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MAD MEN 7x05:
For the ties that bind

May 12, 2014 - Ray Eckenrode

Episode title: “The Runaways”

Significance: A direct reference to poor Bobby and his futile plan to get away from the dysfunction between his mother and stepfather (dysfunction he’s internalizing as a future ulcer). On a larger scale, “The Runaways” is full of unexpected visitors, off-kilter encounters and a sense of futility about escaping a menacing future.

Time passages: The episode takes place in the spring of 1969, likely May. One of the few time cues is a mention of President Dwight Eisenhower’s funeral, which was March 31, in one of Lou Avery’s “Scout’s Honor” cartoons.

Episode essay I:
Getting close to Don Draper is nearly impossible.
Maybe that’s not surprising, given that Don is in many ways a character created by Dick Whitman. But Anna Draper and her niece, Stephanie, managed that trick, in part because of their connection to the real Don Draper that begat a complicated emotional bond with his “reincarnated” self.
So even though Stephanie the bubbly Berkley co-ed we last saw in 1964, is now Stephanie the pregnant hippie in 1969, she’s still one of the few people (and maybe the only one) who can make Don smile a genuine smile.
That’s something his wife, who’s about the same age it appears, senses immediately when she sees Stephanie’s glow beneath all that grime.
The few minutes Megan and Don’s “niece” spend together are pleasant on the surface, but fraught with anger and jealousy just beneath. Megan can sense the intimate connection, the kind of connection she longs for with her husband. Stephanie catches the bad vibe right away and retreats to San Francisco (but not before dropping a few pieces of dark, dark foreshadowing, more on that below).
Megan is intelligent in many ways, but when it comes to relationships, like her husband, she’s stunted. So she resorts to high-school tactics of trying (unsuccessfully) to make Don jealous and mistaking (very successfully!) sex for intimacy. The misguided “gift” she gives Don is something he accepts although it’s the very last thing he needs. By the next awkward morning Don’s mind is already back to Stephanie and the troubling news Harry Crane delivered.
More and more in this final season of “Mad Men,” we’ve seen Don Draper as an outsider, lurking on the deck at parties, relegated to a dead man’s office at work, someone who’s lost his place during a whirlwind decade. Remember once that he told Anna he felt like he was outside his life looking in, unable to enter.
By the end of “The Runaways,” we see Megan reminded once again that the man she’s married to doesn’t really exist.

Episode essay II:
Since we met Michael Ginsberg, we’ve seen hints of his paranoid schizophrenia sprinkled among many moments of clarity and creative genius. Watching the darkness finally overwhelm the light in Ginsberg was heartbreaking.
Perhaps lost, given the bizarre behavior, is the fact that Ginsberg (and everyone else on the show) absolutely should be freaked out about the rise of technology and the loss of personal connection in the world and the implications that has for the future (a future we’ve living in right now, in case you weren’t aware). He’s got a right to be crazy about it (just not THAT crazy).
That Ginsberg somehow equates the monolith’s long shadow with homosexuality is baffling, but maybe that’s to be expected. After all, we’re talking about a schizophrenic.
But it seemed pretty clear that Ginsberg somehow viewed the act of reproduction, the making of another human being, as the ultimate way to rise up against the machines.

Quick hits:
+ We’re not sure Matt Weiner could have worked any more Manson Family foreshadowing into Stephanie’s appearance. And while it’s all likely Weiner having a little fun with us, it’s also worth noting Manson was a panhandling musician who had a presence in both San Francisco and L.A. His first son was born while he was in prison in the late 1950’s. That’s the kind of borrowing from history that “Mad Men” often does in its storylines. But that scene was troubling enough that we’re left asking: If you just got out of prison and learned you have a pregnant girlfriend on your hands, where would you go for money?
+ Betty’s brand of burgeoning feminism is providing plenty of tense moments (and a few hilarious ones) with Henry, who’s clearly wondering what happened to the trophy wife he married, but it’s a nice reminder that the “movements” of the 60’s were comprised of people all on a personal journey.
+ Given the recent bra-less teacher and a cow milking lesson we witnessed, we don’t think it’s any accident that the writing team had Ginsberg choose that particular present for Peggy.
+ The lip-reading scene in the computer room at Sterling, Cooper and Partners provided another homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Historical notes:
+ “Underdog,” the animated comic that “Scout’s Honor” is 100 times better than, was created by the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample ad agency in New York in 1959 under the sponsorship of General Mills and ran on Saturday morning TV primarily as a vehicle to sell its cereals from 1964 through 1967 (and in syndication into the early 70’s). Underdog was voiced by Wally Cox.
+ “Scout’s Honor” more closely resembled “Beetle Bailey,” the Army-themed comic created in 1950 by Mort Waker, who gets a shout out in the episode along with Mort Drucker, a cartoonist for Mad magazine.
+ Betty’s tour of cheesy 60’s television in her bedroom continued with an episode of “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C,” which starred Jim Nabors in the title role and forever-flat-topped Frank Sutton as Sargeant Carter. The show ran on CBS from 1964 through May 2, 1969, and it might have been that final episode that Betty was watching.

Brand names: Most notable was the mention of Phillip Morris’ Commander cigarettes, a non-filter introduced in 1960, but we also saw a couple iconic brands in the form of the Capitol Records building in L.A. and the Algonquin Hotel in New York.

Sweet tweet: From @drmasbuse: “Just wait until Mr. Roper learns of this living arrangement.”

Lines of the night:
+ “I’m not stupid. I speak Italian.” –Betty Francis
+ “It’s a nose job, not an abortion.” –Sally Draper
+ “I’m going to tuck you in tonight.” –Sweet Lou Avery
+ “Peggy, we gotta reproduce.” –Michael Ginsberg
+ “I’m afraid he’d murder someone just to stay in jail.” –Stephanie Horton
+ “Get out while you can.” –Michael Ginsberg
+ “This is the best place to be.” –Megan Draper
+ “Good party.” –Amy from Delaware

Next week: Episode 7x06 it titled “The Strategy.” The summary: Peggy collects research for a pitch; Pete receives an invitation to an exclusive club; Joan is eager to spend time with her friend.

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Don Draper, the ultimate man in the grey flannel suit, is finding it harder and harder to fit in as the 1960's close.


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