In literature, emphasis means implying more than is actually stated, for instance by using italics or by repeating a word or a stanza in poetry. This can easily be transposed to film where a shot, thanks to its timing in a sequence, can imply more than is actually shown. It does not distort but highlights (18). Film Editing: The Art of the Expressiveby Valerie Orpen
The odyssey continues in Mad Men’s season 7, episode 5: “The Runaways.” I was certainly surprised to see Weiner and crew sustain their conversation with Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece for two whole episodes. What primarily stood out in this time was not the ménage à trois or Sally’s verbal psychoanalytic destruction of Betty, but the cuts. The editing, not Ginsberg going van Gogh on Peggy.
The editing in this episode, crafted by Tom Wilson, creates parallels that span beyond the space-time limitations, pulling 2001: A Space Odyssey into the Mad Men universe.
In true Eisensteinian fashion, montage is milked for all the meaning it can produce, proving that 2 images are better than one. Wilson juxtaposes shots, assembles sequences, and offers up match cuts that draw up maps of where people are coming from, where they are, and where they are going. It’s “the valve” between the motions catalyzed by the monolith (the newest cast member, the IBM 360) and what’s to come.
Above we see that the top image, from “Runaways,” parallels the composition from “Monolith,” which echoes the composition from 2001. This consistent type of threading, besides being difficult to maintain, suggests a deeper intertextuality than originally waxed.
In the 2001 scene, an ominous and enigmatic conversation is had about the mystery surrounding what has occurred on the moon. Something bad is brewing and it creates an unsettling undercurrent that undermines the glossy, sterile, and composed demeanor of the scene. The one point perspective tries to feign a control which isn’t actually there.
That these are passageways offers up the reading of transitions, a funneling into another space. The top image is one of complete isolation, shadowy, and decaying.
For the people within the agency, this emphasizes the deteriorating reality that the ideological movement from creative (Don and Ginsberg) to the logical (IBM 360, Lou Avery, and Jim Cutler) has produced.
I won’t spend to much time on this subject, as I’ve essentially exhausted reading way too much into doors previously, but the conscious selection of characters leaving and exiting spaces as form of cinematic transitioning is notable in the episode.
Below we see a series of images that connect two scenes. The space and time of each shot within the sequence and within the whole series showcase the type of oscillation in character we discussed last time.
From the top: Lou leaves the office, Don picks up his phone, which cuts to Betty setting the table. Betty’s phone rings, a one sided conversation is had. We assumed that it may be Don. Don comes through a door (note the clothing similarity between the two men and women occupying these scenes), a yellowish blouse in the right side of the frame. This color coordination extends to the green and yellow within the kitchens.
In this flow, space and time and character become interchangeable.
There are a number of ways all of this could have played out. Within this series there live many possibilities: Don as Lou. Don heading home to Betty (We saw that shot of him walking in the door repeatedly in the early seasons). The editing, here, spirals us through the development, regression, and in the case of Betty stagnation of character.
Above, we have what is considered the greatest match cut, an editing technique that joins or divides two shots in a way that forms a connection between them, in the history of cinema. It’s also the greatest flash-foward, spanning 4 million years, committed to moving pictures (12 seconds well spent). And two images so thematically rich and overflowing with meaning that everyone should have probably quit making movies after this point.
Wilson, of course, knows this and makes some editing allusions to the classic cut. Below we have the famous lip reading scene from 2001 juxtaposed against the lip reading scene from “The Runaways.”
In 2001, Dave and Frank are discussing if HAL is malfunctioning and how to “disconnect” him. In “Runaways”, Ginsberg is positioned as HAL, attempting to listen in on what Lou and Jim are conspiring about. One malfunction, of course, is on its way, but the malfunction in question is almost certainly Don’s breakdown.
This environment has a habit of destroying its most creative and talented individuals and as such Ginsberg’s unwinding isn’t so surprising. The nature of the ad industry is predatory and one of existential predication for its inhabitants. The best in the business live for their craft and in turn are only defined by their craft. I advertise, therefore I am.
Note that Ginsberg is working on a Saturday, the sign “work smarter not harder” hanging behind him.
Moreover, the nod to 2001 offers us a hint at what the two new agency men are up to.
Within the film and the show there’s an ideological tension brewing: Man vs. technology. Lou and Jim represent the new and dominant system of power that’s an extension of the metrics heavy business infrastructure. The creatives are cornered and left to circumvent this structure, to re-wrangle control. In other words, Don and Ginsberg are Dave, and Lou and Jim are HAL.
Peggy is incorporated into two match cuts that give us a glimpse into the subtle connections that bind and move and separate the show’s leading women/girl.
Sally and Peggy are placed against one another in the above shots. The match cut is one of the most overt, but forces one to consider the limited permutations and paths that women in this world are afforded. The two shots can be read as fast forwards, implying that Peggy signifies Sally’s possible future.
Above, we have Betty contrasted against Peggy. Both characters sit at tables, attention buried in a type of work. This match cut at once presents us with a unification and division. Betty occupies the domestic space, passively reading at the kitchen table. As opposed to Peggy, who is actively engaged in her work.
They are unified in the sense in which they are both damaged by the world they live in. Betty is now undergoing the verbal abuse of pretty much every character she interacts with, including the usually very respectful Henry. And Peggy, in this very scene, undergoes one of the biggest traumas since she had to give up her child.
Where the signs there? It’s hard to tell. Ginsberg has always been an eccentric, discussing alien conspiracies and going about things in unconventional ways. This season in particular you can see that he has expressed a higher level of aggression and agitation that go beyond his usual insolence. Regardless of all this, the big shocker moment did without a doubt astound.
Ginsberg’s malfunction is certainly tied to the appearance of the IBM 360 and the occupational and existential threat it poses. It’s difficult to go any further than that for now, but it’s important to remember that the show is called Mad Men.
All of these men are already damaged, crazy, and one cut away from falling outside the normalized madness.
Peggy is a victim and participant within this dangerous environment. The editing here isn’t particularly amazing, but it’s well executed in the way that Wilson saves the extreme close-up for the nipple reveal. Remember that although the lip reading scene in 2001 was alluded to previously, the shot is only a close-up unlike the extreme close-up that was used in Kubrick’s film.
Wilson’s cut is made for maximum impact, placing us in Peggy’s POV, and subsequently causing us to suffer a similar shock.
The question remains why a nipple? There are loose allusions to van Gogh and Vietnam’s Tiger Force, who removed the ears of their victims, and we could always go Freudian, but without more information interpretations are flimsy at best. And who knows, maybe the scene is meant to be unexplainable, something so alien that its meaning will remain forever elusive.
Ginsberg does throw out the word “valve,” which is particularly interesting in relation to all the doors and passageways within the episode.
Usually, a valve moves its content in only one direction. It seems as if, here, that destination is one of inevitable demise.
“That machine came for us, and one by one . . .”
It’s pretty widely accepted that 2001’s HAL symbolizes IBM, a monolithic corporate and technological institution.
Ginsberg’s use of the word “machine” extends to capture the notion of “the man” and the “capitalist machine.” These monetary machinations are clearly at work, here, as the fight for capital has produced the need for more efficient operations.
Why are these men mad? It may very well be that what has caused their malfunction is the very system of power that they are driven through.
Ginsberg’s words to Peggy function as a warning of sorts. It’s not only possibly foreshadowing (criticism as meaningful as pointing out plot holes), but a cautionary cry that goes back long before the advent of the computer.
“Get out while you can!”
Above we have some of the first and final images in the episode. Peggy walking into the building is from the first few minutes. Ginsberg gets wheeled out the same door at the very end. Well, duh, it’s the only way in and out of the office, you say. Remember, though, that these are conscious selections. Wilson uses these doors as frames for the episode, again showing us where people are coming from and where they will end up.
Peggy’s final position parallels Ginsberg’s first appearance in “Runaways.” They’re placed in front of the glass separating them from the IBM 360. One by one, he said…
Ginsberg’s final words to Peggy: “Get out while you can.”
We’re distraught, confused, and maybe even find it laughable, easily dismissing the lunatic’s message. We forget, though, that where there is madness, there’s the possibility for disturbing truth.