I totally agree with my NPR colleague Linda Holmes on the incredulity of the Joan storyline, reasons for which she outlines quite well in this blog post. So I don’t even need to go there. But I’m still waiting for you boys to weigh in with what YOU thought of this girl-centric episode.
Team, I’m going to ignore the fact that I find the Joan storyline to be incredulous for a second to focus on Peggy, who has been, for the length of this show, both a protege and a female mirror of Don. Last season’s “The Suitcase,” when Don really hit the bottom of the Plath Bell Jar and found himself sleeping on Peggy’s lap after losing Anna Draper is one of the best Mad Men episodes of all time, and it’s largely because of the strength of the bond between those two characters (and actors).
She told Don, in that heavy goodbye scene, that he’d probably do the same. Maybe. And he said he would ignore the fact that he’s responsible for everything good that’s happened to her. There’s an argument I don’t buy, and I’ll use Jay-Z to explain myself. In “Lost One”, a track off of 2006’s Kingdom Come, the HOVA opens with this:
“It’s not a diss song, it’s just a real song / Feel me? // I heard motherfuckers saying they made Hov / Made Hov say, “Okay so, make another Hov”
“I owe a lot of my success to a lot of people, but ultimately, no one made me. This is the kind of lie that people get told all the time, sometimes in romantic relationships, sometimes in their professional lives: that somehow who they are is a result of other people’s investment in them. It’s vital to resist that or you risk losing yourself; as I say in another song, Remind yourself / nobody built like you / you design yourself.”
It is without question that Don changed Peggy’s life (hiding her big Pete baby secret not withstanding) but they are different people, different sexes, on different tracks and she’s been a victim of bad timing with him one time too many. Why is it Peggy who always walks in to his office when he’s in the worst possible mood for a totally unrelated reason? Ugh.
Just as Jay says, Peggy is now reminding herself that she designs herself. And that look of excitement and relief as she prepared to step in the elevator was uplifting for me, because she’s been in a rut all season.
So it seems like Don’s losing grasp on all the women who matter to him most. Megan isn’t going to be controlled like a 1966 Jag. “She just comes and goes as she pleases,” Ginsberg observed about her, or no one in particular. And the out-of-chronology reveal of Don’s too-late plea to stop Joan broke my heart. I started tearing up at that scene, but by the time he was bidding adieu to Peggy, the tears were full-on running down my face.
So I’ve left a lot unsaid here. Mainly about Joan. But I want you men to weigh in first. Over to you, boys.
In an episode full of revelations, the main secret driving the the show’s central character gets kept under wraps - for everyone besides Faye, a new member of the Draper/Whitman inner circle. But let’s review everything we learned about the rest of the characters: Lane is involved with a “negro”! Joan is preggers with Roger’s baby! Joan gets a secret abortion! Roger loses 69% of SCDP’s revenue! Lane’s a victim of domestic violence!
This episode worked so well because it played on the central theme of the show: secrets and lies. And now that we’re four seasons in, the audience is getting a huge payoff for paying attention all these years. We see the resentment Pete harbors toward Don, as Pete has known the Dick Whitman secret since 1960 and now it’s coming back to ruin his business relationship. (Only the irony there is Don actually helped fix Pete’s big secret - the Peggy baby situation - all those years ago.) We see the marked difference between Betty’s reaction to learning Don’s secret and Faye’s reaction. Where Betty turned cold toward Don after learning the truth, Faye drew nearer to him. Faye’s actually Don’s type, of course. Instead of being a trophy wife who can cook and sew and such, Faye is that independent, headstrong woman who Don’s always actually been drawn to. (e.g. Rachel Menken, crazy Miss Farrell, Bobbie Barrett, Midge)
So one of my questions as we leave this episode is, if Don gets away with it again and gets to keep his fake identity, isn’t he still running? He really breaks down here and admits he’s sick of running, but Pete helping him keep things under wraps means he’s going to continue this lie… should the whole house of cards come tumbling down in order to save his sanity?
Finally, the change theme of the season’s really coming into full focus, as Roger loses the company’s golden egg (and, I think, the only real account he’s in charge of). As we’ve talked about in previous posts, his and the rest of the “old guard’s” influence is waning, if not dying a la Blankenship and that client he tried to reach by phone in this episode.
So we head an episode closer to the season finale with SCDP teetering on the edge, and Trudy about to pop out a tot. Methinks this season won’t end with as much caper-style fun and triumph as last season.
It’s quite a predicament for women at SCDP - and women in the workplace everywhere, isn’t it? You’re either just a sexy secretary or you’re an overzealous climber bitch. (Monica vs. Hillary, anyone?) As Joey the freelance art director becomes more and more misogynistic toward Joan, (because apparently his mother was the same way), Peggy steps into to save the day and show Joey the door.
Peggy thinks she’s done something magnanimous for Joan. But Joan knows better. Now Joan’s the damsel in distress, saved by a “humorless” chick with a dick. While we’re forty years forward and situations have gotten better for women, I can’t say I don’t understand the perception predicament Joan describes in the elevator.
And this episode really explored the show’s ladies, didn’t it? Bethany’s back, and willing to meet Don’s, uh, draper. She needs a more from him, and says it. “We really are from different generations,” Don replies. But now that we’re hearing his internal thoughts for the first time, a la Carrie Bradshaw, we know he doesn’t think much more of her than he did Betty Draper. She’s beautiful, charming, but not on his level.
The women on his level were traditionally Don’s mistresses - they tend to be the aggressive, modern, independent ladies who could take him or leave him. Midge, the hippie from season one, Rachel Menken, who headed her own stores, Bobby Barrett, who was responsible for the entire Jimmy Barrett machine, Miss Farrell, the enlightened teacher who worried how DON was doing after he ditched her in the car … and now, Faye. The ad doctor of persuasion is actually getting to hear Don’s actual thoughts and worries - he discusses Gene’s upcoming 2nd birthday with her, that he’s out of sorts, etc. etc. Where he keeps the dancer at arm’s length (and later muses that he already “knows her” - is that a reference to how similar she is to Betty?), he seems to let down the mask when he’s with Faye. What a contrast.
Speaking of contrast, I’m not sure how I feel about actually hearing Don’s internal monologue. The show opened with narration and immediately I thought of Sex and the City and wondered if we’d get a “I couldn’t help but wonder” moment. I’ve long believed the beauty of this show is the subtlety in the story and the acting WITHOUT getting into the characters’ heads and actually hearing what they think. While it’s helpful to know Don is now making a bucket list (yay Mount Kilimanjaro) and wants to “gain a modicum of control over” the way he feels, we could have figured that out without the exposition. (Okay, maybe not the mountain climbing part.)
-Henry Francis, God bless him. He looked like such a sad, lonely creature mowing that lawn. And he really is stuck with a child. I loved his line “Hate’s a strong word. I hate Nazis.”
-No Roger again!?! Arrrgh.
-Francine’s reminder to Betty is an important one. Who is Betty but a woman who has defined her life through men? And then she acts out with the men she’s with? I can’t decide if it’s bad acting or bad writing that’s making this woman so one-dimensional and irritating. Shouldn’t I feel bad for her a little - I swear I have before in earlier seasons.
Anyway, I’m anxious to hear what y’all think about the new use of narration and the issues about sexism that came up for the girls. And whatever else.
This was like two episodes packed into one: Don in California with the one woman grownup who really loves him, and Don back in New York, on his unforgettable drunken man-date with Lane Pryce. Joan’s story arc is placed throughout, and that intersection with Lane and the flowers… pure gold. That Lane Pryce kills me!
THE SAD STUFF
Anna Draper, who said so herself in this episode, knows “everything about [Dick Whitman/Don Draper] and still loves him,” but we find out quite suddenly that she’s dying. Her sister isn’t going to tell her, because the doc says she doesn’t have much time left. Don’s compelled to tell Anna, but can’t bring himself to do so. As I watched this part of the episode with my hubby Matt, he said out loud, “There he goes again, letting down the people he loves.”
But would it have been appropriate for Don to say something? Her sister points out that he’s just a guy who bought Anna a house. The real question that emerges here, and it’s an existential one for Don, is, is it better not to know the truth?
Don admits himself in part one of this episode that he knew that once he told Betty the truth, she wouldn’t be able to look at him anymore. And that’s exactly what happened. And that’s precisely why he hid his truth from her for so long.
In the same vein, if Anna really is dying, then would she be better off not knowing? Is it selfish to tell her? There’s no telling how much time we have left.
It’s true for Joan, too, who’s husband is likely headed to Vietnam just as she’s ready to start a family. Neither of them know how much time they have before he’s shipped off to the military engagement America wants to forget. (Well, prior to the current military engagement that we’ll also likely want to forget.) There’s that lack of control again…
THE MAN DATE
Don doesn’t go to Acapulco, because he’s too depressed. Lane doesn’t go back to London for the New Year, because his cold wife has finally left him. They both wind up in the office, where they proceed to get pissed, as the Brits say, and gallivant around town until winding up with a pair of hookers (Don’s usual plus her friend.) Jared Harris’ acting was sublime. When he nearly smashed his face into that big steak and then got up and proclaimed how large his belt buckle was, I laughed out loud.
Devoid of relationships with women, the relationship with Don and Lane finally comes to life. Here we see the two men actually connecting personally for the first time, and I like it. I hope there’s more of this sort of interaction, as depraved as it may be.