Mad Men, Season 7, Part 1

Mad Men: Ginsberg Put His What in a Box?
Talking television.
May 12 2014 7:37 AM

Mad Men, Season 7, Part 1

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Ginsberg goes off the rails.   

140512_TVC_MadMenS7Ep5PeggyGinsberg
Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson and Ben Feldman as Michael Ginsberg.

Courtesy of AMC

Julia, Seth,

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.

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Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

A few seasons ago, Mad Men made an effort to fill out Ginsberg’s backstory, giving us an episode about his lonely life with his pop and his stilted, failed attempts to meet a nice girl. (The implication, and correct me if I am remembering wrong, was that he might be a virgin: I think his “We have to reproduce! If there was a way to do it without sex, I would do it” comment to Peggy in this episode supports this.) Since then, we have seen him mostly in the office setting, where he has fulfilled the role of the extremely high-strung member of the creative team. When he first appears in this episode, a little more disheveled than usual, muttering to the computer, “Stop humming, you’re not happy,” he sounds nutty, but also fully Ginsbergian. Neither we nor his colleagues bat an eye.

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By the time he arrives at Peggy’s house and unveils his the-machine-is-making-everyone-homos theory, he should be ringing serious alarm bells, but he’s still sane enough to know Peggy should be using her peephole before answering the door and that Stan’s shoulders have a nice cut. Besides, the episode itself has encouraged us to see something homosexual in the air. Though we know Lou and Cutler are not gay and are much more likely to be scheming about work than trysting in the computer room, there is nothing like focusing on people’s lips—even if it is another 2001 homage—to make you think they’re about to kiss. (Ginsberg is even onto something in his distorted way: Surely it is because of that never-ending hum that Lou and Jim are meeting in the computer room at all.)

But, as he himself said, Ginsberg is not Cassandra, and what he is seeing and feeling is not prophecy, just insanity. (It is possible that he has a brain tumor, right? He does refer to the pressure in his head.) When he wanders into Peggy’s office, and tells her he’s back to being himself, I wanted to believe him, even as I could hear the craziness about data and outlets. Still, I wasn’t expecting that nipple in a box: Mad Men doesn’t do blood very often, but when it does, it’s always a gut punch. (I don’t know that this is related, but A to Z, a sitcom NBC just picked up for next season, stars Ben Feldman, nipple presumably intact.)

As for Don’s threesome: Structurally, this was an episode built around twosomes, and some unusual ones at that—Sally and Bobby, Harry and Don, Stephanie and Megan, as well as the more usual Peggy and Ginsberg, Lou and Jim, Betty and Henry—but it was the trios that were flash: Don crashing Lou and Jim’s scheme, Julio showing up to watch TV with Peggy and Ginsberg, and of course, Amy joining Megan and Don in bed. Don’s look of bewilderment made me laugh. Totally, threesomes do just fall into Don Draper’s lap, the man so alluring ménages à trois are just visited upon him, even when he’s wearing a horrible blazer! But the psychological underpinnings of that sexual encounter are all kinds of twisted, Don being manipulated by Megan in ways he doesn’t see and that, sadly for Megan, may not be all that effective.

A few weeks ago, Megan was ready to end things with Don; now she’s surreptitiously doing anything she can, including Amy, to keep him. When Stephanie shows up at Megan’s house, dirty, broke, and pregnant, Megan can only see her beauty. She is convinced that if Don has not already slept with her, he wants to. (Stephanie may be Don’s “niece,” but she can’t be that far from Megan’s age.) She is further ruffled by Stephanie’s casual, intimate knowledge of Don’s—Dick’s—backstory. Behaving with seeming kindness, but really just territoriality, Megan pays Stephanie off as soon as possible just to get her out of the house. Megan’s dance with the tight-pantsed man and her tryst with Amy are a way to pull Don closer. (Though I have a question: Do you think Amy and Megan have fooled around before?) Megan does all this, even though Don continues to seem completely out of sync with her life, the old-fashioned guy who walks through the door like Fred Flintstone. And for all of Megan’s trouble, a sexual adventure still doesn’t keep Don around for Sunday.

It does, however, put a little spring in Don’s step as he gleefully sacrifices his integrity to Philip Morris for the chance to show up Lou and Jim and, maybe, save his job. But I will leave dissecting Don’s cagey bit of strategic selling out to you, as well as the goings on in the Francis household. Betty may have lousy views on Vietnam, but I must admit, I was feeling pretty sympathetic to her by the time she told Henry, “You’re sorry you forgot to inform me what I’m supposed to think!”

After all, she does speak Italian.

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