Mad Men – 4×03: Happy New Year?

“You going to paint that corner? A coat of new paint is just as bad as the stain.” – Anna

A tearful Don hugs Anna, one last time (AMC)

From Christmas to New Year… Ain’t the holidays grand? Mad Men is my ultimate form of escapism. Not only are we transported weekly into a perfectly re-constructed and mythical decade, but…. ’tis the season to be jolly (?) in mid-August! Sure, our characters are kind of miserable but we are thrilled! A little detour to California?! I’m in! For an hour tonight I wasn’t an iPhone addict burning up in a New York summer. Add some fantastic performances to the mix and, yeah… I’m living it. Where are my pantyhose? Better yet, where’s my T-bone steak belt?

So ironically, after all my desires to get more on Joan and Lane in the first two posts of the season, whadaya know… two birds, one stone, and even some great inadvertent hysterical interactions between the two with their War of the Roses. All that’s really missing now is Pete and Roger, which I’m assuming the next episode will resolve. Unless, of course, we get some Betty action (who was totally left out of last night’s episode and whose emotions have been kept an almost complete mystery this season). But speaking of Betty, she was nonetheless present in thought at least twice in “The Good News”, and both times by Don who was sitting across from someone at a table having a drink — first with Anna, then with Lane. I want to talk about that for a moment before we get into everyone else.

Betty Draper

If you aren’t yourself one of them, you’ve probably at least heard of the oh-so-many Betty Draper haters out there. I know a few people myself who fall into that category, and I’ve seen the sentiment pop up frequently on the internet over the last two seasons. Personally, I never felt that way towards her. I didn’t find her so incredibly selfish that she was unbearable, particularly when I compared her to two-timing Don. I always felt that the audience sympathized with Don more easily because we were learning about his painful childhood and early adulthood more and more, and also because he was so damn charismatic. I just never found it fair to judge Betty any more than Don simply because we knew she was brought up with money and wasn’t a strong-willed independent woman — because to be honest, very few women in those time were. In my eyes — and I won’t back down from this — she has always loved her children and has always wanted the best for them, even if she didn’t know how to provide it. And it wasn’t just her wishing and hoping, because she actually tried to do right by her them, first hand, and she still does. She didn’t want a fancy career like Peggy or a romantic life away from her family the way her friends did, although she had the chance with that young man from the horse stables. In fact I used to admire how committed she was, not only to her children, but to her marriage to Don, despite him being so secretive towards her. Sure, she was naive and didn’t see Don’s philandering ways for a long time (until she did), but is that enough of a reason to hate her? Don is a damn good liar! Why not hate him more? Perhaps there were other things I wasn’t seeing, and I’m sure there are points which you are all free to make about her (I’d love to hear them), but in last night’s episode I finally learned to dislike her significantly more. Not for who she’s been all along, but for her actions as of late, and if they mean that’s who she’s always been then… I guess I just didn’t see the signs.

Don says to Anna, at the bar, regarding his past:

I could tell the minute she [Betty] saw who I really was, that she never wanted to look at me again.

And later to Lane, at dinner, regarding the divorce:

It wasn’t my decision to make.

Who do you love? (AMC)

If I didn’t know Don any better, I would say he’s pulling the “victim” card on them but, we all know he’s not the type to complain. If he’s saying these things out-loud to anyone but Betty, he must really mean them, and for a moment there it broke my heart along with his. When Anna tells him how sorry she is for him, he admits that he had it coming, and it made me very happy to hear him taking the blame. However that bit about finally being able to tell Betty everything, and what a “relief” it was for him, only to realize that this woman didn’t love him once she saw him for who he was… wow. This new way of looking at how their marriage ended really made me dislike her, not because she should have loved him in spite of it all because, let’s be realistic, Don lied a whole lot and did a masterful job of hiding an immensely tangled web. No, it was because after all these years of marriage she loved a fabrication, or even worse she convinced herself into loving a fabrication… and nothing more. And yes, there’s a difference between not loving someone because of their lies, and not loving someone because they weren’t the lie you thought they were. Shame on you for that, Betty. You tried too hard to convince yourself of the lie. I guess after a point, that loyalty and commitment stops being admirable.

Don Draper and Anna

I’m so heartbroken by this story, even the day after, that I refuse to allow it to sink in. I’m in denial. I know she was only a recurring character, but Anna was the last remaining person on this planet to call Don by his god-given name: Dick. The last person to treat him and talk to him like the man he really is with all his flaws and virtues. If and when she dies, she’ll take all of that with her. With her gone, it’s very likely that an important and vulnerable part of him will disappear as well. Who else to remind him of that part of himself? In the “previously on” portion of “The Good News”, we see a clip of Anna telling him:

The only thing keeping you from being happy is the fear that you are alone.

And who else to prove to him that he’s he’s not alone than Anna! After all, she said it herself:

I know everything about you, and I still love you…

With Don leaving her to die, without telling her the truth about her cancer or spending her final moments with him, with lying about finally meeting his kids in the Spring, he was simply painting over the ugly truth and leaving the edges untouched, as she says. In the end he lied to the one person he always told the truth to! It’ll come back to haunt him the way it always has, and this disappointed me through and through because it reminded me so much of how he left his ailing brother, Adam, only to allow him to die alone as well. I honestly did not expect this from Don, having thought he’d learned a vital lesson from that. He loves Anna more than anyone, as much as he loves his children and only comparable to that. I know he thinks he made the decision for her own good, unlike the selfish decision to leave Adam, but while that may appear to be a step forward, Don still doesn’t see the big picture. There was a bigger sacrifice to be made there, and he didn’t make it.

Joanie and Greg

Joan warms up the chicken but who'll warm up Joan? (AMC)

Welcome back! I miss this woman more than any other on television. I wish she was a real person that I could just sit with and talk to and pick her brain, because you never know what’s in there. For example: she’s had two abortions! I almost feel like this may have been mentioned in some way by Joan before in a previous season, not about herself but in advising someone else to have a ‘procedure’ but I could be making this up. Regardless, it just struck me that she’d been through this twice and made me wonder how many panicked women had had the same procedure with ‘midwives’ and other shady characters in the late 50s. Also, the OBGYN had a point when he told Joan, “Most gals your age don’t wait“, because for the women of the 60s and even the women of today, that clock is ticking — after all Joan is in her early thirties. I don’t know, that entire exchange between the two of them just struck me as off, and the way they spoke to each other about such serious topics in a very colloquial manner, particularly on Joan’s end, was unexpected.

Either way, Joan seems to genuinely worry about a future in which she is able to have children with Greg, which must mean she is still hoping-against-hope that Greg will find his path (and pocketbook) so that they can form a family, don’t you agree? Of course, I don’t see her ever having children unless she’s in at least a “comfortable” situation, and I won’t say that she’s wrong to hold out the hope that this day will come, or in requiring certain things to be in place. In that heart-breaking scene where Greg stitches her finger up and Joan weeps hysterically, I too saw what she saw in him: that he’s not such a bonehead after all, but that he’s sweet and committed and Oh Mylanta he’s probably going to Vietnam and he might die! Is a sweet and committed man enough of a man to provide for a family, even if he’s not shipped home in a body bag after all? Perhaps not. Poor Joanie.

Lane Pryce

Lane, don't take marriage advice fron Don. (AMC)

Last week I mentioned the bit about Lane’s wife being in London as the only clue on his life which we’d gotten thus far, which on Mad Men always means something is brewing underneath. Sure enough this week we learn that his wife has decided not to come back to the U.S. We can’t be sure if it’s just an excuse for not wanting to be with him any longer or if it was simply the distance and the States which she is getting away from, but if I recall correctly the two were very much in love. Of course, over a span of two years these things can change but Lane sleeping with another woman and discussing divorce with Don sure makes it look final. If he thought there was a chance to set things right he would surely have left SCDP right and moved back to London, no? Actually, I can’t be sure as we don’t know Lane well enough. What does this company really mean to him? Any thoughts?

Lane and Joan
Their two heated encounters in last night’s episode may not appear to mean much in the grand scheme of the show, and having served perhaps just as a means to a wildly humorous and embarrassing end for them both, it still reminded me of the changing times. Our old 1960 Joan would have approached the issue of asking for time off in a very similar fashion, I would imagine, but the way in which Lane responded to her request (albeit in a sour mood already), and his subsequent apology, was interestingly different from what a 1960 employer would have responded with. I don’t know, it could also be a cultural difference as Lane is British, but to yell at a woman who is not related or married to you in the way he did Joan, demeaning her femininity to going off and “crying somewhere” when she doesn’t get her way, was explicitly disrespectful. Were men beginning to get so fed up with the new empowerment women were gaining that it has come to this? But even more surprising was Joan’s reaction to the mistaken note and flowers from Lane. She threw the box full of roses quite literally in his face and raised her voice to him in the same way he did her. This is surely the dignified yet feisty Joanie we know has always been inside there, but in the past she never lost her cool, especially not with her employers. Remember Roger? Or all the other advances made on her by clients? Am I reading too much into this or is it another sign of the playing field evening out? Of men and women treating each other as equals… Of speaking up against disadvantageous sexual advances in the workplace…

Other Noteworthy Happenings

  • What does Stephanie being a Political Science major have to do with her not taking Don’s offer for a drink?
  • Hello MaryJane! Hello Hippie Era!
  • Look at me! I’ve got a big Texas belt buckle!” LanePryceForPrez.com
  • I had an identical reaction to Don hitting on Stephanie as I had to Don hitting on Allison. What’s up with that? The reaction, by the way, was such embarrassment that I had to shield my eyes and wish it away. I can’t quite figure out why I keep doing this. Am I embarrassed for Don? For the girls? I think it’s for Don and the fear that these women are going to shoot him down and how I couldn’t bear it if they did. Yes, that’s it. If one of these girls were to laugh in his face and say “Ewww! What the hell are you doing, perv!” it would be the equivalent of finding out there’s no Santa Claus.
  • I loved the line “Advertising is pollution“.
  • Allison didn’t resign! Yay! She is so composed but in a very different way from Joan… a younger more modern sort of composure which is a fascinating contrast. She is officially my new hero. She deserves something amazing for the way she dealt with Don’s dickery. I love when he asks where she’s going and she replies “Don’t worry, I’ll be here until the bitter end.” Of course, Don meant for New Years but I get a stinking suspicion that she knew just what he was referring to ;)
  • Aside from being men left by their wives, what else do you think made Lane and Don bond the way they did? I say it was that whiskey Lane’s father sent him…
  • Don sure likes to get down on the couch, eh?
  • Welcome to 1965! I’m so scared by this thought… and did you notice Roger’s face at the conference table in the final scene? He’s usually so relaxed and he seemed very worried. Something is going on in his personal life and I can’t wait to find out what it is!

<edit> This Week’s Theme

It appears to me that the theme of the episode — which Don, Joan, and Lane all share — is reciprocating abandonment. I mean this particularly in the abandonment of the one person who knows each of them best. The interesting thing is that its not so much about feeling abandoned by them, but the guilt over their choice of abandoning them loved as well. Lane may have been left by his wife but he chose the US and the company over her. Joan may be dreading Greg’s pending departure and deployment but it is her who is slowly abandoning the hope that the two will form a family and live a happy life together. Don may be getting left behind by the cancer which is quickly killing Anna, but it was his choice to leave her there to die without knowing what was coming, and well aware that they would probably never see each other again. All of our characters are in the midst of having made a choice to abandon their loved ones out of their own fears and/or desires, but they are also aware of this, and for that reason, they fear the regret that soon may come along with it.

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2 Comments

  1. Time
    Posted August 10, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hey, I love your reviews. You see things I don’t and it makes me like the show even more!
    What’s this weeks theme btw.?
    I don’t really have a problem with Betti, because most times I don’t blame short sighted people not for their stupid action when it seems they maybe don’t know any better. And well, to me it don’t seems as if Don will “recover” from the 60’s anymore, to be honest. I think I don’t quite get the “Texas belt buckle”. Is there something to understand? Scared by 65? Any specific reason?
    cheers
    (btw. on my firefox it doesn’t say which box is name, email or “Required fields”)

  2. Posted August 10, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks! I totally flaked on the theme of the week but I’ve edited the post and add it on at the end. I had it in my notes but just forgot to write it up :)

    I agree that Don won’t recover from the 60s completely. The decade will begin to tear him down, particularly once the real revolutionary stuff begins. This is why I fear 1965, and everything thereafter. Glad we agree that the times are a factor in characters like Betty “not knowing any better”.

    The Texas belt buckle joke was Lane trying to be as American as possible now that his family has left him there alone. Texas and T-bone stakes are about as USA as it gets, and so he’s deflecting on his sadness over this by overly-embracing the American culture in a humorous way.

    (I’ll work on the fields! thx!)

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