Mad Men, “The Good News”: The C-word.

What I especially liked about last year’s season finale was how upbeat it all felt. Despite the fact that Don’s marriage was falling apart, the genesis of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce brought the show a new kind of energy that hadn’t been there before. Jump ahead a year, and that energy is still there, but you’d be hard-pressed to call it upbeat.

By no means is that a knock against the show. Mad Men has always been moody. It’s part of its charm, and if that were to simply go away it wouldn’t be the same show. However, it is nice to see our characters end up on top every now and then, but after this week’s episode I have my doubts as to whether or not we’ll be seeing any of that this year.

It’s been a tough year, so we can hardly fault Don for a taking a little time out on his way to Acapulco to visit Anna. After all, it seems like she’s the sole person Don can truly be himself around. But while we saw Don’s time in California in season 2 as a sort of rebirth, this time felt like just the opposite. Don’s becoming more pathetic by the week. In the premiere we see him getting slapped around by a hooker. Last week he’s making the moves on Allison. And this week he’s hitting on Anna’s niece, Stephanie. I’m not sure, but were men having sex with girls 20 years their junior frowned upon in the 60s? I’ll look into it.

Stephanie had more sense than Allison and shut him down pretty quick, and to add insult to injury, told him that the person he may care about most in the world has terminal cancer — and is completely unaware of it. Don’s transformation from the mild-mannered Dick Whitman when he confronted Anna’s sister over that decision was a thing of beauty. He tried beating her over the head with, when you think about it, all he really has in the world: money. Anna’s sister completely turned things back around on him by saying that he had no right to meddle in the family’s business. He was just an empty shirt with a checkbook. It obviously had some resonance with him and shut him up right quick and in a hurry.

I think Don knows that without Anna he’ll be truly alone in the world. In true Don fashion, he comes back to Manhattan and buries himself in his work, only to find Lane in much the same predicament. Having had her fill with the States, his wife has gone back to England and isn’t planning on coming back. Don tells him that he’s learned the hard way not to give advice in these situations (we all remember the Roger/Jane debacle), but the least he could do is take the guy out, show him a good time.

I guess you could call this part of the episode upbeat, even if it was essentially two guys drowning their sorrows in booze, Godzilla movies and cheap women (seriously, $25 dollars?!). It was hilarious if nothing else, and further cements Lane in his place as my favorite character on the show. I especially liked the words — or non-words — the two shared the morning after. Lane thanks Don for the welcome distraction, and Don gives Lane a slight wink and a nod. He’s a frat boy, giving the nerdy kid a small glimpse of the world he lives in. I can’t say with any surety if this will change their relationship in any fundamental way, but you never know. It would be nice to see Lane as more than just the disapproving parent who complains about the kids spending too much money. As with most things, time will tell.

There was a lot of Joan stuff going on in this week’s episode as well. But after Lane came in and sort of hijacked things, it all seemed a little inconsequential. If she does get pregnant and her husband goes off to Vietnam and is killed, Joan as the single mother could be a really interesting storyline, although it’s way too far into the future to really think about. But the show has made big jumps in time before, so maybe by the end of season 7 it’ll be 1985 and we’ll see Don wearing a denim jacket and driving a Delorean. You make fun but if Matt Weiner did it it’d be edgy and bold.

Other stuff:

  • “Gentlemen, shall we begin 1965?” The look on Don’s face spoke volumes. I think now more than ever before, he realizes he’s going into the future alone.
  • “Joan, please forgive me. Lane.” Priceless.
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