Mad Men Season 4 Episode 10: Hands and Knees

Posted on September 27, 2010

It seems almost silly to point out that this episode dealt heavily with secrets and how they can weigh a person down. After all, the entire series of Mad Men is largely about secrets and how they can weigh you down. It’s as if this episode is meant to be considered something of a mission statement as we count down the episodes to the end of the season, a period typically loaded with narrative fireworks. So, secrets it is, although really, the theme might as well be “We are so fucked.”

North American Aviation has a lot of secrets. Secrets upon secrets; not just the ones blacked out in their company reports, but their very raison d’etre, which they would like to keep as camouflaged from the public as possible, with the help of SCDP. “We don’t have to say ‘bombs,’ right?”

But secrets have a way of resurfacing at the most unexpected of times, something Betty Francis found out when she opened her front door to an unexpected blast of old memories and resentments, right in the face. The straw that broke the camel’s back of her previous marriage, her husband’s epic, decade-long lie, is suddenly front and center, and Betty almost certainly thought she’d never, ever have to deal with it again. Shaken, she still managed to do right by the father of her children, even though the questions of the DoD men got a little too on the nose to be believable. “Do you have any reason to believe Mr. Draper isn’t who he says he is?”

And when she called Don to yell at him (because she only calls Don to yell at him) about the episode, she finds herself drawn back into his “web,” as Peggy once called it. Her anger evaporated pretty quickly when it became obvious not only that he didn’t know about it, but that the news of it shook him to his core. As soon as she mentioned the possibility of their phones being tapped, cold war paranoia washed over their faces simultaneously, uniting them in their shared secret. There was no possibility she was ever going to tell on him. We can’t say if she still has feelings for him but he is the father of her children and she stands to lose a lot, socially speaking, should a scandal like that come out. For a second there, they almost looked like partners. That was one hell of a heartfelt “thank you” he whispered to her.

Besides, we think Betty misses the drama of living with Don. She told Henry she didn’t want any secrets, efficiently ignoring that she was withholding the biggest secret of all from him, the secret that ended her marriage.

As for Don, the unexpected eruption of his biggest secret in the very last place he wants it revealed – the office – has almost completely undone him. But first he must take a moment to do what he always does when things get tough for him: make a woman feel like shit. Poor Megan didn’t do one thing wrong, but she was a nervous wreck, practically begging him to fire her, all for a transgression she didn’t understand or comprehend.

We thought it was a little odd Don went to Pete over this. Sure, it makes sense because North American is Pete’s account and because Pete is one of the privileged few who know his secret. But we found it odd that Bert’s knowledge of it was never referred to, especially since, if there’s anyone in Don’s sphere who could probably make a call to the Department of Defense and call in some markers, it would have to be Bert Cooper, Ninja Capitalist.

Then again, there’s a very good reason staring us in the face explaining why he went to Pete over Bert: because he could boss him around. Good for Pete for taking a couple opportunities to register his disgust (“I don’t have to live with your shit over my head!” “How is it that some people just walk through life dragging their lies with them, destroying everything they touch?”), but in the end, he did what he was told. He didn’t like it, but he came up against the one card Don had left to play: his value to the company and his indispensibility to all the people who invested in it. Pete’s got a kid on the way (as Trudy’s gigantic maternity nightie reminded us) and he can’t have his Clio-winning star creative man pull a hobo act and take off. It’s all Don’s got left, his past glories.

This realization more than anything is what powered his astonishing panic attack, which left him literally on his hands and knees, retching into the toilet. Not just panic over being found out, but panic over the realization that he didn’t have a life worth protecting anymore. Anna is gone and there’s no place left where he can just be the person he really is, no secrets weighing him down. This is why he opened up to Faye so easily. Not because he feels a particularly deep connection with her, but because he’s exhausted living the lie and she’s sitting there with her insight and good listening skills. Maybe we’re underplaying the importance of that scene but once you see Don Draper cry snot bubbles while telling Betty all his secrets, a scene like this feels decidedly less jaw-dropping in comparison.

Joan has a secret too. A huge one. We don’t know what’s more jarring; seeing Joan so vulnerable and momentarily helpless, or seeing a Roger, whose every scene lately seems tinged with a manic, desperate undertone, drop the sarcasm and try to be tender with her, promising he’ll take care of it. But really, it was Joan who took care of it, even if Roger did pay the 400 dollars. She was quiet through most of her scenes this episode. She wants to get through this thing as quickly as possible and she can’t believe she’s found herself here.

Roger thinks this is a sign. “Maybe I’m in love with you.” When they momentarily toy with the idea of continuing with the pregnancy, Roger lets his more selfish side show. “It wouldn’t be my child. Let’s make that clear.” Unless Greg dies, of course. “Greg dying is not a solution,” says Joan impatiently, as if in direct response to the many fans of the show who have prayed for his death. In the end, Joan is practical. “We shouldn’t be seen together. I don’t need you to come.” The writers were subtle and left open the possibility that she actually didn’t go through with the procedure, but honestly, that doesn’t sound right to us. At the end there, she was just putting on as happy a face as she could. “We avoided a tragedy,” she reminds Roger. “Life goes on.”

But that’s not exactly comforting to Roger, who’s dealing with his own secret. A secret of his own making born out of his inability to deal with anything in an adult manner. He could have come clean to the partners immediately about Lucky Strike firing them, but he (figuratively) got down on his hands and knees and begged Lee to give him 30 days to “get his affairs in order,” which sounds alarmingly fatalistic, coming from Roger.

Like a child, he delays or attempts to escape anything he doesn’t want to deal with, so he puts off having to deal with it for as long as possible. And like a child, he has to first have a little meltdown in front of Lee Garner, Jr. But who can blame him? Guy’s an asshole and Roger’s had to swallow a lot of shit dealing with him over the years. Unfortunately for Roger, that seems to have been all he’s done over the years, because his desperate attempts to somehow secure a client only reveal how inept and out of touch he is. Nice little wink there from the writers, by the way. After playing catchup with “Louise” on the phone, Roger asks for “Larry,” only to find out to his shock that he died, which makes us wonder if Darrin finally got made partner and if Larry didn’t succumb to death by nose twitch.

Meanwhile, Lane has a couple secrets of his own. One, he’s really bought into the whole swinging sixties thing as he’s gone out and landed a girlfriend who’s not only a Playboy bunny, but a black Playboy bunny. We really hope this thing with Toni is real. It certainly seemed to be. We’d hate to see another “white guy dates a black girl because of how it makes him look” plots after Paul Kinsey already did it a couple seasons back. Of course Lane has a second secret: his father is a sociopath. Imagine what it was like growing up in THAT home. If this thing with Toni – who is FABULOUS, by the way – is real, we’re wondering if it can survive the pressures of Lane’s family. One crack to the head and he’s on his hands and knees, promising to be a good boy and do what he’s told.

And in the end, all these overlapping secrets converge around a conference room table. Pete took the fall for Don. He didn’t want to, but he knew the company couldn’t survive without him. Don, because he can be a real piece of shit, let Roger tear into Pete for way too long without speaking. Roger, reeling from the realization of his uselessness and how it’s going to result in the end of the company, not to mention the frustration of his impossible love affair, is like a rabid dog, all but leaping across the table at Pete in anger. Lane, like a good boy, announces to the partners that he’s leaving effective immediately and will be back who knows when. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is on the verge of collapsing under the weight of all its secrets.

While the fate of SCDP remains up in the air, it looked pretty obvious to us that the fate of the Faye and Don relationship has been sealed. He was grateful that she was there for him, but he has no intention of continuing a relationship with a woman who knows his secret. It leaves him too open and vulnerable. It’s possible he hasn’t figured this out for himself yet, but the “I need to be alone tonight” speech coupled with the sudden realization that hey, Megan is kind of hot, pretty definitively stamped an expiration date on Faye’s forehead. Don hasn’t learned a thing. After everything he’s been through, he’s still running from people who get too close to him and keeping his eye out for the next woman to save him.

* There were two interesting mirror moments where Faye and Joan, after having very intimate conversations with Don and Roger, respectively, opened their office door and loudly ended a false conversation with eerily similar lines. “Very well then. I’ll wait on your word.” “Very good, then. You can call me with the details.”

* Those script writers are economical, we’ll give them that. Don calls the Francis residence and speaks briefly to Betty before asking for Sally. “Can I speak with her?” “You can try,” says Betty dryly, hinting at the current state of this particular mother-daughter relationship. Sally screaming over the Beatles tickets was adorable. Even ice cold Betty got a kick out of that.

* Nice touch having Lane encounter his father for the first time holding a Mickey Mouse and red, white and blue balloon. Not only does it infantilize him in the scene, but it refers to his love of all things American, the very thing that’s causing his family’s anger with him.

* Another nice touch, if a little obvious: Don ripping open his shirt in the throes of his panic attack, buttons flying everywhere. The dress shirt is “Don Draper’s” skin and at that moment, Dick can’t bear to be in it anymore.

* We can’t entirely say Don is unchanged. He toyed seriously with the idea of running away once again, but at least he made sure that Betty and the kids were taken care of financially if he took off. That’s some sort of progress, at least.

* How humiliating was it for Joan to have to pretend that she was at the doctor’s office for her daughter’s sake because a woman her age getting an abortion would have been looked at as a horror? “That is an option for young girls,” Betty’s doctor reminded her back when she indicated she didn’t want to be pregnant a third time. And how heartbreaking and depressing was that lonely ride home on the bus in the dark?

* It’s nice to see the state of the Campbell marriage, if only briefly. Typically, Trudy is supportive and Pete takes comfort from that support. But they’re affectionate with each other in a way that they certainly weren’t in the early days.

* Sometimes you need to be reminded that this is all occurring pre-sexual revolution. Knocking on your co-worker’s apartment door only to find him inside with a female colleague walking out of his bedroom? Sure, that can be a little awkward in 2010. In 1965 however, it’s met with a thunderous silence; something so embarrassing to all involved that no one says a word about it.

* Bert told Don back when his secret was revealed to him that he had the right to fire Pete but he might want to consider turning him into an ally. As always, Bert is wise. He was a begrudging ally to be sure, but he still helped Don out in a huge way. Unfortunately, it’s only made him resent Don more and respect him less. It’s like Pete and Don are on the exact opposite trajectory as Peggy and Don, who only grow closer and more respectful of each other over time.

* The fate of SCDP is very uncertain, but sue us, all we can think of now that they don’t have to put up with Lee Garner, Jr’s bullshit anymore is “HIRE SAL!” Surely we’re not the only ones.

 

[Photo credit: AMC TV]