Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Mad Men,” “Hands and Knees.”
Last night was the tenth episode of this season of “Mad Men,” and as in previous years this is about the time when secrets start to boil over and the plot aims itself toward the finale in a few episodes — the revelation that Don is not really Don in season 1, the sale of Sterling Cooper in season 2, the formation of SCDP in season 3, and now, perhaps, the end of SCDP in season 4.
Roger did not have a good time of it last night. First, Lee “In The Closet” Garner, Jr. drops it on him that Lucky Strike — which Lane was kind enough to make clear earlier in the season is the majority of SCDP’s business — is pulling out to consolidate their advertising under a different agency. Roger successfully begged his way into 30 more days, but what good that will do is unclear. At the same time, his post-mugging hook-up with Joanie a while back (only one week for us viewers) led to an accidental pregnancy — Joan’s third, if I remember correctly. Roger suggests they wait and see if Joan’s husband, Dr. Rapist, who is in Vietnam by now, lives to see the child. “Greg dying is not a solution to this,” she huffs. The solution, it turns out, is a far-away hush-hush abortion. Joanie is confronted with a could’ve-been (or maybe a should-be) at the clinic, the early-30s mom there with her knocked-up 17-year-old daughter. Joan lies about having her own young daughter there that day, but is it simply to save face? It’s entirely possible Joan’s first abortion was 15 years prior, and she could have been in the same situation as that mom. Poor Roger, who wanted to be a bit more gentlemanly this time, was pushed aside. Not a good night at all.
Lane, who hadn’t been around much lately, had his own surprise revelation: black Playboy girlfriend! Is Lane just using her to distance himself from his family back in England? That certainly was the assessment of his gruff father, Robert Pryce. The scene from which this episode gets its name was humiliating for Lane (not to mention potentially brain-damaging after such a strong cane to the temple). Under physical duress Lane promises to return to sort out his family matters. Will we see Toni (played by the lovely Naturi Naughton) return? Hopefully, she isn’t relegated to a simple means like Kinsey’s girlfriend a few years back.
The North American Aviation account has moved forward enough that the office needs to obtain some clearance from the government. Betty is perturbed when some DoD agents show up to question her about Don’s past, for whom she competently if bumblingly covers. When he finds out what’s happening, Don freaks almost as badly as Sally when he told her about the Beatles concert (something so incontrovertibly awesome even Betty can’t be mad). But that’s nothing compared to when some possible G-men scare him in front of his apartment with Dr. Faye. Don practically keels over then and there. Later, he tells Faye about his past (her response? “My goodness.”) in some effort to abate his fear. But his problems remain; should the DoD dig much deeper, they’ll uncover Don’s real identity. He has Pete kill the $4 million NAA account, a giant dent in SCDP’s frame that looks like the ham account compared to the loss of Lucky Strike.
Pete, meanwhile, is frustrated by having to cover for Don again. He laments to the enormously pregnant Trudy that so many people just float through the world causing collateral damage and that he is one of the honest people who has to pick up the pieces. But we know Pete’s not honest, and the irony of saying that while perched next to his pregnant wife is astounding.
“We avoided a tragedy,” Joan assures Roger before the partners’ meeting (or, as my episode notes say, the “partners’ meeting of SECRETS + Bert Cooper”). But it seems pretty clear they haven’t, not in the long run. Don threw off the feds, for now, but at the price of a $4 million account and by pissing off Pete. Roger slightly delayed Lucky Strike’s departure, but 30 days flies by. Joan got rid of this baby, but as her doctor warned her, having so many abortions could render her barren for if and when Dr. Rapist returns from Vietnam. And Lane’s leave of absence can never solve his long-term familial problems across the pond.
We again got only the briefest glimpse of Harry, although he insisted he had to jet off to California right away on the NAA contract. His frequent California trips appear poised to come back and bit him in the ass. Sadly, there was no sign of Peggy, who was apparently holed up with the rest of creative and art. Finally, what the hell was Trudy wearing? It looked like she had wrapped her torso in cotton candy. The cast of “Mad Men” has generally pulled off the ’60s look, but that train wreck of a nightie was almost as bad as Lady Gaga’s meat dress.
Living a lie is the hardest thing in the world, and yet it’s the norm in the offices of Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce.
This week’s Mad Men focused on what happens behind closed doors and the secret lives being led by the firm’s partners. In a way, the episode was also about what Mad Men is always about: daddy issues. Roger fathered a child he didn’t want (or did he? or didn’t he?). Pete Campbell is weeks away from becoming a father and is busy judging Don for the secrets he keeps (remember that baby you never knew, Pete?). Lane conveniently forgot he has a family in England, and tried to get his father’s approval of the new life he’s chosen for himself. And Don, oh Don, tried to make it up to Sally with Beatles tickets, while he came face-to-face with the past he’s always running from.
Jon Hamm turned in an amazing performance this week as Don is hunted by G-men doing a routine security clearance check. It was so classic to watch Betty fidget when the DoD guys asked her if Don goes by another name. Come again? The usually unflappable Don was completely and thoroughly turned inside out when he thought he saw G-Men in his apartment hallway, enough that he thought he was having a heart attack. Jon Hamm can literally sweat on demand — very impressive. The scene gave us another peek into the new, tender, honest Don who is trying to get it right with Dr. Faye. He tried to push her away, but she stuck by his side and offered support when he told her about his desertion. A gold star for you, Faye!
Lane showed he’s got a loyal gal pal, too, but he sure does not deserve her. I felt like he chose Toni specifically to rile up his stodgy dad — a black Playboy bunny? Really, Lane? He acted like a rebellious teenager when his dad told him he needed to come back to England, and then Dad up and beat Lane down. I can’t lie… I was on his dad’s side on this one. Lane’s wife is a bitch, but Lane can’t just live these double lives blithely unaware of the consequences. That’s Roger’s bag!
And Roger… oh Roger. He again tried to be the stand-up guy for Joan, this time offering his support when she revealed she was pregnant with his child. But as usual, Joan had to clean up the mess. I was a little stunned when he said, “If we have a future, I don’t want us to start with a scandal.” Um… did getting robbed of his wedding ring cause him to forget about Jane? Joan was the consummate professional through it all, but a part of me wanted her to have the baby. Didn’t her doctor warn her that having abortions could cause trouble down the road?
In the midst of all the personal turmoil, SCDP is still struggling on the business front. Lucky Strike has all but walked out the door, and Don is forcing Pete to give up the airline contract (Don really, REALLY should have owned up on that one. Pete isn’t going to soon forget this affront). Lane is leaving to piece his life back together. I might be getting my hopes up, but I’m ready to see some of that old Draper magic again soon. Let’s hire Sal back and write some good campaigns, guys!
Our favorite SCDPers (minus Peggy, which is just unacceptable — give them a bigger budget, AMC!) have been straddling two worlds. And shit is hitting the fan. It’s time for them to grow up or bow out, but they definitely have to make a choice. “Either there, or here. You will not live in between.”
Lane thinks he knows what he wants: to live in New York and sex up his Playmate. In fact, he’d rather do that than ever see his son again, refusing, initially, to return to London even for a visit. And that’s a pretty horrible message to send to your child. (As is a cane to the face, but still…) Lane may have daddy issues, and rightfully so, but he’s perpetuating the same abuse he’s obviously suffered at the hands of his own father, albeit decidedly less physically. At the end of the episode, Lane makes up his mind to give responsibility a shot.
Speaking of offspring — poor Joan. She wanted a baby with her husband, and when she wasn’t getting pregnant, she thought it might be her fault. After all, she’s been around the block a couple of (dozen) times and had to get things “taken care of” before. As it turns out, Joan’s baby-making parts work just fine. As do Roger’s. Joan abandoned promiscuity in favor of (what she thought would be) the stability of marriage, and her indiscretion with Roger — an echo of that former life — is costing her a lot more anguish than she bargained for. It’s time for Joan to figure out who she wants to be, and whom she wants to be with. (Sidebar: I think we all know what the right choice is. That baby would’ve had more swagger than the spawn of T.I. and The Fonz.)
As for Roger, he’s got his own issues to deal with. Lucky Strike Tobacco, the biggest account the company has (and the only reason Roger is still relevant), is headed for greener pastures. Roger’s been riding the wave of his father’s entrepreneurship down the hedonism pipeline his entire life. He inherited everything he has. As he hunkers down and goes through his Rolodex, probably doing actual work for the first time in his life, Roger’s showing that he can be the kind of man who fixes his own problems. In his 50s, Roger’s finally deciding to grow up.
Don, on the other hand, seems to be reverting. More than anyone in the entire series, Don Draper is a man of many worlds and many secrets. And when they’re in danger of being exposed, he loses it, physically and mentally. No, he’s not going insane, but the progress he’s made recently is slipping away. And although his is no longer a choice between “being Dick” and “being Don,” he does need to choose between old, philandering, unhappy Don, and new, mature, fulfilled Don. Now that Faye knows his secret, is he going to push her away? Is this just too much intimacy for him? Judging by the lascivious eyes he was making at his secretary, next week’s episode is going to answer those very questions.
Vanessa Van Landingham