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Mad Men Season Seven Recap: "The Runaways"

This week's episode of Mad Men"The Runaways," was unsettling in just about every way.

Mad Men fans Kelsey WallaceAndi Zeisler, and Annalee Schafranek each have their own perspective on this week's show. Catch up on their past Mad Men recaps here

Peggy touches the arm of an agitated Ginsberg

"What am I, Cassandra?"

Whoa, whoa, whoa, Mad Men! I signed up for some critically acclaimed Sunday-night television, not the sight of a self-removed nipple. Sheeeeeeesh! Last night's episode, "The Runaways," continued to show us some of the hints of issues that will no doubt build to overwhelming developments in Mad Men’s final season. Don and Megan's marriage continues to be complicated (though was anyone else surprised to be seeing it continue at all?). Things are not all sunshine and puppies between Betty and Henry either. The computer remains a daunting presence in the SC&P office. And Don's future at work is, again, looking bleak. Much like Ginsberg's invocation of Cassandra, the mythological figure gifted with the power of prophecy but cursed with never being believed, several characters are pointing out to us this episode how things will end, with few believing in their predictions.

As per usual, there's little levity at the Francis household. Whatever the purpose of that weird dinner party-crawl was, it likely wasn't meant to result in a political spat between Betty and Henry (in front of his constituents, no less). Normally levelheaded Henry cuts down and attempts to control Betty every chance he gets: He dismisses her opinions, tells her what her role is, and disregards her intelligence. (Hey, she knows Italian, dude.) In their kitchen argument, Henry tries to get the upper hand with his wife by implying that he's clearly the brains of their marital operation, and, thus, the only one entitled to a political opinion—otherwise, he reasons, she would be the one running for office. And that leads us to possibly the most exciting prediction on the horizon, as Betty responds with a big ol' “Why not?” Betty Hofstadt Draper Francis 1972!

The sads don't just end with the adults in that gloomy mansion, though. Sally's potentially broken nose gives her mother a chance to place focus on her looks—which are, by extension, a continued legacy of Betty's own looks—while Bobby's suffering from an upset stomach caused by listening to his mother and stepfather fighting. Sally dismisses her brother's concerns about an impending divorce, coldly stating, "They're the dynamic duo. That's never going to happen,” but I wouldn't be surprised to see his fear come true before series' end. Betty is clearly outgrowing Henry's projected image of her. And while Sally argues with her mother about her nose injury, she also drops a couple of potential previews into the mix. "It's a nose job, not an abortion." "Don't worry about me finding a man." Will Sally's teenage rebellion morph into second-wave activism? Let's hope that's one prediction that comes true!

Out west, no California party in the Mad Men universe would be complete without a skeevy Harry Crane turning up, mumbling something about helping his young, pretty companion "find an agent." In their awkward escape from Megan's, Harry's loose lips drop the news that SC&P is perusing Commander cigarettes. This, of course, presents a problem for a company that’s still keeping Don Draper on their payroll (Remember that op-ed he penned?). In classic Draper fashion, Don calls the clients' bluff and convinces them that they don't really want what they think they want. Don's pitch could, in and of itself, be interpreted as a prediction of sorts, as he walked the Commander crew through exactly what it would be like to have him on the team. While his performance is right up there with the winningest of Draper pitches, Cutler, for one, remains unconvinced by Don’s attempts to preserve his job.

And then there’s Ginsberg. Oh, Ginsberg. When I had been thinking to myself about how I wanted more development from you and your co-supporting cast, this was not what I was imagining. Poor Ginsberg, whose just-last-episode paranoia about the computer's influence ("That machine came for us. And then one by one...") turned out, in "The Runaways," to be self-fulfilling. Not only did Ginsberg compare himself to Cassandra, only to be disbelieved, but he continues reminding us that this new computer will mean obsolescence for some of our Mad friends. (After all, while Ginzo clearly misinterpreted Cutler and Avery’s secret weekend meetups, his suspicion of them as secret wasn't unfounded.)

Assorted thoughts:
Between Ginsberg's mental stability, Sally's nose, Bobby's stomach, and Stephanie's pregnancy, the physical well-being of our Mad friends seems to be in a precarious position. Appropriate foreshadowing, since I can't imagine this final two-part season going down without taking several characters with it.

I liked that Peggy and Stan both seemed to be rocking similar neck-scarf looks this week. Friends 'till the end and bonded in both spirit and style, those two!

—Annalee
sally draper with a cut on her nose looks at bobby

"This is an office made up of people who have problems with authority."

The tension between dominant culture and counterculture, authority and lack thereof, continues to drive this season forward, swordfights and rumaki and severed body parts (WHAT?!) and all. Don tells Lou that the people at SC&P office “have a problem with authority,” while Henry reminds his conservative houseguests that “wildness in the kids” is a national disease. But it’s not just the kids who are rebelling, though Sally and Bobby have both had it with the adults in their lives. Don, Betty, and Ginsberg are all attempting to fight the power in their own ways.

Let’s start with the severed nipple elephant in the room: Young Ginsberg, our wisecracking proto-hipster SC&P creative, suffered a psychotic break and left the office on a stretcher. Though his relationship with reality has fissured in previous episodes, Ginzo’s always seemed like more of a harmless, if ultrasensitive, eccentric than someone who’d slice off his own nipple and box it up as a peace offering for his boss. The office computer that loomed so large last episode, with its loud humming and ominous presence, triggered his downfall, and I’m wondering if we’re supposed to take anything away from that. Is Ginsberg’s story meant simply to remind us that mental illness wasn’t taken seriously in the 1960s? Was he rushed offscreen to make room for Ben Feldman’s new sitcom? Or is Matthew Weiner trying to tell us something about technology and the human condition? I’m not sure yet, but I hope I don’t need to cut off any body parts to find out.

Don, too, is struggling to take matters into his own hands. It took Harry Crane’s drunk bean-spilling to wake Don up to the reality that no one at SC&P wants him in the office, and that Lou and Jim are willing to go behind his back and pitch Commander Cigarettes to force him out for good. (Recall that Don took a very public stand against tobacco in season four.) By barging into their meeting at the Algonquin and going off-script, Don’s breaking the rules and risking his job, but he’s betting on that patented Draper genius to save him once again. When at episode's end he shoved Jim and Lou into a cab and whistled loudly for one of his own, it read to me as a gesture of victory, but it's worth considering that a lone taxi ride could just as easily signal defeat.

Meanwhile, up in Westchester, Betty’s waging a similar battle against Henry, whose chauvinism appeared out of nowhere in full force. (Since when is this guy such an ass?) I saw plenty of people on Twitter making fun of Bets for her “I speak Italian” line, but we have to remember that Betty’s always been valued primarily for her looks—something Sally used against her in their fight over her “perfect nose”—even though she has a college degree and does in fact speak Italian. And while I can’t say I agree with Betty’s politics or her parenting, hearing her assert herself—not to mention a possible political career—in the face of Henry's demeaning remarks was thrilling to me. Feminism is for jerks too, Betty, and we’d love to have you.

Assorted thoughts:
Megan’s dance at her hip actor party was a bittersweet callback to her “Zou Bisou Bisou” performance in season five. Then, she was supremely confident and danced a fun, sexy dance for her riveted new husband. Now, she’s so insecure about her marriage that she sends Don’s pregnant niece packing, and her performance seemed like a desperate, awkward bid for Don's attention.

Yet another reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey this week in the scene where Ginsburg's spies on a secret weekend meeting Jim Cutler and Lou Avery. Is Matthew Weiner just a Kubrick fan—or was Ginsberg right to fear that computer?

—Kelsey

Pregnant Stephanie, wearing Megan's robe
Sorry, does me wearing your robe make you feel even more threatened by my presence? My bad.
 

Get Out While You Can

I can't speak for my co-recappers, but I spent most of this episode right on the precipice of a cold sweat, sure that the year-plus rumors of the Manson Family coming for Megan Draper were finally being made manifest in the pregnant body of Don's not-niece, Stephanie. Hippies had already been painted as unsettling and cultlike in last week's episode; in Stephanie's visit to Laurel Canyon, there seemed to be a threat of menace in her every smiling, beatific move. Of course, this is Mad Men, and that's by now a standard repercussion of its symbolism-heavy textual and production style, but it was especially exhausting in this case, as I kept expecting Stephanie to be revealed as merely the advance woman for an entire band of wild-eyed, knife-wielding freaks doing their guru's depraved bidding.

Not that there wasn't something sinister about Megan throwing some money at the problem and Stephanie being back on the street within a few hours of her arrival. But it's a curious fact of Mad Men that by now, almost every interaction seems freighted with significance, so that when the payoff from one turns out to be, well, not much, the results of another will invariably make up for it. (Is that a nipple in that box, or are you just terrified of the consequences of a computerized world?)

One could argue that both Don and Megan are already haunted by Hollywood. For Megan, certainly, it's not just the place where she's failing to reap all the great rewards she'd been sort-of promised as an actress; it's also the place where Don lived out another life, before her. And Stephanie's presence confirms this: Not only was there indeed a sexual charge between Don and Stephanie when they first met back in Season 3, but the fact that they never consummated their attraction is much more threatening, in the long run, to  Megan's trophy-wife consciousness. On the other hand, Megan's insecurity blooming in Stephanie's unwashed aura seems a little odd, as she'd seemed to be done with Don and her marriage so recently—and it makes her attempt to re-seduce Don via a threesome with bland, accommodating Amy seem like the action not of someone who has embraced her time and place (L.A., free-love era), but of someone who is simply, now, always acting. She should know, for instance, that Don is not exactly a three-way kind of guy. Unlike his pal Roger, more is not merrier for Don; more means more of a risk of opening himself up in the wrong way and revealing too much. It's notable that with all the ways we're seen Don satisfy his restless libido, this was both the first time a third party was involved and the first time he seemed reluctant. Whether or not the Manson Family ever makes the scene, the Draper family seemed to have a better chance of survival in New York City.

But then the offices of SC&P seem to have become a far scarier place in a relatively short time. There's the unavoidable, omnipresent computer, of course, its visibility and constant hum the catalyst for Ginsberg's terrifying mental break. But the mood and dynamics of the office have shifted, making mere binaries—singular vs. merged, creative vs. business, Establishment vs. counterculture—seem like sinister fault lines rather than workaday conflicts. Stan's embarrassment of Lou Avery, for instance, started as a goofy office lark, but, once Lou unloaded on his creative team for their lack of patriotism and insufficient respect for Underdog, his words hit Stan and co. harder that they expected. Meanwhile, the endgame of Don's intrusion into the Commander Cigarettes meeting and his apparent willingness to firebomb his own career for the sake of the agency isn't clear yet. While the act looked from the outside like the typical Don-as-Tarzan show, there was something grittier in the grandstanding. The show that has been teasing us with that falling-man image since the start has finally made us see that disasters don't necessarily need a body count.

Assorted thoughts:
I do have a few misgivings and half-articulated thoughts about the one Jewish guy in the office being the one to go all tinfoil-hat crazy that I'm not going to barf out here, but I will say that I wish Ginzo portrayer Ben Feldman best wishes in his upcoming foray into romantic-comedy sitcoms, and am happy for him that terrible mustaches will no longer be a wardrobe requirement.

Lou is so much more of a hack than we knew, but it turns out that he does have a flair for the dramatically, paternalistically bitchy. Still, you have to concede that He heard everything! From your first fart to your last dying breath! is going to look pretty sweet on his gravestone, someday.

—Andi


Cultural/Historical References: Underdog, Mort Walker/Beetle Bailey, Bob Dylan, Capitol Records, and, once again, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Inappropriate Office Behavior: Oh, Ginsberg, we really hate to kick a man while he's down (and down one nipple), but this one's all yours.

Read the rest of our Mad Men recaps here


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Comments

4 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Two thoughts...

1. I have held that Ginsberg was an unrecognized schizophrenic since early in his character's life on the show, & have been waiting for SOMEONE to notice that his eccentricity was more than that for ages. I have been waiting for the break since he arrived, but nipple clipping was never on my radar.

2. I have also been waiting for Betty to become a first-wave feminist for years. I hope hope hope we just saw her take the first step. Let's go, Betty Draper Friedan!

Ginzo's schizophrenia/PTSD

I've seen lots of commentary today by people offended or surprised by Ginzo's break. I am Jewish and neither surprised nor offended. Although he is the most prominent on the show, there have been a variety of Jewish characters with different characteristics and plot lines (although most of them are romantic interests for the main goyam characters) including Rachel Menken Katz, Jane Siegel Sterling, Dr. Faye (!), and Abe. Betty even reveals that her first kiss was with a Jew.

In the case of Ginsberg, I think Mathew Weiner and company might be making a very deliberate connection between personal and cultural trauma and mental health/paranoia/PTSD. Ginzo's been showing signs of schizophrenia since he was first introduced--expressing mild paranoia and delusions from the start. In fact, his delusions and his origin story (concentration camp/Martian) are introduced together in "Faraway Places" (season five). In an intimate late night work session he tells Peggy he's a full blooded martian but he is "displaced" and that "they" tried to hide it from him by telling him that he was born in a concentration camp and that his mother died there. He does remember Morris adopting him from the Swedish orphanage when he was five. Peggy was shaken about the possibility of someone being born in a camp and later calls her Jewish boyfriend Abe for confirmation and comfort. (As a side note, I just re-watched the scene and it's immediately followed by a scene where Roger makes a crack to Don about appearing like an escapee from a mental institution, coincidence?). Peggy is clearly very upset (seemingly more than anyone else in the office) when they take Ginsberg away restrained in the stretcher, which would make sense since dude did just giver her his nipple in a box. But as far as we know Peggy is the only one who knows of Ginsberg's past in the camp and I think this is adding to the level of sadness she is experiencing from this traumatic event.

It is my understanding that childhood trauma, such as being born in a concentration camp and spending early childhood as an orphan and refugee, can increase the likelihood of psychosis in those with a genetic predisposition towards schizophrenia. Twenty-five is the peak onset age for schizophrenia in men. With previous information given on the show regarding his birth and age, in 1969 Ginzo would be somewhere between age twenty-five and twenty-nine. Everyone on Mad Men is so messed up, I personally don't find a genetic mental illness potentially exacerbated by the trauma of the Holocaust to reflect poorly on Jews any more than any of the other meshugas reflects on all the other characters on the show. Just my take on it...

Comment

Very nice post. If you are Jewish, then you may understand Ginsburg obsession with the IBM computer and his eventual breakdown which I believe had much more to do with his horrifying childhood. If you understood the history and complicity of IBM in the holocaust which has been well-documented (IBM is the company that supplied the technology to Germany in the form of keypunch cards - that enabled the Nazis to quickly tabulate and sort people according to ethnicities) There are many books confirming the transfer of this technology to the Germans which, I'm sure Matt Weiner is well aware of. This horrific use of technology during the Holocaust, which led millions to their deaths started with a single keypunch card in which details about individual Jewish lives where documented and processed. When we see Ginsburg nervously watching the IBM computer while saying: "they came for us one by one", there is a lot of truth in his apparently "crazy ranting". At that moment, Ginsburg's knowledge of the past - both historical and personal - become crystal clear, and the truth that he sees and intuits, renders his character as a living, breathing prophetic "Cassandra" warning of the inherent dangers when technology and evil work in collusion. I encourage anyone to research this information, as well as many other companies that "transformed" their production during the Nazi era, and helped build an organized system of destruction - from mere keypunch operators to engineers, that was responsible for millions of individual deaths.

Henry has always been 'an ass'

He's definitely talked to Betty that way before, he's spoken down to her and yelled at her in a gross paternalistic way more than once. The first example that comes to mind is the "Shut up Betty, you're drunk" from a fight they had in the car after running into Don at a restaurant. He also yelled at her for firing Carla, the Drapers' housekeeper. Wrong though he was to lash out at Betty for making him feel awkward/questioning him at the party, I wasn't really surprised by the tone he took with her during their fight afterwards. Even when he's nice to Betty, he talks down to her. Ew.