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“Mad Men” Season 7, Episode 5 Recap: Brother, Can You Spare a Nipple?
Stephanie’s a Madonna, Megan’s a whore, Ginsberg’s just crazy
The last we saw of Megan Draper was her weeping on the phone to Don after telling him their marriage was over, but this week she’s still trying to make it work. The second Mrs. Draper doesn’t flinch when Don explains that her Laurel Canyon pad, her nail-painting parties, and her swinging party are going to be disrupted by a pregnant hippie urchin he’s tangentially “related” to because of his secret identity. Stephanie, the blood niece of Anna Draper—the real Dick Whitman’s wife and the woman he once said was the only person who truly knew him—hasn’t appeared onscreen since season 4’s “Tomorrowland,” when Don returned to California following Anna’s death and picked up the wedding ring that Megan now wears on her finger.
But the arrival of Stephanie, a swollen Madonna, unsettles Megan. “You’re so beautiful,” she exclaims. Megan’s no slouch, but Stephanie highlights all her insecurities. Don is making an emergency trip to California, but not to see her; Stephanie assumes Megan and Don will have a child, but Megan doesn’t want them; Stephanie claims to know all Don’s secrets, but Megan didn’t even know he’d been put on leave. Don treats Megan like the owner of a bed and breakfast, expecting her to care for the woman he really cherishes. Stephanie reassures Megan that nothing ever happened between them, but that wasn’t Don’s doing: He tried to hit on her back in season 2 when she was still a Berkeley coed. And in the dualistic psychology of Don Draper, if Stephanie is a sunlit Madonna, that makes the gyrating brunette Megan… a whore.
Miss Zou Bisou Bisou, who once declared that she gives parties that make people want to have sex, does everything she can to win back her husband’s attention. She sends Stephanie packing with a thousand-dollar check and a trumped-up excuse about Don’s controlling nature. At the party, she starts a provocative tango with one of her longhaired friends, eyeing Don the whole time. But just as Don is starting to notice, Harry arrives, and Don leaps for the diversion. Don hates Harry. Megan knows it, making the insult even deeper. Given Megan’s desperation to get Don alone, keeping her friend around as a buffer after the party feels weird, until the drugs come out and things rapidly get weirder.
Megan seems to think the problem of Don’s attention lies in a lack of spiciness, but it’s just the opposite. For Don, deeply heterosexual and a sexual traditionalist, a bisexual wife is the last thing he wants. Watching his wife make out with her best friend would unnerve him, if he didn’t seem so disengaged. Megan, who blushed last season when the soap writers tried to finagle a foursome out of dinner, seems to be trying to channel Don’s inherently unfaithful nature in a way she can control. Like Trudy, she believes there is dignity in consent. But Don’s participation in his (and the show’s) first real threesome (ignoring Roger’s flirtation with the Doublemint twins in season one) feels reflexive. The first time we see him crack a smile is when Stephanie calls the next morning to thank Megan for doing her a solid. Megan’s elaborate efforts have failed.
At work, Don gets the runaround from Lou, who may be particularly sensitive to cracks about the creative execution of Scout’s Honor with Don on his team. The lackluster comic’s managerial style—if you can’t beat ‘em, break ‘em—makes a telling contrast to Peggy, who hired Ginsberg back in season 4 because she wanted to work with people who inspired her. But as we see, genius is unstable, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous to oneself and others. Don’s younger doppelganger, who first displayed signs of schizophrenia back in season 4, represents the threat that could attend Don if he’s unable to corral himself back onto the straight and narrow. Ginsberg’s self-mutilation, in which he presents his severed nipple to Peggy as a love token, is a horrifying dénouement to an initially comic storyline and a harbinger of the violence that will close out the 1960s. We can’t forget—particularly with the pregnant Stephanie lurching across screen and Margaret’s cult/commune last episode—that the Manson murders are right around the corner. Following his egress strapped to a hospital bed, it also feels like a grim symbol for the squandered promise of the 1960s.
We see a glimmer of the old magic at the end when Don, hot off a tip from Harry, bursts into a meeting with Phillip Morris to make a pitch for his continued employment. Back in season 4, Don dealt with the devastating departure of Lucky Strike from the nascent SCDP with a full-page ad in the New York Times declaring that his agency would make it a matter of principle never again to work with anyone from Big Tobacco. That stunt got him a sit-down with the American Cancer Society and kept the lights on, but it also pissed off his partners and prospective clients who were worried about getting stabbed in the back. Neither Cutler nor Lou was around for that move, but Madison Avenue memories are long; the acquisition of Commander cigarettes will mean giving Don the boot. Don continues his trend of turning up in places he’s not wanted, preempting his termination with an offer to leave—that is, if Phillip Morris can afford to forgo his decade of experience outsmarting the tobacco naysayers, his across-the-aisle experience, and the opportunity to rub their competition’s noses in their humiliation. This second, hypocritical reversal is a little distasteful, but it’s worth it to watch Lou’s fuming insult, “You’re incredible,” and Don’s cool response: “Thank you.”
Read Them All
Mad Men Season 7, Episode 4: Don Faces His Demons
Mad Men Season 7, Episode 3: Crime and Punishment
Mad Men Season 7, Episode 2: Race to the Top
Mad Men Season 7, Episode 1: A Low-Key Start to a Big Finish?