It is episodes like “The Runaways” that can make Mad Men such a difficult show to cover on a weekly basis. It is not a matter of quality diminishing necessarily, but Matthew Weiner and his team certainly have a lot of fun with challenging the audience by way of scattered plotting and diverse avenues leading to episodes with esoteric ideas that really keep you thinking. This is the reason I tend to find Mad Men as one of the shows people really cannot just binge-watch in order to catch up. Taking into consideration the idea of cutting a nipple off or figuring out what is going through Don’s head, by the time he has returned from his threesome and now wants to put one over of Lou and Cutler, sometimes it helps to have a week in between things to really figure this show out.
Of course, here I am trying to recap the show within a short amount of time, after having just seen it. Last week had a much clearer focus, with distinct plots and a use of characters that felt appropriate. “The Runaways” might as well have had an audience cheer track play every time someone else entered this episode (Sally’s here! Woo!, Harry Crane! Whaa?!). Given the wacky nature of this episode (despite its mostly serious tone), it seems only fitting that it begins with a cartoon. It appears that Lou has big dreams of his innocent cartoon, Scout’s Honor, turning him into a big success. After Stan stumbles across it in the copy room and spreads it around to the other creatives, a punishment of staying late comes as a result.
This punishment is unfortunate for Don, who had planned to head to LA in an effort to meet with Stephanie Horton, his “niece”. Given that we’re in the last season, it is neat to once again find ourselves reconnecting with past characters, especially ones with a large understanding of who Don (Dick) really is. The funny thing about this, is that Don never actually meets with Stephanie in this episode, despite her need of help. Pregnant and a little too out of her depth, the arrangement to stay with Megan until Don arrives falls through because both Don can’t leave work soon enough and Megan cannot do enough to make Stephanie feel comfortable. Both of these women have plenty to say about Don, but neither seems to know how to make that conversation not seem awkward.
It is an interesting plot strand this week, even if it ends up going nowhere, but it does lead to a stranger plot involving Megan. Maybe not necessarily inspired by an actual bohemian woman suddenly prompting a lot of interest in Don, but Stephanie’s presence certainly must have aided in getting Megan to explore a new area of what could possibly bring her closer to her husband, as she gets Don to be intimate with both her and her gal pal Amy. Too bad the results only seem to hurt Megan, make things awkward for Amy, and leave Don with a need for coffee. I really don’t know what Don must have been thinking actually, but he has bigger things to worry about, given what he learned from Harry Crane, a surprise visitor to Megan’s party, hours before the eventual threesome that caused her to be frustrated with the results the next morning.
While we will have to wait and see what Megan wants to try and pursue next, given how she did make the effort to explore new territory in her marriage, Don continues to explore new possibilities within SC&P. After learning that very secret meetings between Lou and Cutler in the computer room concerned taking back business that Don dealt with a few seasons ago, he essentially asserts himself in a meeting that could lead him down a tricky path. Really, I just do not know what to think about what Don is striving for by this episode’s end. Given that he wants to get back to the level he once was at, these steps he is taking could lead to triumph, but at the same time, Mad Men does not tend to go for these straightforward arcs.
In regards to straightforward plotting for this week, at least, Betty Francis actually has the clearest plotline to keep track of. She speaks her mind in a way that embarrasses her husband and later has to deal with Sally and her shenanigans that have literally left a mark. I find it fascinating to see how far Betty has come since season 1. I have stated before that I understand where the general audience hate for Betty comes from, but I still believe her character to be incredibly intriguing and that continues to be true for the Betty of now, who can speak her mind and prove that she has a perspective on matters, regardless of what those may be and how her beauty and status may overshadow what she has to say and where it comes from.
Sally certainly exacerbates things for Betty, as she takes a good portion of her screen time just asking to be slapped by her mother. We are at a point where Sally is going to show nothing but contempt for Betty and while we can chalk it up to both teenage rebellion and what we know about Betty, having this show set in the 60s, for the most part, has always been a fine way for Mad Men to have an opening for a child with this sort of upbringing be depicted and add another perspective on how these times have an effect on those who lived it.
I am not sure how much living I needed to see from Ginsberg this week though. In the segment of “The Runaways” that felt the most like a Coen Brothers/David Lynch mash-up, we find one of the lead creatives going mad, based on the presence of the machine monstrosity that emits a humming sound. While the idea felt like a jokey one in terms of having a character fight change, the fact that things got so serious so quickly makes me wonder if Ginsberg’s final cry, “Get out while you still can,” is going to foreshadow so certain plans for Don, Peggy, or any of the other characters that want to live their lives a different way from where things are headed, based on the evolving changes inside and outside the offices of SC&P.
Not knowing what is going to happen is certainly part of the intrigue and if Mad Men wants to put a nipple in a box to serve as icing on the cake this week, then so be it. “The Runaways” is not exactly a slam dunk of a Mad Men episode, but it did bring a level of scattered joy hard to look away from, given the confidence in throwing in a lot of random ideas and making them somehow gel together by the end of the episode. With only two hours of this show left, until next year, I can only hope these weird events have enabled a lot of planning to already be out of the way.
Any Other Business?
- Neat framing moment in this episode involving Ginsberg spying on Lou and Cutler. The scene focused on just the lips of these men, recalling a scene from 2001, where HAL read lips, despite being closed off from hearing what could be said, which is very fitting, as this follows last week’s episode, “The Monolith”, which had plenty of 2001 to call back to.
- Lou and Harry continue to race for who can be the biggest dick, between Lou’s pettiness and Harry’s ass-covering.
- “I’ve always supported the President honey.” – Henry Francis ran unopposed before, but he still has a hard time with the tough questions.
- I’d like to see more of Peggy and Julio.
- Megan’s sexiness meter ran high this week, given those dresses, dances, and other activities.
- Poor Bobby Draper…
- Betty is smart! She speaks Italian!