Way back when, Peggy Olson spotted the work of one Michael Ginsberg, whose copy had voice. In a pile of slush, his work stood out. Against the advice of Stan, she called him in for an interview. This was back in season five, episode three. "Tea Leaves."
The interview didn't go well. Ginsberg mistook Peggy for a secretary, and then obsessed over meeting Don. The moment when Ginsberg makes his case is telling, in light of last night: "I have no hobbies, no interests, no friends. I'm one of those people who talks back to the radio. No girlfriend, no family. I will live here."
Peggy's retort is, "Then you're like everyone else." Which, no.
Last night's episode, "The Runaways," is likely the last time we will ever see Michael Ginsberg. Certainly, it's the last time we'll ever see his right nipple, now that he's gone to the trouble of removing it and placing it in a jewelry box. But that's getting ahead of things.
In "Tea Leaves," Peggy spotted him. This linked the characters. Three episodes later, Ginsberg confided in her about his childhood during a late night at the office.
"Actually, I'm from Mars." [Peggy laughs.] "It's fine if you don't believe me but that's where I'm from. I'm a full-blooded Martian. Don't worry, there's no plot to take over Earth. Just displaced. I can tell you don't believe me. That's okay. We're a big secret. They even tried to hide it from me. That man, my father, told me a story I was born in a concentration camp, but you know that's impossible."
Peggy looks with alarm. "And I never met my mother because she supposedly died there. That's convenient. Next thing I know Morris there finds me in a Swedish orphanage. I was five, I remember it."
Peggy says, "That's incredible." "Yeah, and then I got this one communication. Simple order. Stay where you are."
Peggy asks, "Are there others like you?" "I don't know. I haven't been able to find any."
Almost all of his lines in this scene are delivered into his desk; his downturned face is reflected into the camera by the window before him. The effect is of someone outside of his body, observing himself. His last line he speaks with his head lifted and his eyes fixed on Peggy, which is to say, fixed on the viewer.
Now, act surprised that Ginsberg has suffered a breakdown that has resulted in delusions and self-harm.
The really fucked up thing here is how Ginsberg's breakdown is played for laughs. He's working on a Saturday ("I will live here."), and having some trouble on account of the incessant hum of the monolith new computer in the lounge. Sweaty and red-faced, he stoppers his ears with large wads of tissue. Then, he goes to watch the computer. He finds Cutler and Lou in conversation inside the air-conditioned space of super information. The camera pans from Lou to Cutler; their speech is inaudible but the deliberate camera movement and the cuts back to Ginsberg suggest understanding on his part. Maybe he can read lips. The effect is hilarious, like a spy parody. Later in the episode, Harry Crane offers some intel on the DL to Don, retroactively reinforcing the intrigue (and success) of Ginsberg's reconnaissance. Except, no. He understood nothing.
That this episode came with a warning about "adult content" and "sexual situations" only made for greater dread around Ginsberg's psychosis. When he goes to Peggy's apartment and interrupts her TV date with Julio, his mania is in full effect. He's chattering about the computer turning the men into homos. (He felt aroused by Stan's shoulders. Is Ginsberg closeted? We know he's never had sex.) Peggy falls asleep in front of the tube, and wakes up to Ginsberg's face alarmingly close to her own. He tries to kiss her. The warning came roaring back to the forefront of my mind, and I thought he might rape her. He didn't, thankfully. (This isn't Game of Thrones.) Instead, he left—and at some point in the next 36 hours he cut off his nipple and placed it in a box to give to Peggy.
There's little doubt that, at some point, Ginsberg was going to do something bad. But what's surprising is that it happened because of the computer. The computer! The thing we, the viewers of 2014, laughed at when it appeared last week. Look at all these dopes worried about a computer, we all thought, recalling some of the sentiment of the first season, when it felt like the show was asking you to snicker about the follies of the past from the safety of the future (and your couch). If last week brought back that old condescension, this week punished us for our feelings. The computer did wreak havoc. There's no call for jokes and nothing ironic about the shot of Peggy crying while staring at the computer humming away, indifferent.
Other injured parties last night:
Sally's nose (but not her ferocious wit and insight).
Betty's feelings (though hopefully this will push her closer to self-actualization via the Italian language and the tools of second-wave feminism).
Megan's feelings. (The idea that the threesome might've been spontaneous sex play and the addition of a new dimension into her relationship with Don withered and died when she started crashing dishes around in the sink while Don spoke on the phone with Stephanie. Don cares about his secret family; Megan cares about the family she supposedly has in public. She should dump the motherfucker. Hearts and support to Megan.)
Lou's feelings. (But really, fuck this guy. Now that he's stuck around long enough to bless us with one of the funniest outbursts of the season—"Do you know who had a ridiculous dream and people laughed at him?" "You?"—please, let's put Lou out to sea on an iceberg. He may know who Bob Dylan is, but he's too old for this world.)
Maybe Don's confidence. (It's beyond crucial that the episode ends before Don's cab arrives. He seems to have the swag back—he smooths his hair, he delivers the right line, he whistles with such force—but if that cab doesn't show, then what? Is it just the appearance of swag? Where is Don's juice? Weiner keeps us hanging on.)
Amidst all of this suffering, though, Ginsberg's stands out the most. Why? Because we won't ever see him again. There are only nine episodes left of Mad Men. That's it. That doesn't allow much time for detours to the psych ward. There's the whole wide world out there, and so much pain in it.
"Stick to mediocre," Stan told Peggy many seasons ago, advice to ignore Ginsberg. "You'll sleep better." Surely she won't be sleeping well now.
Ross Scarano is a deputy editor at Complex. He will live a purposeless life after Mad Men concludes. He tweets here.