TV Schizophrenia (#MadMen)

In 1961, Thomas Szasz crystalized a particular kind of countercultural trope: the “mentally ill” genius. His The Myth of Mental Illness asserted that people can be “disabled by life.” That one sensitive to the absurdities and senselessness of life may appear mentally ill, but really tells Truth in a hostile society.

By now it’s trite: Sherlock Holmes, House, the lady in Homeland. Hannah Horvath. Gonzo.

No one’s crying about the dude in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest anymore.

But Peggy cried about Michael Ginsberg.

Schizophrenic truth-tellers live more in stories than in real life, where the disease causes wholly unglamorous suffering.

Still, Ginsberg survived the Holocaust. When he says the new computer is coming for them, one by one, he’s a Magical Metaphor Machine for the technophilic, pseudoscientific, bureaucratic undergirdings of the Nazi project.

Which, one by one, according to a complex set of technologies, eliminated half the world’s Jews.

Stan used the phrase “Final Solution,” and the connection locked down like a pit bull’s jaw. Like a German train door.

He’s no Cassandra, he says. But he’s right. The computer is coming for us. One by one.

So bye bye Ginzo, one of my favorite sweaty, paranoid Jews.

And hello Betty Francis, whom we never thought would surpass Megan in proto-feminist ambition and ability. Just as we never thought we’d see Megan pulling a jealous cruelty to mark Don as her territory, a la Mrs. Draper #1.

Betty’s got a lot to rage about. So does Megan.

This episode felt oceanic in its choppy editing and pace. So many stories. Culminating in an almost dully trademark Draper Gambit, the gloss of which fades with every iteration.

He’s so damn alcoholic. These cycles of shame and glory, of failure and cockiness. Of I’llmakeituptoyouIpromises.

But after Betty. And Megan. And Stephanie. Sally’s nose. And after Ginsberg.

After everything else that’s happened, Don’s ploy seems a lot more Donald Sterling and a lot less Magic Johnson.

A lot more late Mel Gibson ranting in Malibu. Hardly any Lethal Weapon.

The sheen of metaphor has worn off our depictions of mental illness. Ginsberg truly suffered, even if there was truth in some of his rantings.

And the sheen has worn off Don, as it’s worn off the show itself.

Mental illness is no metaphor. The 60s are no metaphor, though the show tries to be a Magical Metaphor Machine for our world now.

There was real suffering in this episode. No metaphor here: the systemic breakdown of the 60s has never been more apparent on this show.

Don’s attempts to claw back up seem, more than ever, to depend on hurting everyone around him.

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