This week’s episode was dedicated to the runaway, hence the episode’s title. “Mad Men” has frequently dealt with the theme of running away and of escaping. Don’s whole life has been spent doing so – first from his past as Dick Whitman, then from the present and future where California became a destination for those needing to escape their demons. But as Don comes to realize in this final season of “Mad Men” that escape is not always the answer, he sees that California is no different than New York once you take out the palm trees. What represented a pure landscape of honesty and a pseudo-escape from the exhaustion of being Don Draper, in California through Ana Draper and her niece, Stephanie, is now a superficial wasteland full of just as much sin and complexities the landscape promised to avoid.
Megan represents this new California; a character that I first had my doubts about, but then realized deserved some compassion. Unfortunately, “Mad Men” is a show about how people never really change despite how radical their surroundings do, and Megan doesn’t differ. She’s always been somewhat of a dilettante and a crybaby. She’s like Betty in many ways – childish, but around the blogosphere we classify her as more of a rebellious teenager than occupying Betty’s perpetual toddler state.
After she blew up at Don and had viewers thinking a divorce was on its way, Don goes to California and Megan is cooing up to him, acting as if nothing happened and worse crying for attention through jealous attempts and a ménage à trois.
Don’s unexpected voyage to California comes out of necessity and love – a love unlike the one he’s used to flying across the country for. This love is a love of compassion, caring and guidance. When Stephanie calls him from California announcing she’s pregnant and without a dime, Don promptly tells her to head to Megan’s where she’ll take care of her until he comes to see her. Megan, at first, seems thrilled, but jealousy soon kicks in. She sees that “pregnant glow” everyone is always talking about – a glow she knows Don wants to see in her, but she would rather focus on her career – and probably starts to doubt Don’s true reasons why he’s making such haste to come see Stephanie. Megan snaps and gives Don’s legal niece a check for $1,000, which validates her crybaby existence. For all the airtime she spends whining about being a struggling actress, she’s able to whip out a $1000 check like it’s purse change. Status means everything to these types of people, whether in NY or LA, and she sends Stephanie off to fend for herself.
When Don arrives a day late thanks to Lou Avery trying to set an example, he finds Stephanie gone. Megan tells him she tried to make her stay but something to the degree of “you can’t cage these dirty hippy types.” Don doesn’t buy it and why would he even forgive it? This is truly a malicious thing for Megan to do. With Stephanie gone, she pathetically tries her old tricks (à la cleaning-the-carpet-in-lingerie) by dancing provocatively with boho-chic dudes (an attempted stab at Don’s age) and when that doesn’t work, she tries to give Don what she wants by offering him a threesome. He’s hesitant at first but gives in and the next morning is no closer to Megan than before. Stephanie calls much to Megan’s annoyance and reaches Don. She tells him she’s all right and to thank Megan for her. Megan meanwhile throws another tantrum in the kitchen.
Don’s trip to California did advance the career plot, though, and finally took him out of that post-hire funk of washed-out uselessness. At Megan’s party, Harry Crane unexpectedly shows up and, well, is typical Harry Crane. Don escorts him out of the party and gets the hell out of there too by going for drinks with his coworker. You can tell how upset Don is with Megan without the writers needing to blast it in your face when Don would rather leave his wife, whom he hasn’t seen in weeks, to have drinks with a two-faced coworker who just last week implied Don didn’t do any real work in the office.
Harry’s general cowardice leads to him revealing that Jim Cutler and Lou Avery are planning a secret acquisition that would effectively clear Don out of the picture.
Ginsberg sees the two men in the office on the weekend talking over the monolith computer’s drowning hum. He’s convinced the two are gay and it’s that computer turning everyone crazy. In reality, this episode was most poignant in this minor characters end of story arch. Last season, the writers heavily suggested that Ginsberg was suffering from psychosis. Remember when he talked about martians beaming into his brain and telling him things? While it may have seemed funny at the time, it was actually a cry for help but in the 1960s, psychology was not the same field it is today. People were still living in the dark ages – think of films and books like “One Flew over The Cuckoos Nest” or “Girl, Interrupted.” People’s understanding of mental illness was vastly behind and more often than not, people like Betty with depression were classified as crazy. While the people truly in need of help – morphed by the wars, politics, drugs and radical shift in culture brought upon in the ‘60s – were seen as quirky, like Ginsberg. It wasn’t until Ginsberg cut off his own nipple and gave it to Peggy that everyone realized something was wrong. Peggy gets up frightened and calls the hospital. From my point of view, the scene where they’re taking Ginsberg away on a stretcher is truly heartbreaking. Peggy has to fight off tears while Ginsberg doesn’t understand and may be blaming her as a traitor. Stan, who’s always been on Ginsberg’s side and knows what war and change can do to people – like the death of his cousin – looks at Peggy with a sadness and understanding unparalleled. I can’t predict this will be the end of Ginsberg, though it is likely. But through this minor character, Matthew Weiner has effectively displayed the psychological effect of the chaos brought on by the era that is often romanticized.
While Ginsberg’s scenes were of different use than plot advancement, as typical with long-standing minor characters, one element did connect the dots to Don: The meeting he witnessed between Jim and Lou.
According to Harry, Jim and Lou are trying to score a tobacco account, which as we know is a big deal since Season 4’s “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” letter in the New York Times, written and paid for by Don. The only way a tobacco company would reconsider joining an agency that threw the whole industry under the bus would be if they pluck out the source of the problem – Don. This, of course, is more than favorable to Lou and Jim, who are plotting against the entire old SCDP establishment. But thanks to Harry’s general cowardice, Don finds out about this meeting, heads back to New York and breaks all the rules from his contract – and still keeps his job.
Instead of getting fired, he offers to quit but tells them that business is business and so was that letter. He’s the only creative man who’s been on both sides of the tobacco front, so he knows the best strategies. Don was Lucky Strike’s golden boy and went through all the ups and downs of the tobacco industry. He essentially threw Lou under the bus, yay for that. And if they do join and Don does quit, at least he’ll be valued at some other agency with his dignity back. The men exit the restaurant and Don hails them a cab and shoves them in. Bye snitches. He’s baaaack.