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'Mad Men': 'Gentlemen, shall we begin 1965?'


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As mysterious as Don Draper is, he’s also remarkably predictable.  For example, I am sure I wasn't the only one who knew that Don would be paying a visit to Anna Draper the second that Harry mentioned the layover in California. See also: the inevitability that Don would hit on Stephanie, Anna’s gorgeous, grass-smoking niece. 

I’ve noticed a pattern on “Mad Men.” The show takes a weird turn every time Don makes a trip to California; there’s always something a little dreamlike about his visits out West. Even on a physical level, Don changes, putting on shades, short-sleeved shirts, wearing his hair loose and calling himself Dick. He is at ease in California, and I suspect it’s because the only people there who know him actually know him. This time the surreal quality persisted, at least until Don was handed some sobering news:  Anna is dying, but doesn’t know it. Don wants to tell her the truth, but ultimately decides it’s not his place. This whole subplot felt too convoluted — I don’t know why the story “needed” the extra wrinkle that Anna doesn’t know she’s dying, and I doubt it's even ethical for a doctor to withhold a diagnosis from a patient, but to share it with her family — so I didn’t find it as wrenching as it ought to have been. Even if Anna knew her fate, the point would be made: Don is going to lose the only person who knows and loves him as Dick Whitman, and there is nothing he can do about it.

The news thoroughly bums Don out, so rather than going to Acapulco, he heads back to New York, the greatest city in the world, especially when you’re a lonely, depressed, alcoholic divorcee. In contrast to the bright, airy California scenes, New York seemed especially gloomy this week, didn’t it? Don returns to the office over the holidays, only to find Lane in a similarly lonely state. His wife, Rebecca, has left him and returned to England with their children.  Don and Lane have clashed often, so it was, in a strange way, nice to see them bond — which, it should be noted, is not something I often say about men hiring prostitutes. They get drunk and go to an afternoon screening of "Godzilla," where Don relays some important statistics:  “You know what’s really going on here?  Handjobs.”  Later, they go to Don’s man-lair. Lane's lady friend notes how masculine the space is, to which Don replies: “I think Norman Mailer shot a deer over there.” Needless to say, the joke flies right over her head, without mussing a single strand of hair. If only because he had a buddy along this time, Don's carousing this week felt less bleak than it has otherwise been this season. Still, the writers are methodically setting up some kind of future crisis for Don. It's never an accident when a character spills a drink.   




But there was more to this episode than male bonding: We finally got to catch up with Joan. She has always been my favorite character on “Mad Men,” owing to her combination of strength, vulnerability and an uncanny ability to cut people down without raising her voice a fraction of a decibel. Happily, all of these signature traits were in effect Sunday night. The episode opened with Joan’s trip to the gynecologist -- more specifically, with a shot of those unmistakable stirrups, an instant symbol of vulnerability to women the world over. Joan is at the doctor’s office because, as she explains: “All I want to know is when my husband and I can start a family, if my husband and I can start a family.” Her concern has less to do with her age -- by my calculations, Joan is now 33 -- than with complications from the two abortions she's had. Her gynecologist performed one of them; the other was performed by a self-proclaimed midwife. I must say, Joan seems to have an unusually chummy relationship with her gynecologist, though maybe his intrusiveness is only meant to be a sign of the paternalism of the era.  Of course, we’re meant to wonder when -- and under what circumstances -- Joan sought out two abortions. Perhaps during her affair with Roger? 

The revelation makes me love Joan even more. Her tragic flaw has always been the contrast between her messy personal life and her professional infallibility. Though we don't know when she had the procedures, or why, we can assume the pregnancies resulted from one of her many ill-fated relationships before Greg, and that her decisions to terminate the pregnancies were, at least in part, motivated by her financial and psychological need to work. This episode also makes me realize how very little we know about her life before she landed at Sterling Cooper; she’s a little Draper-esque in that way. 

Joan is now ready to start a family with Greg, but despite her concerted efforts, all is not going according to plan. Her and Greg’s schedules are nearly impossible to coordinate, and he’s due to be shipped off to Vietnam at any moment. As thrilling as it is to see Joan in action, it’s heartbreaking to see her try valiantly, and fail, to make everything work, especially when she resorts to kitsch. There was the infamous accordion from last season, and Sunday night, there was a tragic homemade luau.  Greg's not hungry, and Joan slices her finger open. In a vote of "no confidence" in her husband’s medical skills, Joan suggests that they go to a hospital, but Greg insists on treating the wound. “For me, this is like, I don’t know, filing papers is for you,” Greg says, a parallel that Joan rejects. “I don’t do that anymore. I have people do that for me.” They’re both trying desperately to please the other and to make everything right, but there’s only so much that can be done to fix the growing rift between them.  Greg’s comment while working on her cut, “I can’t fix anything else, but I can fix this,” summarizes their relationship -- and the episode as a whole. 

As vulnerable as Joan is at home, she’s more powerful than ever at the office, though Lane seems to be the only man impervious to her charms. She offers to get him some fried chicken (“Breast? Thigh?” she asks), but Lane knows she’s trying to butter him up. “Fried chicken, indeed,” he grumbles. After a humiliating mix-up with a bouquet of flowers, she fires Lane’s officious yet incompetent secretary without hesitation. The entire flower scene was a wonderfully-staged piece of writing, directing and acting. I loved the way that Peggy’s brief interaction with Joan -- less than a minute of screen time --spoke such volumes about their relationship. Peggy’s job might have more cache than Joan’s, but Peggy is obviously still intimidated by the woman who told her to stop dressing like a little girl; she makes it a point to mention her boyfriend and becomes visibly disappointed when Joan storms off mid-sentence without absorbing the news. It was also delightful to see Joan’s tenacity and fragility play off each other so powerfully. Joan thinks the flowers are from Greg, and she’s momentarily relieved. When she discovers that they’re not -- and she instead thinks they’re a patronizing gift from Lane -- she loses her cool. 

As the episode comes to an end, a sober New Year begins. “Gentlemen, shall we begin 1965?” Joan asks, surrounded by a stack of accounting files and four subdued and, no doubt, hung-over senior executives. The camera cuts to Don, and let's put it this way:  He doesn’t look too ready. 

What did you think? Any idea what's in store for 1965?  Will Joan become a mom? Will Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce have another successful year?

-- Meredith Blake
twitter.com/MeredithBlake


RELATED:

'Mad Men': 'Thank you for bringing my keys'

'Mad Men': Top ten unsolved mysteries

'Mad Men': Who is Don Draper?

'The shocking moments' of Sally Draper

Television review: 'Mad Men'

'Mad Men': Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce


Photo: Joan (Christina Hendricks) reheats dinner for Greg (Sam Page). Credit: Mike Yarish /AMC


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Comments () | Archives (25)

Just a note. My mother died from cancer in the 1960's. She was not told she was dying. That was standard operating proceedure in those days.

I was actually amazed that they got that fact correctly.

actually the part with the doctor seemed fairly realistic to me. my mom had hodgkins in the 60's and the doctor told her parents not to tell her what was going on (and she was over 21 at the time!) - he told her she just had a "virus." it was felt that knowing too much would only upset the patient.

The gyno was the same guy from the pilot, and their close relationship was established then.

Abortions were still illegal in '65, right? I'm kinda surprised a doctor with a mainstream practice was performing them, though I guess in large cities women could get more decent help. Or maybe he just did it because they were friends-ish.

Why does everyone have such a hard time believing doctors didn't tell people when they had terminal illnesses? It happened. Not coincidentally, I'm sure, it's also alluded to in the reference to "Send Me No Flowers." In that movie the doctor states unequivocally that he wouldn't tell a patient he was dying as long as the patient "had his will in order."

Actually, it used to be common practice NOT to tell patients that their prognosis was grim. Family members were frequently advised that it was best to keep the news from the doomed. The fact that you don't know this begs to question if you are the right person to do these wrap ups. Sorry to be such a bitch, but it simply astounded me that you didn't know this. Its not exactly earth shattering news that this was a common way of doing things in 1965. I mean, I've seen this plot point before. Personally, I thought him NOT telling her was very interesting. And unexpected. Unexpected in that it WAS the right thing for him to do. What would be accomplished by him dropping this bomb on her and then leaving as Don Draper always does? Personally, if it was me --- I'd rather NOT know, too.

It used to be commonplace for a patient to not be told of a terminal diagnosis. Nothing could be done. I thought it was a nice reference to the times.

Love these recaps - it's the only good thing about my Mondays.
Can't wait for next week!

New York state was one of the few states it was legal to have an abortion during that time period.

This show is based in a different time. Isn't that clear? The handling of terminal illness, and abortion rights. Everyone's made points about Anna not being told. And Roe vs. Wade was passed in 1973. New York made abortions legal in 1970. I don't know what the law was in regards to 'a woman's health', but I'm sure her doctor would have found a way to do it legally since they're close.

Don and Lane's scene's were amazing. Lane's outburts in public! He finally let go... that was really fun to watch. I've always enjoyed seeing Don in Southern Calif. He really does seem so at ease there.

I think Joan's going to catch a blood infection from her husband's home-made surgical procedure and then she won't be able to have a baby.

Sometimes I wish Peggy would go back to "dressing like a little girl", this new matronly look on her is positively blah and unattractive. She looks 60 years old.

I love that Don Draper, King of Cool, is the King of Pathetic Losers this season. He is all kinds of awkward this year. Ha!

In case anyone's confused -- you might be if you're joining "Mad Men" just this season -- the real Don Draper was killed in Korea. The man we now know as Don Draper was born Dick Whitman; in Korea, he changed dog tags with the dead man and assumed a new identity. This was complicated by the appearance of Draper's wife, Anna, who lives in California -- and with whom the new Don quickly developed an affectionate friendship.

Nice footnote I found cuz I was confused.

did anyone catch the grocery bag with the "Pronto Market" logo on it? The forerunner to Trader Joe's. A sly old So Cal reference.

That was kind of detail I love about this show.

Love the scene where Lane tries to walk into the kids' room and Don just says "not that one." Couple that with the fact that Don refuses to take his Lady in there shows that he is trying to keep one part of his life free of his philandering ways. $25 per woman, what would that be in today's dollars?

As a UC Berkeley alum, I enjoyed the fact that Stephanie was a poly sci major at Cal *and* a pothead. (Back in the day, a good number of the rabble-rousers were political science majors.) Anna was self-medicating with the grass, lol.

Good episode -- which as others have pointed out here, highlights some disturbing facts about medical care and how callous doctors could be.
Although everybody seems to love Joan, I find her to be a frustrating character, with her cruel demeanor towards other women annoying at times.

GeuxSaints: In a previous season, when visiting "Pedro" as he calls it, Don, or Dick, arrived back at Anna's house with a vintage Ralphs bag. Nice detail.

The camera seemed to hang on Anna's lighting of the cigarette after Don/Dick learned of her terminal diagnosis. I wonder if - once she dies - Don will revolt against the hand that feeds 70% of the agency (Lucky Strike).

There's already precedent in the way he went off against the 'traditional' Jantzen folks.

Could the California scenes be a prelude to the approach of '66 and '67? Don's trips to California have clearly prepared him for the arrival back east of the west coast, surfer/hippie dude zeitgeist; and he's clearly ahead of the curve with what will embarrassingly be labeled "free love."

More pointedly (cue organ flourish): Will Don have longer hair, side burns and bell bottoms?

Thanks for the reflective posts!

Not "Godzilla," but "Gamera." Perhaps the rampaging giant turtle holds some symbolism for Lane, now unbound by family, coming out of his shell? Perhaps not. "Mon-sta!!!"

What I love most about this season is how fallible everyone has become. This episode, especially, exposed that -- from Don's patheticness to Joan's crumbling marriage. And even though this new side of Lane was amusing to watch, I definitely felt bad for him, just because of how awkward he seemed in his interactions with the prostitute, in his narration of his wife's leaving him etc. I wonder sometimes if the show's producers have gone too far with Lane as the British loser caricature.

"This whole subplot felt too convoluted — I don’t know why the story “needed” the extra wrinkle that Anna doesn’t know she’s dying, and I doubt it's even ethical for a doctor to withhold a diagnosis from a patient, but to share it with her family — so I didn’t find it as wrenching as it ought to have been. "

Doctors could do that in 1965, and into the early 1970s.

"Divorcee" for a male is "divorcé."

Joan knew the ob-gyn way back in season one.

I agree with vegas about Joan's treatment of the women in her office. I've had office managers like that when I was temping. Also, like Joan, there was always a woman who thought she could be the only glamorous woman in the office. Jane can't wear a seductive shirt, but Joan can flaunt her own stuff. But in the decade to come, Peggy will be the one to soar on her own imaginative wings.

Joan is now 34.

Joan has an undergraduate degree. Jane has two years of college.

Anna has bone cancer. She may have gotten this through smoking, but maybe not. Don's reaction was heartbreaking, but appropriate to his time. I guess it's time to move forward, now halfway through the decade, and that means leaving sweet, California-girl Anna behind. We are introduced to the next generation, Anna's baby-boomer, surfer-girl niece.

$25 in 1965 is about $175 in 2010. Don therefore, usually generous, has a cheapskate side.

Loved that they finally found a conference table - and that Joan was sitting at the head of it!

A shame for the short seasons of the cable shows. :( It was a tough time between the end of "Lost," "Caprica" and "Big Love" - and the beginning of "Mad Men."

I love the reviews and the comments. What fun!

 
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