 4, he seemed to have so much more promise and to see him devolve into this crazy person was kind of a bummer. I was thinking that there's this odd fetish on the show for random body parts - Guy's foot, Ken's eye, now, Ginzo's nipple ...

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    2. I think they stole that from GoT.

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  3. Nicely done has always. You and the Lipp Sister's always help me sort out my MM hangover in the morning. Thank you! I do think Megan realized that Don knew she has slept with the man she was dancing with. She felt guilty and handed him off. Don was neither titillated or jealous, just taking in the new information, as he was in the three way. Ya. Megan hasn't been , "good" but Don is checked out.
    "But you are coming back next weekend"? Megan asks desperately and pleadingly...I think not.

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    1. Thanks, that's nice of you to say. I'd also recommend Molly Lambert at Grantland, she writes beautifully. The thread I wish I'd leaned into a little more is the jealousy Megan may have felt toward Stephanie as a sort of "protected class" (that also includes Anna) who the rest of his world is walled off from and will never compete with. Having not seen Stephanie in several years, his immediate reaction was to help, to get her a place to stay, and fly out as soon as possible. When was the last time Megan (or anyone else for that matter?) got that kind of reaction from him. Plus, the whole I'm-wearing-your-aunt's-engagement-ring-but-am-clearly-not-in-love-with-my-husband thing is kind of a bummer. I hope she has the decency to return it when they divorce; surely, her settlement will allow her to buy a nice replacement. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for your comment!

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  4. Nice catch on the the Pete/Harry devil-you-know (and don't-know) echo. Good ol' Duck has been notably persistent on the margins of the firm over which he hoped to preside (one secession and one fusion later).

    It seemed that Don slammed the cab door in response to Cutler's rhetorical question: "you think this will save you?" I'll have to watch (yet) again. We only saw (in the pilot) one of the five tobacco "stay(s) of execution" that Don claimed - none of which the client nor Don's new "compatriots" can confirm or deny. Don's two-minute counter-coup-attempt will undoubtedly hasten the showdown.

    Megan was lonely in the year leading up to her move West. Now she's less lonely but is now even more estranged from Don's past (her pay-to-leave move didn't help). In a healthy marriage, she cancels the party and enjoys an intimate recounting of Dick-in-California. Though Stephanie knows little about Dick, at least she could talk at length about Anna - which Don would really like.

    (of course this would be all too mundane for a series about which the unwashed say "nothing happens in that show)

    Megan may well regard her titular marriage as one of convenience - more so after Don's chilly "acceptance" of the 3-way she instigated. In '69 California divorce law was not what it became and the bi-coastal nature of their living arrangement probably complicates a formal split.

    Betty remains brittle and bratty. Her hawkish denunciation of youthful war-protestors was well off-script on its own, but why did she allude to Henry's dovishness - that just added insult to injury. THEN she abandons 80% of the social gathering. At least now we know that Henry is no longer Lindsay's man but has successfully filled a small politcal vaccuum.
    The faithful will never see poor Ginsberg the same way again. His eccentricity and anti-corporate/war/technology passions will be forever corrupted by that bit of self-surgery.

    (what a way to be "cut" from a television show)

    Weiner and team will pay minor attention to the Don/Megan and Betty/Sally/Henry subplot but could servicably stop kicking the down all but one path - the partner showdown. That one will start a whole new path.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I still subscribe to the theory that things won't end well for Don, but the reinvention vibe is so strong and pervasive throughout the show's run, I could also accept an outcome where Don is burning yet another of his "lives" and being resurrected like a phoenix. Freddy told him to "do the work" and Don is ok with that until he gets what he wants, and then, inevitably he gets bored, or screws around, or acts dismissively and gets kicked down to the curb. When he wanted Dow Chemical, he got them. When he needed a "car" to replace Jaguar, he got Chevy etc ....

      Clearly, the set-up is a partner showdown, and I do hope Don is taking an accounting like Arya on Game of Thrones, calling out the names of those who are stabbing him in the back so he can take his revenge .. Bertram Cooper ... Jim Cutler ... Lou Avery ... Joan Harris

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