There were a number of things I was eager to write about in regards to last night's episode of Mad Men. And then there was a nipple in a box. Michael Ginsberg's nipple, specifically.
Ginsberg's role on the show has often been relegated to a bit of comic relief, but there was a mystery about him that often made viewers suspect that Matt Weiner was hinting at something more. At Jewcy last year, Dov Friedman wrote that "Mad Men watchers have always wondered how things will end up for Don Draper; the fifth season strongly suggests that answer may be delivered through Michael Ginsberg."
But in "The Runaways," Michael Ginsberg, once so promising, is carted out of the office on a gurney after cutting off his nipple and giving it to Peggy. Over the course of the episode, Ginsberg progressively becomes more hysterical over the office's new computer. The noise getting to him, for starters. When he sees Jim Cutler and Lou Avery meeting in the room and watches their lips move—in another one of the show's explicit homages to Kubrick—he suspects the machine has turned them gay, which he admits to Peggy when he goes over to her apartment to work. "That machine makes men do unnatural things," he says. When she wakes up from a nap, he suggests that they procreate. The next day, he confesses that he has feelings for Peggy and presents her with a gift. "I removed the pressure," he explains. His nipple. In a box. "It's the valve," he says.
At the beginning of the episode, while staring at the computer and its operator, Ginsberg says: "What am I a Cassandra? That machine came for us, and one by one..." Ginsberg, once an example of Sterling Cooper's future, has now been driven mad by the literal representation of the future in the office. If he's a Cassandra, knowing the future but cursed to never be believed, what is to befall the rest of the characters?
But while Ginsberg is felled by his visions of the future, other character's pasts are getting the better of them in the episode. Don's "niece" Stephanie—really, Anna Draper's niece—calls him up asking for help. She's in L.A., pregnant, and in need of help. Don instructs her to go to Megan's and wait for him. Though Megan is cordial to Stephanie when the young woman arrives, she ends up paying her $1,000 and ushering her out of the home before Don arrives. That allows her to throw a party, wherein she performs a slinky dance with another man. Don watches the dance in horror and disgust, and the moment recalls Megan's "Zou Bisou Bisou" performance, only this time she's not expressly dancing for him. When he comes back to the apartment after drinks with Harry, who informs him how Cutler and Avery plan to push him out of the company, a stoned Megan and her friend coax him into a threesome. In the morning Megan emerges, confidently wearing the robe she had let Stephanie borrow, erasing the ghost of Don's past. Betty too might be on the verge of reliving her past. Bobby thinks she and Henry Francis are headed for divorce. The two battle after Henry chides her for speaking her mind at a party. “I’m tired of everyone telling me to shut up," Betty tells Henry. "I’m not stupid. I speak Italian.”
Of course, even with all these developments, it's Ginsberg's fate that lingers. Ginsberg's story has always had a touch of the surreal. He never seemed to fit into the fabric of Sterling Cooper. Being Jewish, he was always The Other, and in this world of promiscuous men who drank their feelings instead of saying them out loud, he was boisterous and virginal. Of all the sob stories in the pasts of Sterling Cooper's employees, Ginsberg's was perhaps the most tragic: He was born in a concentration camp. Before telling Peggy about the circumstances of his birth in the season five episode "Far Away Places," he said, almost presciently: "Actually, I'm from Mars. It's fine if you don't believe me but that's where I'm from. I'm a full blown Martian."
Last season, when panicking before the Manischewitz presentation, he quotes the Bhagavad Gita by way of J. Robert Oppenheimer: "Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds." Ginsberg may be just the first to implode.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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