Hello everyone! Miss Rim here, welcome back to The Carousel: An Increasingly Sporadic Revisitation of Mad Men!
I’d love to tell you all that the irregularity of these reviews of late is because we lost the Secor Laxative account, or that we were doing some sort of purposeful thing to reflect the nature of Don Draper’s alcoholism or the chaos of the late 1960s. But I’m not here to tell you about Jesus.
***Programming Note*** We’ll be writing about the last 2 eps of the series sometime after this and, in case you need reminding, are planning a Mad Men Day on July 19th, so catch up with the series, think about bringing up similar themes in other discussions when / if appropriate next week, and do change your username or avatar if you want.
Today we’ll both tackle “The Runaways” and “Waterloo”, our highest-upvoted episodes from Season 7 (minus the last two episodes of the show, that is).
S7, Ep 5 “The Runaways”
By Miss Rim
“Scout can take anything but an order!”
Mad Men is so often so subtle that when they make an obvious comparison, it seems awkward and clunky to me. Yes, I’m looking at you, “Scout’s Honor!” Don has been conditionally and reluctantly let back to work at SC&P and finds that he not only has to take direction from Evilly Avuncular Lou Avery, but also Peggy. It’s hard for him to handle taking orders from them, you see!
And the new computer has been installed, and there are some even more obvious comparisons to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A movie that came out around the time and featured a computer that couldn’t take orders!
Metaphors and similes abound!
Evilly Avuncular Lou Avery seems like he deserves every ounce of ridicule he has coming to him, and gets vindictive about the staff finding his comic at the worst time – Don has to catch a flight to LA, his marriage is dangling by a thread, and then a desperate, pregnant Stephanie calls him for help. Don directs Stephanie to Megan, who is initially cordial and welcoming.
This is an interesting Megan episode, I think. It’s obvious to the viewer that Don’s connection with Stephanie is platonic now, and both literally and figuratively avuncular. But Megan is feeling so insecure about her relationship with Don that the moment Stephanie reminds her that she and Don share a connection (namely, Anna), Megan becomes possessive and jealous and gives Stephanie a big check to go away.
And the way I’ve always interpreted the painfully uncomfortable “threesome” that happens later that weekend is Megan making a last-ditch effort to not exactly control Don, but certainly steer him toward her, or just remind him that she’s his wife. She really does love him, poor Megan. And she has no idea about his job situation.
And speaking of “Runaways,” Betty (looking more and more like Pat Nixon every day) and Henry host a cocktail hour and Betty commits the unpardonable sin of “running at the mouth” – having an opinion about Vietnam that isn’t the same as her politician husband, and SAYS IT ALOUD to other people at a party. Then Sally breaks her nose, and Betty seems angry, but we understand she’s more afraid for her. “That is your FACE!”
Betty, who is a graduate of Bryn Mawr and speaks fluent Italian, in my opinion is terrified, because she’s come to realize that her daughter is actually smart. She also knows that her daughter will never get heard in the world if she’s not also pretty. I think in Betty’s mind, she’s worried Henry doesn’t have to consider her opinion because she’s not as pretty and irresistible and high-value as she used to be. (I don’t think Betty would imagine that her opinion could possibly be wrong.)
The sensory overload of the computer humming, and the idea of it, makes Ginsberg’s paranoia – no longer subtly a symptom of serious mental illness, now quite obvious – worse. He becomes convinced the computer is making him “a homo.” He makes an awkward pass at Peggy after using her home typewriter at night, and after she rebuffs him, decides that the best course of action is to cut off his nipple to “release a valve” for all the tension and badness inside him. That’s how you end up on a very short ride to Bellevue.
Don finds that Evil Avuncular Lou Avery and Slenderman Jim Cutler are trying to get a cigarette account, and manages to pull off one of the last shenanigans by interrupting their meeting. It’s classic, but desperate! And it’ll have consequences a few weeks later, when Cutler almost is able to use it as a pretext to get him fired. Speaking of which, onto that episode!
S7, E7: “Waterloo
The 7A finale is an episode all about the battle between the mundane and the fantastical – or, if we really wanna get pretentious, between the mundane and the lunar (“mundane” coming from the Latin word for Earth and all).
The contact of human feet on the Moon, and the $25 billion it took to get there. The thrill of flight, and the temptation to crash your plane into Claremont down below.
Don and Ted can never see anything but mundanity in the non-Creative aspects of working in advertising, try though they might. Sally looks at the sky and embraces a brief moment of wonder, after playing the cynic all episode long. Peggy pitches a chain fvcking burger restaurant as a mythical Shangri-La where you can escape the mundanity of home.
And a show known for slow character work goes into full-on musical theater, the most fantastical mode that can be put on film.
When Ted tells Cutler he wants to do something other than advertising, and Cutler says “I don’t think that’s possible”, there’s a literal meaning, but isn’t he really hinting at what everyone in the agency feels? Don Draper has been, in some ways, trying and failing to escape the lure for years.
Amid all Cutler’s talk of becoming the agency of the future, of computers and media, is the idea that tobacco is an inevitable part of that future. And yet, Neil says to Sally “Smoking causes cancer”. Not with any sentiment, any passion or disapproval of her in his voice, just pointing out a simple fact they both agree on. As casually as he might have said “Jupiter is the fifth planet”. The future is already moving on without men like Cutler and Don.
Sally, a child of… well… the parents she’s a child of, has been a cynic for years now. When Sean the Sexy Older Boy points out it cost $25 billion to go to the moon that will never be spent on problems down on Earth, she immediately falls in with this argument and decides she too is unimpressed.
But Neil, his dorky younger brother, would rather look at the sky – not the TV footage – and do his normal observations of the stars like it’s any other night. That simple, routine wonder is enough to make Sally decide she’s tired of being a cynic; in truth, it doesn’t always naturally suit her. And she picks Neil.
Don, too, is tired of being a cynic, and of being among them. “I just want to do my work; I don’t want any more business” is, without context, a nonsensical line for an executive to say. In context, it’s the perfect thing to say for a man who is tired of buyouts and deals and votes and everything earthly, and is ready to step back into the lunar realm of Creative.
And meanwhile, Peggy is stepping more fully into the future – letting go of the little boy who reminds her of her past. Staring right into the camera as she watches the moon landing, almost watching us, the future-people at home.
And she’s sliding into a spot as Don’s equal, in more concrete ways than usual. Namely, Don uses the exact same introduction for Peggy that Peggy wrote intending to introduce him (the only part he doesn’t plagiarize is her rattling off his titles). There have been many indicators of Don and Peggy reaching a partnership of equals over the years, but this interchangeable speech they use to describe each other is one of my favorites.
And the future is here in more mundane ways than astronauts. Bert Cooper is dead, and the looming modern monolith of McCann is finally unavoidable. “Let’s have another cup of coffee. Let’s have another piece of pie.”
– I cannot find a gif anywhere online of Peggy’s pleased little doofy grimace after Nick the Handyman leaves and she realizes he gave her his number. Which is too bad because it’s incredible.
– Betty referring to Don as “someone a teenage anthropologist WOULD marry” is said matter-of-fact, but it still packs a punch. (Plus I just always like when Betty defines herself by her anthropology major.)
– The little smirk Betty gives Sally when she gets real obvious about her crush on Sean is… kind of adorable?
– I interpret Roger refusing to take off his shoes in Bert’s office (“I don’t feel like it!”) as a sign that Bert’s time is over. Is that reading too much into things? Probably.
– “I have to talk to people who just TOUCHED THE FACE OF GOD about HAMBURGERS!”
– “He hasn’t signed. He missed the boat. (To Harry) It’s none of your beeswax.”
– I haven’t been looking at the AV Club comments for these episodes since maybe Season 1, but I decided to look at “Waterloo” comments and BOY AM I GLAD. This joke at the expense of poor, not-too-bright Meredith made me choke on my coffee: