Forgive me for sounding ancient, but maybe this season of Mad Men is a carousel of sorts? I’m not sure, really, but I feel like we keep circling around issue after issue, coming back to characters and dramas that feel sort of familiar, repetitive, where the goal posts have been moved just one inch. Which is to say, I had been convinced that after the sex and breakup of “Field Trip,” that Don and Megan were done, finito, never to talk again. But they do, and there’s a reason: Don’s “niece,” Stephanie Draper calls.Perhaps that Stephanie Draper-esque woman who made herself available to Don last week was a bit of an omen, let’s say. We haven’t heard from Stephanie since her last episode, Season 4’s “Tomorrowland,” where Don and Megan’s full-on relationship began in earnest, at Disneyland. Now Stephanie is a hippie, resplendent in dirty paisley, and she’s seven months pregnant, standing in a phone booth in front of the Capital Records building. She’s in LA, so Don sends her to a safe place: Megan Draper’s home. Stephanie says, “Thank you, Dick,” and gets off the phone.
Over in New York, land of offices, the creative team is full of mirth as Stan has found Lou’s secret project of the heart, a goofy comic about a lovable dog called “Scout’s Honor,” with the tagline: “This is Scout. He can take anything. But an order!” It makes the authority figure, Lou, seem vulnerable, with his creative dreams. Ginsberg isn’t in on the scout action, since he’s too busy obsessing over the computer, a lonely room with hilariously different lighting, all baby blues and pastels, with an impeccably dressed girl in the center, typing.
Stephanie heads to Megan’s house. Megan’s new friend, a redhead named “Amy from Delaware” who’s like a dime store version of Joan, has finally left. Megan is a little bit weird around Stephanie, telling her that she’s beautiful, fawning over her. Stephanie replies, “I know, I’m a Madonna.”
At the creative meeting, it comes out that everyone knows about Lou’s comic. The cardigan-clad Lou freaks. He says he did it because his old coworker created Underdog and make a ton of money. He says, “You know who had a ridiculous dream, and people laughed at him?” (“You?” Stan replies, smugly as per usual.) “Bob Dylan,” Lou finishes. Then he calls everyone “a bunch of flag-burning snots,” who don’t even “get” his art.
Betty and Henry go to a party at the neighbors’. Betty’s on Lou’s team, pro-war, where Henry takes a right turn into agreeing with Nixon, to Betty’s embarrassment.
Also embarrassed? Lou. He’s having a snitfit and keeping creative there “all night” so that he can get work done but also to show his authority over the crowd. Don can’t get to California tonight like he planned, so Megan and Stephanie are alone.
Megan tells Stephanie that she’s beautiful, again. She asks about the father. He was a musician. “They’re the worst!” Megan agrees. When Stephanie says that she knows all of Don’s secrets, Megan freaks out. She gets the girl out of the house by writing her a check for $1000 (around $6500 nowadays), and Stephanie decides to take off, noting that she did not have sex with Don as she leaves.
Back in Rye, Henry is yelling at Betty. “You shouldn’t be talking about these things. Leave the thinking to me!” It rankles. Henry thinks that he needs a politician’s wife to not rock the boat with anything like an opinion, least of all the wrong one.
Eventually, Lou leaves for the night and Don escapes to California. He meets redheaded Amy, and Megan says that Stephanie left. She’s an adult. Amy asks, “Anything for you, Don?” and Megan shuts that down with an, “I know what he likes.”
Ginsberg is working late at the office. He’s got a hand-drawn 2001 baby picture hanging up behind his head. The sound of the computer is menacing him. He sneaks out to look at it and he sees Lou and Jim in pastels, conspiring.
Sally had to get picked up from Miss Porter’s, as she has two black eyes and a broken nose from “swordfighting with golf clubs.” It was the perfect nose, Betty notes, and Sally is acidic and sassy in her replies, wearing some sort of plaid cloak drug rug-looking thing.
Ginsberg goes to Peggy’s, looking for some relief from the computer’s infernal hum. He just needs a place to work. He’s convinced that the computer is making men into “homos,” to use his terminology. He is paranoid and delusional.
There’s a swingin’ LA party going on. Megan’s wearing something that looks like purple Pucci. Redheaded Amy offers Don some pot. He looks square in his black polo and (quieter) plaid jacket. Megan, always wanting attention, does a long dance with some be-scarfed creep. But when Harry from NYC shows up with a little filly on his arm, Don uses that an excuse to leave this joint to get a drink with Sterling Cooper & Partners’ most annoying member.
Bobby crawls into bed with Sally. He has a stomachache all the time. He thinks Betty and Henry may get divorced since they yell a lot. He wants to leave the house like Sally. “They’ll never let you go, you’re too little,” she replies.
Ginsberg is still raging against the machine. The computers plan to turn us all homo, we have to reproduce. He kisses Peggy and mounts her: “if there’s a way to do it without having sex with you, I’d do it.” She pushes him away and he tells her that she doesn’t have to report this violation. Just one of many with Ginsberg.
Harry and Don at the bar, talking office politics while in LA. Harry feels a kinship with Don. Guys like us, we have to look out for each other. Harry wants to make sure that Don is still important. He suggests moving to LA (Ted is a broken man, after all), and he also talks about Lou and Jim’s cigarette company courting. When they get it, Don can go, he says. (Be it a firing or an LA story, I’m not sure.) When Don gets back to the house, he has a threesome with Megan and the redhead. He looks so confused for what is, ostensibly, a fun, sexy time.
He wakes up confused. Megan is trying to hard, is so possessive, is maybe cheating. Who knows? Stephanie calls from the road. She’s in San Francisco now. She tells Don that “I kind of promised Anna I’d let you live your life.” Megan passively aggressively cleans. Don has to go back to New York, where there are no threesomes with sexy redheads. What will it take for Don to pay any attention to her?
Sally doesn’t need a nose job. Betty and Henry fight about the party again. Betty says she’s smart, she knows Italian. Henry remains belittling.
In SC&P, Ginsberg comes into Peggy’s office, apologizing for the other night. “I have feelings for you,” he says. “I removed the pressure.” He gives her a gift. It looks like an ear, a seashell, bloody. It’s hard not to think about David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, where the ear was the beginning of learning that the world is a very strange (dark) place. It turns out that Ginsberg’s gift is his nipple, which he had cut off his body. The inevitable has happened; he has had a psychotic break. Peggy calls the authorities.
Don barges into a cigarette meeting at the Algonquin. He crushes it. Tells the guys that he’s willing to do anything as long as they go with SC&P, even though he, Don Draper, has been trouble in the past.
Ginsberg is on a gurney, being taken to the hospital. “Get out while you can!” he yells. Peggy looks at the computer, crying, her eyes rimmed pink.
Outside of the Algonquin, Don gets a taxi for Jim and Lou. He waits for his own taxi. We all wait for Don to make a choice, to take a taxi. It’s probably heading to California in some form or fashion. With two episodes left in this very short half-season, I wonder which one will feature a character making a decision. What I know for sure, however? Somebody will walk through a door.