Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mad Men Season 4, Episode 3: The Good News

"Is that what you want or is that what people expect of you?"

This has to be the winner for the most ironically named title in the show's history.  We learn in this episode that Anna Draper, the single most important person in Don Draper's life, is dying of cancer and doesn't even know it.  Don, who just spent the holidays without his kids, alone and drunk in his dingy little apartment, paying a prostitute to slap him around, goes to California for emotional renewal and sustenance from his closest friend on earth, ahead of a little R&R in Acapulco.  His day trip to see Anna is his chance to feel loved and understood, something he desperately needs.  And while he gets all that from the preternaturally kind and giving Anna, he also gets the news - the awful horrible news - that she doesn't have long to live.

Before that heavy weight was dropped on Don, we had enough bad news to go around during what was supposed to be the festive holiday season.  Joan Holloway Harris gets into a fight with Greg over her inability to get more time off to accommodate his schedule.  Lane Pryce gets into a fight with Joan over his refusal to give her additional time off to work around her husband's schedule. Lane gets into a fight with his wife about coming home to London.  And then Lane gets into a fight with his wife over a failed attempt to apologize to both her and Joan.

The episode opens with Joan going to visit Dr. Emerson to check on fertility issues.  She mentions having had two abortions (one he didn't do or know of), but the doctor assures here that there is no physical reason she can't get pregnant if she and Greg want to.  But she and Greg will have to be in the same room for a couple of minutes if they want that to happen and right now they are ships passing in the night.  Joan's work and Greg's work do not leave much time for the two of them to spend any time together, and with Greg about to leave for training, they'll have even less time together.

Joan takes her anger and disappointment and dumps it on Lane Pryce.  She tries to get him to agree to give her some extra vacation time and he's only thinking about what's best for SCDP's financial bottom line.  He values Joan and her contributions to the company, but that's not what she wants.  She wants time to be a wife and that leads them to butt heads.  Joan can't be mad at Greg - for not being the successful surgeon she expected, for going to Vietnam - but she can be mad at Lane.

Poor Lane is having an awful holiday as well.  His wife wouldn't come to New York and he didn't want to leave to go back to London.  They had a fight and he tried to apologize by sending her flowers but that only blew up in his face when his secretary mixes up the messages.  What's worse, we find out that Lane's wife Rebecca had convinced him that the rest of SCDP was off having fun without him.  Lane is the ultimate outsider and his wife only feeds into his own insecurity.  Their fighting escalates to the point of her deciding to stay in England, which will likely end their marriage.

Don was looking forward to getting away for a little bit.  A trip to Acapulco (with a stop in L.A.) would help him deal with the loneliness of his first post-divorce holiday.  He could ring in the new year with scantily clad women while lounging poolside after a chaste visit with his dear friend Anna.  He's surprised to see her in a cast when he gets to her home in LA (actually, San Pedro), but she's in good spirits and they make plans for his visit.  Her sister (who is cool towards Dick Whitman) and niece Stephanie come by.  Anna gets Stephanie to stay and the three go out for a fun night on the town.

Don drives Stephanie home and since she's of age and he's a little tipsy, he starts to make a move on her.  That's when Stephanie decides to drop the bombshell - that Anna did not just break her leg, her leg is riddled with cancer and she doesn't have long.  Don is shocked and immediately wants to step in and save the day, use his money and connections to get her the best treatment from the best specialists.  But he is shut down.  There is nothing that can be done other than to make her last days as happy as possible.  They're not even telling Anna.

After hearing the news Don cancels his plans to go to Acapulco and decides to stay there in LA.  But Anna's sister is worried that he won't be able to keep the secret from her (considering how good Don is at keeping secrets this is surprising). She tells Dick that he's not part of the family, that they have everything under control, and if he really cares about Anna he'll go before he accidentally says something to her.  Don agrees and after finishing painting the wall in her living room (and marking the occasion with Anna + Dick 1964) he says an emotionally-packed goodbye. 

Don comes back home to New York and heads to his only other home, the office.  He expects to be the only one there - it's New Years Day after all - but instead finds Lane busy working at this desk.  Don learns that Lane's wife has left him and the two bachelors commiserate about being alone.  They have more than that in common as Lane fixes Don a drink of something his alcoholic father sent him for the holidays.  They're both sad and alone with no place to go but the office. 

Don invited Lane to go to the movies (after listing all the great options, the two settle on Godzilla). They are drinking and having a good time, all things considered. They go out for dinner and drink some more while Don offers to set up Lane with some female company for the night.  Lane shows his appreciation for all things American as he grabs the huge T-bone and calls it his big Texas belt buckle.  On what could have been the saddest day of his life, Don is helping him through it and showing him a good time.

At a comedy/variety show, reminiscent of the nightclub that Don accompanied Midge and her boyfriend to in Ep. 1.06 Babylon, Don and Lane are being heckled as a gay odd couple - with Lane drunkenly asserting that they are not homosexuals - until the two ladies Don has arranged for come and join them.  We've seen Don's "date" before, she was the  one who was giving Don rough sex around Thanksgiving.  Her friend is also a working girl and it's not clear at first if Lane realizes she's not a college student but a prostitute.  But he's happy not to be alone.

The next morning, Lane is fascinated with the whole arrangement which, by now, he's figured out.  Don has helped him through a very rough patch and when they're next together, it's back to work - where they both know what they want and what is expected of them.  Outside of the office, their lives may be falling apart.  But things are looking up for SCDP. 1964 turned out to be a good year, financially.  It's time now to look forward to what 1965 will bring.


The troubadour at the coffee house plays "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals.  The song refers to a brothel and has this line that also resonates with Mad Men: The only thing a gambler needs, Is a suitcase and trunk,  And the only time he's satisfied, Is when he's on a drunk.

Not surprisingly, Lane does not want to see a movie called "Send Me No Flowers. " He doesn't get Don's joke about smoking the dress (which was something Anna said they'd have to do if they spilled their weed).  

Don quotes Faye Miller in his conversation to Lane, when he asks him is that what you want or what's expected of you.  Faye had told Don that is one of the prime conflicts in everyone's life during their conversation at the Christmas party (last episode).  

The title of the episode comes from Stephanie's experience with her roommate who woke her up one day to ask her if she has heard "the good news" - proselytizing her about Jesus.  When Anna jokes about there being worse things than your roommate becoming a Jesus freak, Don responds, "no there's not."  Being raised by his step-mother, a Christian woman who's belief in god was as strong as her hatred of her husband's whore-child, Don is not a fan of religious zealots.

Don has no patience for Harry Crane and his best line is when Harry is talking to him, Lane comes by and asks if he's interrupting anything and Don says no. 

Anna is the perfect Madonna figure for Don.  They have never had a physical or sexual relationship, she gives him total, unquestioning love.  Love for who he is, the real person warts and all.   The kind of love Don/Dick never felt before.  Dick was unwanted and unloved and when he adopted this new persona, he could never be sure that any love "Don" received was real.  In fact, he tells Anna that once Betty knew who he really was that she didn't love him any more.  If it's true that men like Don Draper develop a Madonna-Whore Complex based on unfulfilled relationships with their mother, then Don has it in spades.  He literally goes from the pure love of Anna to the paid for sex with the red-headed prostitute.  

When Joan cuts herself we see Greg in his best light.  He's steady and funny and does a great job distracting her and patching her up.  Contrast this to bully Greg or rapist Greg and it's a very confusing picture.  When he feels powerful, I guess he's at his best.  But when he feels inferior, or his manhood challenged, he becomes a beast. Maybe that's the hardest part to understand about domestic violence - that not every moment with an abuser is awful.  The erratic nature of their behavior and emotions only makes it worse and more diabolical.   


Dr. Emerson: Why don't you join him for basic training? It would boost the men's morale.

Harry:  Just go to England already.  Stop feeling guilty.  Take two weeks.  You'll be twice as happy.
Lane:  I'm happy when I'm working.

Lane:  I understand that all men are dizzy and powerless to refuse you, but consider me the incorruptible exception.

Don: Berkeley? Are you sitting in? 
Stephanie:  I agree with what they're doing, but somebody's gotta go to class.

Joan:  Just keep marking off the days on the calendar while I keep planning for our future.

Stephanie:  A self-made man.  What's it like taking off your suit and returning to the wild?
Anna:  I really don't like how political you're getting.
Stephanie:  I'm not political.  I just don't understand who's in charge.
Don:  You're in charge.  Trust me. I work in advertising. 

Don:  I could tell the minute she saw who I really was, she never wanted to look at me again. 

Don:  I think it sounds like she's inviting us to a very beautiful place where there's no surfing at all.
Stephanie:  Have you ever been there? Don:  No.
Stephanie:  But every time I hear this song, I want to go. 

Stephanie:  But nobody knows what's wrong with themselves, and everyone else can see it right away.
Don:  You're so beautiful and young. 

Anna:  I'm not gonna fight watching Dick Whitman paint my living room in his shorts.  I'm so damn proud of you.
Don:  I count on it.

Anna:  I started thinking of everything I was sure was true and how flimsy it all might be.
Don:  You don't need to see a UFO to know that. That's not a great way to think about things.
Anna: I know everything about you, and I still love you.

Don:  She is very important to me. I'm gonna do what I have to.
Patty: You have no say in the affairs of this family.  You're just a man in a room with a checkbook.

Anna:  I want you to do everything you want to do.

Lane: Sandra, everyone makes mistakes, but the fact that you're the kind of person who cannot accept blame is egregious.
Sandra:  I don't know what that means.
Lane: It means I can't believe I hired you.

Greg:  I can't fix anything else, but I can fix this.

Lane: You remind me of a chap I knew in school.  We followed him around in a pack, and he didn't notice we were there. He died in a motorcycle crash.

Don:  Is that what you want or is that what people expect of you?

Lane:  I got a big Texas belt buckle.  Yee haw!

Lane: Thank you for the welcome distraction. 

Joan: Gentlemen, shall we begin 1965?

Spoilery observations (Don't read until you're caught up):

Lane says to Joan, "I understand that all men are dizzy and powerless to refuse you, but consider me the incorruptible exception."  In Ep. 7.12, her then boss Jim Hobart says something similar to her, that she might be used to no one ever telling her no.  But he does and it's the first and last time we see Joan totally powerless at work. 

It is so sad to see Don come to Lane's rescue this episode, now knowing the future.  While Don twice tells Lane not to come to him for advice, he does help Lane make it through what was an awful day with camaraderie and entertaining distractions.  Lane, who we learn had a horrible relationship with his demeaning father, looks up to Don and Don's acceptance means so much to him.  So it is no surprise that when Don is disappointed in him (for stealing money from the firm), Lane feels like he has no where to turn.  There are more clue's to Lane's ultimate fate when he tells Harry that he's happy when he's working.

Anna's sister refers to Don as a man in a room with a checkbook, and that image of Don is a repeated one - he wrote a check to Adam, endorsed over a check to Midge, wrote a check to Megan - when he tries to deal with his problems by writing checks. But it was not fair in this context, as Anna meant more to Don than that.

Stephanie was not part of the protest movement and made a point of saying she was still going to class.  The next time we see her, though, she's pregnant and living the hippie lifestyle.

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