'Mad Men' Episode 10, Season 4 Recap
by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 27th 2010 4:00AM
['Mad Men' - 'Hands and Knees']
"There's no reason. Nothing you can do." -- Lee Garner Jr.
When Sally Draper is the happiest person in an episode of 'Mad Men,' you know things have gone wrong.
It all started out so cheerfully. Poor Sally, who's had a rough time of it of late (and who is clearly still terrified of her mother), would get to go see the Beatles at Shea Stadium, courtesy of her dad. That was not only supremely cool in its own right (and Don scored major dad points), but getting to attend that historic concert would give her bragging rights at school for some time to come.
She even had a real moment of happiness with her mother, who was genuinely pleased at Sally's elation.
It couldn't last, could it?
'Hands and Knees' found several characters knocked back on their heels or even, in two cases, literally on their hands and knees.
Just as Don was beginning to get his life back together after a very long, dark period, everything went sideways (in a very familiar way). But he wasn't the only one feeling powerless, desperate and embattled. Lane, Joan, Roger and even Pete all hit a wall, personally or professionally (or in both realms).
There was certainly some suspense and supremely well-played scenes in 'Hands and Knees,' and the episode set up some interesting threads for the last three episodes of the season, but I must admit that, in this episode, the storytelling felt a bit familiar and mechanical.
As I've said many times, I think this is the strongest season of the show, for many reasons. But season 4 spent so long on Don's lost weekend -- which contained many terrific stories -- that it feels as though the stage hasn't quite been set for the endgame, even though the finale is only a few weeks away. Sure, Roger now has a 30-day window in which to save the firm, but I'm hoping there's much more to the last few episodes than that. 'Mad Men' usually finishes each season strongly, so I'm not worried per se, I'm just wondering if there's enough momentum to give us the kind of powerful endings we got in seasons 1 and 3.
Don said he was tired of the Dick Whitman skeleton in his closet, and I'm getting to that point too. In the 10 episode of season 3, Betty found Don's cache of photos and documents from his past. Now we're on episode 10 of this season... and Don's past is threatening him again, just as it threatened to unravel his life in Season 1's 'Nixon vs. Kennedy,' when Pete charged into Bert Cooper's office and revealed Don's secret identity.
All I'm saying is, we've been down this road before. Yes, sure, it's logical that an ad agency in this era would work with defense contractors, and yes, it makes sense that the ad executives would have to undergo background checks. But we last heard about North American Aviation two seasons ago. That whole story element kind of sprang out of nowhere took Don (and the viewers) through a somewhat familiar scenario.
Of course, there was a special intensity to the problem this time -- if the government found out who Don really was, he could go to jail for a very long time. But I think 'Mad Men' has played this card enough times. Unless there's a new and creative way to bring Dick Whitman out to play, I think the show should give it a rest.
In a development that felt, well, expected, Lee Garner Jr. pulled the Lucky Strike account. We were told, early in the season, that if the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lost that account, they were sunk. Like Chekhov's gun, the Lucky Strike account was there on the table, waiting to be fired. And it was indeed fired, conveniently when the stakes needed to be raised toward the end of the season.
There was something a little perfunctory about all of that, even though, again, I understand that clients pull their accounts from ad agencies all the time, for any number of random reasons. Logically, it all makes sense. But as a viewer, I felt I could see the levers being pulled and the mechanical elements being wheeled into place in this episode. It wasn't the most elegant or deliciously surprising plotting the show's ever done.
The firm is heading for a real crisis though, and I hope SCDP doesn't go under in less than a year of existence. I certainly haven't objected to the great Don stories this seaso, but there was so much time spent on them that we've barely begun to explore the possibilities and personalities of the new firm. Let's hope that loathsome Lee Garner Jr. hasn't just put a bullet in its tender young head.
In any event, maybe part of the point of the Dick Whitman crisis was to bring about repercussions in Don's relationships with Faye and Pete.
It's my guess that Don and Faye are essentially over as a couple. He told her his secret, and her response was to try to solve the problem for him. That's not what he wants. All in all, the Dick Whitman situation is a catch-22 for Don. He wants to tell the women he's intimate with who he really is, but once he does that, they have power over him, and he doesn't like that, unless the woman in question is the patient, saintly Anna (who's gone).
Faye is not Anna, despite their physical resemblance. Anna offered unconditional love and acceptance, while Faye, upon learning Don's secret, went into crisis-management mode. She mothered him a little bit, by seeing him through his illness and panic attack. But she wanted to fix Don's wound, not merely salve it with care and love.
Don knows its not fixable, and now things with Faye are just too complicated. No wonder he was looking at Megan with new eyes. She still views Don as a god, and fears him a little too. She's nurturing, uncomplicated and optimistic in ways that Faye is not. I certainly don't want to see Don making another Allison-style mistake, but who knows where Don is headed. He was in such a panicky mode (as his lawyer noted) that he wasn't really thinking straight.
Nor is Roger. As the episode closed, he launched into Pete full of fury and frustration, all of which should have been directed at Lee Garner Jr. and himself. He was accusing Pete of a crime that he himself had committed. Roger lost the firm's key account. His entire life's work had been keeping that account, and it was gone, just like that.
John Slattery played the scene with Lee with tremendous subtlety and precision. Roger cycled through disbelief, charm, scrambling desperation, rage and abject begging in a matter of seconds, and Slattery pulled that off effortlessly. And once Lee left the table, Roger seemed smaller, more frail, older. Minutes later, in Roger's scene with Joan, he looked slightly stooped. Overnight, Roger had turned into an old man.
Like Don, Joan and Lane, Roger had to come face to face with his powerlessness. Everyone was buffeted by forces beyond their control. Don was able to narrowly avoid disaster, but at great cost to the firm and to his relationships. Lane had to give up his dream of a new life in America and go back to a life he hated, all to keep his relationship with his son alive. Joan had to once and for all give up her dreams of ending up with Roger, who told her at one point that he was only thinking of her, when it was clear that he was, as ever, only thinking of himself.
In his coffee-shop scene with Joan, Roger ran another gamut of emotions, all of them involving Roger's needs and feelings. "It wouldn't be my child" if Joan kept the baby, he warned. In the end, his "taking care" of the problem consisted of offering to pay for an abortion.
Christina Hendricks is always outstanding, but what was especially notable in 'Hands' was how little she said. Her eyes and facial expressions said so much that Joan could not. I think she mentally severed her love connection with Roger in that coffee-shop scene. She realized that he would never really be there for her. He had serious feelings for her, of course, but Roger simply did not possess the ability to support her in a serious and altruistic way. And what woman wants to be told, "Maybe I'm in love with you?" Gee, thanks.
Joan's in her mid-30s. Her life is what it is, and as empty as it is, I think she realized that running around with Roger wouldn't fill up the void. A renewed affair would be an attempt to re-create something that had once been great but it wasn't viable anymore. If he'd looked her in the eye and said, "You're the love of my life. Have this baby with me and we'll divorce our spouses and get married," I like to think that Joan would have done that, as crazy as it sounded. I think part of her wanted him to say those words; she wanted to be the one taken care of for once.
But Roger wasn't about to put her first. He just wanted to "start something" with her. Maybe.
How many times have we said, "Poor Joan!" But seriously, poor Joan! As she rode that bus, it was impossible not to feel great sorrow for her. She's so alone, the poor thing. And we learned in 'The Good News' that she had two abortions in the past. At her age, it's questionable as to whether she'd be able to carry a baby to term in the future, assuming Greg even comes home from Vietnam (though of course, we all want him to step on a land mine there).
(UPDATE: I'm shocked to learn in the comment area that some people think that Joan did not go through with the abortion. Given her "life goes on" statement, I suppose that is possible, but I consider that to be a very, very remote possibility. For Joan to witness Roger's dithering, have a husband in Vietnam and still go through with having that child? It seems highly doubtful to me. But I just want people to note that I've heard them on that front, and though I can't say I agree with that theory, I guess it's theoretically possible.)
Joan's an essentially good person who has been put through the ringer every time she's attempted to grab the brass ring. And like Joan, Lane Pryce has done everything that society expected him to do, all his life. His father appears to be every bit as rigid and unforgiving as middle-class British society was at the time. Lane's happiness did matter not at all to his father, obeying social conventions did. Doing the "right" thing was all that mattered, even if it meant a life of unfulfilled, correct drabness.
How shocking it was to see Lane literally brought to his knees by his ferocious father. Now we know why Lane was so eager to grab a bit of freedom in America, why he loved this place where he could start over and explore his own needs and interests. Well, that little revolution has been put down. If Lane comes back to SCDP and New York, I imagine he'll be on a very short leash and he won't be seeing Toni again.
Lots of things ended in this episode: Again, I could be wrong about this, but I think Don and Faye are over as a couple. Joan ended a pregnancy and probably any chance of a real relationship with Roger. Lane had to give up his American girlfriend, and probably that key to the swinging Playboy Club as well. And Roger lost the only account he simply could not lose.
When he was fully in crisis mode, Don told Pete to "shut the door," echoing the title of season 3's great finale, 'Shut the Door, Have a Seat.' So many doors did close during this episode.
But the door was opened to quite a bit of office drama in the next few weeks. As it stands now, Pete is massively (and justifiably) furious with Don, and SCDP has 30 days to find new accounts or go under (and when, exactly, is Roger planning to tell everyone about the Lucky Strike disaster?). And it's worth noting that Don is looking at Megan with new eyes. Remember that Faye predicted that Don would be married within a year of his divorce?
A few bullet points:
* Jon Hamm favored us with some great facial expressions in this episode -- as when he told Harry, "I'm not worried!" even though he was clearly worried about getting the Beatles tickets on time. And then there was his priceless look of curious consternation at the Playboy Club, as he figured out what the deal was with Lane and Toni.
* Speaking of the Playboy Club, hey now! Was that set fabulous or what? I can only imagine how hard the set decoration and production design teams worked on the re-creation of that New York club. Well done, everyone. It looked fabulous and period-perfect.
* So Megan's working for Don after the death of Miss Blankenship. The sad fact is, Don wouldn't have been in all that trouble had Ida still been working to him. There's every chance that the government form would have gotten lost on her desk under a pile of crossword puzzles, or she would have loudly announced to him what, exactly, he was signing (can't you just hear her shouting, "I'll put down that you're divorced!")
* It's no surprise that Don's instincts were to run, once he thought the government was on to his lies about his identity. You could almost see him mentally packing his bags in the scene with his lawyer.
* On the podcast I do with Ryan McGee, all season long, I've been saying, "Why isn't Roger trying to get some new business?" I mean, I know he thought he only had to keep Lucky Strike happy, but I thought there might have been a bit more urgency in his worldview these days, given the precarious nature of the firm. But that was clearly not the case. Roger couldn't change. He'd inherited not only that account, as Lee pointed out, but his role at the firm. He never had to truly work for anything, and he wasn't willing or able to bring in new business, or, for that matter, to make Joan his wife. He just didn't have it in him. Having said that, as I always say, Roger is such a great character that I hope he's around forever.
* A small but telling reference in the scene with the North American guys: One of them referred to their attempts to get NASA to the moon. Remember how Don's failure on the moon front screwed up his relationship with Conrad Hilton? It's just not worth taking on clients who expect the moon.
* There was something of a rehabilitation of Betty in this episode. She was not only nice to Sally about the concert, she unhesitatingly lied for Don in that scene with the G-men (and my goodness, there was so much subtext in their questions about Don's loyalty and trustworthiness. Aieyee!) Of course, Betty has a vested interest in her life not getting dragged down into the muck should the facts about Don's real past emerge, but it has to be said, she also just did him a solid. She gets credit for that. And if the circumstances weren't quite so serious, it would have been humorous, the way their conversation switched into a "We are talking falsely now for the benefit of whoever is tapping our phone" conversation.
* Don expertly manipulated Pete early in the episode, with his blithe claim, "You can run the agency without me." Not only is Pete realistic enough to know that SCDP would collapse without Don, he panicked at the thought that he might lose one of his father figures. Pete often resents the older men at the firm, but they generally know how to push his buttons, most of which have to do with daddy issues.
* It has to be said, Pete and Trudy have the most functional relationship on the show. And he has the happiest home life. Who'd have thought?
* There was more almost-wordless greatness from Hendricks in that scene at the doctor's office with the weeping mother. Don't you think one of Joan's earlier "procedures" would have taken place around 15 years ago? So lying that she had a 15 year old daughter must have been an especially poignant moment for Joan. And of course, there was that scene in the doctor's office with Roger ("You've ruined her!"). Joan said nothing but her face said it all.
* "There's no one to talk to," the weeping mother told Joan. It's so true. Don did confide in Faye, but probably ended up regretting it. Lane telling his father the truth turned out to be a disaster. Joan and Roger hung on to soul-shredding secrets, and would continue to pay the price for it in different ways.
* The questions to ponder as we wait for the next episode: Will Roger be able to land new accounts that will bail out the firm (that's doubtful). Failing that, will Pete or Ken be able to do so? That's assuming they are informed of the full extent of the crisis SCDP is facing in a timely fashion.
'Mad Men' airs 10PM Sundays on AMC.
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