The menage-a-trois has a long and storied history.
I’m assuming that’s the case, anyway, because few historians have bothered to write down when and where people first started doing R-rated things to each other in threes rather than twos. There are surprisingly few cave paintings on the matter. But we do know that by the fifth century, the idea of three people romantically entangled was not entirely unheard of, to the point where three-way situations were a small but recognizable part of pop culture (on the ancient Greek equivalent of the E! network).
And by the 1700s, three-way sex was all the rage with upper crust Europeans in powdered wigs (wig powder, naturally, is a potent aphrodisiac). Famed Italian loverboy Giacomo Casanova first lost his virginity in such an arrangement. Various dukes (William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire) and Counts (Adolf Frederik Munck) are also famous for committing this salacious act. And 19th century art, be it European, Asian or Arabic, is also riddled with the same thing (film would barely catch up with the menage-a-trois until the ’90s, with the 1994 Steven Baldwin classic, Threesome).
This was something done behind closed doors, by a privileged few who only occasionally had their three-way sex committed to timeless and very public pieces of artwork. It wasn’t until the sexual revolution of the 1960s that the common man (someone like you or I) would think of such a thing. And I guess Don Draper can be lumped in with you or I, because it wasn’t until mid-1969 that he finally did the deed. And it wasn’t even his idea.
That’s right folks, it’s time for Mad Men‘s annual “wacky” episode! Last year, the entire firm shot themselves up with some undisclosed form of speed and sprinted around the office like lunatics. The year before that, Roger dropped acid and heard Russian orchestral music blaring from a bottle of Stoli. And though no one’s on anything stronger than a little grass, “The Runaways” has plenty of crazy, with the aforementioned threeway, plus Ginsberg’s thoughtful gift of a hacked-off piece of his own flesh.
I believe Ginsberg wins this particular crazy-off, so let’s begin there. Ben Feldman (the fella behind the mustache) hasn’t been given a lot to do this season. A handful of quick “make a joke and get the hell off the screen” appearances in the first few episodes, and a few solid minutes of computer-driven paranoia in last week’s “The Monolith,” when a new computer meant we have to move this couch right now.
Seeing Ginsberg go from “slightly upset” to “knife to the nipples” in a few short minutes of screen time is a bit much, especially when Mad Men has had no problems shoving him full-on into the spotlight. Remember his feud with Don over the Sno-Ball campaign? His awkward blind date and overbearing dad? Well, we’ve got no time for that leisurely build up in “The Runaways” — the episode never even tells us where he found such a nipple-appropriate gift box.
But Feldman sells it 100%, which is about all we can ask for. Ginsberg’s collapse into Norman Bates-level crazy isn’t just sad. It’s hilarious. Peggy waking up to a faceful of Ginsberg is a scream. His chipper demeanor as Peggy fights through nausea to alert the authorities is oddly endearing (and, again, super funny). As is his assertion that the titanic new SC&P supercomputer isn’t just controlling people’s thoughts, it also makes men submit to each other sexually. (It was a great week for Mad Men and terribly offensive words that weren’t always taboo; not only does Ginsberg repeatedly assert that he’s not a “homo,” but Lou Avery’s cherished cartoon ape is a “saucy little retard.”)
Was Ginsberg gay? Perhaps, considering the majority of his delusions were about dudes kissing other dudes (also during that awkward blind date episode, he admits to never having slept with a woman, which might have been a clue).
Is Ginsberg gone for good? Pretty much. If spilling your life story during the wrong pitch meeting is a near-fireable offense, handing in your right nipple to the copy chief has got to be a full-fireable one. So long, Ginsberg. You were weird and wonderful and your end was more abrupt than you deserved. But it certainly was memorable. Also, a fun reminder that even cool young folks can be caught off-guard by the wave of the future.
Question: how exactly did Ginsberg get to keep the nipple? He alludes to a professional sewing up his chest, but wouldn’t a professional chest-sewer ask “where is the nipple?” and “how did this happen?” An honest answer to either would lead to a relinquishing of the nipple or Ginsberg being carted off posthaste, respectively.
Papillary digression aside, youth is having a hard time all over. Over at the Francis household, things are just as dire, as young Sally and Bobby find themselves caught in the crossfire of a horrible, poisonous marriage that provides no joy to anyone. A few of the horrible highlights from this week:
- “Keep your conversation to how you hate getting toast crumbs in the butter, and leave the thinking to me.” -Henry
- “I’m going to break your arm next.” -Betty
- Icy glare of hate-death. -Betty
Not much new to report here. Betty and Henry continue to grate on each other, and the kids continue to suffer under the ticking emotional time-bombs that are their mom and step-dad. But we do get a mini-hint that at something new — Betty Francis, née Hofstadt, formerly Draper: working woman. Remember back in “Field Trip,” when all of Betty’s “friends” were joining the work force and she was left out? And tonight, during one of her and Henry’s numerous arguments, she mentions she doesn’t “know what she’s going to do” after Henry goes for the pre-school debate strategy of “why don’t you run for office?!”
It might be a stretch… or it might be a minor clue that we’ll eventually see Betty acting cold and hostile towards her co-workers and not just her family.
Here’s something I’ve been wondering for a while: is Megan slowly becoming a younger Betty? Some of her habits don’t seem particularly Betty-esque (weed, friends, parties, three-way sex), but when we first met her, she was one of the warmest characters on the show. That’s why Don married her, he saw just how motherly she was with his kids. But I can’t help but think the last three seasons of the show are a step-by-step guide on How to Neglect Your Wife into Becoming a Spiteful Mess.
We can judge from Megan’s reaction to Don’s visit that he’s not really coming out to California on a regular basis (even if Peggy assumes he still travels there every weekend). And the one time they get to see each other, Don has absolutely no interest in her. He’s focused entirely on another woman. A niece (not really), sure, but still someone who’s not Megan. That has to sting. And as soon as he realizes Stephanie left before he got there, he’s practically out the door.
So it really doesn’t take much — in this case, an utterance of “I know all his secrets,” that reveals Stephanie knows more about her convict rocker baby daddy than Megan does Don — for Megan to go into full revenge-mode. She tries to undermine Stephanie’s confidence in said baby daddy, then scoots her out the door with a check before Don can get any time with her. Note that Megan also hangs up on Don before Stephanie can get a chance to speak with him; another moment of her purposefully coming between her husband and someone who would bring him happiness.
Megan’s frustration might even be the cause of “The Runaways’” runner-up in the annual weird-off: the wacky tobacky threesome. Which is disarmingly weird (yet it remains runner up, because all participants kept their nipples fully attached to their bodies) because it’s not really played up as something sexy. Sure, there’s cool jazz and plenty of smooching, but Jon Hamm isn’t giving off an “I am extremely into this” vibe, so much as he is a “well, I’m already in bed, so I guess I should…” vibe (a good week, overall, in mining funny facial expressions from situations that really shouldn’t be funny). And in the morning, Don can’t even be asked to participate in the customary post-menage awkwardness. He just wants to get home and crush Lou Avery under his bootheel. Once he makes that clear, Megan lights up a cigarette and performs the patented Betty Draper Hate-Smokes a Cigarette pose. You know, she just might have a “née Calvert, formerly Draper” in her future.
It’s all bad news for Megan, but Don ditching her is integral for all us watching at home. How else will our erstwhile anti-hero find out about his impending doom? Also, is the whole “use Phillip Morris to get Don fired” plan sanctioned by all the partners? Harry Crane knows, which points to yes, but then Lou and Cutler meet for secret conspiracy trysts in the computer room, which points to no.
Anyway, it’s a surprisingly decent favor from Harry that lets Don ride into the big Phillip Morris meeting and save his own ass in the coolest, most confident way possible. Is he serving himself up on a silver platter to the cigarette giant? Absolutely. But it’s better for Don to let his own badly-tarnished image take a hit then to lose the game to the two biggest jackasses in all of SC&P.
That jackassery is absolutely worth a mention. Because how often does Mad Men get a villain? A real-life, honest to goodness “bad guy?” Duck Phillips, maybe. But even Duck would occasionally be nice to someone. Lou Avery has zero good traits. We have never, ever, in the entirety of his stint on Mad Men, seen Lou say or do something that was not absolute bastard-tier awful.
And worse, he’s begun thinking of himself as the firm Dad. He taunts that he’ll “tuck [Don] in tonight,” as Mad Men‘s audience tries and fails to stop itself from shuddering. Lou also employs the tried and true Dad technique of “one person screwed up but you will all be punished,” when Stan and Mathis (otherwise known as “that guy from creative I don’t know the name of”) mock Lou’s dream of becoming the next great cartoonist. And before you say Lou’s love of cartoons is something that’s not outright horrible, remember that he doesn’t actually care about the cartoons. He’s lusting after the huge-ass royalty checks Chet Stover was pulling in from his canine creation.
Cutler sneering “you think this is going to save you, don’t you” is the TV equivalent of a giant neon sign that reads “THE BAD GUYS” with a flashing red arrow pointing at Lou and Cutler’s faces. And I know I say this every week, but this is absolutely the best thing Mad Men can do for itself in its final season. A series as great as this one (also, a series whose stories tend to meander as much as this one) deserves a great big punch at the finish, and that’s exactly what Matthew Weiner and his cabal of writers and directors have laid out for us.
I want to see Lou and Cutler crash and burn. I want Don continuously ushering them into a cab with confidence and then whistling for another cab while wearing a stylish hat. That might not be what’s in store (the mid-season finale is titled “Waterloo,” after all, and it’s entirely possible Don is our Napoleon). But it’ll keep fingernails gnawed to a nub in anticipation of the few Mad Mens we have left.