Mad Men, Season Seven, Episode Five, "The Runaways"
As Waylon Jennings sings at the end of the episode, a number of characters feel like somebody's "been stepping on my toes and I'm getting pretty tired of it." Lou is fed up with his crew at the office whom he sees as a "bunch of flag-burning snots," who have "a thing to learn about patriotism and loyalty," as well as about taste in comic strips; Betty finally realizes--HELLO!--that a traditional 1960s marriage isn't supposed to include the wife thinking--even in Italian; Henry's put out by his wife's expression of her unpopular opinion on the war because it might cost him votes (who knew there were that many Westchester County residents opposed to the war, even in 1969?); Megan--I'm assuming--worries that Don has sent a woman pregnant with his child to her home for care and money; Sally KNOWS that her mother is out to stomp all over her toes and isn't shy about speaking out, while her poor little brother (weren't those two just a few years apart when the show started? now he seems to be about five or six years younger) fears having to go through another divorce. From the opening shot of Stan laughing at Lou's comic strip about Scout, who can "take anything but an order," this episode is about authority: those who desperately try to hold on to the bit they have left and those who want to defy the authorities weighing down upon them. Some are fiercely trying--like Waylon--to walk a line, but by the end of "The Runaways," Don looks like the only one who's succeeded (for now, at least), while the tragic Ginsberg has plunged headlong over it.
It's unusual to witness Betty as the character voicing the insight that grounds an episode, but this time she is. After Henry diagnoses "wildness in kids" as a "national disease" and their neighbor Mike opines that things aren't just bad in Vietnam, they're "falling apart here too," Betty says, "Well, I don't know that those things are unrelated. I mean first the kids start off protesting and the next thing you know every authority is up for grabs." While I disagree with Betty--I think most of the student protests in the '60s were a good thing--she is spot on that challenges to authority in the political realm are connected to those in the personal realm. Once people see it as okay to talk back, they'll do so whether it's to their parents, their teachers, the President, or the CEO of Dow Chemical. And not all of their protests will be important and meaningful; sometimes they'll just get angry, or aggressive, or bratty and throw some rocks at street lights in the affluent suburbs without leaving a note explaining why, if they know why. Was that just meaningless vandalism or--as the guests at the Francis' party seem to think--a big 'fuck you' to the pristine order the Westchester adults try desperately to impose upon the chaos of 1969?
With that scenario in the background, Betty is primed to see Sally's appearance at the house with black eyes and bandaged nose as an intentional affront to Betty's arduous preparations to marry Sally off to a suitable man who would never condescend to accept a trophy wife with a less-than-perfect nose. No "Come here, sweetheart. Does it hurt?" or even, "Seriously, you're fifteen and you're playing sword fights with golf clubs? But, I hope you're not in pain." No--all Betty can offer to her battered, self-confessed 'idiot' daughter is "That's your face, young lady!"
But, even as she's chastising her daughter for not following the traditional feminine script, and getting an earful from the non-conformist Sally, Betty is also starting to realize--finally--that there is something wrong with that script. Even someone as thick and as limited by self-imposed blinders as Betty is can't fail to be insulted when her husband, in multiple arguments over a couple of days, says things like "From now on, keep your conversation to how much you hate getting toast crumbs in the butter and leave the thinking to me." Betty's having a bit of a crisis. The woman who's always tried hard to walk the line between doing what society and her mother have told her she's supposed to do and what she might be interested in doing is talking back: "I'm tired of everyone telling me to shut up! I'm not stupid. . . . Guess what? I think all by myself!" She tells Henry that she doesn't know what she's going to do. I'm not going to hold out much hope that maybe this time she will do something outside the box; I've been disappointed before, but....
And in the meantime....While Don's first wife is expressing very conservative views about Vietnam, but also staging her own rebellion in the personal sphere, his second wife is nursing her sexual jealousy of Don--which is not unjustified in general, but is in the instance of Stephanie--when the pregnant niece of Anna Draper shows up at her house, and then jumping to the other extreme when she initiates the three-way with Don and her friend. What's up there? Okay she was, as Don pointed out, stoned, but I don't think it was just the drugs talking. Was this her way of trying to contain what she sees as Don's inability to be sexually faithful? If I can't have a faithful husband, I'm going to control the terms on which he has sex with someone else? It's going to be when I can participate too? Or is this Megan just trying to fit into what she thinks everyone hip is supposed to be doing? We first see her dancing provocatively with the young man at the party, but she's keeping an eye on Don while doing so. She then orders Don to "Kiss her. I know you want to." The next morning, she's trying to be cool about making coffee in the apartment where both Don and her friend are, but as soon as Don leaves, she starts to cry into her hands. She's not been real successful at walking the line between what she's "supposed" to do and what she wants to do.
Then, there's poor Ginsberg. He's exhibited scary signs of mental instability before. In the past, he told Peggy that Martians spoke to him. This time, he believes it's the computer that has a plan to "turn us all homo." "Am I Cassandra?" he asks, referring to the ancient Greek character cursed by Apollo with the gift of prophecy and the fate of never being believed. Since the computer first arrived at SC&P, he's seen it ominously. And he's right that it represents some of the partners' desire to stifle the creative team, replacing them with a completely rational, mechanized business model. And, his fears about computers replacing humans in some spheres and about technology's effects on human creativity have proven to be somewhat warranted. But, I don't want to reduce Ginsberg's psychotic break to a metaphor of the tragic components of the conflict between computers and humans. The young man who spent the first five years of his life in a Nazi concentration camp has oppression and control from horrible outside forces impressed into his very being. I couldn't help but think of HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey" as Ginsberg developed his ideas about the office computer. Did he see that movie when it came out in 1968, relating too heavily to the fictional story of a computer that manipulates and then kills people before being brought down itself? Whatever the genesis of this iteration of his mental illness and breakdown, the image of him being rolled out on the gurney, yelling "Get out while you can!" as the tearful Peggy and somber other women watch is one of the saddest and most serious of the show. While Don may or may not have successfully walked the multiple lines drawn out in that meeting with Cutler, Lou, and the tobacco men (the image of him whistling for a cab at the end suggests he at least THINKS he did), this episode was dark and portends the season (or at least this half of it) ending more on an Altamont note than a Woodstock one.