Despite the fact that this week’s episode was titled “The Good News,” it seemed to be filled with bad news. Cancer. Divorce. Loneliness.
In the opening scene though, we do learn some good news (even if it’s in the office of that weird doctor who once urged Peggy not to become the “town pump”): despite two abortions (one of which seems to have been of the back-alley variety, performed by someone who claimed to be a midwife) Joan seems fit to have a child with her husband Greg…should they ever want to try. “We’ve got a plan” is what she tells the doctor when he asks why she’s waiting. And in a later scene, it seems like we learn that Joan might be waiting because she is uncertain of Greg. His not knowing about a tour in Vietnam has family plans on hold, but when she protests several times as he tries to stitch up her sliced hand (“Just take me to the hospital,” “Isn’t there some medical, ethical law against operating on your wife?” “It’s really throbbing; let me get my coat,”) it seems as tough she might not trust his ability as a physician, and thus, as a provider. OR, maybe when she sees that he is competent as a doctor, she can rest a bit easier and is shedding tears of joy. We’ll see.
In the office, Joan doesn’t fare much better this week. She’s greeted with a curt and dismissive reply from Lane when she asks for two days off in January. “Don’t go and cry about it,” he tells her. Twice. We later find out what’s up with the attitude.
Moving onto Don.
This week Don leaves New York, heading for Acapulco. But his day-long layover in Los Angeles proves to be monumental. He spends that time visiting Anna Draper. We’ve learned in previous episodes that when Don becomes Dick and is with Anna; he’s a different person. His vacation from New York is also a vacation from the façade he’s created. (Jon Hamm did a fantastic job of going in and out between the two characters this week.) When Don sees Anna, she has a broken leg. She says she did it making eggs, but we soon find out that that’s most likely not the case. Inside the house, he notices a large stain on the wall, spreading downward like tendrils—or like something we’ll discuss later.
Enter Anna’s sister, Patty, and her daughter, Stephanie. They’ve been stopping by to help the ailing Anna and as soon as we see them, I pray, pray, that Don isn’t going to try to sleep with the younger one (or the older one, for that matter!). But I think this might be the only way he knows how to interact with women now that he’s not married. That’s kind of all he did when he was hitched. But this Stephanie is a Berkeley gal, one of the new, young, progressive people that we think of when we imagine the 60s—maybe one of the first we’ve seen on the show outside of Kurt and Smitty—so maybe she’s different than all the other girls (Miss Farrell was on the verge of this, but a little older than this new gal, and maybe more likely to give in to Don’s advances because of it). Patty leaves and Anna makes sure that Stephanie stays around because she “knew she’d have grass.”
At a bar that evening, Don tells Stephanie that she’s the one in control, meaning the youth movement is starting to make it’s mark as a voice in America. The ads of the time—as he’d proved with his Jantzen comp, and as we’d seen earlier with DDB’s Volkswagen ads—were starting to get smarter and wittier, and I don’t think that’s coincidental. Youth empowerment was on the rise, and Stephanie is a nice introduction to that.
While the young girl is off selecting something on the jukebox—Anne Murray’s “Old Cape Cod”?!—Don talks to Anna about Betty and the divorce. “I could tell the minute she saw who I really was, she never wanted to look at me again,” he says of Betty. This seems to be Don’s fear of everyone and that’s why he not only keeps up his persona, but also pushes them away. When Anna says, “I’m sorry she broke your heart,” he replies, “I had it coming.” When she tells him, “I know everything about you and I still love you,” I think this was huge. That’s what Don needs to hear, and I’m hoping it will set him back on track. But events in the next scene might make that difficult.
When Don offers to drive Stephanie home later in that night, I got to see whether my prayers fell on deaf ears or not. Of course they did! In the drive way, Desparate Don turned as slick as his hair usually is and put the moves on her. Before they left Anna’s house, Stephanie offered to hitchhike and Don said “You’ll be picked up by some creep,” to which she replied “I guess this is safer.” In the end, she did get picked up by some creep, but she, being a progressive young woman of the 1960s, turned him down cold. And she did it by dropping a bombshell: Anna has bone cancer that doesn’t give her much longer, but she doesn’t know it. Don is floored.
It seems to me that Anna is Don’s only link to Dick Whitman anymore—outside of Pete Campbell, who stole the box of photos Adam Whitman left at the office for Don, and, I think maybe Bert Cooper, who said to Don, “would you say I know something about you, Don?” when trying to persuade him to sign his contract. So what does it mean if she’s gone? Will Don completely unravel, as it seems he’s on the verge of doing anyway? Or will it somehow help him to return to his old identity instead? Who the heck knows? All I do know is that, upon hearing this news of Anna’s imminent death—by the way, maybe Anna does know she’s dying and maybe the pot Stephanie had helped to ease the pain?—there was a great night-to-day shot of Don, sitting on the couch, being floored. Glorious! And when it turned to day, Don started painting over the stain on the wall, which, to me, seems like a metaphor for the cancer. And in case I’m not reading too much into it there, I’ll take it further and say that in this scene, Don was kind of painting himself into a corner. At the end, and after Anna was inspired to paint a flower on Don’s newly-coated canvas, he signed it: Dick = Anna ’64.
Maybe Don left Dick behind when he signed that wall.
Instead of continuing on to Acapulco, Don heads back to New York, back to work, only to find Lane Pryce in the office. Turns out he didn’t go back to England to be with his family for the holidays after all. Turns out he’s getting a divorce. That’s why so cranky with Joan earlier. When Don walks into the office and sees Lane there, it’s like the opening of a crazy sitcom. The two of them, lonely and bored in the big city for the holidays, decide to paint the town a boozy shade of red. We’d seen Don and Roger have evenings like this before, but never Pryce. He’d complained about not being very welcome at the agency—and at Sterling Cooper previously—so perhaps this was his initiation to the gang. The two of them go to the movies—Gamera!—and Don delivers one of the best lines I’ve heard on the show: “You know what’s going on here, don’t you? Handjobs.” That sets the tone for the night, where the two of them hit a restaurant and order some enormous steaks (where Lane holds his to his crotch and declares “I’ve got a big Texas belt buckle! Yee-haw!”—another gem in the episode), which they don’t eat, head to a comedy club where they’re heckled from the stage, and where they meet up with Don’s “lady friend” and her friend. Back at Don’s swinging bachelor pad, the four of them get cozy and, when the place’s manliness is observed, Don says “I think Norman Mailer shot a deer over there.” Their evening ends with Lane and his “date” heading off into another room—not the kids’ room, thank goodness—and Don and his woman staying on the couch. In the morning, a dehydrated and somewhat awkward Lane emerges and is on his way.
The sitcom is over and it’s back to work.
This episode ends with the enthusiasm of the season’s first episode. All the partners are in the SCDP conference room—where they now have a conference table!—and Joan (at the table’s head, which I love) asks, “ Gentlemen, shall we begin 1965?” Don’s reaction to this question is priceless. His unease with moving on is so humorously obvious here that I expect him to loosen his collar, Letterman-style. We’ll see how he handles the new year next week, when it looks like the whole gang is back and SCDP and we get to see Roger Sterling’s directorial debut! I bet he’s as clever behind the camera as he is in front of it.Tags: Advertising, Anna Draper, Dick Whitman, Don Draper, Gamera, Greg, Jantzen, Joan Harris, Jon Hamm, Lane Pryce, Mad Men, Miss Farrell, Patty, Roger Sterling, Stephanie, Volkswagen