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Mad Men: Direction Amidst Chaos

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Don Draper continued his move toward redemption and re-emergence as a career success in the latest episode of Mad Men, the more than a little bizarre "The Runaways." But as one brilliant talent continued in a positive direction, another careened precipitously into emotional collapse.

That would be Michael Ginsberg, the "lightning in a bottle" copy writer, as the absent-in-LA creative partner Ted Chaogh has it. Though he's been played mostly for comic relief so far this season, we've seen evidence of his imbalance before. In this episode, he falls all the way off the teeter-totter.

Like others, he is unnerved by the presence of "the Monolith" in the office, that huge IBM mainframe computer ever humming in Sterling Cooper's former creative lounge, ever redolent of the talismans in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps its arrival and sudden new dominance in the culture of the agency reminds the depressive writer that, despite the desperate flourishing of a counter-culture, the "Machine" is winning after all, with the revolutionary year of 1968 having ended with Richard Nixon in the White House and the Vietnam War continuing unabated.


"They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" the 1966 hit by Napoleon XIV. Is it curtains for Michael Ginsberg?

Looking for a release from the pressure the infernal machine is causing to build up inside him, Ginsberg looks to the erotic and his only very recently manifested attraction for Peggy Olson, which took the form of one of the more incompetent office come-ons in history. Like a sort of post-modern Van Gogh, he goes for the workaholic executive, and ends up presenting her with an offering in a small jewelry box. It's not his ear, it's his, ah, nipple, which he sees as a pressure valve. Good thing he didn't give her anything he's really using, like, say, another pressure valve.

Peggy, not empathically looking for the bright side of a dark situation, unimpressed by this surprising offering of his surprise romantic devotion, has the poor fellow unceremoniously collected by the men in white coats. One only wonders how close we came to hearing a rendition of "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!"

Things are considerably brighter for that other advertising talent about whom a few people occasionally worry.

Don Draper has clearly followed Freddie Rumsen's advice. He's not just showing up, he's doing the work, becoming a valuable contributor already on a couple of accounts even within the ridiculous confines imposed by purported agency creative director Lou Avery.

Meanwhile, Avery is clearly despised by his subordinates, who openly scorn his efforts to create a comic strip. That is really not good for Mr. Avery. It's one thing for subordinates to resent their superior for his or her power. It's quite another for him to be widely disdained as a jagoff.

Don is also putting some work in on his marriage, getting good supportive conversations going on the phone with his Left Coast young actress of a wife, and putting in an in-person appearance for a weekend.

Don's not especially into Megan's scene, though, and is put off his feed by the disappearance of his pseudo-niece -- really the niece of the woman who was technically his first wife, Anna Draper, after he assumed her late husband's identity in the Korean War -- after she called him in distress. Stephanie, her bright days of promise at UC Berkeley over, is drifting. And pregnant. Don wants to help. But Megan, after learning that Stephanie, lovely underneath the dirt and dishevelment -- do we think that Matt Weiner really doesn't think much of the hippie movement, as he disdained the beat movement before it? -- sends the younger woman away with a big check of Don's money after she learns that Stephanie knows Don's secrets, too. Then she lies to her husband about it, saying she tried to get her to stay!

So Don is primed to go off with Harry Crane, an personality on the rise at Sterling Coo, after the media manager and Monolith-promoter shows up at Megan's party.

Harry thinks it's great that Don is back at Sterling Coo, but bad that he isn't the big macher he used to be. (Is a scenario in which the rising LA branch of Sterling Coo -- Harry, Pete Campbell, and Ted Chaogh -- insist that Don be placed back in charge coming into focus? Or a scenario in which Don spins off with the aforementioned?)

Without prompting, he pledges to do his part to make Don's comeback at the agency flourish. Harry is something of a dick, but he knows that talent impresses the emerging powers in California more than old social strictures.

He also tells Don that Avery and Jim Cutler in the New York crew are going to try to make a move to land Philip Morris. Since Don penned a famous New York Times letter eschewing work for the tobacco industry after the agency lost its longtime cigarette mainstay, this could be a big problem for Don.

Or, actually, not.

Don decides to play a hand in the latter vein once back in the Big Apple, contriving to come across the preliminary business dinner between the two firms. Off the seeming top of his head, he lays out a scenario for the death stick makers in which their power is such that they compel him to publicly humble himself to work for their betterment. They're intrigued.

Or, certainly more intrigued than they must have been with the mediocre maunderings of Lou Avery. As if Philip Morris is going to engage an agency whose creative work has slid so badly as to garner only a single Clio nomination.

Just reading through this, I realize that Megan's move after Don had his talk with Harry to get her husband's attention with a menage a trois -- after doing a bit of a fan dance with an actor pal failed to get a rise -- had momentarily slipped my mind. I suspect it's slipped Don's mind, too. Don't try too hard, Megan!

No developments on the Roger Sterling or Joan Holloway or Pete Campbell or Bert Cooper fronts.

With Betty Draper Francis and young Sally Draper, we see once again that there is trouble in paradise, i.e., the household of promising moderate Republican politician Henry Francis. Not content with being the seen but not heard political trophy wife, Betty opines that Vietnamization is not the way to go, inciting her husband's displeasure. Sally, who'd broken the cute little nose she inherited, as she pointedly puts it, from her mother while fooling around with half-arsed fencing, needles her mom. This yields an only partly tongue-in-cheek response that next time Sally can find herself dealing with a broken arm.

The historic arc of feminism really emerges more in the 1970s than in the 1960s, so what we are seeing with Betty's disenchantment with what her feminine mystique has yielded her will, if it keeps emerging, probably reach its full flowering after the conclusion of Mad Men.

Just two episodes to go this year in part one of Mad Men's final season ...

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