At the episode’s conclusion, issues of loyalty and command come to a head not once but twice. After a tipoff from Harry, Don crashes Lou and Jim Cutler’s meeting with the aptly named Commander cigarette brand execs from tobacco giant Phillip Morris. If the firm gets the gig, Don, who famously tore the cigarette companies a new one in the pages of the New York Times, has gotta go. (Which is precisely the idea—there’s Lou’s loyalty for you!) So Don sells his services almost exclusively with the vocabulary of power: The government built a gallows for Big Tobacco but Don “stayed the execution,” and even though he betrayed the cigarette companies before, why not “force me into your service” and score a bigger victory over your rivals in government and business alike? A master of the language of authority, Don can wield it, reject it, fight it, and submit to it in a single sales pitch.
Michael Ginsberg is not so lucky. Throughout his brief but memorable time on this show, he’s reacted to his circumstances like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Even before he went all Dave Bowman about SC&P’s resident HAL-9000, he was shouting “I am become death!” about working in advertising at all. It came across like a neurotic quirk of ’60s Jewish comedians he’s likely based on—at least until we learned he may have been born in a concentration camp. That is how Michael Ginsberg understands authority. And when a computer—the ultimate unfeeling embodiment of cold command—takes over his break room, Ginsberg breaks. So did a lot of people, when confronted with a society and a government indifferent to whether they lived or died. The very fabric of Scout’s Honor is more than a joke to them. It’s a joke on them.