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TV Review: ‘Mad Men’ – ‘The Runaways’ – Plots, Projections, and Prophecies

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In last Sunday’s Mad Men episode, we see characters plotting, and characters plotted against. It’s heartening to consider creative outsider Harry aligning himself with creative Don to plot a “solution” that will outmaneuver the stuffed shirts at SC&P who’ve been keeping them both down. It’s hilarious to watch Stan and his creative coworkers plot with Shirley to ensure that Lou won’t find out they’ve seen his pathetic “Scout’s Honor” comic strip drawings, and then have their plot blow up in their faces due to their own foolishness. It’s gripping to see the children plot ways to escape their parents. But true to its high caliber, Mad Men also takes us beyond these sit-com and evening drama scenarios by featuring the plots and projections of those whose grasp of reality is, at the moment, weak to none: Michael Ginsberg and Megan Draper.

The tragic saga of Michael Ginsberg unfolds amidst visual humor, ridiculous monologs, and moments of sharp-witted dialog. We immediately know he’s nuts when we see him agitated and yelling at a woman sitting by the noisy computer at the office who likely cannot hear him behind the glass wall: “I’m not interested in her! She belongs to ‘it.’ It came for us one by one.” Knowing that he was conceived in a Nazi war camp where his parents were murdered, and then he was put up for adoption, only to be finally retrieved as an adult by his ‘pop’ – we guess that he’s reliving the story of his parents that he never lived in the first place, but that haunts his imagination.

Alone at the office on Saturday, Michael stuffs tissues in his ears so they hang out several inches on each side in order to block the droning sound of the computer. Walking into the hallway, he spots Jim Cutler and Lou Avery talking to each other at a distance. Frightened, he ducks behind a desk to observe them, looking much like an overgrown member of the Scooby Doo gang. That night, he visits Peggy at home where he reports to her what he saw at the office, and they indulge in a few comical Tracy-Hepburn–type exchanges before he tells Peggy, in all seriousness, that he thinks the computer is turning everybody into homos. Peggy laughs but also worries because she can see that he’s not kidding. Next she allows Michael to work at her place using her typewriter instead of returning to the office. In doing so, she inspires feelings of appreciation and gratitude in him that he wants to express.

Peggy tells him those feelings, while understandable, are not feelings she has for him. He then Mad Men - The Runaways - Peggy and Michaelannounces that they must procreate – and if he could do it without having sex, he would! When he starts kissing her, Peggy yells, “Stop! It’s time to go!” Who among us would have guessed that his next move would be to cut off one of his nipples and present it to her in a small gift box at work on Monday to show his gratitude?

Michael projects his imaginings about his ancestral past into his present life, confusing ‘then’ with ‘now’ and viewing the computer as a symbolic reiteration of the Nazi ‘machine’ that was created to destroy people. Ultimately, his fears become self-fulfilling prophecy when the doctors wheel him away on a gurney, with Peggy standing by, sobbing.

By contrast to Michael, Megan is a well-functioning adult who has a much firmer grip on reality. Yet over the course of the episode, we notice how much of what she believes about Don is similarly a figment of her imagination.

Her basic desire seems to be to have Don head-over-heels in love with her all the time, having wild sex every time they’re together and always being the center of his universe. Thus, her predominant feeling is jealousy of everyone and everything in his life that isn’t her – whether that’s Stephanie, Sally, Harry Crane, or his office and the energy he puts into his career. She also makes it clear that she doesn’t want to have children, which makes sense when you consider that any child would require her to put someone else first, and would upstage her in Don’s eyes at least part of the time.

Moreover, Megan arranges a three-way with Don and her assistant, Amy, apparently to show Don that she’s not jealous of him kissing another woman. This encounter seems to interest him only slightly, and mostly makes him wonder what’s up with Megan.

Overall, Megan plots ways to make Don jealous as a means of getting his attention fixed back on herself. In developing this strategy, she seems to project her own emotional nature onto Don, imagining that because she’s jealous of the people and things in his life, he’ll be equally jealous of the people and things in her life – except in this episode, he’s not. While Megan dances seductively with another man at her acting class party, Don is uncomfortable but not jealous, more consumed with what’s going on in his career as well as concerned by what’s happening with young Stephanie.

When Don ignores Megan’s plot to make him feel things he just doesn’t feel, we see the self-fulfilling prophetic nature of her actions – she fears that she’s lost Don’s interest and wants to get it back by making him jealous, but Don loses his passion for her when not only is he preoccupied but he sees her acting strangely.

Ironically, in the final business meeting when Don handles the cigarette executives in his intriguing, creative way – a way that Jim and Lou know they cannot match – Don inspires jealousy in these men, not that he’s trying to do so. Rather, he’s being himself, digging deep within to draw upon his creative reserves that allow him to succeed and excel.

What’s next for Mad Men? Be sure to watch AMC this Sunday at 10 p.m. ET to find out!

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About Karen Field Bolek

Karen is the author of 'How to Apologize to Your Woman...so that she won't use it against you in the future.' Her book was named one of two finalists for the Relationships category of the 2012 Indie Excellence Awards. It has also been endorsed by Mars/Venus author John Gray. Karen holds a Master of Liberal Studies degree from Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois.