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by Ben Travers
May 12, 2014 10:59 AM
5 Comments
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Review: 'Mad Men' Stirs the Pot with a Threesome and a Nipple in 'The Runaways,' But is Anything Actually Cooking?

Elisabeth Moss in "Mad Men" Justina Mintz/AMB

Well, at least that wasn't boring. After last week's rather ironic by-the-book ode to Kubrick, "Mad Men" threw the kitchen sink at us in episode five including a blast from the past, a threesome, and some particularly dirty office politics. Oh, and there's the whole nipple thing! "The Runaways" raised far more questions than it gave answers, continuing Season 7's casual pace toward the mid-season finale. Considering how jarring last night's experience was, let's take a look at each of the night's big quandaries, starting with the ones we can actually answer.

What's going on with Megan?

Things seemed to have cooled off slightly since "Field Trip," when it appeared as though Megan and Don's relationship may never recover. It still might not, but they're speaking, visiting, and going through the motions of a married couple. Megan, though, isn't masking her pain as well as Don (as if anyone could). Immediately suspicious of Stephanie Horton, the niece of the deceased Anna Draper, Megan shoos her away with some subtlety outside noting how pretty she is a few too many times. Don did hit on Stephanie when they first met, though nothing came of it -- but this is hardly the point. Megan simply doesn't trust Don, and she's willing to pay an exorbitant amount not to have to stare at someone she sees as one of his conquests. 

Jay R. Ferguson on "Mad Men" Michael Yarish/AMC

These issues again pop up at the party Megan throws for many of her friends, or as Lou Avery would call them, "a bunch of flag-burning snots." The sequence was reminiscent of Don's surprise party in season five, at which Megan seduced him -- and everyone else -- with a classy, if self-indulgent crooning of "Zou Bisou Bisou." This time, she's working Don from a different angle: jealousy. Her elaborate dance routine with a partygoer in front of Don forces him to flee to a nearby bar, frustrated and confused by his wife's actions -- or maybe understanding them entirely and just being fed up. The ensuing threesome may have thrown him at first, but it's not exactly Don's style to balk when two women throw themselves at him. (More on that later.)

Megan's actions, as outrageous as they are, boil down to one thing: She's lonely. She wanted Don all to herself, not to share him with booze, work, and certainly not with other women. On top of that, it seems that her acting work is still stalled and she can't get her husband or friend, whom she just slept with, to so much as share a cup of coffee with her. Megan's as lost as Don was, but her outlets aren't as predictable as her husband's. Something's brewing in her, and it may boil over very soon.

Betty Francis speaks Italian, but can she be president?

Oh, Betty Francis. You've given us some truly memorable lines over the last few weeks with "Eat your candy," and "I speak Italian." While last week's blow up was motivated by frustration over her son's inconsiderate selling of her sandwich, this week Betty seems sick of playing the supportive house wife. "I'm tired of everyone telling me to shut up," Betty snaps when Henry asks her to move outside with him. "I'm not stupid. I speak Italian." When he suggests she runs for office if she's so smart, Betty lays it all out for the audience. "I don't know what I'm going to do, but that's a good idea." 

It really is hard to predict what Betty will do. She's fighting with everyone in her life. Henry seems fed up. Sally is long gone, and poor Bobby has a constant stomach ache from living with the rest of his family's dust-ups. It's unclear when Betty and Sally's relationship went south -- it has descended consistently -- but hearing Betty threaten to "break your arm next" was still a gasp-worthy moment. But throw that threat together on a lawn sign with a note in Italian and Betty's got herself quite the campaign slogan.

Is it cheating if your wife is present, active, and encouraging?

That's the question running through Don's mind when Megan put the idea of a threesome out into the world. You could see the gears slowly turning as he didn't want to refuse the gift before knowing its motivations (consequences be damned), but his initial reluctance ("I don't want anything right now") was impressive, even if his will was as weak as any man's with a history of such sexual proclivities. Honestly, as alluring as a threesome sounds in terms of sexual politics and passive aggressive calls for help (on Megan's part, as well as her friend), it was hardly the dynamo of discussion once the credits ran and seems unlikely to cause long-term problems. It's a drop in the bucket for what's dividing Don and Megan, especially when Megan was far more upset about Don's phone call from Stephanie the next morning than anything he'd done the night prior.

Jon Hamm in "Mad Men" Michael Yarish/AMC

Lou Avery and Jim Cutler probably aren't gay, but what's their next play to ditch Don?

This issue was also defused faster than anticipated. It was refreshing to see Don back in action, laying it all on the line in a meeting with clients, but in the end it felt like he was dipping a toe in the pool rather than diving head-first into the deep end. Lou Avery and Jim Cutler put together a pretty good scheme for two nincompoops, setting up a meeting with a major cigarette company (Commander) to push Don out of the company. After all, they wouldn't want to work with a man who threw not only his client but the whole tobacco industry under the bus...or would they? 

With his table-turning pitch, Don bet they would, and it paid off -- for now. Cutler's parting words stung, if only because we hadn't seen him be so forthright with his desire to dump Don (though he did express justified anger over Don's treatment of Ted when Roger tried to reinstate his friend). "You think this is going to save you, don't you?" Jim asks. Don doesn't, and neither do we, but if his few minutes back in the water bolstered his confidence enough to form a real plan of attack, it was worth it.

What the hell happened to Ginsberg Peggy?

Ginsberg being wheeled off to the looney bin should come as little surprise after his rapid mental deterioration over the course of this season. Ranting and raving about the new computer, moving the couch, and many other quotable office mishaps seemed like good fun for a while, but when he showed up at Peggy's apartment accusing the giant, whirring machine of turning Lou, Jim, and even himself into "homos," it was clear he'd gone over the edge. Granted, I doubt anyone could have anticipated the "valve" removal, but that leads us to a more pressing predicament: What's going on with Peggy?

While once seen as Don's equal and on her way to the top of a company if not the ad world, Peggy has now gone through two gruesome incidents with mustachioed buffoons in two seasons. Stabbing her boyfriend last year in a moment of terror was framed in such a way as to make her actions understandable, if not relatable. Still, the message to suitors seems clear: stay away from Peggy. You'll either get cut, rejected and forced into self-mutilation, or as Harry describes her last love, Ted, become a "useless...broken man." She may never date again, but will she ever get to work again?

Peggy and Don have been pursuing and balancing each other in search of fulfillment, but while Don's adventures see him toying with both, Peggy hasn't had luck on either end, unless you count the episode's early elevator scene where she and her one-time mentor agree he's on her team -- hardly a marked achievement for the Clio winner. While patiently waiting for Don to come full circle and make a move to get back on top may seem dull, watching Peggy toil in obscurity is torturous. 

GradeB

5 Comments

  • Ann | May 13, 2014 3:49 PMReply

    Very good, objective synopsis and review, but YUCK! I think I'm glad that I have a hard time empathizing with most of the people on Madmen. It was an unexpected episode, so that's good.

  • Will M | May 13, 2014 8:47 AMReply

    Just going back to the Kubrick theme from last week's episode, anyone else notice the obvious yet fully satisfying nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey this week? Wasn't mentioned in this review, given how strong on Kubrick last week's episode was.
    Mind, throughout this episode, I was loving Ginsberg's story. It was hilarious and still quite adorable, and, for me, Peggy's calling of the men in white coats seemed as a betrayal somewhat, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out amongst her attempts at rising up the food chain, especially in gaining of trust.

  • PAR HO | May 12, 2014 10:29 PMReply

    When Megan danced and Don was looking away and then left the party, it wasn't because he was driven to jealousy. In fact, it was the opposite - he is so disinterested and detached from Megan that no matter how hard she tries (and she was really trying), she can't get his attention. Didn't you see how hurt she was when she looked over at him and he wasn't even watching her as she danced seductively with another man? Didn't you see how itchy and uncomfortable he was, looking away from the people and out the window for any excuse to escape? He doesn't even see Megan anymore. He left the party not because he was jealous (he didn't even notice the dance) but because he was so restless and out-of-place that he had to get out of there - he has nothing in common with Megan and her friends. He had to get to someplace where he belongs - like a bar. When he returned later, Amy called out "Wilma!!" - a hint that Fred Flintstone, the hopeless dinosaur from an older generation, is home. Then Megan invited Amy into their bed as a sexual favor to Don to see if maybe that could rekindle a flicker of sexual interest in their marriage; but even that didn't do the trick. He left the next morning to return to his real "wife," which is his work. No matter what she does, Megan has never been able to compete with that. That's why he leaves her out in L.A. and makes his home in New York. It's excruciating to watch Megan try to meet his needs when he won't even look at her anymore. Her heartbreak is all over her face.

  • David | May 12, 2014 2:43 PMReply

    "buy the book" ode to Kubrick... or "by the book"?

  • Ben Travers | May 12, 2014 3:12 PM

    Touche, David.