MAD MEN: “The Good News”
Read on for my recap & review of Mad Men episode 4×03, “The Good News,” aired August 8th, 2010:
Previously on Mad Men, we learned that Don was really Dick Whitman, but had taken on the identity of dead soldier Don Draper. Snag? The real Don Draper had a wife, who knew that Dick was not really Don Draper. The two made friends, however, and the con worked out. This week, we saw this original Mrs. Draper again, as Don went to visit her in Los Angeles. Also previously, Joan learned that her husband, Dr. Greg Harris, was not the talented surgeon that she dreamed he was. His failure prompted him to join the army—a decision that will most certainly result in him being sent to Vietnam. But back to the present … er, the very end of 1964.
The episode opens on Joan’s appointment with her gynecologist. We have met this doctor before, and I believe that he and Joan even once had a romantic relationship. That is all in the past now, as Joan gets advice on getting pregnant. He asks when she stopped taking her birth control pills, and warns her that it can take a while before she’s fertile. Joan quips, “All this time I’ve been afraid of skipping one, and it can take two months?” He suggests that she join her husband at basic training in San Antonio, but Joan explains that they don’t know when he’ll be going. The doctor is surprised that Joan and her husband have been married for two years, but are only now trying to start a family. Joan tells him, tersely, “We have a plan.” And I imagine that plan did not include Greg coming home one day to tell her he joined the army. The doctor adds that he only went to Korea because they made him: “I didn’t have a choice or a wife.” Not very comforting. Joan: “Walter, I just want to make sure … well, you know that I’ve had a couple procedures … I just want to make sure they don’t affect anything.” Dr. Walter: “A couple? I only remember one.” Joan explains, “There was one before that.” The doctor asks, “Was it performed by a physician?” Joan: “She said she was a midwife.” He reminds her that she got pregnant after that, and adds: “Like the song says, whatever will be, will be. Happy New Year.” Wow. While the word “abortion” is never used, clearly Joan has had two. I’m not exactly surprised, as this was possibly hinted at in earlier seasons. Still, it is sad to think about Joan’s rocky road towards love and success. Like Peggy, pre-marital sex is fraught with peril and consequences for Joan, in stark contrast to their male counterparts. This reality is why Peggy could not be swayed with arguments of what one does is Sweden. It also contributes to how Joan holds on so tightly to the respect she has earned in the workplace.
Cut to the SCDP offices, where Don greets Allison. Things are still forcefully polite between the two. Also, I can’t help but notice that Allison’s hair is awfully puffy—later sixties, I’m not sure that I approve. Harry then enters Don’s office, pointing out that Don has a 24 hour layover in L.A. on his way to Acapulco. Lane enters soon after and rather subtly (or not) mocks Harry’s job. Hee. Lane then shakes Don’s hand in farewell, and Don tells him to enjoy his family. When Don and Allison are left alone, he makes small talk, asking what she’s doing for New Year’s. Allison: “Don’t worry. I’ll be here ‘til the bitter end.” Yikes. There is more forced politeness, as she tells him her plans to go to Time Square with “a bunch of girls.” Don adds: “And sailors.” Shut up, Don.
Elsewhere at SCDP, Joan arrives at Lane Pryce’s office and brushes past his secretary. She is sweet as pie as she tells him that she’s sending Caroline out to get lunch, and asks if he’d like fried chicken: “Breast? Thigh?” This is then followed by a request for time off in the second week of January. Lane reminds her that she has New Year’s off. Joan explains, “My husband’s a doctor. His schedule is not flexible.” Lane, however, is a stickler. He snottily tells her to go home and ask her husband how he’d feel about a nurse asking for time off right after returning from vacation. He then adds: “And I understand that all men are dizzy and powerless to refuse you, but consider me the incorruptible exception. Fried chicken, indeed.” Joan is shocked to get this response. Lane then twists the knife: “Don’t go and cry about it.” Joan, who NEVER cries at the office, asks, “Excuse me?” Lane repeats, even more harshly, “I said don’t go and cry about it.” Ooohh. I am boiling up with rage all over again as I type this. To Joan’s credit, she does not slap him, nor does she cry.
My two cents? Yes, Joan does often rely on her “charms” to get what she wants from men. Lane thinks he’s above such superficial nonsense. However, I cannot admire that, as he is actually just as blinded by Joan’s beauty and sex-appeal. So blinded that he ignores Joan’s true worth. If Joan’s power over men were a superpower (which it IS), then she certainly uses her powers for GOOD—for the firm. She helped build SCDP, but she is rewarded far less than the rest. If he paid closer attention, he might realize that Joan’s people skills are a valuable asset, not to be derided, and that keeping her happy and REMAINING at SCDP is well worth a week off in January. Just look at the way she finessed the Lee Garner, Jr. situation. Lane just sees the immediate economic value of Joan’s presence in the office, not the big picture. Yes, his practicality is a valuable asset, but he is far too small-minded to be in charge of personnel.
Cut to a beautiful shot of Don, driving with the top down along the California coast. He arrives at Mrs. Draper’s house. Mrs. Draper, Anna, is wearing a cast on her leg, and the two embrace before making their way inside.
Anna’s sister, Patty, and niece, Stephanie, arrive. Patty is very disapproving of Don’s presence. Stephanie, however, is rather happy and carefree—a blonde girl with messy hair, befitting the new generation. Don, or Dick as he is to them, is surprised by how much Stephanie has grown up. The last time he saw her, she didn’t have front teeth. He snarks about her university life: “Berkeley? Are you sitting in?” Ha! Stephanie answers diplomatically: “I agree with what they’re doing, but somebody’s got to go to class.” Hmmm. After disapproving Patty leaves, Stephanie asks her aunt, “Why am I staying?” Anna: “I wanted him to meet you, and I know you’ve got grass.” You know, this show features a lot more drug use than one might expect.
Meanwhile, Joan arrives home. Her husband is there, but he is on his way out. She tells him to wait a bit, while she heats up his dinner. Joan fills him in on her boss’s decision, and the two argue. Greg asks, “Why don’t you just not show up?” See, THIS is what Lane should worry about. Joan: “Because I’ll lose my job.” The subject of Vietnam comes up, and this is clearly a sore subject between the two. As he exits, she says, “You don’t even know when you’re going.” This uncertainty seems to really be what’s killing Joan. She is the type of woman who has a plan, but nothing is certain in war. Her world is completely upside down.
Back in Los Angeles, Don, Anna, and Stephanie eat dinner out. Stephanie tells them stories about college. It really is a whole new generation. When Stephanie gets up to put music on, Don asks Anna how she’d feel about him bringing the kids out. She is thrilled with this idea, but asks, “So, what? I’ll be their aunt?” Don is hesitant to tell Betty the truth, despite the fact she knows who he really is now. He explains to Anna, “After I told her, I felt relieved.” However, he adds: “I could tell from the minute she saw who I really was, she never wanted to look at me again. Which is why I never told her.” Awwww, that almost makes me feel bad for Don. Anna definitely has compassion for him: “Oh, Dick. I’m sorry she broke your heart.” Interesting interpretation. Did Betty break Don’s heart, really? Hmmm. Don admits, “I had it coming.” True. Hmmm … this conversation brings up an interesting perspective on the divorce. It is interrupted, however, as Stephanie returns, and then she and Don get up to dance. Anna warns Don, “Keep your hands at 10 and 2.” The combination of Don and this young woman dancing, and her commentary on the old “corny” song playing, provides an interesting picture. Like Bob Dylan sang, in that very same year (1964), the times they are a-changin’.
Cut to later that night, as Don and Stephanie bring Anna home, ready to pass out. Stephanie says she should get home, so Don offers to drive her. She says she’ll just “hitch.” Don does not like this idea: “You’ll get picked up by some creep.” Stephanie: “I guess this is safer.” Ha! Think again, Stephanie.
In the car on the way home, Stephanie asks, “So, are you married or divorced?” Don wonders why he can’t just be single. Stephanie: “I’d be surprised.” She asks if he goes on “dates,” and seems to find the notion antiquated and ridiculous. She notes: “Nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves. But everyone else can see it right away.” Interesting. Certainly applicable sometimes, but the opposite is also true. I do love a paradox. Don decides to make his move, saying that his flight is tomorrow is at noon … unless she thinks he should change it. She asks what he’s doing. Seriously, old man. Don: “I don’t know. You’re so beautiful and young … and I never had a romantic relationship.” I don’t even know what he’s talking about. Stephanie nips this moment in the bud: “Anna is … she has cancer.” Don is shocked. Stephanie explains, “That’s why she broke her leg. It’s in her bones. It’s all over her body.” Don: “Cancer. Oh, shit.” Indeed. Stephanie apologizes for telling him this way, but explains that Anna doesn’t know. Yep, Anna herself doesn’t know she has cancer!!!! Stephanie explains that the doctors say she doesn’t have long, and they don’t want to make it any harder on her. Hmmm. She begs Don, “Please don’t make me sorry that I told you. I didn’t want you to leave and not know.”
Don goes back to Anna’s house, and sits up all night, alone on the couch. The next day, he paints the wall, where there was a water stain from a leak … in his underwear. Anna comes in and is relieved: “I woke up in a panic because I thought that I missed you.” Don says that he’s going to stay longer. She is happy about this, and says that she is not about to turn down Dick Whitman painting her living room in his underwear. Ha! She then lights up a joint and starts talking about UFOs. Seriously. Don is a little worried about her state of mind. Anna then tells him the best thing anyone can tell anyone: “I know everything about you, and I still love you.” Awwww. Getting a little verklempt over here.
Then Patty, Anna’s sister, shows up. She is not happy to see Don still there, and definitely not pleased that he’s in his underwear. She smells the marijuana, and complains that they’ll get arrested. She also snarks to Don that he can’t keep his pants on. Interesting. So what did go on between Anna and Dick Whitman in the past? What exactly was the nature of their relationship, before Don met Betty? Hmmmm. She also notes that she heard Don’s car at 2 a.m., so maybe she’s just referring to his flirtation with her daughter. Hmmmm.
Don goes out to the car with Patty, to help her bring in groceries. He confronts her about keeping Anna in the dark about her cancer: “And she’s gonna see some real doctors and she’s not gonna live in the dark.” Patty sheds some light on how Anna can be ignorant of her condition: “She had Polio. She’s been going to doctors since she was eight. And maybe … she hasn’t let on, so this is the way it’s gonna be.” She actually makes some sense, though I think I would definitely rather know. Don replies, “She is very important to me.” Patty puts her foot down: “You have no say in the affairs of this family. You’re just a man in a room with a checkbook. I’m sorry. Please do the decent thing. The longer you’re here, the more likely you are to say something.”
And surprisingly, Don actually listens. He goes back into the house, and Anna comments: “If it wasn’t for my niece, we would have killed each other by now.” Don: “She means well, and she’s family.” Anna: “You have your kids. I bet that’s better.” Don: “That’s different.” He then says that he has to tell her something, looking serious. But instead of spilling the beans about the cancer, he says that he has to go. Anna: “Oh, I don’t care. I want you to. I want you do everything you want to.” Anna is disconcertingly selfless and saintly. Everyone deals with suffering in different ways, and I guess her method is to turn into Mother Teresa or a Buddhist monk. And what is it about Don that she loves so much? How has he helped her? Or what does she see in him? Thing to ponder …
Back in New York, Joan is readying the office for vacation, which includes taking pencils down from ceiling. Ha! Peggy hands her a box of flowers, presuming they’re from Joan’s husband. They’re red roses. Peggy naively comments, “It’s so encouraging to see someone happily married around here.” However, Joan, upon reading the note, is distracted, and cuts off Peggy’s excitement about telling Joan that she’s spending New Year’s with her boyfriend. Joan bursts into Lane’s office, and she is more angry than we’ve ever seen her. Lane is just lucky that he didn’t send the flowers in a vase. Yes, it seems that the roses she received were from Lane Pryce, not Greg. Joan reads the note aloud and asserts: “I am not your darling and I don’t want your kisses.” Way to go, Joan! Although, Lane is not actually deserving of this rant. He yells for his secretary, and it is revealed that he also sent flowers to his wife in London, and somehow the florist got the orders mixed up. The secretary tries to defend herself, but Joan cuts her off: “But the fact that you’re the kind of person that cannot accept blame is egregious.” Soon-to-be-fired-secretary: “I don’t know what that means.” Ha! Best line of the episode. Joan asks what the note intended for her said: “It said ‘Joan, forgive me. Lane.’” Joan is mollified, and also probably realizes that now Lane will be in a lot hotter water where his marriage is concerned. Awkward. Joan tells the frightened secretary to get her things. She’s fired, and she’ll be paid at the end of the year. Such a well done scene. My absolutely favorite part of the episode, hands down.
We then cut to Joan at home. Greg arrives, and begins to tell her about his day. However, this is interrupted when Joan cuts her finger and screams in pain. She tell her husband to just take her to the hospital, but instead he tells her to sit down. He’s going to take care of it himself. Joan: “Greg, you don’t have to do this.” I think a part of her doesn’t trust him not to mess it up. He will not hear it though, and gets to work. Joan: “Isn’t there some medical ethical law about operating on your wife?” Greg: “For me, this is like … I don’t know, filing some papers for you.” Joan: “I don’t do that anymore. I have other people do it for me.” Hee. Of course you do, Joan. He then is forced to use tactics he claims are used for calming children, while he stitches her up. As he tells jokes, she laughs, and then cries, adding: “I’m not crying because it hurts.” Greg: “Everything is going to be okay.” She cries some more. We really see her vulnerable side—a rare moment. Greg assures her: “Joanie … I can’t fix anything else. But I can fix this.” Sad.
Cut to Don arriving at the office, not Acapulco. It seems he wasn’t in the mood for vacation anymore. Lane is also still there. The two have a drink, and Lane shares some good news: “I made a discovery. Although things are precarious, financially, it’s been a magnificent year.” Well then.
Some time later, Don reads off movie times to Lane. Titles include Zorba the Greek, It’s a Mad Mad Mad World, and The Guns of August. Don’s response to the last one is classic: “I hate guns and I hate August.” Hee. Another option is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Between this mention, and the recent shout-out on Huge, I really must see that film. Don is happy about the prospect of Catherine Deneuve, but Lane adds: “Apparently, it’s for all the young lovers of the world.” Cut to the two watching Godzilla (I think). Ha! They pass a flask back and forth, and are both absolutely drunk. Don motions around the theatre, and whispers, “You know what’s going on here? Hand jobs.”
Then the two go to a restaurant, where much hilarious and drunk dialogue is to be had. Lane: “You remind me of a chap I knew in school … he died in a motorcycle crash.” Nice. He shares that his wife, Rebecca, convinced him that the whole office was on holiday together, without him. Don does admit that they could have been more welcoming. Lane says that his wife is “quite severe with people,” including him. He wanted to bring the family to New York for the holidays, but she was homesick. After a series of arguments, she left. He then weakened and sent flowers. She called to say she was not returning. So are these the flowers addressed to Joan? Did this just happen? Seems that way. Don notes, “That’s tough.” Lane asks, “How did you know when you were done?” Don: “It wasn’t my decision. And I’ve learned the hard way not to give advice in these situations.” Ha! He must be referring to the Roger-Jane debacle. Don was so angry that Roger interpreted his advice as an excuse to divorce his wife and marry his secretary. Lane: “I suppose you’ll tell me to get on a plane.” Don: “Is that what you want? Or is that what people expect from you?” Isn’t that just THE question of the entire era? Don then lightens things up by mentioning that he was going to call a lady friend of his. He asks if Lane would want her to bring a friend. He declines, but Don asks: “What are you going to do? We could pretend it’s New Year’s. It actually is.” Ha! Lane agrees, and then does an uncharacteristic little bit with his steak: “I got a big Texas belt buckle. Yee-haw.” Ahem. I did not need to see that.
The two go to a clup, where a stand-up comedian is performing. He selects Don and Lane as his targets: “Aawwww, I see we have an anniversary tonight. George and Martha.” He asks Lane, “Does it bother your parents that he’s so ugly?” Lane drunkenly yells, “We’re not homosexuals. We’re divorced.” After more joking, the comedian welcomes musician on stage, “whose mother says he’s the next Bob Dylan.” Then Don’s lady friend, Candace, arrives, with a friend. The comedian quips: “I guess I was wrong. You’re not queers, you’re rich.” Ha! Then the classic “House of the Rising Sun” begins to play—a cover of The Animals’ 1964 version. Love it.
Later that night, the group returns to Don’s apartment. Candace’s friend gushes, “I love your apartment. It’s very manly.” Don: “It came this way. I think Norman Mailer shot a deer in there.” Hehe. Don can be pretty funny sometimes. I like that side of him. As Candace prepares drinks, Lane comments, “She seems to know her way around in your kitchen. What’s that like?” Don reminds him, “I told you, I don’t like giving advice in these situations.” Candace’s friend then wants to look around the apartment, and Lane joins her. As they’re about to go into one of the rooms, Don says “Not in there.” Aw, that must be kids’ room. Lane and the woman instead go into Don’s bedroom. She kisses him, he loosens his tie, and then it presumably escalates from there.
The next morning, Lane wakes up very thirsty. The girls are gone. He asks Don what he owes him. Don says he took care of it, but Lane insists: “The girl. How much was she?” Don: “$25.” Lane gives him the money, and then takes his leave. “Thank you for the welcome distraction,” he adds. Don nods his head, and then goes into his room to crash. Thankfully he takes off the sheets before lying on mattress.
After the holiday is over, everyone returns to work. As the SCDP executives get ready to start a meeting in the conference room, Joan asks, “Alright, gentlemen, shall we begin 1965?” Yes, please.
The episode opened on “good news,” like the title indicated. Joan should be able to start a family. However this “good” news is tempered by the reality of the two “procedures” Joan once had. This is followed by all sorts of disaster. Anna has cancer, Lane and his wife are getting divorced, Joan’s husband could be sent to Vietnam at any time. But there is a silver lining: despite it all, SCDP had a “magnificent year,” and 1965 has the potential to be far better. What did you think? Reactions? Questions? Rants? Predictions? Comment away.