Mad Men 7×05 ‘The Runaways’: Knowing a person

Mad Men 7x05 Cover

We can never really know people.  When it comes to those that we “know”, our perception of other people is a combination of their authentic personality and what we want them to be.  Not to mention that people hide large parts of themselves from other people, whether that be because they’re scared of rejection or because they want to craft a certain public image of themselves.  Even those that we’ve known for years or decades are hiding a part of themselves, no matter what we want.

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Source: AMC

This latest episode of Mad Men, “The Runaways”, is a doozy.  When it comes to Mad Men, the show is at its strongest when it balances a couple central storylines.  There’s always something at the core of those storylines, tangled within the narrative, but the issue is when those narratives are so bizarre that untangling the meaning of it all because an exercise in futility.  An episode filled with a threesome and a severed nipple reminds me mostly of Season 6’s “The Crash”, where the entire office was on drugs and Ken Cosgrove was tap-dancing.  But where “The Crash” cohered neatly near the end, “The Runaways” goes for broke and feels a little convoluted as a result.

So, all in all, “The Runaways” teased out stories of familial connection, whether it be a husband and a wife that thought they had a stronger connection, a husband and a wife that have lost most of their connection, or two co-workers where one thought the other was entirely different.  Betty and Henry’s story was the most straightforward of the three, where Betty is struggling in a marriage that is becoming increasingly like her last one.  She strives for the independence that she’s always desired, but she’s a politician’s wife, and Henry has expectations of how she’s supposed to act.  There’s always a social expectation of how women are supposed to act in certain settings, but the tension is raised even more so when the setting is political.  Betty always expected that Henry was going to treat her better than Don, but who says that an older man is going to treat her better?  Who says that any relationship that she has will be different if she resorts to the same old immature ways?  When she speaks to Henry like a petulant child speaks to a parent, when she speaks to Sally as if combating with a peer, she places herself on a lower level, on a plane where Henry is superior to her.  She’s her own worst enemy.  People live under vicious enabling cycles where other people enable their worst behavior, dooming them to repeating the same mistakes they’ve always made.

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Source: AMC

Peggy always ignored how strange Ginsberg was.  She would rather believe that it’s just in his nature than consider that something is seriously wrong with him.  So, when he asserts that the computer is driving him crazy, that it’s trying to make him “homo”, she’s forced to consider the fact that maybe she doesn’t know Ginsberg the way that she believes she does.  And, instead of heeding the warnings that she’s been seeing for a while, she ignores it, all because it’s easier to ignore than to recognize something unpleasant.  It’s when Ginsberg finally goes off the deep end, cutting off his nipple and presenting it to Peggy as a gift, that she has to truly consider that he’s not the person she believes he is.  While the Peggy-Ginsberg storyline was bizarre to the point of somewhat undercutting the impact of the narrative, it’s still another strong reminder that people never truly know each other no matter how close they may be.

Mad Men 7x05-2

Source: AMC

Don’s story again takes center stage, just the way it has done all season.  He’s called by Stephanie, his niece through Anna Draper, who tells him that she’s pregnant and needs money to get by.  Don is absolutely thrilled to reconnect with somebody that he believes to be family, somebody he has a non-sexual connection with.  Only Megan isn’t thrilled by that.  Despite the fight that Don and Megan had in “Field Trip”, she still wants to connect with him, to have the wonderful relationship that she’s always wanted.  And seeing that another woman (Stephanie) has a connection with him is threatening, if not on a sexual level, than on a different intimate level.  So, when Megan pushes Stephanie out of the house before Don can arrive, she’s trying to keep Don away from other women that aren’t her.

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Source: AMC

So where does the threesome come from?  The only level that Megan knows how to connect with Don is sexual, even though sexual connection is so distorted for Don that’s it’s the worst way to get close to him.  She tries to make him jealous through dancing with another man, then offers up her friend in a threesome in order to give him this reconciliatory gift.  She tries so hard to find the way to his heart, but sex just doesn’t do it.  It’s that close connection with Stephanie that Megan wants, but cannot have because she doesn’t know Dick Whitman underneath.  But how much does Don want to be Dick Whitman?  Episodes like “The Monolith” show how people want so badly to change and have the capability to do so, but “The Runaways” reminds us how people enable each other into complying with their worst nature.  Don may want to connect with Stephanie, but there’s another part of him that wants to show Lou and Cutler up.  So, when he shows up to Lou and Cutler’s meeting, he’s complying with that worst nature.  Because he doesn’t need to compete with the two of them.  He can leave the agency and pursue his own destiny.  But it’s not time yet.  Don has to sink lower to really move forward.

“The Runaways” may not be the perfect Mad Men episode, but it’s still a crazy adventure that reminds us about the perception that we have of other people, and how that perception never reflects the reality of the situation.  Don is a man who wants to believe that he’s the hero that brings in accounts, that saves the company, but that’s not the personality that saves himself.  Don is searching for Dick Whitman, the man inside himself that he once lost, but it takes truly believing that Dick Whitman exists to find him.  And it has to get worse before Dick Whitman will reveal himself.

So what did you think of this week’s Mad Men?  Was the whole severed nipple thing too crazy for you?  Do you think Don will be able to keep his job?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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