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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

May 12, 2014 at 8:29 AM

Mad Men Mondays: Alas, poor Ginsberg

(A sidenote: Due to a problem with the TV listings, I turned on “Mad Men” last night at the top of the hour only to see the episode’s last four minutes — which featured, of course, Peggy’s little “gift” from Ginsberg. Yikes. Fascinating to see, though, on the replay, how the hour got there. And fascinating that, now that I think of it, I’ve never typed the phrase “bloody severed nipple” before.)

“Mad Men” has a way, just when you’re thinking that you know where things are going, of pulling the rug out from under us in spectacular fashion. The most obvious example of this is, of course, the secretary-lawnmower-foot episode of Season 3, but now we’ve got a rival in poor Ginsberg, suddenly a true madman. That massive computer is, we learned last week, “a metaphor for what’s on people’s minds,” and what was going on in Ginsberg’s mind was pure delusion: the computer, he was convinced, was out to get them. (As, metaphorically, it is.) Though this twist seemed a little abrupt — did Ginsberg ever seem unstable before, or just amusingly quirky? — it was definitely powerful, and Elisabeth Moss beautifully played the scene in which Peggy suddenly realizes that her office pal is truly, dangerously ill. (Notice how gently she called him “Michael.”) Off he went, on a stretcher, presumably to some hellish psychiatric hospital; will we see him again? I’m guessing not until next year.

Elsewhere, an old friend returned (like Francine two weeks ago; I’m guessing Matthew Weiner’s got plenty of farewell appearances planned): Stephanie, niece of the late Anna Draper, with whom Don had a nonconsummated (I think) flirtation a few seasons back. Now she’s a broke, pregnant hippie needing help, and Don sends her promptly to Megan — who’s all kindness, until she learns that Stephanie knows Don’s secrets. Just like that, Megan’s writing a (very generous) check, sending Stephanie off, and lying to Don that she tried to get Stephanie to stay. Interesting; as we learned later in the episode, Megan doesn’t mind sharing Don sexually (shades of Roger, a few episodes ago), but apparently she does very much mind sharing him emotionally.Also interesting: Megan’s dance with a fellow actor at a party, reminding us of “Zou Bisou Bisou” and yet not like it at all — both she and Don seemed distant, disinterested. Both Megan and Don are underemployed right now (it’s not clear whether Megan’s working at all, but she certainly doesn’t seem to be taking L.A. by storm), and their marriage seems to have a strange half-life. It’s a very modern relationship, deliberately set alongside Betty and Henry’s very traditional one; neither seems to be going well. (Poor Bobby has a stomach ache “all the time.” And applause, yet again, for Kiernan Shipka, who in two minutes of screen time owned this episode.)

And finally, to the most interesting coupling of the episode: Don and Harry. Harry’s long been a punchline on the show (and, perhaps, a way for Weiner to convey a few thoughts about TV executives), and his arrival at Megan’s party was preceded with the usual oh-it’s-Harry groan. But off he and Don went, to a bar, where Harry proved himself to be if not a friend, then at least not an enemy. (I love how Rich Sommer plays this character as always one step behind everybody else, yet happily riding their wave.) Tobacco’s back on the table, and Don’s not sitting at it; we all remember Don’s famous Hail Mary open-letter-to-tobacco strategy a couple of seasons back. Yet he’s not about to leave this to would-be cartoonist Lou (ha!) and oily Jim, and I’m sure I’m not the only viewer who felt like cheering as Don smoothed down his (already perfect) hair and  marched into the meeting, turning on that Don Draper charm and offering a strategy that just might work — and would put him back into play as the consummate outsider.

Two more episodes to go in this half-season. I’m really not liking the decision to split the final season in two, as it’s just going to lead to more of a problem a lot of us have with this show: the seasons are already so far apart, it’s hard to remember the nuances of a year ago. For example, I’ve been a little puzzled (as have several regular “Mad Men” viewers I talk to) as to the vehemence of Joan’s attitude toward Don. It made sense to me that she would be angry with him — Joan is all cool professionalism, and Don’s behavior in the Hershey meeting was anything but professional — but not that she would shut him out to this extent. Luckily, somebody recently asked Christina Hendricks this very question:

It was surprising to some fans that Joan wasn’t on Don’s side at the partners’ meeting a few episodes ago.
Well, Joan is a business woman, and in the last season, Don Draper, very selfishly, took away Jaguar right after she did something she was deeply ashamed of in order to save her career and support her family. And on a whim, he just took it away from her. Millions of dollars. So if someone took millions of dollars away from me, I’d be really angry. I’m surprised people didn’t understand that.

Ah. I think more of us would have understood it if it hadn’t been a year ago. Then again, “Mad Men” doesn’t spoon-feed things to us, which is definitely welcome. I’ll be glad to see it back, whenever it comes.

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