TV Club

Mad Men recap: Don makes a surprising tobacco proposal in “The Runaways.”

What was up with Don’s tobacco switcheroo?

If Don is good at one thing, it’s reinventing himself.

Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC

It sounds crazy to say this about an episode that featured both a threesome and a severed nipple, but I thought “The Runaways” was kind of boring. Or at least … scattered. This felt like one of those episodes where chess pieces are being moved into place for the finale, making thematic coherence and narrative propulsion hard to come by.

You noted the duos and trios, Willa. The other thread I picked up was how those around us can trap us in place—like butterflies pinned to a board—and fail to notice when we try to wriggle free or flit away. Ginsberg was always high-strung and shouting about couches; his colleagues didn’t notice the oddness escalating until he had a psychotic break and literally drew blood. (I loved Peggy’s horrified, heartbroken composure as she edged out of her office to call an ambulance.) Lou, the phone-it-in functionary, secretly dreams of a creative future as a cartoon impresario. Who’d have thought he counted Bob Dylan as a role model? Even poor Bobby can’t break out of the role everyone sees him in; he’s growing up, but Sally still assumes he’s a bedwetting tyke.

Betty, who has been enjoying her role as a politician’s wife because it makes her feel special—“They can only pretend so long we’re just regular neighbors”—learns that it comes with special constraints as well. When she ventures an unfashionable political view—about how protesting Vietnam could beget a generalized skepticism of authority figures (not a crazy theory, by the way)—Henry is embarrassed and slaps her down: “Leave the thinking to me.” So she sulks and blasts the opera, to broadcast her Italianate erudition. It made me wish she would run for office.

Don, meanwhile, pegged himself years ago in the New York Times as the anti-tobacco ad man, so the news that Lou and Jim are courting Commander cigarettes and Philip Morris wouldn’t seem to bode well for him. But if Don is good at one thing, it’s reinventing himself, so he crashes the client meeting and volunteers to resign if SC&P gets the business. And then he proposes a sneakier alternative: Wouldn’t it be even better PR for Philip Morris if they somehow made the principled ad man recant? “I just keep thinking what your friends at American Tobacco would think,” Don says, “if you made me apologize … forced me into your service.” The cigarette men are intrigued, but Don’s colleagues are pissed. “You’re incredible,” Lou spits in disgust on the sidewalk outside the Algonquin. “Thank you,” Don replies.

So these storylines had a few ideas in common, but my frustration with the episode lay in the fact that none of our primary characters landed anywhere emotionally new. Which means, I hope, that we’re just cued up for the last two episodes, apparently called “Strategy”—or as Don puts it in a dictated memo this week: “S-T-R-A-T-E-G-Y, Meredith honey, I don’t want that spelled out, I just want it spelled right”—and, ominously, “Waterloo.” I wonder what strategy (perhaps we’ll get to hear the rest of the memo?), and whose Waterloo.

A few additional notes:

Crane describes Chaough as “totally useless” and now Ginsberg is out. Sounds like the creative team is getting short-handed, which may put pressure on Peggy and Don—and give Don more leverage.

Both Stephanie and Crane’s bird describe Megan’s pad as “out of sight.” Perhaps a reference to the fact that for Don, she is increasingly “out of mind.” Although he is apparently planning to return to Los Angeles the following weekend, for an unspecified engagement. We’ll see what.

I loved how Peggy responded when it seemed Ginsberg was just confessing his love for her, rather than his nipple removal. She hilariously assumed his talk of “release” was a reference to masturbation, and said composedly: “You don’t have to thank me for that. Obviously it’s something you did on your own.” But she also said something funny about hothouse office attractions: “That happens when you work with people, but it’s not real.” That’s a lesson Peggy has learned the hard way.

I’m going to split. Great party,