Normally, we find an overarching theme. Though “The Runaways” felt like an inchoate assembly of vignettes. Perhaps Weiner is playing with structure, enabling viewers to feel the dislocated year 1969 in a novel way. Perhaps he just needed a hodgepodge episode, to advance the plot.
Betty and Megan’s stories parallel each other. Both women felt disconnected and disenfranchised within their respective marriages. Megan confronts Stephanie, Anna Draper’s niece, who returns this season pregnant and counter-culturefied. Don dithered about her last, urgent call about Anna’s death. This time he is prompt and responsive, promising to get out there on a plane that night. He entrusts her to Megan.
For Megan, Stephanie embodies her marital insecurity. Megan does not know all of Don’s (and Dick’s) secrets. They do not have a biological connection through a child. Not only can she not provide what Don wants, she does not know what that is. Megan dismisses Stephanie with “no strings” and $1,000 from Don’s checkbook.
Then there’s the threesome, with some rather explicit crotch grabbing by TV standard. Megan tries to reach Don on a different onion layer, by feeling what he feels screwing other women. But it’s not necessarily about that for him. What’s supposed to draw the two of them deeper does nothing. The morning after, Don is more concerned for Stephanie and for saving himself at work. His body goes through the motions. His mind is everywhere but their marriage.
Betty makes a political wife gaffe during a progressive dinner with neighbors. She laments protesters at home sapping morale from the war effort. That was Henry’s old party line. Nixon now wants to extricate the U.S. from Vietnam, and Henry supports the President. Henry instructs her to “leave the thinking to me.” Sally also jabs at her intelligence and utility: “where would Mom be without her perfect nose.” By the end of the episode, she’s “thinking for herself” by refusing to leave the kitchen and exclaiming “I’m not stupid. I speak Italian.”
Don runs into Harry Crane, who shows up at Megan’s party. She, not surprisingly, wants him out (see above). Over drinks, Harry reveals Jim Cutler and Lou Avery are lining up a major cigarette account. Given Don’s public letter-writing past, it would be an account that would force him out of the agency. Don surprises them at a meeting and flips the table on them, asserting that he would be the perfect asset to hawk cigarettes. He is the almighty pitch man, and he has only one principle: self-preservation.
Ginsberg…has been driven mad by the computer. He has always been prey to his impulses, the neurotic child born amidst the apex of human depravity in a Nazi Concentration Camp. While others erect filter upon filter between themselves and society, Ginsberg has none. He plugs his ears with tissues to block out the humming to no avail. In another reference to 2001 Space Odyssey, he tries to read the lips of Cutler and Avery conspiring in the computer room, concluding the computer is turning them into “homos.” He arrives at Peggy’s apartment and tries to have sex with her. Monday, at work, he presents her a jewelry box, containing his nipple, the antenna. “Get out while you can.”
His demise was jarring – it’s hard for a nipple in a box not to be – but it seemed weird for what had been a bit character to undergo that thorough of a meltdown that fast. There may be foreshadowing in hindsight. Though, it’s hard to track that with a character barely (or far too) tethered to reality as a baseline.
We also discover Lou Avery’s secret creative outlet, a series of chaste, outdated “Scout’s Honor” cartoons. This becomes a running joke to the younger writers. Avery hears it all, “from your first fart to your last dying breath,” and goes on a screed about ridiculous dreams and “flag burning snots.” To be hip, Avery references a Bob Dylan song, released a world away in 1963.
It’s now the era of Nixon and “lawn awduh.” There’s a cultural rift still prevalent today, between people who want to move forward and retreat. But this felt like too literal of a reflection on it. For illicit creativity, we preferred Kenny Cosgrove’s illicit sci-fi writing career.