Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Mad Men" Ep. 4.3: "The Good News"

"I can't fix anything else, but I can fix this."

Two episodes in, we've already seen Don Draper's old world order crumbling away, even as he strives to build a new one from the rubble. Now Dick Whitman's world is losing one of its main pillars of support. Meanwhile, the show's most outwardly competent and composed character sees the control she's so carefully exercised over her life slipping out of her hands. Don's and Joan's storylines, like parallel lines, never meet - but interestingly, they both intersect with that of Lane Pryce, the outsider who's now completely unmoored from all his old ties and connections.

Unifying themes notwithstanding, this had to be one of the most disjointed hours of "Mad Men" ever. Not that I didn't enjoy watching it - only that I've never seen so many abrupt tonal shifts over the course of a single episode. Some of that I can chalk up to the action moving from New York to L.A. and back again: the California interludes have always felt faintly surreal to me, partly because Don acts so differently there than he does in New York, partly because the character of Anna Draper has always seemed a little too saintly to be true. But beyond that, I felt whipsawed between half a dozen different emotions - from creeping unease to outright disgust (did you have to go there with Anna's niece, Don? Ugh) to crushing sadness about Anna (the shell-shocked look on Don's face as he absorbed the news really hit me, more than the revelation itself) to cold fear (Joan slicing her hand open, qualms about her husband's competency) to outright hilarity (Don and Lane Pryce out on the town...comedy gold!) back to unease (that last shot of Don in the conference room doesn't bode well).

To some extent the schizophrenic quality of this episode may simply reflect the chaotic, precarious state the characters are in right now. Certainly those who were front and center tonight - Don, Joan, Lane - are in a crucial, and painful, moment of transition. It's still too early to tell which way the shoe will drop, but what troubled me was a sense that they've all given up trying to control the outcome. Put another way, this episode seemed to be all about trying to fix things and discovering that some things can't be fixed. On the other hand, turning to what *can* be fixed results in small, surprisingly touching gestures that probably kept everyone (including me) from banging their heads against the wall. Don can't save Anna from cancer, but he can paint her living room - in his skivvies, no less, which she evidently appreciates. He can't fix Lane's marriage, but can take him out to amuse and distract him. Joan's husband, by his own admission, can't fix their unstable situation, but he can, after all, fix her finger.

And I have to say - Dr. Donkey Dick may be a rapist and a whiney douche to boot, but that was a moment of genuine tenderness there between them, even if he was treating her like a small child. I give the writers credit for making the guy a three-dimensional character rather than an unmitigated villain. After all, there had to be a reason Joan chose him, other than mistaking him for a better prospect than he was. And I think she does love him, despite everything, and he, in his own way, loves her. Still, gotta wonder what he'd say if he knew she'd had two abortions.

As for Don, I keep waiting for him to hit bottom, and it still hasn't happened. He at least had the grace to admit, in a rare moment of candor, that he was responsible for the collapse of his own marriage. And I truly felt for him when he realized he couldn't do anything for Anna - not even tell her the truth about her condition. (Though don't you think she already knows?) But I really wish he had kept his paws off Miss Barely-Legal, Kate Hudson-lookalike Berkeley undergrad - even though anyone could tell from the knowing look on the girl's face that she wasn't having any of it. The guy's a mess, and losing Anna is going to remove the last pin that's holding him together. Even his attempt to show Lane a good time ultimately emphasized how empty his own life has become since his divorce. I hope that Lane learns from that, and doesn't start ending his own nights with booze and hookers.

That said, I'd pay good money to see more of Don and Lane painting the town red together. Easily my favorite quarter hour of "Mad Men" so far this season, and a welcome break from all the impending tragedy and despair.


The entire discussion between Don and Lane on what movie to see. I wish I could reproduce it exactly - but anyway, some of the highlights:

Don: It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. No kidding.

Don: Send Me No Flowers.
Lane: (Emphatically) No.

Lane: The Guns of August?
Don: I hate guns, and I hate August.

Lane: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Don: (practically smacking his lips) Catherine Deneuve.

(Cut to Don and Lane, sozzled while watching a Godzilla flick)

Lane: This movie's very good!

Don: You know what's going on here? Hand jobs.

Also loved Lane's mock Japanese in response to the lady who was giving them a dirty look.

And: "YEEEEEHAWWWW!" Never did I think I'd see Lane Pryce rubbing a steak against his crotch.

"Mad Men," you so funny. More of the funny, please.


Blogger ToastyKen said...

I had to rewind the flower fiasco 3 or 4 times before I understood it. That was nuts!

6:28 PM  
Blogger lylee2 said...

Yeah, it probably precipitated the end of Lane's marriage. Poor Lane.

8:41 PM  

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