We get a tragic look into the life of one of our favorite side characters, and Don builds a friendship with an unexpected person within the company. Spoilers at the jump:
First, I wanted to apologize for how long this took. It’s been a long week.
Now, I always feel weird when I call an episode of Mad Men “disappointing”, just as I do with Dexter or Sons of Anarchy. It’s not a reflection on the show; this episode was still 9/10 television, just like practically any Mad Men episode. It all has to do with the expectations game. And with a show like Mad Men, the expectations are high.
That said, there was plenty of right about this episode. Unfortunately, the pacing just felt off. Maybe that was inevitable with what they were trying to structure. The show, however, felt like two 30-minute episodes rather than one 60-minute episode.
What would I have liked? I would have liked to stay in California for 60 minutes. Anna is always fun to see, and she is Don’s best friend. In front of Anna, Don becomes Dick. The show is usually much more subtle in its subtext than it was during the first half-hour, but when Anna is involved, Don is much more open and vulnerable than he is when he’s in New York. So instead of reading between the lines like we must do at SCDP and when we needed to at the old Draper household, we get the context spelled out for us. And you know what? That’s good. Mad Men is so smartly written and so subtle at times that it’s good to have an episode where you don’t have to think as hard as usual.
So Don goes out to California and has a face-to-face chat with his best friend about his heart being broken. We see him trying to seduce Anna’s niece, which somehow is even lower than seducing his secretary. Then the atom bomb hits – Anna’s niece reveals to Don that Anna has cancer, and doesn’t know it.
This causes Don to go into full-out control mode, as he starts thinking about everything he can do to help Anna. He paints the wall as a kind act, and then when Anna’s sister comes back, he talks to her outside, telling her that he will ensure that Anna gets all the best doctors on this case. It’s a scene that’s very similar to a season 3 scene, where Don confronts William and tells him exactly how they are going to deal with Gene.
However, for whatever reason, Don is able to be talked down by Anna’s sister and leaves. Is he a weaker person since Betty left? I’d say yes. Other than his kids, I’d say that Anna is the person he cares most in the world. It’s strange to see Don back down so easily. Alas, he tells Anna he plans on bring the kids out at Easter, but in the back of his head, he wonders if he’ll ever see Anna alive again. Remember, cancer in the mid-60’s was even worse than it is now. The treatments, remedies, etc. were much less likely to succeed.
Don eventually flies back to New York and goes into the office, since that’s his life. Lane is also there, and we hear that for certain, Lane and his wife have separated. Though it was known and implied in previous episodes how much Mrs. Pryce disliked New York and how much she longed for London, this was mainly due to an unreal gaffe committed Lane’s secretary that involved flowers and implied that Lane was cheating on his wife with Joan. That secretary couldn’t have been fired fast enough. I would have grabbed all the junk on her desk and threw it out of the window immediately if I were Joan or Lane. Wow.
Anywho, here we see Don and Lane start drinking together (obviously) and Don becomes more and more open with Lane. He sets Lane up with a escort and offers to pay for it. They belligerently go to the movies (Godzilla?) and joke about hand-jobs being given. Don is very personal here with Lane, something we haven’t seen him be with almost any non-romantic companion… except Anna.
My theory? The news of Anna’s cancer jolted Don, and in his drunken state, he decided to find refuge in someone who has had similar family issues (wives leaving, etc.) Don doesn’t look upset by his decision to confide in Lane in the morning either. Maybe he and Lane develop a bromance? With this new-look Don, anything is possible.
In other episode news, Joan and her rapist husband got into a fight. And I didn’t care. Joan is an infinitely more interesting character in the office in my opinion, and I just can’t stand Greg. He treats Joan like a pet or a child, and it just unnerves me. The one interesting bit of information that we did get was that Joan has had at least two abortions before. I don’t think that was ever previously brought up, but I might be wrong.
Overall, a B episode of Mad Men. Like I said previously, the pacing was the biggest problem with this episode, and I think the shift from Cali to New York was too jarring from that standpoint to recover from it. Add in the fact we got no Peggy, Pete (or Trudy!), Roger, or anyone else really (barring that last scene), and it just didn’t feel up to par. There were great scenes and great moments, but it suffered from feeling like two different episodes.