“The Runaways” is perhaps one of the more disjointed and weird episodes of Mad Men, but it still manages to move the characters along and capture some interesting and important moments at SC&P. The new IBM 360 computer continues to be a distracting and now maddening presence at the agency. Unusual alliances of twosomes and threesomes create new tensions and opportunities. Don continues to eat humble pie on his path to redemption, bolstered by the reappearance of his niece Stephanie, an invigorating threesome compliments of Meagan, and an unexpected alliance with Harry Crane. Lou continues on his path to destroy the creative department by being an even more obnoxious, self-centered clod. Peggy seems to be settling into her new relationship with Don and is forced to deal with Ginsberg’s homophobic mental breakdown and the disruption of her team. Meanwhile, on Don’s other home fronts, Megan is spicing it up for Don in ways that would normally be in Roger’s repertoire. Back East it looks like Mr. & Mrs. Francis are headed for a big rift which is sure to blow back to Don through Sally and Bobby. The rest of SC&P family took the week off.
Don’t Mess With Scout, Or Lou
During his time at SC&P Lou has done everything he can to drain the energy, creativity, and camaraderie out of the creative department. He is not a creative director who leads by example with provocative creative ideas or motivating and cheerleading the troops. Lou rules with a tight fist and goes out of his way to be a passionless figurehead, unwilling to dig in and create great work. So, when Stan finds a folder of Lou’s cartoon drawings labeled “Scout’s Honor” by the Xerox machine, he is both surprised and amused.
These are part of Lou’s pet project to create a hit cartoon series, “Scout’s Honor,” about a cute dog named Scout. Lou’s tag line for the series is “This is Scout. He Can Take Anything. But an order!” Stan shows them to Lou’s secretary, Shirley, who is annoyed and says Lou would “prefer you hadn’t seen this.” Stan lets the lingering effects of pot and his naturally mischievous nature lead him to some dumb behavior. Stan shows Lou’s cartoons to Don, Ed, and Mathis and the ridicule begins. As happens with creative teams, “Scout’s Honor” and Lou’s dream of fame and fortune becomes the butt of jokes and pun and they suggest replacing the Burger Chef mascot with Scout.
In the bathroom, Lou overhears Stan and Mathis joke about his cartoon and realizes that he is being mocked. Suddenly. Lou is vulnerable; he doesn’t like it and lashes out. Lou defends his dream with the story of how his colleagues at Dancer Fitzgerald & Sample created the cartoon “Underdog” leading to fame and fortune. He says, “You know who had a ridiculous dream, and people laughed at him?” Stan stupidly answers “You?” Lou shoots back, “Bob Dylan.” Thoroughly pissed off Lou calls them “flag burners” who don’t get art and gets even by asserting his authority. He tells them all, including Don, they will have to be there all night and work the weekend. Don tries to give Lou some advice to lighten up and let the teams go home. Lou flatly rejects the idea and scoffs; “I’m not taking management advice from Don Draper.” Then, later that night, Lou walks by Don’s office on his way out and sticks it to Don again and tells him that he decided he could see the work on Monday.
It was not uncommon for creative people and even creative directors to have side projects and labors of love. Sometimes they meshed with potential client opportunities and were often encouraged. At DKG I worked with Marshall Karp, a great copywriter and creative director who went on to have a very successful career as an author and in television. Perhaps the most successful of all creative directors turned author and film/television creator is James Patterson. Jim was the legendary, talented creative director at J. Walter Thompson who began writing while in advertising and has become one of the most successful, best selling authors of modern times. Jim was gracious to write the forward for two of my books. Back in the Mad Men days, Lou’s dreams and ambitions are also based on reality. W. Watts Biggers was an account director at DFS in the 1960s and he and Chet Stover, a copywriter, worked on the General Mills cereal business. They were developing ideas for a Saturday morning kid show that the client could sponsor. The show would be competing with the very successful “Rocky & Bullwinkle” which lead to the idea of the Underdog television series. Underdog is a shy, shoe shining dog that is transformed into a caped, flying superhero that always comes to the rescue of Sweet Polly Purebread. The show successfully premiered on NBC in 1964 and catapulted the creators to new careers in television production. This common practice then and it was truly the forerunners of what today is called “branded content.” At Benton & Bowles, I worked with another brilliant creative director, Joe Bacal, who did similar work on the Post Cereals account. Those were the good old days. So, dream on Lou.
Peggy Gets Shocked And Rocked
Peggy seems to be settling into her role as being the buffer between Don and Lou, largely facilitated by Don’s acquiescence to his new role as junior copywriter. In the elevator, Peggy tells Don she’s spoken to Lou about Don’s request to join the Handi-Wrap account and sheepishly thanks him. Even Peggy knows that this is a great misuse of Don’s talents and value, but she is making the best of it. She still is struggling with asserting authority with her teams and getting respect from Lou. Ginsberg has always been the quirky, high-strung gadfly that gives Peggy fits. The creative departments of agencies have always been home to flamboyant and high-strung personalities, but nothing could have prepared Peggy for what she was about to experience. The computer is Ginsberg’s new menace and while he and Peggy are standing in front of the computer room Ginsberg yells at the computer to stop humming. “That machine came for us,” he tells Peggy.
Then, while working on the weekend at SC&P, Ginsberg sees Lou and Cutler talking in the computer room. He goes to Peggy’s apartment to ask if he can work there and tells her about Lou and Cutler’s “secret meeting” and says the computer is turning them into “homos.” Later, Ginsberg kisses Peggy and says they will have to reproduce to counteract the “homos.” Peggy pushes him away and shouts, “It’s just a computer.” He is clearly paranoid and delusional and all of that erupts in the office on Monday. Ginsberg expresses his affection for Peggy, announces that he has “relieved the pressure” and presents her with his severed nipple, the “valve.” This rivals the tractor incident in episode six of season three as one of Mad Men’s most bizarre moments and, as often happens, Peggy bears the brunt of it. Peggy calls EMS and Ginsberg is wheeled out on a gurney in restraints as everyone watches and Peggy cries. Now, Peggy needs to regroup and get herself and the department back on track.
Don’s Two Threesomes
Don has taken Freddy’s advice seriously and it looks like he is comfortably riding the redemption train. Don’s toughening up and pulling his weight on both the home front and at SC&P. On the home front Don reconnects with his “other” family and is revitalized by his contact with Anna Draper’s niece, Stephanie. She’s in LA, pregnant, and running out of money. Don tells her to stay with Megan and he will be there that night. Megan agrees and offers to cancel her party plans but Don says they’ll stay out of the way. He adds, “I’d rather keep this a family matter.”
Megan takes in Stephanie but ultimately sees her as “competition” for Don’s familial affections and does all she can to stop that threesome in its tracks. Megan finds a way to have her leave before Don arrives, but later Don speaks to Stephanie and assures her that he will be there for her and the baby. Don’s expressions of real feelings for Stephanie play a role in Megan’s attempt to make Don’s life with her a bit more interesting. After the party and her “dirty dancing” encore, which Don hated, Megan arranges the threesome with Emily. After a brief period of disbelief, Don succumbs and suddenly there might be new hope for the marriage. At the very least, Don will have a juicy story to tell Roger.
Don Jumps Into The Lion’s Den
On the business front, Don is sucking it up, conscientiously handling his role as copywriter and not letting Lou’s put downs bother him. Much to everyone’s surprise (and Peggy’s relief) Don is actually taking it with a smile and turning out the work. Don seems determined to do whatever it takes to get back his partnership in both name and power. As much as Don hated Megan’s party, Harry’s unexpected appearance with his date changed the game for Don. Don and Harry leave the party and go to a bar to get reacquainted and catch up. After a few drinks Harry tells Don that he’s on his side that Don should be in LA because “Ted Chaough is useless.” Don brushes it off and then Harry lets Don know that he thinks Jim and Lou have devised a way to get Don out of the agency. They are wooing the Phillip Morris client and quietly pitching Commander cigarettes. Don asks if it’s serious and Harry tells Don, “ So far it’s been phone calls, but I turned in a media plan yesterday.” Harry adds, “They’re pretty sure they can land it and you’ll have to go.” Don thanks Harry and the classic Don Draper instincts kick in. Don decides to go back to New York immediately and make a preemptive strike.
Don decides to crash the client meeting and preempt his partners. He has anticipated the client’s questions and is prepared to deliver a vintage Don Draper pitch as to why he is the best solution SC&P has to offer. Don confidently enters the private dining room at the Algonquin hotel where Lou and Cutler are meeting with Phillip Morris, apologizes for the interruption, and is ready to face his hostile audience. The executives say they have a problem “working with the man who cut our throat in The New York Times.” Don says, he wrote that letter to save his business, and he has more tobacco experience than anyone in the room, even Lou. He bluntly states that he is the only person who sat with the opposition and knows their strategy. “They shared their strategy with me, and I know how to beat it.”
Don suggests that Philip Morris award SC&P the business and say they made him apologize and have “impressed” him into their service. A big ego play for both sides. Jim and Lou are stunned. After the meeting, Don hails a cab for his partners and Lou tells Don, “You’re incredible.” Don very coolly thanks him, and hails his own cab. The Algonquin is the perfect setting for this meeting. It was the scene of many high- powered agency meetings and it has an air of importance and presence. Seeing Don hailing a cab in front of the hotel brought back many great memories. The Algonquin is on West 44th Street and it was around the corner from DDB’s offices where I worked from 1969 to 1972. I spent many hours there surrounded by some great personalities.
As Jim enters the cab he tells Don that if he thinks this will save him that he’s mistaken. I’m betting that it just might.