Mad Men Season 4 Episode 3: The Good News

Posted on August 09, 2010

Each season of Mad Men had its share of “moving the pieces around the board” episodes that rarely ever appear in anyone’s Top Ten list of favorites. Not particularly heavy on the themes or motifs that drive the show, these episodes almost always turn out to be setups for the payoffs that inevitably come down the line. This was one of those episodes. Unlike previous installments of this ilk, this one actually packed in quite a bit of enjoyable story even if it did feel a bit uneven by the end. But no complaints. We’ve learned our lesson. We bitched a little about the endless Draper marriage scenes in season 3, but we got a hell of a payoff in the end. We trust the writers. Besides, as we said, there was plenty to enjoy with this one.

We open with Joan visiting her gynecologist just to make sure everything’s in place for when she wants to start a family even though she admits they’re not ready yet. Typical of Joan, she wants all her cards in place well ahead of time, especially given that she’s had two abortions and she’s in her mid-thirties. Her doctor assures her she’s good to go.

Back at the office, Joan blows right past Lane’s secretary and into his office to turn on the Joan Holloway Harris charm, offering to pick up some fried chicken for lunch, since she knows that’s what he likes. “Breast? Thigh?” All of this is a ploy of course. She wants a couple of days off to spend with her husband, who’s working through the New Year’s holiday. Lane, ever the stuffy money man, flatly turns her down, annoyed with her for trying her old tricks on him. “I understand that all men are dizzy and powerless to refuse you but consider me the incorruptible exception.” It’s kind of an interesting development that these two clearly don’t like each other very much. Joan almost never lets anyone in her work sphere get under her skin the way Lane does. Interestingly, the last man who annoyed her this much was Lane’s old assistant, the officious Mr. Hooker. Maybe she just doesn’t like Brits. Probably because she can’t use her all-American good girl charm to get them to do what she wants.

At home that night, Joan’s walking in as Greg is walking out on his way to his shift at the hospital. The scene starts off sweet but quickly dissolves into marital strife and for once, it’s not entirely Greg’s fault. Joan is cracking under the pressure and disappointment of long-delayed plans. She wants the family that was promised to her and her age would naturally have a lot to do with that anxiety. Women in their mid-thirties in 2010 still receive a ton of pressure if they haven’t had children. Imagine what that pressure must have been like in 1964. Joan’s always been the one character who held it together better than any of them and it was disconcerting seeing her falling apart. Especially in the next scene with Lane where, due to a royal fuckup on his secretary’s part, a box of long-stemmed good intentions wound up all over Lane’s office floor, courtesy of Joan’s rage. Once Joan realizes the truth of the situation, she aims her guns straight at the woman responsible. If there’s one thing above all others that Joan cannot abide, it’s a secretary who fucks up.

“The fact that you’re the kind of person that cannot accept blame is egregious.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It means I can’t believe I hired you. You’re fired. Go get your things.”

Ouch. Not to be cruel, but we couldn’t help noticing after seeing the Christmas party Parade O’ Beauties that is apparently the SCDP secretarial pool, Lane’s secretary was not, shall we say, one of their number. It appears Joan hired beautiful women to serve every man at SCDP except for the one she likes the least.

As an aside, it was nice to see Peggy and Joan have a brief scene together. We’ve been wondering what the status quo is on their relationship now that things are so vastly different for the two of them. “It’s so encouraging to see someone happily married around here.” God, we love the new smartass Peggy. She seemed eager to remind Joan that she has a boyfriend. A way of saying, “See? I’m doing it. You didn’t think I could, but I am.”

Joan tries to make things better at home by fixing a Hawaiian-themed dinner for her man. After she cuts her finger badly on a knife, we get to see Greg act like something other than a selfish jerk. Most of the viewers aren’t ever going to forget that he raped her once, but people aren’t easily pegged in the world of Mad Men – or the real world, for that matter. He did a horrible thing and we doubt anyone involved in the show would argue otherwise, but people are more complicated than merely being Villains or Heroes. Plus it was nice to see that he’s not a total loser on the professional front. In fact, we think Joan was seeing that side of him – the caring, competent side – for the first time herself. “I can’t fix anything else, but I can fix this.” Still, it was heartbreaking seeing her break down and sob like that. Nobody can go from formidable to vulnerable like Christina Hendricks.

Although we fear, with the various mentions of Vietnam in this episode, that Greg might get shipped out and possibly killed before Joan gets to have the child she wants. That will be devastating to watch, because if that happens, in all likelihood, Joan will never get to have a child.

And with THAT depressing thought out of the way, let’s move on to the King of Depression, Don Draper. Things with Allison seem cool and professional, if a little awkward. Don’s in the office for only a couple of hours before he flies out to Acapulco for a little holiday vacation. Lane stops in for some administrative reason and to wish him a happy new year. He’s also off soon to reunite with his family in London. “Enjoy your family,” Don tells him, his words (as always) dripping with meaning.

As an aside – and it WAS an aside – we had to do a little squeal when Harry stopped in and implored Don to meet with Bill Asher during his stopover in L.A. “He’ll probably want to cast you.” Bill Asher was the husband of Elizabeth Montgomery and along with her, the co-creator and producer of the brand new hit show “Bewitched.” We always kind of wondered if they would ever reference the show. How could they not? One of its main characters was a Madison Avenue creative director. Darrin Stephens IS Don Draper, to a certain extent. Which means, come to think of it, that Roger is Larry Tate.

When Harry mentioned that Don would be stopping in L.A., we just knew we were going to be treated to another visit with the warm, almost angelic Anna Draper. Watching him practically collapse into a deep hug with her reminded us both that he’s still in a terribly painful place right now and that she’s the one person who knows him better than all others. The one person around whom he can be completely and totally himself, Dick Whitman. How different she is from the other women in his life, in her beads (too early to call them “love beads”) and prairie skirt, kicking back on her couch and smoking some “grass.” She’s warm, she’s non-judgmental, she’s funny and comfortable in her own skin. She’s essentially everything that Betty is not. We understand why he never had a romantic relationship with her, even though they both love each other. It’s not that kind of love, and besides, Don probably doesn’t want to fuck up a good thing in his life.

We meet Anna’s sister Patty and her niece Stephanie, who is every inch the early ’60s surfer culture California girl, all apple cheeked and sun-bleached hair. Patty is totally unlike her sister. She’s uptight and judgmental. Stephanie, on the other hand, could have been Anna’s daughter. “I like to think I had a hand in that,” she says to Don, in reference to her niece. She asks Stephanie to stay instead of leaving with her mother. “I wanted him to meet you and I know you’ve got grass.”

The three of them head out to a surf bar, where Jan and Dean are playing on the radio. Stephanie regales them with tales of her worst roommate ever, the one who had a nervous breakdown and stayed up all night reading the Bible, greeting her in the morning by asking her if she’s heard the good news of Jesus. Matthew Weiner has said that one of the things he wanted to explore with this show was the decline of New York and the rise of California that happened in the ’60s. They’re throwing a couple of hints to that effect. There’s the reference to the sit-ins at Berkeley, the rise of the drug culture with the pot-smoking scene, the hint surfer culture, Anna’s story of seeing a UFO and Stephanie’s story, which hints at the later-sixties fad of what was called “Jesus Freaks,” basically, evangelical Christian hippies. All that goofy sixties stuff that formed an alternative subculture had their roots in California.

Stephanie gets up to play a song on the jukebox and she picks Patti Page’s 1957 hit, “Old Cape Cod,” as a way to tease the two older people into dancing. “If you spend an evening you’ll want to stay,” go the lyrics, which are referencing Don’s own feelings at the moment. He’s only there for the night, but it’s the first time we’ve seen Don smile since before the Kennedy assassination. He’s enjoying himself in this place with these people. Of course he’s still Don Draper, with all his demons intact, which means he makes a clumsy and – dare we say it? – almost embarassing play for the half-his-age Stephanie later that night when he drives her home. Once again, he strikes out. Not just because Stephanie’s not interested, but because she’s got a bomb to drop: Anna doesn’t have much time left to live because she’s got cancer and worse, she doesn’t know it. Don is devastated and angry. Later, when he gets back to Anna’s place, he tenderly lifts her sleeping form off the couch and carries her to bed.

The next morning Anna awakens to the sight of Don in his boxers painting over the stain in her living room, an echo of what Greg said to Joan: “I can’t fix anything else, but I can fix this.” Anna gets a little wake-and-bake going and tells Don fondly, “I know everything about you and I still love you,” which is such a simple and beautiful statement that it made us tear up a little bit.

Patty stops by again and Don confronts her angrily about Anna’s cancer, telling her that he’s taking over now. “She is very important to me. I’m going to do what I have to.” Patty reminds him that he’s not her family. “You’re just a man in a room with a checkbook.” She implores him to leave like he said he would so he won’t be tempted to tell her. Defeated, Don, with pain and grief etched on his face, tells Anna he has to go. “I want you to do everything you want to do,” she tells him. Before he goes, he paints “Dick + Anna ’64” on her living room wall. “You’ll be fine,” she tells him. “You’ll make the best of it. You always do.”

“Goodbye Anna.”

Jesus Christ, just writing this is going to make us cry!

Don skips the trip to Acapulco and heads to the only place he can – the office. He finds Lane there, to his surprise. The two men without families decide to make a day of it and go to the movies, each of them declining to see, in turn, Zorba the Greek, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (“No kidding,” says Don), and Send me no Flowers, which Lane turns down with a flat “No,” not wanting to think about flowers at that moment. Instead they go to see a Godzilla Gamera movie. “This movie’s very good!” says Lane, drunkenly. When Don informs him that handjobs are being performed all around him, Lane, ever the man of ledgers and numbers, wants to know the percentage.

Later they go to dinner, where Lane informs him that his marriage is effectively over. “I learned the hard way not to give advice in these situations,” Don tells him, referring to the time he inadvertently advised Roger to leave his wife. Lane wonders if he should fly out to London and make a grand gesture. “Is that what you want or is that what people expect of you?” Don asks, a callback to Dr. Miller’s summation last week of the conflict at the heart of all people: “Basically, it comes down to what I want versus what’s expected of me.”

They move on to a West Village nightclub, complete with an obnoxious Lenny Bruce-style comic, who tries to embarrass them by characterizing them as a gay couple. That’s shot down when Candace the Slapping Hooker shows up with an extra hooker in tow for Lane. The foursome head back to Don’s man cave. “I love your apartment. It’s very manly.” “I think Norman Mailer shot a deer over there.” Don waves Lane and his girl away from the room where his kids sleep. He’s still very good at keeping his worlds separate. So Lane takes her into Don’s room and has a little fun while Don and Candace give his couch a little more action.

The next morning, to our surprise, Lane seems pretty okay with everything that went down. Once again, ever the money man, he pays his fair share (we’re far from experts on this sort of thing, but we’re thinking $25 meant that these were fairly high-end call girls) and thanks Don for the “welcome distraction.” Don says it was no problem. Once again, the theme of the episode: “I can’t fix anything else, but I can fix this.”

And with that, we’ve effectively checked in on several important characters and plots have been set up for all of them. We wonder what will happen to Don when Anna dies. It’s not going to be easy to watch. We wonder if Lane will try to salvage his marriage or just enjoy being a steak and fried chicken-eating pseudo-American. We wonder if Joan will be able to handle the strain and disappointment of her delayed plans. We wondered all of this as the SCDP principals all gathered in the conference room on the first workday of the new year to plan the future.

“Gentlemen, shall we begin 1965?”

[Photo credit: AMC TV]

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