Monday, August 9, 2010

'Mad Men' -- The Good News (Dick + Anna '64)

*Warning, spoilers ahead from the recent episode of Mad Men.*

This episode was called “The Good News,” but frankly, there wasn’t any good news, other than the fact that Lane Pryce has a wicked sense of humor when it comes to the subjects of slabs of steak and Texas belt buckles.

Don’s downward spiral has been a depressing and fascinating thing to behold. First of all, he’s not eating, with the exception of gobbling down Lane’s sandwich in the break room. Secondly, he’s just drinking his way through his haze of a life, bouncing from one distraction to another (making one inappropriate sexual come-on after another, his secretary, Anna’s niece) trying to get himself forget the pitiable lonely life he’s leading in the wake of his divorce.

So it was a fresh relief to see him visit the calming oasis which consistently seemed to center him: Anna, who still calls him by his given name, Dick. In all the scenes they’ve shared together, there was always something distinctly different, more relaxed and tender in Don’s face. Like he was finally home. (Watch the scenes when he’s in New York, he looks like another person.) “I know everything about you, and I still love you,” Anna told him soothingly, the way he wishes Betty would have after he confessed the truth to her.

By the way, Don’s delusional if he thinks that the reason Betty divorced him is because of the manner in which he was born (from a prostitute whose married john wound up with custody of the baby after she died) and that he came from poverty. “After I told her, I felt relieved,” Don said to Anna about finally telling Betty the truth. “. . . I could tell, the minute she saw who I really was, she never wanted to look at me again, which is why I never told her.”

No Don. Midge, Rachel, Bobbie, that flight attendant, Miss Farrell, the piles of cash that were hidden in a locked desk (about which he lied), his attempts to control and manipulate Betty’s every move (shaming her if he had to) while refusing to allow her access to his true emotions THOSE are the reasons why she finally left. Not because he was poor or because of what his mother did for a living. Anna’s the only person on the planet whom Don/Dick had allowed to see inside his soul.

To learn that Anna had little time left because she had cancer that had spread throughout her body – and no one clued her in about her diagnosis – was such a crushing blow to Don, knowing that the one constant in his adult life was about to leave this world, so soon after his marriage died. I must admit that, given his deep feelings, I was mildly surprised to see him run away from Anna’s like a coward, knowing that this was likely the last time he’d see her. (I’m willing to entertain the argument that perhaps the comments by Anna’s sister contributed to Don, the broken family man’s fleeing: “You have no say in the affairs of this family. You’re just a man in a room with a checkbook.”) He then sought refuge in his favorite places: Inside a bottle and in the arms of a call girl.

LOVED Joan in this episode, her in-your-face argument with Lane when she asked for two vacation days off before Greg goes to basic training, and Lane turned her down because they’d just be coming off a holiday break. “I understand that all men are dizzy and powerless to refuse you but consider me the incorruptible exception,” Lane said. “. . . Now don’t go and cry about it.”

To see them both implode after Joan chucked the flowers at Lane, when she received the wrong set of flowers, was entertainingly uncharacteristic for the both of them.

I also enjoyed watching the heartbroken Lane -- on a verge of a divorce or, at the very least, a serious martial estrangement – engaging in some masculine bonding with Don, causing a lively ruckus in the movie theater, getting rowdy with a steak at an upscale restaurant and then venturing to Don’s sad bachelor pad and sleeping with an escort, a pal of Don’s slap-happy call gal. But the distinct difference between Lane and Don, as we all know, is that Lane’s foray on the wild side is but a blip. For Don, it is becoming a lifestyle, for how long is anyone’s guess.

Image credit: Michael Yarish/AMC.


BFlood said...

I *entirely* disagree about Betty's reason for leaving.

Well, almost entirely. Yes, the philandering and manipulation were reasons. But Don's real identity was more than just the straw that broke the camel's back.

Betty is Daddy's little girl, and Daddy hated Don from the start - because "he has no people" - no family pedigree. Betty has always shown she's a classist snob. Don's right; she never would have loved him - no matter what his behavior - if he had told her where he came from. There were no details for her to know, except what Don told her, so she just glided right over it, like she glides right past her daughter's issues.

Part of the issue is that Betty is a child and doesn't truly know what she wants, beyond the surface trappings. As her new mother-in-law noted, "she's a silly woman".

I was intrigued with Joan's storyline... I'm wondering where this is all going.
I saw Lane's separation coming when he decided to join the firm. His wife hates NYC. I think he's really shaping up as a great character. As I noted before, his "Very good. Happy Christmas!" in "Shut the door..." made me laugh out loud - even on repeated viewings.

I'm sorry to lose Anna as a character (although there's always flashbacks)... you're right - she reveals Don (or Dick) in ways no one else can. Interesting to see how differently we dealt with medical info in the past. Imagine - your doctor not telling you that you had cancer! But I've heard stories from family. Amazing.

Meredith O'Brien said...

I love your take on why Betty left. It's terrific to hear different points of view.

I wonder if Don truly does fear that *any* woman would leave him -- deem him "unworthy" of her affections -- if she knew the truth about his background. (He's doing a mighty fine job of making himself seem "unworthy" in the present with his recent behavior, never mind a past over which he had no control.)

Alhough Rachel Menken did know a bit of Don's story (that Don's mother was a prostitute, not the whole Dick Whitman thing) and she didn't go running for the hills. It was only when he wanted to run away with her and leave his kids, her family, her store behind that she ended their relationship because it didn't seem as though people were important to him.

Seeing Don with Anna, though, showed that he has the capacity to love someone and feel comforted in receiving love from a person who knows all about your flaws. However I'm still on the fence about whether him leaving Anna was an act of kindness or cowardice. Thoughts on that?

amy said...

I think that leaving Anna was an act of both cowardice and self-preservation for Don. His character is unknowable--to others, not to himself. I don't even feel he was entirely his "real" self with Anna, I think he shows shades of himself to every woman and person he has been with since the series began: He is a mostly distant father, a provider and "don't worry about it" husband to Betty, a confident ad man with Roger and Bert, a ball-buster to Peggy and Pete, a man who wants to be dominated with prostitutes, a compassionate "fix it guy" with Anna. I don't think any of these people are the "real" Dick Whitman, he wields some version of vulnerability at times with women only as a means to an end. The only time he kind of loses control is when he's drunk, and then it's just sexually--even after his tryst with his secretary, he wasn't begging her to stay.

He strikes me more than anything as a little boy lost, someone who feels entirely unworthy of love or respect in his life so he pretends to be different people in order to acquire it..and if it is given to him, he immediately rejects it. He epitomizes the Woody Allen phrase "I don't want to be a member of any club that will have me" (or something like that).

I agree with BFlood that Betty would never have gone out with Don if she had known about his background, but I think she left him for the reasons he stated--she is still a child. He left Anna because he was afraid to be truly vulnerable, god forbid the guy have a real emotion and express it. Seeing Anna die might have cracked his ability to control himself while sober.

Until Don has some reconciliation with his own abandonment issues as a child, he will continue to be that little boy who. not unlike Betty, doesn't truly know what he wants.

Cooley Horner said...

Interesting. I didn't read Don's departure as cowardice. I thought he took her sister's words to heart--staying any longer might tempt him to say something he shouldn't, and while he loved Anna, it wasn't his place to intrude on family affairs. I was really hoping he'd tell her about her disease, but I think he wanted their last moments together to be better than tears and sadness. Instead of breaking her heart with news about a disease that couldn't be cured, they shared some cokes and he painted their names on the wall like sweethearts. I think Anna always had a thing for Don--which is so sweet since she knew who he really was--so that probably meant a lot to her. It was very poignant, and I got legit choked up when they said goodbye (knowing it would likely be for the last time).

My only gripe about the episode was the casting of Anna's niece. I can't put my finger on it, but the actress and/or her performance felt very 2010ish as opposed to 1965ish. Other guest actors have always done a good job fitting into the time period, but this girl felt kind of clunky against the 1960s backdrop. True, she's supposed to be part of a different, brasher generation, but it was hard to get behind her when I kept thinking I'd seen her on MTV or something.

LOVED the Lane/Don scenes. My boyfriend and I rewound the TiVo so we could watch that scene in the SCDP kitchen one more time--"Lane! Get in here! We're going to the movies." I really like the snappy writing of that scene, and the acting was fantastic. You hit the nail on the head about the differences between Lane and Don; after a night with the call girls, Don felt like it was an ordinary morning. Lane put his suit back on and seemed uncomfortable, insisting on paying as he knew it was a business transaction. It was awkward, and it gave me the vibe that while Lane is welcome, he might not ever fit in with Don at this point in Don's life.

I'm sad we haven't seen a lot of Pete yet this season, but hopefully that's coming. I liked the direction they were going with Pete and Trudy last season, and I want to hear more about their efforts to have/adopt a baby.

Also? This week had the best Mad Men line of all time: "I'm not going to fight watching Dick Whitman paint my living room in his shorts."

Cooley Horner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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