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The Best of This Week’s Mad Men Recaps: ‘The Runaways’

Jay R. Ferguson as Stan Rizzo - Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

There was a lot going on in this week’s roller coaster of a Mad Men episode: from Stephanie's return and a threesome out in L.A. to "Scout's Honor" and Don’s kicker of a tobacco pitch. But the biggest talking point of "The Runaways" was of course its shocking, positively Game of Thrones-esque mutilation scene. As Vulture critic Matt Zoller Seitz aptly put it, the episode “has a mostly light, comic vibe, punctuated by moments of melancholy and (BLOODY NIPPLE HACKED OFF).” Exactly. Here is your recap of the recaps:

“All along, Don is well aware of the dangers of cigarette smoking, but he orchestrates campaigns that promote their use and obfuscate their health risks. Cigarettes represent not just everything that’s corrosive about his chosen career path but his chronic tendency toward deception and secrecy. Which is why it’s not exactly a moment of triumph when he shows up, uninvited, to Jim and Lou’s secret pitch meeting with Philip Morris. Yes, he seems to win them over by boasting of his insider knowledge of Lucky Strike’s strategy, but there’s also something grossly self-flagellating about the whole thing.” L.A. Times

 “Megan is perhaps the biggest 'surprise' (if you can call it that): the scheming, jealous wife. Unlike a lot of the viewers, we’ve always liked Megan, although her character flaws were more than evident over the years: a sort of petulance that’s different from Betty’s brand of petulance only by a matter of degrees. Betty is a petulant child and Megan’s more like a petulant teenager, using drugs, sex, and money this episode to try to get her way or get the response she wants. At a different point in their marriage, she never would’ve been that threatened by the existence of Stephanie, but this girl came into her life and shone a harsh light on Megan’s pretensions and insecurities right at a time when she didn’t want to hear it. Pregnant and living the counterculture life, she is both what Don wishes Megan was (pregnant) and what Megan wishes Megan was (more adventurous than she actually is). So Megan wields a checkbook like a weapon, even though the fact that she can write out a check for a thousand dollars so casually is representative of just how far she is from the struggling actress role she likes to pretend she inhabits. The irony seems to have been lost on her.” Tom and Lorenzo 

“Meanwhile, Megan continues to fascinate without delivering position-paper dialogue that declares exactly what she believes at any given moment. She is floundering in Los Angeles, struggling to define herself, experimenting with different selves, and aspiring not just to a job as an actress but also a more bohemian life. And then — 'Wilmaaaaa!' her friend jokes — her Fred Flinstone caveman of a husband returns and she’s a wife again. Megan struggles to juggle the commitment she made by marrying him, her fear of losing him and the ever-present thought that maybe she’d be better off without him.” New York Times

“Last week, Don Draper, drunk and longing for a Mets game, wandered into SC&P’s spanking new computer room and started slurring nonsense. This is one of the defining features of the SC&P work environment: It hides its employees’ issues, because everyone else is so sloppy and inappropriate it takes extreme misbehavior to distinguish their problems as especially problematic. There’s no better place for an alcoholic to hide than among other alcoholics, and the same, apparently, goes for people who have lost their minds. We’re careening headlong toward the final episodes of this truncated half-season, and we just ran over Ginsberg.”Slate

 “What’s fascinating is how often the season and episode seem to be looking at Don’s worst fear coming true: He is being erased. It’s as if by admitting that he was Dick—instead of, say, Pete finding it out—the whole façade he’d built up for himself started being torn down around him. Jim and Lou try to reverse one of his most signature accomplishments. Megan more or less seems to have replaced him with Amy. And when Sally needs help, it’s Henry who gets it for her, not Don. This is why I think Betty, ultimately, might be the key to unlocking this episode’s potential riches. The Betty of season one would have meekly sat back and said whatever her husband wanted her to; this Betty has a voice, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. You can put a monkey in an Army uniform and have him salute, but it’s not going to bottle up the unrest and make the world 1960 again through science or magic. (I love that I get to type that sentence.) The thing about stopping the end of the world is that that just ends up being the end of the world for somebody else. Apocalypses breed apocalypses.” A.V. Club

“Ginsberg handing Peggy Olsen a slice of his own flesh in a cardboard jewelry box — thoughtful to the end — is the strangest thing that happens here, but not by much. It's an odd and off-kilter episode, crammed with event and yet strangely diffuse, slowly preparing us for the mental breakdown in its final act. Before the wunderkind went Hannibal on himself, the most surprising incident was the menage à trois between Don Draper, his occasionally estranged wife Megan, and her female friend — the culmination of a series of moves Megan makes to try and get her husband's attention. He's drawn out to Los Angeles not by any compulsion to patch things up but by a phone call from Stephanie, the niece of the man whose identity he stole and perhaps the only living person who still calls him 'Dick.' She's pregnant and looks a little less Central Casting than the flower children who populated the commune Roger Sterling visited in last week's episodes, although the Capitol Records building looming over her shoulder as she placed the call was slightly hackneyed bit of scene setting. (Apparently the Hollywood sign was booked.)” Rolling Stone 

“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?” IndieWire 

“I wrote a couple of weeks ago that for Betty the family is the agency and for Don the agency is family, and I think that still holds, especially when tonight it turned out that Betty is working for Henry and Henry is the domestic equivalent of Lou. What an asshole! But then Mad Men is replete with assholes this year, which is another way of keeping the emotional emphasis on just a few main characters. Don is Don, and Betty is Betty; they're not cool — nobody on Mad Men is cool — but at least they're not assholes. And by the way, whatever happened to Joanie? There used to be a character on the show named Joanie, right?” Esquire

“Betty Draper knows Italian, so go fuck yourself, world! This fabulous bitch was on fire again this week, making a stand in her own defense to her condescending husband. Betty knows she is not a brain, but she’s hardly a moron, either. She speaks a foreign language and knows her way around a mean quip, and is more stubborn than Richard Nixon when it comes to the Vietnam War. Betty’s talent with an insult is matched only by her daughter, Sally, who came home from a golf club sword fight looking like Jack Nicholson in Chinatown after he finds out what happens to nosy fellows. Sally threatens to ruin her perfect face just to spite her mom’s belief that it is her biggest asset, and invokes abortion just to scare her mom with the idea that she’ll someday have sex. Reactance, that knee-jerk rejection against authority, is the reason kids still take up smoking.  The most intimate moment in the whole episode had nothing to do with sex at all; it was Sally letting Bobby sleep next to her after reassuring him that they are on the same team, against their parents.” Grantland

Ginsberg has always been presented as someone with a few pieces of his psyche assembled out of order, and also as the most unbridled id of all the creatives to walk through any of the offices where Don or Peggy has worked. So if anyone was going to go crack up from the presence of Harry's super computer, it would be him. But he's also been such a non-entity this season (delivering one great joke per episode, then disappearing) that his breakdown didn't have the impact it should have." HitFix

Michael Ginsberg is not so lucky. Throughout his brief but memorable time on this show, he’s reacted to his circumstances like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Even before he went all Dave Bowman about SC&P’s resident HAL-9000, he was shouting 'I am become death!' about working in advertising at all. It came across like a neurotic quirk of ’60s Jewish comedians he’s likely based on—at least until we learned he may have been born in a concentration camp. That is how Michael Ginsberg understands authority. And when a computer—the ultimate unfeeling embodiment of cold command—takes over his break room, Ginsberg breaks. So did a lot of people, when confronted with a society and a government indifferent to whether they lived or died. The very fabric of Scout’s Honor is more than a joke to them. It’s a joke on them.” Wired

Is technology man’s ultimate undoing? Will the morally bankrupt culture of advertising push more souls over the edge? Is there a clearer way to broadcast the superficiality of your feelings than by literally giving someone your nipple instead of figuratively giving them your heart? Is he simply crazy? Your guess about the nipple’s deeper meaning (now those are three words I never expected to see in succession, let alone in a Mad Men recap) is as good as mine, but I will say it was sad to see Peggy tearfully look on as she loses one of the few friends she had — and that I also feel sorry for the cast and crew of Ben Feldman’s new sitcom, A to Z, who will probably spend the next few weeks figuring out how keep nipple talk from hijacking their promotional campaign.” Time

Don exhumed the grave of the New York Times letter, and maybe. . . reneged? On one of the highest points in the show's narrative history? Unless this is part of some greater plan, and we hold out hope that it is, what essentially happened is that Don tried his old Change The Conversation™ tricksies at a meeting with Phillip Morris. Only, he's a little bit rusty. His pitch was all, 'I could be sorry if you asked me to be sorry.' What can he say? He's a little less principled now, after the threesomes, etc etc.” GQ

I'm increasingly hoping that silhouette I've been watching fall from a New York skyscraper in the show's opening credits for seven seasons turns out to be Lou Avery after Don tosses him through a window.” Entertainment Weekly

In this episode Don Draper’s world intersects with the social rebellions against authority that characterized the late 60’s. Whether it’s a sexual three-way after a party in Megan’s funky Los Angeles bungalow or a fractious discussion of Viet Nam during a 'progressive dinner' complete with ramaki in Betty’s Westchester mansion, the characters in this episode are testing their own limits, and those of their relationships.” Wall Street Journal

So, what is the serious idea of the episode? I saw it in the scenes between Stephanie and Megan, a pair of women who exist on opposite ends of the counter-culture spectrum. One lives on the hard edges of the movement. The other enjoys the soft curves of it. The tension between them simmers as they chat. Megan asks if Stephanie wants to eat outside, only to learn that Stephanie does that 'all the time.' When Stephanie tells Megan that the father of her child is a musician, Megan responds with a knowing, gossipy sort of exclamation: 'They're the worst!' Seconds later she learns that this particular musician convinced Stephanie to panhandle in Los Angeles, is now in jail, and wants to avoid the responsibilities of parenthood. These missteps don’t just highlight Megan’s privileged place in society, but also Stephanie’s precarious one.” The Atlantic

After an episode like this, no one knows what’s up Matthew Weiner’s sleeves. A plane crash? A bird flu breakout? A fire? A death? For a show that has been painfully even-keeled, maybe Weiner is waiting for the last few episodes of the last few seasons to really pep it up. I have to admit, however, the shallow plots make me yearn for more about Don’s past. Stephanie was an exciting person to see since she knows the real Don and could be hugely important in the next few episodes. She’s a character with depth as opposed to Amy from Delaware, who I’m hoping we’ll never see again.” Washington Post

Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC