Commentary

Episode 705: Exegesis On A Nipple -- Or, Dreaming Of Meat

Mad Men s7 e5Jeez, Weiner!! One minute, Betty said she was  “checking the Sterno,” not the sternum.But the next thing we know, we’re down one nipple!

Face it: showrunner Matt Weiner has been taking it on the chin this season for creating an increasingly dull and lifeless show (to use the “before” words for a 1960s Clairol hair color ad.) But he does tend to liven things up with unexpected dismemberments.

We’ve seen many odd body parts whacked along the way in “Mad Men” (which is close to Made Men.) But you know that a mutilation is beyond outrageous when it makes you long for the comfort of a nice, emulsified foot.

And it’s not like anyone ever said, “Oh, no. I can’t believe they dragged out that old mutilated nipple in a gift box thing again! If I had a nickel for every disembodied nipple given as a love token…”

But speaking of our mammalian “valves,” as poor Ginsberg, our long-undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic put it, there’s been a connection to mother’s milk (or lack of it) for the last three episodes. And Betty is certainly shutting her valve off -- she’s in control of the silver, not the homework.

Mad Men s7 e5Questioning authority, and who’s in charge, was not only at the center of the episode, but also dividing American culture in 1969, with disorder and breakdowns everywhere. For Lou Avery, the establishment vs. counterculture divide was between “patriots” and “flag-burning snots.” (More on this later.)

It's even happening in Westchester, as Betty (who seems to have read “The Feminine Mystique”) observes, "First they protest and then all authority comes down." “It has to be done on the right terms, but we should get out while the getting is good,” Henry says. He's talking about the Vietnam war, but those words apply to just about every relationship in the drama.

And that’s why this episode was all about rapidly morphing duos and triads. (That’s a fancy word for threesomes, people!) Sally described her mom and Henry as a “dynamic duo” despite the fighting. And Megan pulled a Don Draper by inserting her toe-painting minion, Amy, into the sexytime scenario. So let’s go there.

When we last left Megan, she was telling Don, rationally and definitively, “This is where it ends.” But he has wormed his way back into her life, and it seems each of them is holding on to the conceit of marriage, despite the fact that what they have on their hands, to quote Woody Allen, is a dead shark.

LMad Men s7  e5ast week, Don mentioned that he wasn’t a janitor. But he’s still treating Megan like one. Just as she frequently had to clean up the mess with his kids, so he offhandedly sends his pregnant “niece” Stephanie to stay with her overnight. The truth is that Anna, Stephanie’s aunt, is the only woman Don will ever fully love, and he lights up in his phone conversations with Anna's runaway relative, who contacts him only when she’s out of “bread.”

Megan seems game to help, except that Lady Madonna arrives all ripe and glowing. (The notion of purity and fertility seems to get Megan when Stephanie dons her white robe.). And Stephanie, who called Don “Dick” during the phone call, also tells Megan that she knows "all of Don’s secrets.” (She meant the Whitman parts.)

With everyone on high-Sharon Tate/Manson Family alert, love child Stephanie’s darkening the threshold of Megan’s now bright and homey casita in the canyons seems awfully ominous. We don’t know what her story is, but she leaves Megan unhinged, so Megan washes her hands of the situation just as her hubby would: she writes Stephanie a hefty check to go away. (Just as Don paid off his half-brother, who later committed suicide.)

Megan’s Don-like behavior continues, when, as part of a conscious effort to get him in a “good mood,” Megan forces her hubby into a threesome with herself and Amy. Having heard the unsettling news about the agency's pursuit of the Commander account, Don is dreaming only of hopping into bed with his two enemies, Lou and Jim.

mad men s7 e5Still, Megan knows how to manipulate him, so the awkward deed was done. At this point, they seem as unlikely a pair as only a  young woman in a fabulous Pucci minidress and an old guy in a bad Madras sports jacket can be.

The idea of strange bedfellows also results in a beautiful scene between Sally (bloodied by Betty but unbowed, no nose job needed) and Bobby. It’s too bad that this is the fourth Bobby and we don’t know him, because the siblings' dialogue and acting was wonderful.

And now my favorite part to analyze: “Scout’s Honor," the deliciously uninspired cartoon created by Lou. He's the personification of everything the protestors of the ‘60s are determined to change. The biggest laugh I had this season was when, in the meeting with the tittering "flag-burning snots," Lou compares himself to Bob Dylan.

Lou’s cartoon, apparently featuring a Military Monkey (MM) with a plunger, is an attempt to one-up the cartoon “Underdog,” which was created by his former colleagues at agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to sell cereal. But Underdog brilliantly mined all of the countercultural anti-hero energy of the time -- a sort of "Easy Rider" for the Cap’n Crunch set, and their parents -- while Lou’s cartoon was square and flawed.

It also brought up another war in sensibilities, between the two Morts (MM again.) Mort Walker created "Beetle Bailey," a strip about an enlistee in the Korean War, and Mort Drucker was one of the defining caricaturists for MAD magazine, arguably the inspiration for all underground humor ever since. So we’re left wondering who the Underdog is here.

What are ya, Don, a man or a monkey with a plunger? So in the last three minutes, Don counter-strategizes, crashing a secret lunch between Lou and Cutler and the Phillip Morris tobacco men.

It’s either the ultimate power move, or a recipe for his own personal disaster. But he eloquently hits on the Phillip Morris guys’ fears head-on, and they seem to be into the whole punishment/penitence opportunity of his offer.

Then, on the way out of the Algonquin (a façade more like a palace than the actual hotel) the three amigos leave. They all wear fedoras. But Don doesn’t need an actual cowboy hat to be the Marlboro Man. He lassoes them into a cab, and exerts his dominance with his whistle. He is a stallion, not to be controlled by Megan, and much more into his office threesome.

He is primed for reinvention. Now that Michael is out, there’s room for a writer at the agency. And Don has two nipples, no waiting.

Tags: mad men
Recommend (5)
25 comments about "Episode 705: Exegesis On A Nipple -- Or, Dreaming Of Meat".
  1. david marks from self , May 13, 2014 at 7:52 p.m.
    Well, Barbara Lippert, you were among the few who ignited a reinvestment of my time in the calling, and frankly, I had a spirited flush with intense fun. Loved that marijuana induced tryst, and the expression of bemusement on Don's face. That dialogue throughout was authentic and intriguing, particularly the unambiguous banter about the war, and subjectively about a woman's role-"leave the thinking up to me." I had a great time with it, still not addicted, but very close.
  2. Nancie Martin from Tell My Story , May 13, 2014 at 7:55 p.m.
    A favorite line from the episode: "Delicious rumaki!"
  3. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC , May 13, 2014 at 7:58 p.m.
    Thanks, Barbara. Not my favorite episode, and I was shocked and never would have guessed the nipple mutilation of Ginsberg. Shocked me for MM. I'd love to see more "real" advertising. I thought when Henry said "...we should get out while the getting is good...” it should be Peggy. She was the next Creative Director or ACD but what has she done but rewrite one of Don's lines for the watch. Plus put up with Lou this season. It was just like Lou to walk down the aisle to leave the office early because he didn't want to stay. He punished himself by making them wait or stay. I hope we see the redemption of Don, personally or professionally, or both in the next weeks or months.
  4. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq , May 13, 2014 at 8:23 p.m.
    Barbara, I read a lot of Mad Men recaps, and you consistently offer insights and analysis that no one else touches. I'm sure part of it is that you really get ad men in a way other writers don't. But you also find the themes that I am sure Matthew Weiner hoped would be found. Questioning authority really was the overarching theme of this ep; great way to tie Don's, Megan's, Betty's, Sally, Ginsburg and the creatives' stories together. Brava on your recap, and on this episode. I loved how it wrapped up. Now only 2 more eps this year. Damn AMC!!
  5. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , May 13, 2014 at 8:37 p.m.
    thanks. wish I could "like" all your comments!
  6. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund , May 13, 2014 at 9:40 p.m.
    How, exactly, do you figure Don "has wormed his way back into [Megan's] life...?" Last time they talked, she said it was over. The first we see them speaking again, in a phone call from Don to Megan, she responds happily, cheerily, and asks him if he's still "coming out next weekend?" The viewer has no way of knowing who, if anyone, wormed their way back into whose life. Maybe they had a marital spat & they both pretended it never happened.
  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , May 13, 2014 at 9:45 p.m.
    @Tom-- she sent him home. And then didn't he keep calling her?
  8. Maria Elgar from HARDTRIBE , May 13, 2014 at 10:18 p.m.
    Barbara yes i assumed Don kept calling too. your recap as usual is genius. the stephanie/sharon tate thing is something i am both hoping might happen - because i just feel Megan has turned into such a tragic character at least maybe she can practice screaming bloody murder acting - and might NOT happen. i'd rather see Don's character keep evolving (redeeming?), see who Stephanie really is under all that madonna/hippie and more interaction with her and Don and Don's hidden smile and joy. let Megan play out a bit more. yes agree the most awkward 3-some ever - to boot 3 beautiful people in it! perfection! damn Don was beautiful inside and out when he whistled!
  9. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , May 13, 2014 at 10:36 p.m.
    Thank you for providing more insight on the cigarette meeting. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out Don's motivations. He's obviously more conniving than I can figure. I saw a power play where he was taking on Cutler and Avery (although Avery is an easy target - Tattaglia the pimp as compared to Don's Corleone), where the Phillip Morris people give them the business, but insist Don work on it. I don't know that Don wormed his way back into Megan's life. She needs him, but she is becoming him, and it's destroying her. First episode in a long time that I felt bad for Betty. She was just trying to relate on a level higher than sterno and another dumb man tries to "put her in her place." I think the whole Sharon Tate thing is a parallel, and no one on the show will be involved in the real life happening.
  10. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund , May 13, 2014 at 11:11 p.m.
    @Barbara - You have a narrative. And in your narrative, Don keeps calling her. The proof of your narrative? Your narrative.
  11. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis , May 14, 2014 at 1:53 a.m.
    So much more entertaining when the show focuses on the work and the nasty, back-stabbing intrigues that the men wallow in. Loved Sally's scene. The character and the actor are at that bitchy teen stage and she comes off great. The nipple surprised me. It's in the same vein as the bloody John Deere tractor scene. I saw so many young girls like Stephanie here in San Francisco in the late 60s and early 70s. More innocent in those days than the drugs and lifestyle that followed. The older businessmen reversed their position...no longer omniscient or "with it," they looked to the youth and the movement for a clue as to what was important, what life was all about. Somehow yearning for the beauty and freedom they had bypassed on their way to successful career.
  12. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt , May 14, 2014 at 8:53 a.m.
    I think when Don looks at Megan he is beginning to see himself.
  13. Claudia Reilly from none , May 14, 2014 at 9:03 a.m.
    Another brilliant analysis. I was laughing out loud at "And it’s not like anyone ever said, “Oh, no. I can’t believe they dragged out that old mutilated nipple in a gift box thing again! If I had a nickel for every disembodied nipple given as a love token…” " Your keen take on the characters, the themes, the era, and the symbols thrills me. You always help me to understand not only the show but human nature itself better. Oh, and I had been wondering about Bobby. I thought, "Hey, is this ANOTHER Bobby? Why do they keep dumping the little kids who play Bobby?" This seems to go on more now in TV shows than when I was a kid and the creators of shows simply accepted that some kid had turned out not to be as cute or as good of an actor as they'd hoped. It's such a cruel thing to do to a child. I thought about how here we have Matthew Weiner writing with enormous sensitivity about what it's like for people to be fired, yet he apparently keeps firing the wee Bobbys while writing more and more scenes for his real-life son who plays the peculiar Glen. Glen gets in so many episodes that I won't be surprised if one day Glen appears as Bobby. What a terrific piece. Thanks Barbara!
  14. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , May 14, 2014 at 9:06 a.m.
    Think about all the young actors who can put, Mad Men - Bobby Draper, on their resumes. They could form a club.
  15. Ruth Thomas from Second helping , May 14, 2014 at 9:37 a.m.
    Nipples and threesomes- i am dazzled by this summary...i swear...i look forward to you crystallizing what i just watched twice...i felt it, but couldnt explain it...I have to wonder with people being mowed down by a John Deere, a hanging suicide, nipples in boxes , how did they keep their clients?? as for the season being dull, i have to disagree- i think this season has been brilliant --perhaps not as flashy or melodramatic, but so thoughtfully drawn. i KNOW these people from my life, if only as in a torn picture collage--pieces of familiar all put together in a different picture...but i KNOW them. it is perfection. Just as i look forward to each Sunday (and dread to end) i look forward to your commentary of it.
  16. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet , May 14, 2014 at 9:42 a.m.
    As I've mentioned before, I don't think there's any way that Megan will be a victim of the Manson Family---because she wasn't a victim of the Manson Family. However, I can see Don as the Roman Polanski in that sort of story arc. With all that entails. Then when Don literally hijacks the cigarette account, he also symbolically hijacks a plane to Los Angeles; because he'll be far too busy to be taking those flights to see Megan anymore. Take me back to New York, please, Mr. Pilot. Meanwhile, nobody's mentioned Avery's last words to Don, and Don's response: "You're incredible." "Thank you." Don may not be all the way back, but as that short encounter shows, he's on his way.
  17. Scott Gould from Leo Burnett , May 14, 2014 at 10:50 a.m.
    I was a kid when the Manson Family terrorized Los Angeles, and I will never forget it. The whole Megan story will change once they write the murders into Mad Men. This could be Megan's exodus from L.A. and back to NYC. I don't think Megan will be a victim, but the murders will rock her world.
  18. Ruth Ayres from Harte-Hanks , May 14, 2014 at 5:01 p.m.
    1. Don knows vice, he's the son of a hooker. Philip Morris thinks getting Don fired in return for the business is great revenge UNTIL Don serves up something more primal--the fellatio-like prospect of public apology. 2. Don broke his agreement with the partners flat out. So either they send him packing or Philip Morris agrees to hire SC&P--but only if Don is in. And we know the partners will swallow it if they do. Sexual innuendo entirely intentional.
  19. Nancy Haynes from Collins, Haynes & Lully , May 14, 2014 at 7:26 p.m.
    Barbara, what was your take on Lou's "You're incredible!" comment to Don? Disgusted or sincere? I experienced it as disgust, but many have said he was being complimentary.
  20. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , May 14, 2014 at 9:16 p.m.
    I think it was sheer disgust. Lou despises Don, and he thought he'd come up with the ultimate way to get Don out. That Don had the cojones to do everything that Ruth Ayres mentions above, in crashing the meeting, goes against every condition that he accepted as part of his re-hire. It's a pretty exciting play if it works for Don. And maybe if he does get Philip Morris as a client, he'll also fire them!
  21. Richard Badami from Badami and Associates , May 15, 2014 at 9:23 a.m.
    Just caught up with this on my DVR, allowing me to skip the commercials, which is oddly sick. Why did Don choose to wear brown - not a power color - to crash the meeting with the tobacco guys? Why is Don's fedora too small? Why is he wearing a grey hat with a brown suit? Why are advertising guys even wearing hats in 1969? They say JFK killed the hat industry, and fedoras were all but done by the late 60's. Are the hats a portent that the agency so far behind the times that it will crumble?
  22. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , May 15, 2014 at 12:14 p.m.
    I noticed the brown, too, Richard. I think it was to signal old-fashionedness, or maybe just the reality of getting back in the muck with tobacco? The ending seemed to suggest that Don was dismissing the other two and moving on.
  23. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , May 15, 2014 at 12:27 p.m.
    Remember that Stan and the other young guns still view Don as "the faculty"
  24. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners , May 15, 2014 at 1:46 p.m.
    Limp and limping to the finish line.
  25. Royelen lee Boykie from Mad Men Musings , May 20, 2014 at 10:37 p.m.
    Didn't you used to post under the name Dorothy Parker and was Weiner tipping his hat to you with the Algonquin scene, Barbara? I thought so immediately.