Menu JTA Search

Mad Men recap “Far Aways Places,” Part II: Ginsberg’s Holocaust backstory

So we learned something this week about Michael Ginsberg, the new hyper-Jewy copywriter at the firm formerly known as Sterling Cooper. The rub: not sure how much of it is true or what to make of it.

In a late-night-at-work moment of existential angst and confession, Ginsberg tells Peggy he is actually a "full-blooded Martian," but comes in peace — he’s not part of an alien invasion, just displaced. In other words, he explains, he was born in a concentration camp that his mother did not survive. So he’s been told.

That guy he calls Dad? Not his biological father. He’s just the man who plucked him out of a Swedish orphanage when he was 5. That part Ginsberg remembers.

"Are there others like you?" Peggy asks.

"I don’t know. I haven’t been able to find any," Ginsberg answers, looking up to make eye contact, only through the reflection in the window. (Peggy seeing something of herself in Ginsberg? A remaining divide between them? His way of retaining a measure of privacy, even in that revealing moment?)

So, how much of this back story is true? I assume all of it, except the part about Dad not being dad (and Ginsberg’s being an alien).

What to make of it? [[READMORE]] Well, for starters, where exactly to draw the line between fact and fiction is beside the point — the deeper truth is that Ginsberg feels out of place everywhere. At home. At work. In life. All the time. It’s about existence, not paternity. Ginsberg can’t get his head around life on this planet because his birth makes no sense.

"That man, my father, told me a story. I was born in a concentration camp," Ginsberg tells Peggy. "But you know that’s impossible."

"That’s incredible," she responds. Later that night, Peggy tells her boyfriend, "This guy told me the strangest thing at work today. He said he was born in a concentration camp. That’s impossible, right?"

Remember the exchange earlier this season when Don makes a crack about Ginsberg’s voice and Ginsberg responds without missing a beat: "It’s a regional accent — you have one, too." Well, on the surface, the latest revelation would seem to add fuel to Ginsberg-Don comparisons. After all, Don is the show’s lead disjointed soul, with his own disjointed family back story (prostitute mother who died in childbirth, abusive biological father who was killed in front of 10-year-old Don by a spooked horse, unloving stepmom who called him "whore child").

But the differences are profound. Ginsberg struggles and endures — his Dad can drive him crazy, but he stays put, makes him dinner. Don is always running away — from his childhood home, his real identity, his own family. Rewind to the first season: When his kid half-brother Adam tracks him down, Don turns him away (leading to his suicide). Later, when Don fears the jig is up, his instinct is to hop the first train out of town (it was his Jewish lover, Rachel Menken, who is appalled, refuses his pleas to come with him and offers a lecture about running away). 

Look at how they each got through the door at Sterling Cooper. Don, with his lifted identity, is a fur coat salesman when he slips his portfolio into Roger Sterling’s box, and then proceeds to hoodwink the advertising executive into thinking that in a drunken stupor he had offered Don a job. Ginsberg, on the other hand, wears a hideous plaid coat to his interview and couldn’t be more obvious — no passing with this guy.

Don has more looks, talent, suaveness. Ginsberg has more character (not surprising, since he’s the one with a truly loving and devoted parent).

So it’s easy to see how Don ended up on top at a place like Sterling Cooper; just not sure how exactly Ginsberg is going to live with himself.

UPDATE: And another thing… about Don and running from the past vs. Ginsberg and living with the past… watch this clip, when Don pushes Peggy to give up her baby and not to look back. "Get out of here. Move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened."

NEXT STORY