Mad Men recap: What's the Frequency, Ginsberg?
Ginsberg checks out while Don and Megan live out an L.A. fantasy
Who would you rather have tuck you in tonight: Lou Avery, frustrated cartoonist? Or Amy From Delaware? Don Draper got a sampling of both in “The Runaways” — and Amy was only slightly more satisfying.
At work, Don is playing the good soldier, falling in line for Peggy and Lou and contributing not only to the Burger Chef campaign, but also pitching ideas for HandiWrap. His marriage to Megan has somewhat stabilized, at least to the point where they’re friendly on the phone and she’s looking forward to his next weekend visit.
That cross-country plane ride gets moved up a week when Don receives a call out of the blue from Stephanie, Anna Draper’s niece. Anna, as you’ll recall, was Don’s first “wife,” the late war-widow who knew all of Dick Whitman’s secrets and was a great comfort to him until the day she died of cancer. Stephanie is her beautiful niece, a Berkeley student with whom Don flirted heavily in a season 4 episode. She’s pregnant, so you’ll forgive me for immediately Googling her last appearance on the show to see if the chronology was nine or 10 months ago. I’m not the only one who thought that it could be Don’s baby, am I?
Stephanie’s condition — not only is she pregnant, but she’s basically homeless — causes Don to change his weekend plans. He gives her Megan’s address in Laurel Canyon and tells Stephanie he’ll be there that very night — he’s flying in to see them both.
Unfortunately, it’s not the typical Friday at SC&P. Lou Avery is on the warpath after Stan discovers that the boss harbors ambitions to become the next Chet Stover, a former advertising colleague who helped create Underdog — a third-rate cartoon character devised to sell General Mills children’s cereal. Lou’s idea for a comic strip is 100 times better than that crass concoction, at least according to Lou. But Scout’s Honor, about a silly military monkey with Beetle Bailey-like attributes, has been the punchline of the writers’ lounge ever since Stan found some art for it in the XEROX machine. He and Mathis were mocking Lou in the bathroom, without realizing the boss was in the next stall. “I heard everything!” bellows Lou, in front of everyone at the creative meeting, including team-player Don. “From your first fart to your last dying breath!”
Obviously, what Scout’s Honor lacks in subtext, it makes up for in terse, colorful dialogue.
Lou unloads on the whole lot of smarmy hipsters, calling them “a bunch of flag-burning snots. You’ve got a thing to learn about patriotism and loyalty. The very fabric of Scout’s Honor is a joke to you.” He went on to say, “My existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.” Okay, maybe not that last part — but let’s call this Lou’s Col. Jessup speech. Lou isn’t above calling a Code Red, and that applies to everyone, even Don. No one leaves that night until the work is done. “I’m going to tuck you in tonight,” he gleefully tells Don, who really wants to catch that last plane to L.A.
Don has agreed to several stipulations for his return to work — most notably serving under Lou — but never did I think that Don, a partner in the company he helped create, would be required to submit to such petty whims. I’m increasingly hoping that silhouette I’ve been watching fall from a New York skyscraper in the show’s opening credits for seven seasons turns out to be Lou Avery after Don tosses him through a window. I can certainly imagine the falling character in a powder-blue cardigan.
NEXT: Megan tells Stephanie the inn is full
In Los Angeles, Megan seems happy that Don is coming early, though she seems disappointed that Stephanie’s visit will likely postpone the actors’ class party she was planning for Saturday. With Don being kept after school by Lou, Megan graciously, if awkwardly, welcomes Stephanie on Friday night… at first. After some rest and a bath, Stephanie and Megan get to talking about Dick/Don, and when Stephanie innocently says, “I know all of his secrets,” Megan’s face drops and the room gets chilly. No doubt Megan sees Stephanie as a threat — perhaps not a romantic rival but definitely competition for Don’s heart and soul. She knows him. Megan cuts to the chase. “Would $1,000 get you far enough?” she says, leaving out the two most important words at the end of the sentence, “…from here.” “I really think it’s better this way,” she adds, practically shaming Stephanie out of the house and back to the streets.
Later, when Don arrives on Saturday morning, disappointed to find Stephanie gone — but Amy From Delaware there — Megan tells the most unforgivable lie, “I really tried to get her to stay.”
But joy! — this means Megan can have her party after all! There’s music, drugs, and dancing. Megan does a little number with a shaggy actor pal, and it doesn’t look like it’s their first tango. Don watches from afar, as if he’s the young uncle housesitting while his niece and her friends drink in the basement. His face alternates from contempt to boredom, and he can hardly be bothered with Amy’s very direct attempts at flirtation. How bad is the party for Don? The highlight for him is when Harry Crane walks in.
Harry, who apparently is even more bi-coastal these days than Don, is there with a young actress who is not his wife. Don spirits him away to have a manly drink, and I suspect that Harry thinks Don is making a play somehow. Honestly, I just think Don wanted out of the party — and even horrible Harry is better company than anyone else at Megan’s house. At the bar, silence is Don’s best weapon, as Harry talks and talks and talks about the company’s plans to win a Philip Morris cigarettes account, a contract that would seal Don’s fate since he once cut the industry’s throat in the pages of the New York Times. “I want you to know, I respect you,” Harry says, when he’s trying to win Don’s loyalty — or silence. “I am going to make sure that you’re still important [at SC&P].”
When Don returns to Laurel Canyon, Amy From Delaware is still there, and both she and Megan are high. Don just wants to crash, but Megan wants to keep the party going. She sends Amy to tuck Don in, then holds Don’s hand and other appendages to facilitate a threesome. “Kiss her,” she says to him. “I know you want to.” “I don’t want anything right now,” he replies, as honestly as a man in his position can sound. No matter to Megan, the same gal who once laughed at the swinging New York acting couple who tried to recruit the Drapers for some sexual swapping. So Don got to make love to two beautiful women, and the look on his face as his wife kissed her friend was pure Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon 2. Don might be a little old for this sh–.
Megan has expressed her suspicions as a wife 3,000 miles away from a husband who has a history or philandering. Even though Don tried to reassure her that he hasn’t strayed — lately — Megan’s ménage à trois seemed rooted in her growing insecurities as an inconsequential wife and a flailing actress. She may have been wounded by Don’s indifferent and his distracted reaction to her dance with the handsome actor, especially in contrast to the riveted look on Don’s face when she performed “Zou Bisou Bisou” at the height of their romance. Don wasn’t jealous or turned on to see her dancing with her acting classmate; he was simply disinterested.
Back in New York, the IBM 360, the giant new computer that’s whirring in the offices of SC&P, has claimed its first victim. Ginsberg has been the most vocal about the evils of the computer and what it means long-term for the office and human civilization. On Friday morning, Peggy and Don get off the elevator to find him ranting at the machine through the glass. “What am I, a Cassandra?” he says to them. “That machine came for us, and one by one…”
Ginsberg has never been quite normal, but his eccentricities — his almost-alien social skills, and his fast mind and even faster mouth — have been a reliable source of contrarian, off-center thinking. But this computer thing is in his head, quite literally. The machine’s constant humming is pushing him over the edge, and when he sees Cutler and Lou having a Saturday meeting in the computer room, he puts 2 + 2 together and gets 88. I’ll leave it to the professional lip-readers to divine what each man was saying, but Ginsberg knows what he knows: the computer’s real M.O. is turning the men in the office gay, he tells Peggy at her apartment. (“That machine makes men do unnatural things.”)
He can hear the subversive siren call himself, as evidenced by the way he finds himself admiring Stan’s shoulders on occasion. This is no joke, which Peggy learns when she wakes up from her afternoon nap to find her odd co-worker staring at her intently. “Peggy, we got to reproduce,” he says, and tries to kiss her. “If there was a way of doing it without having sex, I’d do it,” he adds — thus proving beyond reasonable doubt that his sexual instincts have very little to do with some computer.
NEXT: The nip-slip heard ’round the world
Last week, Lloyd the computer guy said that strange new computers have a way of becoming “a metaphor for whatever’s on peoples’ minds” when they’re dropped into an office setting. Safe to say that Ginsberg proved him correct. On Monday at the office, a calmer Ginsberg reassures Peggy that he’s disarmed that H-bomb that felt like it was going to explode in his head. He was feeling much better, slightly embarrassed by his weekend behavior, but sincere in his declaration that he has real feelings for Peggy. “I realized it was the waves of data,” he says. “They were filling me up. I had to find a release.”
At this point, I had two simultaneous conflicting thoughts. One: Ginsberg is looney-tunes crazy, but sort of a Love Actually crazy type that we’d excuse on TV and the movies. Two: This coupling is just crazy enough to work! I mean, Peggy doesn’t exactly have a long list of suitors right now, and that’s counting the quality TV-time with Julio, the boy from the upstairs apartment with poor plumbing.
Ginsberg presents Peggy a boxed gift, and that’s when we go from Love Actually to Seven. Inside is… his bloody nipple, which he cut off himself. “It’s my nipple,” he says, matter-of-factly. “It’s the valve.”
Peggy is rightfully appalled, mostly for Ginsberg’s self-mutilation but perhaps also because she’s just realized she may have narrowly escaped some gruesome death while he watched her sleep that day. She calls the hospital, and the last time we see Ginsberg, he’s handcuffed to a gurney, pleading to his co-workers, “Get out while you can.”
Don has no intention of following Ginsberg out the door. Armed with Harry’s cigarette news, he hustles back to New York and crashes the Philip Morris meeting at the Algonquin, where Cutler and Lou are pitching Commander Cigarettes. Don tries to turn his liability into a strength: sure, he slammed big-tobacco in the paper of record, but he now knows how to beat the regulators and good-health lobby. He practically dares the skeptical tobacco execs to hire SC&P, if only to get Don to apologize publicly to them and get him to do their bidding. It’s not the worst play by Don, but it’s really his best bad option, called from a position of extreme weakness. Think about it: the best-case scenario is that SC&P gets the account and Don gets publicly flogged for getting back into bed with the cancer companies.
I wonder what the rest of the partners will think about Don’s bold maneuver. Even if they land the account, barging in on that session had to violate the stipulation of following a preapproved script. If the rest of the partners have been waiting for Don to trip up in the slightest, this would certainly qualify as cause, wouldn’t it? Who’s to stop Bert Cooper and Jim Cutler from severing Don from the company now and acting out the lyrics of the Waylon Jennings tune “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”?
Everybody knows you’ve been steppin’ on my toes
And I’m gettin’ pretty tired of it
You keep a steppin’ out of line
You’re messin’ with my mind
If you had any sense you’d quit
Just Spitballin’ Here
Overshadowed by the threesome and Ginsberg’s severed nipple is trouble on the campaign trail with Henry and Betty Francis, who gets chastised by her hubby for having the wrong questions and answers about the Vietnam War. (Henry is now in favor of supporting Nixon’s plan to end the war.) Henry just wants her to be Emily Post, but Betty is tired of people telling her to shut up. She knows Italian, people!
Upstairs at night, busted-nosed Sally and sweet Bobby discuss the state of their mother’s marriage. Bobby gets to deliver the saddest line of the night: “I have a stomach ache all the time.” Oh Bobby, that’s the long-lasting indigestion associated with eating the candy you traded for your mother’s sandwich. It will go away after 20-25 years.
Meredith has blossomed as one of my favorite supporting characters, and her batting average for getting a laugh might be second only to Roger. Last week, she shined when Freddie and Don made an early exit for the Mets game. In “The Runaways,” she generates a laugh without even making an appearance, when Don says into his recorder, “S-T-R-A-T-E-G-Y. Meredith, honey, I don’t want that spelled out. I just want it spelled right.”
When Don speaks to Stephanie on the phone the second time, she’s clearly back on the streets. Do you think she already squandered the $1,000 from Megan? Is it possible she chose not to cash it? Or was the money all she really wanted from Don in the first place?
Did you hear Harry sound the death knell for Ted? “Ted Chaough: broken man.”
Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama