The “previously on” clips that kicked off “The Runaways” showed various characters speak about Don as crazy and impulsive, followed by the mandate from the agency partners to “stick to the script.” Don rebelled against the protocol at the end of season six and the powers in the office still think he has the urge to strike again. Don is slowly turning into a more independent character than we have seen, obedient at work but with a sour streak starting to build from within that could see a major shift in his rapport with the company in the next few episodes.
Don Draper is the engine and the enigma that makes Mad Men such compelling television, but he is not the only compelling part of the show. There has been a huge lack of Pete Campbell and Joan Holloway this season, while Betty Francis and Peggy Olson’s storylines are not as rich or satisfying as they have been in past years. “The Runaways,” looks at Don from an interesting viewpoint, though, as a man caught between two generations in the current late-1960s zeitgeist: the confrontational, liberally minded counterculture, and the stuffy, authoritative, conservative folks that also came-of-age during times of war. Don has been the latter for much of the show’s run, but now, he is starting to show a rebellious streak akin to Sally.
In some ways, “The Runaways” is the first episode of Mad Men this year that seems a bit muddled and unexciting, one that feels like a repetition of the themes that the show explored in last week’s episode. “The Monolith” focused on the shifting landscape of the 1960s, with some enthused to embrace the new while others more comforted to fall back to antiquated ideals of society. This episode is more of the same, an examination of the cultural schism between the young and hungry, and the old and powerful. These walls are starting to come down, and Don is in the middle.
That first collision comes during a meeting between Lou and his creative staff. Stan found a copy of Lou’s comic strip, Scout’s Honor, and shares a big laugh about it with his co-staff. However, Lou overhears their mocking of a work he believes is sacred and pounces on Stan in a team meeting. Since the first episode of this season, Lou has struggled to see the stunning work of his team, and it is partly due to this generational divide. (Lou tries to be hip by mentioning the early work of Bob Dylan, although Dylan had himself acted against his initial style and sound by the end of the sixties.) Without the trust of his creatives, Lou decides to confront Cutler and asks for more autonomy within the company, in an office where Don Draper is expendable.
Another collision (or two) happens in the Draper-Francis household. During a dinner party, Betty makes a remark about how the younger generation is making American society fall apart, although Henry interrupts her with a comment about the Vietnam War. He stuns her when he makes a comment that aligns with the anti-war side. Sensitive to their disagreement, she slips away and does not join him for the rest of the evening. He sees her abandonment as a lack of support, while she sees his flipped opinion as a betrayal of her values. When they argue in the bedroom, another victim of the current era appears: Bobby Draper, listening outside their room, on the verge of tears.