Mad Men, Ep. 7.05: “The Runaways” pieces together disturbing, effective stories

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Mad Men, Season 7: Episode 5 – “The Runaways”
Written by David Iserson & Matthew Weiner
Directed by Christopher Manley
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on AMC

It’s hard to get a handle on what Matthew Weiner wants us to think, regarding Ginsberg’s storyline in this most recent episode of Mad Men. The way Peggy looks at the IBM computer after Michael has been hauled off, presumably to a mental institution, is a combination of contempt and bemusement. I don’t believe we’re supposed to assume Peggy dislikes the technology for apparently making Ginsberg go crazy, but the shot lingers on her facial expression long enough to suggest that the transition into a more modern age is something that several of these characters embrace with a large dose of skepticism.

The Ginsberg storyline isn’t the only one in “The Runaways” that feels odd. The whole episode functions almost like a collection of vignettes, capped by a sequence that is both the episode’s most powerful and most important. When Don learns from Harry that Lou and Jim are pursuing Philip Morris’ Commander cigarettes, he takes advantage of his shaky history with the tobacco industry by crashing a private meeting a pitching himself as someone with tons of experience and some time spent behind enemy lines, as it were. The Philip Morris representative points out that they’re not as quick to turn on their friends, but the idea of Don being forced to apologize and work for them is so tantalizing that it throws Lou into a restrained fit. “You’re incredible,” he says to Don outside. “Thank you,” Don responds, after which he flags down another cab when the two depart. I know some people have a troubled relationship with Don Draper as a character, since he is one of the last major remnants of the male anti-hero that The Sopranos popularized when it hit the scene, an archetype that has become old hat. But if there were ever a time to root for Don this late in Mad Men‘s run, it has to be now. The mini-arc he has completed in a span of a few weeks won’t be enough to redeem him in many peoples’ eyes, but he has attempted to get his act together and play by the rules set for him. It just so happens that he can work around those rules to carve a place for himself instead of being thrown under the bus. Isn’t that something worth respect? Even if Don isn’t a great guy, isn’t he still a genius of an ad man, and shouldn’t SC&P exploit that talent instead of squandering or, worse, releasing it? Don’s so disillusioned with his personal life that this is his lifeboat, and after suffering a series of rather shameful defeats, there is an astonishing amount of pathos working here.

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That personal life, though, brings another complicated scene to the conversation. Normally, Don being thrown into a threesome with two beautiful women wouldn’t have been much of a discussion piece, but how this event transpires has me asking a bunch of questions. Megan doesn’t really know how to handle Don right now. When Stephanie (Caity Lotz, Arrow) pops back into Don’s life in need of some money to support her pregnancy, it throws several wrenches into Don and Megan’s struggling marriage. “I know all of [Don’s] secrets,” Stephanie offhandedly says to Megan, whose response is “But you don’t know him very well.” It may be that Megan knows Don or Dick better than most people in his life at this stage, but knowing someone well doesn’t necessarily mean you know best how to interact with them. Megan’s decision to cut Stephanie loose with some money because she’s worried Don will exert his control over her and force her to get organized about a very disorganized situation could be good-natured, but it’s clearly not the right way of going about things (the exact same descriptions can be applied to how Roger handled his situation with his daughter). This isn’t the only miscalculation on Megan’s part. At her party, her not-quite-subtle moves to elicit some kind of jealous reaction out of Don only elicit disinterest or even apathy. She cuts some slack on the rope of the relationship by not making a fuss when Don wants to go out with Harry, but then when Don returns, she thinks the threesome is something that Don legitimately desires. And, honestly, I don’t think it is. Sure, he’s not going to turn it down, because this is Don Draper. But to me, there’s no connection either to Megan or Amy in the scene. No propulsion. Just curiosity and reflexive physicality.

All of this is rather sad, actually. As Don blazes a path towards triumphing at his job again, Megan’s lost in the process. When Don’s face lights up once he realizes Stephanie’s on the phone, Megan’s all but lost the battle to a man who probably has never had any true interest in being a loving husband, to the extent that she would want him to be able to anticipate some of what she wants. She throws her cigarette down as Don goes to shower, attention honed in on a job that she probably thinks he shouldn’t be chasing after being treated like he was. I guess I never expected there to be a prominent wife figure at Don’s side when Mad Men wraps up, but seeing the decay here is much more affecting than it was when Don and Betty split up (or even when Pete and Trudy did). The arc that led Don and Megan towards marriage at the end of the fourth season was one that ended with a kind of optimism that is often absent from Mad Men. Of course, we were rightfully meant to be wary of all that happiness that was happening back then, but Megan, contrary to plenty of voices claiming otherwise, has been a wonderful presence in the back half of this series.

Other Thoughts:

– A much shorter review this time around, because I’ve fallen behind a bit and this is already late. Apologies. Next week’s will be extra insightful and in-depth…right!?

– Everything related to Scout’s Honor? Golden. Lou is the perfect antagonist for the office, and I feel no remorse for laughing along with Stan and the others. Lou has dreams, sure. My dream is seeing Lou fired.

– Seriously, though. Ben Feldman must have had a heck of time filming this one, because Ginsberg is way out there. It’s great that he, a relative proponent of modern thinking, believes the computer is creating homosexuals out of people. The awfulness becomes a little too much, though, once he shows up to Peggy’s office with his nipple removed. The second time I watched this episode, none of the earlier jokes regarding his increasingly insane behavior were funny anymore. I imagine that’s the intended effect.

– Betty’s story is a bit of a dud here, minus a great verbal battle with Sally. It’s nice to see that Betty has aspirations–or thoughts, at least–of her own, but there was little done to make Henry’s out-of-character piggishness justified or useful. Also, “I’m not stupid. I speak Italian” isn’t a great defense. I still love you though, Betty.

– Speaking of that verbal battle: “Where would Mom be without her perfect nose? She wouldn’t find a man like you. She’d be nothing.” And: “Don’t worry about me finding a man. I already have you to keep me in line.”

– Megan’s hair and outfit at the party are utterly amazing.

– In what universe would Don prefer to go out for drinks with Harry Crane than…well, anything else? C’mon, Weiner. Suspension of disbelief.

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