What do you say about a Mad Men episode as compelling, strange and all-over-the-place as “The Runaways”? As usual, there’s probably not exactly one right answer, but it’s certainly one of the busier and crazier episodes in the history of the show. I’m not sure it fits together as coherently as the show’s best episodes, but I suspect that that’s a natural byproduct of AMC choosing to unnaturally bifurcate the show’s final season to milk its prized product for all it’s worth. However, even if the seams are showing a little bit throughout, “The Runaways” is a wildly diverse entry in Mad Men’s fascinating final season. From sitcom hijinks to existential angst to serialized drama plot enhancement to the truly, truly bizarre, “The Runaways” gives us a little bit of everything. When we last saw Don Draper, he was crawling out of the depths of self-destruction and self-pity, and climbing back on the carousel (so to speak). He had decided to put his entitlement and disdain for working under his former mentee behind him; that giving in was better than giving up. In the early going this week, we see that, for once, Don hasn’t backslid on his bid for self-improvement. He’s working again, taking his humiliating demotion seriously. While the dynamics of their relationship have certainly changed, Don and Peggy seem to be on much better terms than they’ve been in recent months, too. Peggy neutrally but sternly tells Don the game plan, and Don willingly complies. They’re working co-operatively, and at an understanding for the first time in several years, even if they’re both working under big, bad, pathetic Lou Avery. Lou Avery has quite a bit to do in “The Runaways”. He serves three main functions, but you can really divide his actions into two categories. In every scene, he’s either chafing against the present or striving for the future. But the funny thing is, he’s trapped in the past the whole time. Allow me to explain. It begins with Stan coming across something he wasn’t supposed to see in the form of a corny, anachronistic cartoon called “Scout’s Honor,” penned by none other than his boss, Lou Avery. The cringe-inducing catch phrases and the out-of-date premise become a hilarious punch line to the creatives of SC&P. That is, until, in a sitcom-like twist, Lou overhears his subordinates making a mockery of his dream in the bathroom. For such an obvious, lame villain, Lou sure has managed to get some of the best lines this season. In a creative meeting, when Don asks Stan to come to his side of the room for their dual presentation, Lou addresses the elephant in the room. “Stan, can you be smug from over there?” he sneers. He then decries the youth and the state of the country. These spoiled kids don’t know what duty and patriotism means anymore! He belittles them for looking down on him for having a dream. “You know who had a ridiculous dream and people laughed at him?” he defiantly asks Stan. “You?” Stan says after a beat. See, Lou is relatively new to the fractious SC&P family but he’s of the old guard. With the exception of 1969’s most overqualified tagline writer, the creatives of SC&P are of a different generation than the establishment. They’re a collection of progressives and radicals whose original enthusiasm over time has been dimmed and given way to a cynicism that comes with having lived through the horrors of Vietnam, and with having the assassinations of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys fresh in mind. They don’t trust institutions anymore, let alone authority. Don tries to tell him as much, but indignant Lou doesn’t want to hear it. “I’m not taking management advice from Don Draper,” he says of and to the founder of the agency at which he works. It’s hard to feel bad for Lou when he’s such a dick all the time. Don receives a pleasant surprise, a call from his pseudo niece, Stephanie. It’s clear that it’s been a while since they’ve been in contact with one another, maybe even since he visited California with Megan and the kids back in season four. She’s embarrassed that it’s been so long, and embarrassed that she’s only calling because she needs money. That’s irrelevant to him, though; regardless of her reasoning, Don relishes the opportunity to reconnect with something resembling family. All he has to do is jump on a cross-country flight, and he’ll be there to give her whatever she needs, as she gives him what he so desperately wants in return. In the meantime, Stephanie can hang out with his Los Angeles-dwelling wife, Megan. Except Lou makes Don stay all night, even though he really doesn’t need his work until Monday. Like I said, what a dick. When Stephanie arrives at Megan’s “out of sight” place, she’s not only pregnant, but she’s unkempt, in desperate need of a shower and hasn’t had meat in a year. Megan offers to help but she seems preoccupied, at best, and strangely envious, at worst. She’s clearly preoccupied by a party that she was planning to have and a lifestyle that she’s been secretly savoring. But what exactly is she jealous of? Is it because Don seems more excited to see his niece than her? Is it because Stephanie seems to be a more authentic hippie than her New York transplant self? Does she really think Don had a relationship beyond what was (tangentially) familial with her? Whatever it is, it prompts her to get rid of Stephanie before Don gets a chance to see her himself. “The Runaways” also gives us a look into the marital life of Betty and Henry Francis. Betty last appeared in “Field Trip,” which was about Betty’s relationship, or lack thereof, more than it was about her marriage. In “The Runaways” Betty finds out the downside to being a trophy wife. She accompanies Henry as he schmoozes with the citizens of his district while on the election trail. The beautiful Betty Francis has always been known for her looks first, but she’s long wanted to express herself in other ways. She tries to have and voice an opinion – she’s pro-war, because of course she is – and it’s a BIG MISTAKE. As she finds out, the selfless public servant Henry Francis has become a slick politician, perfectly willingly to align himself with the likes of Nixon if need be. A slew of the nastiest Betty and Henry fights in the history of the Francis marriage ensue. Henry feels like Betty is undermining him, and that she’s impossible to please. She is, of course, but he comes off pretty misogynist, and he looks past what we know – and what he should know – about his wife by now. She grew to not like being sidelined and treated as less than equal to Don in her previous marriage. This isn’t what she signed up for when she married him. “I’m tired of everyone telling me to shut up,” she fumes. She’s not dumb – “I speak Italian!” – and she wants to be treated that way. As Mad Men watchers, we know – and to an extent, understand – these things, but as experiencers and observers of real life, we also know that she’s going to have to do something other than whine about it before someone other than herself validates her. As tends to be the case with Betty episodes of the post-Don-Betty marriage era, “The Runaways” gives us a few peeks into the continued tragedy of the Draper children. Sally returns home after busting her face with some golf clubs that her and her friends were sword fighting with, for some reason or other. (Come on, who hasn’t been there before?) Betty, already white-hot with rage from her marital strife with Henry, angrily admonishes her for putting her treasured natural beauty at risk. However, like any rebellious teen broken from years of inattentive parenting, Sally strikes back, venomously asserting that her mother wouldn’t be anywhere without her precious looks. Bobby, on the other hand, is just worried that he’ll have to endure a second divorce. Then, Sally and Bobby bond (little Gene, as usual, is missing in action), and Bobby contemplates running away. Sally, however, tells him it would be futile. Poor Bobby Draper. That kid just can’t catch a break. My thoughts on Bobby’s situation echo those of the insane – and once thought to be insanely talented – Michael Ginsberg. “Get out while you still can!” Ginsberg, so promising just a couple of seasons ago, has been teetering on the edge of sanity all season, but he’s never been given the spotlight until this point. In “The Runaways” Ginsberg, first hilariously, then frighteningly, and eventually heartbreakingly, careens over that edge. By episode’s end, it’s to the point that he has be restrained and removed from the office like a mental patient, as he screams those haunting and paranoid last words. In “The Monolith,” the computer finally made its grand entrance to SC&P, but it’s been literally driving Ginsberg insane. Its humming is making it too hard for him to concentrate on his work. He’s convinced that the machine is there to replace the humans. He’s paranoid that it’s toying with his and everyone else’s sexuality. When he sees Cutler and Lou furtively meeting in the sinisterly “air conditioned lair,” Ginsberg looks past the obvious – that they’re up to something – and jumps to the conclusion that they’ve become “homos”. Seeing no other option, Ginsberg goes to Peggy’s apartment to complete his work, but eventually reveals his feelings to her. He tries to seduce her in a painfully awkward and ridiculous way. There’s more going on than he lets on. This self-proclaimed asexual, weirdo virgin is having very sexual feelings – about Stan, about Peggy – and so, it must be the computer’s doing! It’s a humorous idea until Ginsberg shows up in Peggy’s office and presents something horrifying to her in a box. It’s all fun and games until somebody severs their nipple because the computer made them do it. (That is a sentence that I never expected to write – or ever expected anyone to, for that matter –and hope to never again.) It’s unsettling, to say the least. But might this mean there’s now a gaping opening in the SC&P creative staff for Don to fill? Speaking of Don, the first person he meets in Los Angeles isn’t his niece or his wife, but instead its “Amy from Delaware,” a mysterious girl who seems to be spending a lot of time with Megan. Once he sees Megan, he’s dismayed to learn that, Stephanie, the real reason for his visit, is already gone. And to make matters worse, Megan is going through with her party of actor-friends, drug users and hippies. Before she runs off to the market to prepare, Amy asks if Don wants to come along. He doesn’t (surprise, surprise), but it’s all good. “I know what he likes,” Megan says with a mischievous smile. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Whereas the premiere and “Field Trip,” showed how Don doesn’t know Megan, “The Runaways” shows how Megan doesn’t know Don. At the party, Megan gets stoned and zou bisous with other men, while Don drinks forlornly in the margins. It looks like an uncomfortable night for our protagonist until he unexpectedly runs into good ole Harry Crane, who’s, of course, with a woman who’s not his wife. Harry didn’t know this was Megan’s apartment and he definitely didn’t know that Don would be there. If this were 2014, this would never happen. You know Megan would constantly be putting pictures of how bohemian she is on Instagram, and you know that Harry would definitely be creeping on it. But it’s 1969, so these kinds of weird and embarrassing run-ins are bound to happen. Don convinces Harry to go have a drink with him. It seems that they’re going to have a moment together, bonding over how the world and their lives have changed over the years, but the more Harry rambles, the more Don realizes that he’s missing something crucial. It turns out that Cutler and Lou are pursuing Commander Cigarettes. It’s a pretty lucrative account, no doubt, but once again, it’s not very forward thinking on Lou’s part. It’s not like having Lucky Strike on your docket in 1960. The popularity of cigarettes has been waning since the public found out that they’re potent. Plus, the young folks have their weed and other drugs, so what’s the big deal with tobacco? However, it’s more significant than this. If SC&P manages to snag Commander Cigarettes than Don has to go, because he’s as poisonous to tobacco as tobacco is to people. When Don returns, he has a lot on his mind; so naturally, he heads straight to bed, except both Megan and Amy follow him. Then, for once, they present something outside the expansive Don Draper sexual repertoire. It’s important to note that he seems more perplexed than intoxicated by it. “Kiss her. You know you want to,” Megan purrs at him. “I don’t want anything right now,” he bluntly responds. Too bad, Don. You get a threesome. The next morning, Don has to get back, because he has business to attend to. And unlike in the premiere, he’s telling the truth. He has to figure out what he can do to prevent his agency from cutting him loose. The episode closes with Don barging in on the Commander meeting and offers to leave the agency for a shot at their business. A shocked Jim Cutler and a perturbed Lou Avery don’t know what to do. It seems that the fallen white knight Don Draper is volunteering to fall on his sword. But he’s really giving himself a platform to show what an asset he truly is. He floats the idea of recanting his previous public admonishment of tobacco and gives them some time to think on it. Although it doesn’t necessarily say much for his moral integrity, it says a lot for his resourcefulness and his newfound desire for self-preservation. After the meeting, Lou and Cutler both take little digs at Don before they drive away. “You’re incredible,” Lou says in disgust. “You think this is going to save you, don’t you?” Cutler says with an incredulous smirk. It’s a very plot-driven way to conclude what was primarily a character-driven episode, and an incongruous one at that. It sets the stage for an enticing showdown between our protagonist and the powers that be. “Everybody knows you been steppin’ on my toes/ and I’m getting’ pretty tired of it./ You keep a steppin’ out of line/ and a messin’ with my mind/ if you had any sense you’d quit,” Waylon Jennings sings. “The Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” seems to be referring to Don, but should Don quit stepping on the toes of those that are in control, or should they be the ones backing off from the creative genius and master of reinvention that is Don Draper? Only two more episodes to find out. Blake Baxter is a native of Illinois and a 2013 graduate of Eureka College. He currently writes about sports and culture for Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Voices, and previously covered the Carolina Panthers for Football.com during the 2013 season, as well as college basketball for ESPN Louisville during the 2012-13 season. He has also written about sports, pop culture and politics for The College Fix, The Wine and Cheese Crowd and an assortment of newspapers. Blake works in the communication and marketing field for Technical Solutions & Services, but aspires to write full-time in the near future.