'Mad Men' recap: Getting the house in order
Anyone who’s made it through a season of “Mad Men” can tell you that everything really starts to get crazy around episode 10. That’s when, after a steady drip-drip-drip, the floodgates start to open. Sunday night’s episode, “Hand and Knees,” was no exception. All of a sudden, everyone in "Mad Men" land has a crisis on their hands; the question is how far each character will go in solving it.
After Roger and Joan's sordid assignation last week, it is not exactly surprising to find out that Joan is pregnant. Predictable, to be sure, yet still heartbreaking. I can’t decide what was the most difficult aspect of it for me. Was it knowing that this was Joan’s third abortion, and that -- this time at least -- she desperately wants a child? Or was it Roger’s immature, cowardly response to the whole affair? He suggests Joan should keep the baby, but tells her, “It wouldn’t be my child. Let’s make that clear.” That Roger -- what a class act! Roger might toss around the possibility of leaving Jane for Joan, but a baby -- something that Joan wants even more than she wants Roger -- is simply too scandalous for him. “If there’s going to be something between us, I don’t want it to start this way,” he tells her.
It’s probably wildly unrealistic of me, but I am still hoping that Joan didn’t go through with the abortion. After her trip to the doctor’s office, I was searching for any scrap of evidence to suggest that maybe -- just maybe -- Joan hadn’t gone through with the abortion. On the bus ride home, she looks calm and impeccable, as always. My hunch is that this is a sure sign she went through with it -- Joan is, if anything, even more poised than usual in moments of crisis. My utterly delusional hope? That it means just the opposite. I mean, even Joan is mortal after all, isn’t she? Would she really have reapplied her lipstick after all that? And when Roger checks in on her, she only says, “I’m fine. Everything went fine. We avoided a tragedy.” She never comes out and says “I went through with the abortion.” So she could have kept it, right? Right? I saw a parallel between this episode and Joan’s brief foray into reading TV scripts back in Season 2. In both cases, she’s finally got just the thing that she’s wanted, but she gives it up without a fight. For all her steely confidence, Joan is all too willing to surrender. That’s the real tragedy.
The crises this week were not limited to the domestic sphere. After a banner year, the agency is suddenly in a precarious financial state. Seemingly on a whim, Lee Garner Jr. tells Roger that Lucky Strike will be leaving SCDP. It’s a move that’s seemed all but inevitable since earlier in the season, when it was revealed that the tobacco company comprised the vast majority of the agency’s billings. But that didn’t make it any less dramatic. Roger begged Lee for a second chance, and even played the “But I invited you to my daughter’s wedding” card (if that doesn’t reek of desperation, I don’t know what does). Roger just barely gets him to agree to a 30-day probationary period. “Give us a chance to get our affairs in order,” he tells Lee. What that means, in practical terms, is anyone’s guess, and what’s more unclear is how Roger expects to achieve it without actually telling anyone that they might lose the account. In any case, we’ll find out soon enough. Thirty days in “Mad Men” time is but one week in real life.
Then there’s Lane: poor, sweet, pathetic Lane. After his night out with Don, we already knew that Lane wasn’t quite the stuffed shirt he appeared to be. Now, we discover that he’s not only got a lady friend, but she’s also a very, very young “chocolate bunny” (his words, not mine) named Toni Charles (Naturi Naughton). She is sweet and beautiful, but that’s not enough for Lane’s impossibly evil father, Robert (W. Morgan Sheppard), a man with a voice that’s chillier than an Alaskan highway or, um, a Manhattan on the rocks. Lane accuses him of being racist, and the old man hits him with his gold cane. It was a shockingly brutal scene. I certainly buy the idea that Lane has a cruel, Draconian father, but the beating-and-finger-crushing struck me as too cartoonishly evil; Robert might as well have worn a cape and brandished a light saber. Still, I felt tremendous empathy for Lane, who seems to be following his father’s commands to “put your home in order.” (A statement that, not coincidentally, echoes Roger’s promise to Lee.) A bit of rampant speculation: If Lane makes his leave of absence permanent, will Joan step in and become a partner? And if she does, will she stop being so mean to Peggy?
Metaphorically speaking, Don’s house was the messiest this week. After an unwitting slip-up by Megan, the Department of Defense runs a background check on Don. Two FBI agents show up at Betty’s door and, understandably, she is nearly paralyzed with fear. Briefly, I wondered what Betty would do, but in retrospect, she did the only thing she could do: lie. They’re no longer married, but Betty’s fortunes are still tied to Don’s. It won’t do Betty, her children or -- for that matter -- her new husband any good to have Don in jail. In a wonderfully ironic twist, Betty has inherited Don’s secret. Betty is, to some extent, living a lie, one that could imperil her new husband’s career. (Just imagine the headlines: “Pol’s Wife Lies to Feds About AWOL Ex!”)
But that’s all speculative. What we do know is that it’s Pete, not Don, who winds up being the fall guy. At first, it appeared that Pete might put up a fight, but ultimately he gives in to Don’s orders to “get rid of it” -- “it” being the lucrative contract with North American Aviation. Maybe Pete, like Betty, did the math and realized that Don’s public disgrace would be bad for him too. In any case, Don probably ought to buy Pete and Trudy a nice dinner (or maybe a cool new chip and dip?) but something tells me he won’t.
The additional irony of all this is, of course, that Don was finally getting his life in order just when the government came a-knockin’. He’s curtailed his drinking habits, he has a healthy and honest relationship with a nice new girlfriend, and he’s doing nice things for Sally, like getting her tickets to see the Beatles. Heck, he and Betty are even being gracious to each other. So now that Don has it together, will it all fall apart?
-- There was also a nice parallel between Joan and Faye this week. Joan leaves Roger’s office saying “Very well, I’ll wait on your word.” She’s pretending to talk about business, but she’s not. Same with Faye, who tells Don “Very good then, you can call me with the details.” I’m not sure what we’re meant to glean from this -- maybe it’s something about the level of dishonesty in the office.
-- What did you make of the end of the episode, with Don staring as Megan freshened up her lipstick? Was Don just lusting after her, or was he contemplating how such a lovely girl could have, potentially, caused his undoing? I tend to think it's the latter, especially given the suggestive choice of music ("Do You Want to Know a Secret?") Either way, I’m intrigued by how writers keeps coming back to her. What does it all mean?
-- If Lane caves in and takes a more permanent leave of absence, will Joan step in and finally become a real partner?
-- I love how Don’s lawyer, Frank Keller (Jack Laufer) is the closest thing he has to a therapist.
-- The possibility of Roger’s demise keeps coming up. At this point, it would almost be too predictable if Roger did keel over at the office, a la Blankenship, yet all signs point to this happening -- especially the darkly comic scene in which Roger, going through his Rolodex, finds out one of his old buddies is dead, then rips up the card while glibly expressing his condolences. I also loved the pitch-perfect, WASPy conversation about vacation homes, e.g. “It’s a rental, but it’s a beaut.”
-- I wonder what was behind the creative decision to have Roger drop an F-bomb and then bleep it out. My guess is that they wanted the scene to be just as salty as it would be in real life, take that censors. But, like so many things about this season, it felt self-conscious.
So, what did you think? It looks like the dominoes are all in place for the rest of the season; Any predictions as to how they will fall?
-- Meredith Blake
P.S. In the spirit, of this episode, here's a great little montage of the Beatles at Shea Stadium. Can you spot Sally in the audience?
Top photo: Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) introduces his Playboy bunny, Toni (Naturi Naughton) to Don (Jon Hamm) and his father (W. Morgan Sheppard). Credit: Mike Yarish / AMC
Bottom photo: Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Roger (John Slattery) discuss their predicament over a tasty-looking bloody mary. Credit: Mike Yarish / AMC