Monday, September 27, 2010

"Mad Men" recap: Do you promise not to tell?

Spoilers for this week's episode of "Mad Men" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

This week's episode of "Mad Men" was all about secrets, as Don, Joan, Roger, Pete and Lane all struggled with hiding something, either about themselves or (in Pete's case) about someone else. Though all these secrets were big, potentially life-changing ones, Don's arguably seems the biggest -- mainly because he's been keeping it the longest. Also, of all the secrets, his has the largest short-term stakes -- to hide the fact that Don Draper is really Dick Whitman, Pete has to cancel his $4 million deal with North American Aviation. Seems the contract requires defense clearance and Don, without thinking about it, signed off on the application. When members of the defense department knock on Betty's door asking, among other things, if she has any reason to believe Don Draper isn't who he says he is, Don starts unraveling. He's in an absolute panic about what happens if his true identity is revealed. Throughout the course of the episode, we saw Don become increasingly unstrung, culminating in that phenomenal moment when Don, in the throes of a panic attack, tears his shirt apart in a frenzy of anxiety.
And how amazing was Jon Hamm in that scene? In fact, how amazing was he in this entire episode? The way he goes from the quasi-new, semi-improved Don of the episode's early moments to this wild, unhinged thing is truly extraordinary. Even at the episode's end, when things have temporarily returned to semi-normalcy, that guilt and fear is still visible under Don's restored facade of cool.
Absolutely fantastic.
Not fantastic? The repercussions Don's secret-keeping will have on his still-struggling firm. Once Betty tells Don about the visiting G-Men, he turns to Pete, one of the few people in the company who knows his true identity (note: probably not a good idea to share his concerns with Bert Cooper, the other colleague who knows his secret. I'm fairly certain that, in this instance, he would indeed care). Pete is furious that he might have to dump the contract, but is terrified when Don suggests running off. So he does what he has to do -- dismantles the multi-million dollar account he's nurtured into existence over the past three years and takes the blame.
Now, when this show started, did you ever think that sneaky, scheming, ambitious Pete would be capable of doing something like this? Yes, he's murderously angry with Don for putting him in this position, but he swallows his pride to protect the man that many believe to be the heart of this new company. Even more telling about Pete's growth is the way he handles discussing the issue with Trudy (side note: others have been praising Trudy's frothy pink maternity nightie, but I thought it made her look like love child of a batch of cotton candy and a bowling ball). He tells her just enough to let off steam, but is very careful not to talk about whose lies he's protecting or what they are. When Trudy tells him she wants to know, he tells her he doesn't want her to know. He's protecting her, because he loves her too much to drag her into the murkiness of his work life.
Of course, the ironic subtext of this scene is that Pete has his own secret -- the Peggy Olson affair -- which he's resolved to keep hidden from Trudy. Even more interesting, though Pete bemoans keeping Don's secret Don has also helped to keep Pete's secret. No, Don doesn't know that Pete is the father of Peggy's baby, but, by keeping Peggy's secret, he's also unknowingly protecting Pete. Pete isn't aware of this either, but it gives the whole scene another layer.
At any rate, as Pete wrestles with his burden, Don shares his secret with Faye. It should be a cathartic moment, one that marks the difference between this relationship and the one he had with Betty (who fled when she learned about Dick Whitman). But it seems to sort of build a wall between Don and Faye. Why? Maybe he fears that, despite her supposed acceptance, she'll be closer to Betty -- who was appalled by Don's truth -- than the accepting Anna. And, if she is like Anna, well, look what happened to that poor woman!
At any rate, by episode's end, Don is staring with icky longing at sweet, eager-to-please Megan (side note: what was Joan thinking replacing Miss Blankenship with this delectable young thing? Did she have no other options?). I hope he can control himself, but I have a feeling he'll be disappointed.
Anyway, Don and Pete aren't the only ones with secrets. Turns out, that alley dalliance between Roger and Joan has led to a pregnancy -- one that even an inept doctor like Greg will probably figure out he isn't responsible for. Joan insists on getting an abortion and Roger, sorta semi-tries to talk her out of it, claiming that he "might" love her and, if they did have a relationship, he wouldn't want it to start with a scandal. Sooo, you want me to keep it, asks Joan. God no! replies Roger. OK.
But then he backtracks again, saying maybe it wouldn't be bad if she kept it. Of course, he wouldn't be involved in the child's life. But maybe no one would know it was his. And maybe Greg will die in Vietnam and...
Sigh. Roger is such an a-hole.
Given Roger's behavior, Joan feels she has no choice but to abort her child. Now, this is "Mad Men" and, since we didn't actually see her go in that room in the clinic, I won't be totally convinced she went through with the procedure until we flash forward nine months and she remains childless. Yet, it seems that she did have the abortion, and Roger is both relieved and a little sad.
But he has his own problems. His rival in douchery, Lee Garner Jr., says Lucky Strike's board is pulling Sterling, Cooper, et. al. as its agency. Roger is horrified. Lucky Strike is the corner stone of the new firm. Without the account, they're sunk (this explains Roger's spontaneous f-bomb when Pete says he "lost" North American Aviation). Roger buys a little time, but this clearly seems to be the beginning of the end -- especially since Lane is jumping ship to be with his family in London.
Of course, when he mentions this at the partners' meeting, we know it's only half-true. His rotten father Robert has come into town and browbeat him -- literally -- into returning to England. It says something about Jared Harris's consistently excellent work as Lane that, the minute his father showed up, I knew this was the man who had shaped him into the somewhat meek man he is today. Robert is probably also the reason that Lane has gone a bit wild in the less repressive United States, even finding a new love interest (who happens to be a black woman who works at the Playboy Club). But Lane still can't stand up to his abusive brute of a dad and skulks off just when his new firm is about to need him the most.
Anyway, here are some more of my thoughts on this week's episode, "Hands and Knees."
* Even by "Mad Men" standards, this was a pretty bleak episode, but we did have that great ecstatic Sally Draper moment when her father -- no doubt trying to buy back her affection after that harrowing episode in last week's "The Beautiful Girls" -- told her they were going to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium. Her gleeful shrieking was the happiest, simplest, most child-like moment we've seen from poor Sally in a long time. It's no wonder that her parents -- even the typically sullen Betty -- smiled at her joy.
* Another bright note -- Betty actually came off pretty decent in this episode. I was sure that she was going to find a way to ruin Don's concert ticket gift, or that she'd torture him about the visit by the G-Men, but she took both in stride, and keeps Don's secret. She also tells Henry about the visit (though not Don's past), because she wants openness between them. Moments like this are rare, but they do help us tolerate those long rough patches where Betty seems like a hateful shrew.
* OK, how devastating was that scene with Joan at the clinic? First, we saw that teenage girl (who looked WAY younger than 17, by the way) slink mournfully out of the waiting room and into the doctor's office, as her mom was left sobbing by herself. Then, Joan lies to the woman, pretending she's there with her non-existent 15-year-old daughter. Apparently, that's better than admitting that she's "ruined," in the words of Roger's judgmental (but, apparently discreet) doctor. To cap it all off, we see that image of Joan, all alone on the bus -- without even a friend to give her a ride. Of course, Joan could have gotten a ride from Roger. But, as always, she feels that the only person she can trust is herself. She's kind of right, at least where men are concerned. And that might be the saddest thing of all.
* Um, this is embarrassing, but when we saw those documents with all the blacked out pages, I initially thought they were heavily edited copies of Roger's book. I know. I know.
* Yes, it's bad for Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce that Lucky Strike is dumping them, but I'm pretty glad Lee is on his way out. And hey, maybe this means Sal will be back! He could replace Joey! That would be excellent! probably won't happen.
* Show of hands -- who thinks every episode should include at least one shot of Pete in his jammies? Because every time I see him in sleepwear, it just cracks me up.
* And, aptly enough, the episode closes with an instrumental version of The Beatles's "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" Fitting, considering the upcoming father/daughter outing, and the subject matter of the episode.

1 comment:

Bill Scurry said...

When Joan said "15," an image sorta flashed in my head of Joan having gone through this once before... maybe 15 years ago when she was 20. Just spitballing.

They sure are charging headlong into the finale, aren't they? This season is moving with so much more purpose than the last one, and I can't imagine how all these pressures are going to come to a head.