Mad Men: 7×05 – The Runaways

Mad-Men-7x05-4

Well, I certainly can’t say ‘The Runaways’ was uneventful, because…….no seriously what the fuck? For people who claim that Mad Men is all stuffiness and period decor, I will henceforth direct them to this episode. Was it a good episode? I’m honestly not sure. For any other prestige drama I would say a recurring character slicing off their own nipple because a giant computer is turning him gay might be a ‘jump the shark’ moment, but there’s so much subtle character work, fantastic acting and solid direction nestled around that truly bizarre storyline, that it’s hard to not just sit back and appreciate that after six and a half seasons, this show is still capable of both moments of pure brilliance and pure absurdity.

Yes there’s also a threesome in this episode between the main character, his second wife and a random friend of hers and this episode will probably be forever discussed as the ‘nipple & threesome episode’ or some clever variation thereof. But the adjacency of the threesome storyline to Ginsberg’s breakdown shouldn’t stop people from enjoying what was probably one of the best explorations of Megan’s character in quite some time. Salaciousness aside, this shouldn’t be seen as just another bizarre storyline in an episode full of them, but rather a fully formed exploration of an under-appreciated spouse’s misguided attempt to reconnect to her husband.

Jessica Paré has never been better than in the moments when she’s torn between her desire to be a good host and a good wife and her petty, though not unfounded jealousies. I wasn’t expecting to see much of Stephanie again but she’s a welcome connection to the Dick we kinda know and sorta love. She also brings a healthy does of tension to the Draper (née Calvert) residence as Megan tries to make Stephanie comfortable while never for a second thinking that Don wasn’t interested in this girl. I like Megan when she’s in party mode embracing her wilder, sexier, youthful side – the Zou Bisou Bisou of it all – but she can’t help but turn into a self-conscious housewife where Don is concerned. Her very Betty-like habit of smoking when she’s confused and upset in particularly concerning. She doesn’t initiate the threesome with Don because she’s drunk, stoned and horny, she does it because she thinks that’s how Don connects with people, she thinks the control and recklessness that Don feels while entering into an extramarital affair is the only way to engage him and force him to become present. My favourite Betty line of last season was ‘Loving you (Don) is the worst way to get to you’. Here Megan is pushing in the other direction. It’s an inspired idea but she obviously doesn’t factor in that the passion of engaging with a stranger is less present when your wife forces you into it. Also seems to forget that Don is just pretty much in a constant cycle of self-loathing and working to please him will seldom end with satisfying results.

Betty’s plotline almost feels too traditional to keep up with the crazed, drunken and stoned antics of this episode’s second half but then Sally pops up and adds a dash of vitriol to the proceedings. One could get the feeling that this was an overly-emotional, melodramatic episode, but really most of the odd occurrences take place almost wordlessly with serene confidence (Megan and Ginsberg) or silent shock and befuddlement (Don and Peggy). The only real moments of heavily externalised emotions comes from the two young girls of the ensemble, Sally and Betty. Christopher Stanley’s line reading of ‘Girls, girls’ while trying to break the two up might have seemed a little forced and on the nose, but the scene highlights both Henry’s condescension towards Betty as well as providing ample vindication for said condescension. I am glad however that Betty is trying to gain some intellectual agency and prove she’s not just arm candy for an important man.

As for Ginsberg…well….It’s certainly true that he was never the most put together character and the previous episode did demonstrate’s Ginsberg’s stark opposition to the idea of the computer. But that worked within the thematic context of that episode, with the very literal idea that the computer will make the creative department redundant. But if this episode is trying to convince us that the computer was the sole catalyst for Ginsberg’s psychotic break, free from any other prominent health issues then I have to call bullshit. It seems at this stage (I’d be happily proven wrong in the following episodes) that Ginsberg’s freak out was a lazy way for Matt Weiner and the writers to hammer home the season’s central theme; the uncertainty of what our roles are in the world and the confused sense of unbelonging that comes with it. When do our character’s fit in a world that is changing around them; in a country where the uninhibited looseness of drugs and sex rub shoulders awkwardly with the formality of super computers and enterprise conglomeration. Do they yearn for the halcyon days of ‘Scout’s Honour’, with it’s simple old-fashioned morals or do they continue to surge ahead and find their place in the world.

Miscellaneous Notes:

– Jessica Paré has never looked sexier than she did the morning after the threesome.

– ‘I’m going to break her arm next’. Oh Betty, you’re such an amazing mother.

– ‘I’m smart, I speak Italian’. Ok that IS a quality betty line, right there.

– I enjoyed the little 2001: A Space Odyssey reference as Ginsberg, funnily enough playing the role of supercomputer HAL, watching as Lou and Cutler talk, unheard in the computer room.

– ‘You’re Incredible’ – ‘Thanks’. I didn’t discuss the end of Don’s story, but the supreme confidence he showed in the meeting and the utter smugness afterwards was pure classic Don.

– Elizabeth Moss gave her strongest performance this season as she reacted with restraint and silent horror to the craziness that Ginsberg was unleashing upon her.

– It’s nice to get a scene between the 2 Draper kids, something I’m not sure has ever happened before. It just goes to show how strong Kiernan Shipka’s acting skills are, given that she’s allowed to carry a scene like this.

Overall Rating: 8 Dons cock-blocking Harry Crane out of 10

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