Thursday, 23 September 2010

Mad Men 4.3 'The Good News'

“Look at these two, George and Martha” – Comedian

‘The Good News’, the third episode of the award-winning Mad Men’s third season, was a largely Draper-centric episode but it also featured some brilliant screen time for the oft underused Lane (Jared Harris).

After the Christmas festivities of last week’s episode we now find our mad men and women in that weird period between Christmas and New Year, most of them have plans to be anywhere other than NYC and Don, as we learned last week, is heading to Acapulco.

We learn through Harry though that on his way there Don has a layover in L.A., we soon discover why Don is so reluctant to use his brief stop in the City of Angels for business purposes as he turns up on the porch of his beloved Anna.

Don’s relationship with Anna, the widow of the man whose identity he stole, has always been a strange one but she is the one woman that this serial womanizer seems to really love with all his heart.

This is probably due to the fact that she is the only woman that truly knows him, Betty may think she knows the truth now she knows that Don used to be Dick Whitman, but Don would never let his ex-wife into his soul like he does with Anna.

So you can imagine how devastated Don is to discover from Anna’s niece, as he once again fails in his sexual advances towards a woman, that Anna is dying of bone cancer. The unbridled grief on Don’s face as he realises his one connection to that old life will soon be gone really is heartbreaking.

What makes things worse for Don is that he can’t do anything about Anna’s illness as she doesn’t even know her plight. The cancer is so advanced there’s no saving her so her family have decided to keep her in the dark so she can enjoy her remaining time without the burden of the knowledge of her impending death.

So a grief-stricken Don jettisons his Acapulco plans and instead heads back to The Big Apple to the only place even remotely close to a home that he has at the minute – the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce offices.

To his surprise Don discovers Lane sat at his desk cutting a lonely figure. We had earlier learnt through a row with Joan and his secretary’s incompetence that all was not well with Lane’s marriage but he reveals to Don that it is a good as over hence why he hasn’t returned to England for the New Year.

The pair proceed to get drunk off their faces on an unspecified liquor Lane’s dad had sent him and embark on a 1960’s version of The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ video. They harass cinema goers at the pictures, cause a scene in a restaurant, get ribbed by, and then heckle, a comedian and finally take two prostitutes back to Don’s sad little apartment.

The morning after, as Lane emerges from Don’s spare room it is hard to tell whether he is pleased or ashamed of himself – his stuffy British exterior not letting on just what is going on inside.

So many of the characters on Mad Men try to conform to what they think people want from them and most of the time it makes them miserable – see the phrase “Is that what you want, or is that what people expect of you?” which is used as almost the theme of this episode.

Was this a rare glimpse of the real Lane or was this just him acting out to release the pent-up frustration of his marriage falling apart? As he insists on reimbursing Don for his girl and then thanks him for “a welcome distraction” it would imply that this won’t become a regular boy’s club.

Running parallel to Don and Lane’s adventures is the increasingly worrying relationship Joan has with her husband Greg.

As viewers we have already seen him force himself on her on Don’s office floor, so we have an instant dislike for him but Joan, who has either blocked that out or has just learned to live with it, still wants to try and have her fairytale family with him.

That plan is being scuppered not only by the fact that the two of them are currently working opposing shifts but by the elephant in the room of Greg sooner or later being shipped out to Vietnam.

As Greg stitches up Joan’s finger after she cuts it making dinner, we realise that for all their efforts none of the characters on Mad Men seem capable of balancing a successful career with a strong home life – the three main characters we follow intensively in ‘The Good News’ being the three prime examples of this curse that seems to hang over SCDP.

The episode ends with 1965 heralding the start of a New Year and although SCDP has had a reasonably stable first year and can plan ahead for a, hopefully, prosperous New Year the same cannot be said of the people who take a seat at SCDP conference table’s personal lives.

Bullet Points:

- Don’s lack of success with the ladies continues as he is rebuffed by the third woman in as many episodes – are women starting to become more familiar with, and thus immune to, the sort of bravado and charm that men like Don exude or does Don just reek of desperation right about now?

- Loved the scene with Lane and Don drunkenly trying to decide what film to go and see – The Guns of August: “I hate guns and I hate August…”

- Lovely shot of night turning to day as Don sat helplessly on Anna’s sofa after getting the news of her cancer.

- The revelation that Joan has had two abortions was pretty shocking but I suppose in context, not that surprising – is a certain grey-haired gentleman suitor to blame for either of these “procedures”?

Mad Men continues Wednesday @ 10pm on BBC4


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