Mad Men: Season 4, Episode 3
The Good News
The first two weeks of Season Four so far have shown us Don Draper at rock bottom. As long as we have known him, Don has been in control of his image if nothing else. He portrayed himself as a successful man working in an established firm, with a trophy wife and kids waiting at home. Now, however, his image is out of his control, and its the views of others that are determining how he is seen. Don has finally achieved the freedom he has sought throughout the entire series, and it has spelled his downfall. And what does Don Draper do when he loses control of his life? He heads out to sunny California, where he can just be Dick Whitman, and where Don Draper's ex-wife Anna will just accept him for who he is, even knowing all of his dirty secrets.

Unfortunately, California does not prove as restorative as Don might have expected. He fails to seduce Anna's niece (continuing the lack of mojo he has been experiencing of late), and finds out that the one woman who accepts him, knows him fully, and loves him nevertheless has bone cancer and doesn't even know she is near death. When Don finds out that Anna will die, it is enough to devastate him. She exists as a retreat from all of the stresses of his life in New York, a place where he can just be candid; where he can just be Dick Whitman and that will be enough. Yet even more tragic is the fact that Anna's family forces him to keep her illness from her, and thus forces him to violate the trust at the heart of their relationship. Don needs Anna in his life to see him for all of his flaws and love him anyway, and Anna's death will deprive him of the one pure relationship in his life. Don Draper has little left to lose, and now even Dick Whitman is being robbed of his one retreat from the lies he insulates himself with.

Watching Don paint her wall in an attempt to improve her life in any small way, and seeing him tear himself away to keep from revealing her condition was simply heartbreaking. Watching them mark the wall, which Don signs "Dick and Anna '64," its clear that Don will likely never see Anna again, and when he tells her he'll bring the kids out for Easter, its clear that will never occur. season Four is showing us Don Draper at rock bottom, and without Anna, Don is in total freefall with no one there to catch him and set him right again.

While "The Good News" was definitely a Don-centric episode, there were two other major players. The first, Joan, is trying to get pregnant and dealing still with her disappointment in her marriage. At this point its clear that Joan will not get the comfortable life she has hoped for from Greg, so her last option seems to be getting a child out of him, yet scheduling makes even that seem unlikely (and here's hoping: Joan should hold out for a better man to rear her children. I will be glad to volunteer), and puts her into conflict with tonight's other major player, Lane. As Greg attempts to stitch up her finger after she cuts it, Joan reacts exactly as I did--she hesitates, knowing that Greg isn't even allowed to be a surgeon in New York. I feared Greg would somehow maim Joan, but the result of their interaction was in its way even more depressing. Joan, like Don, desperately needs someone who understands and accepts her for who she is, but Greg just sees her as a secretary, in spite of the fact that she has surpassed that role, and can offer so much more if given the chance. Yet while Joan fails to be respected at home, she fights tooth and nail for the respect she's entitled to at work. She battles Lane for time off, fires his secretary for mixing up her forgiveness flowers, and even opens the beginning of the year meeting that closes the episode. Joan may not have power at home, but she demands respect at work, and for the most part she is finally receiving it.

Finally, the last act of the episode largely centers around New Year's Eve, where Don and Lane commiserate their failed marriages (Lane's wire has elected to remain in England after the holiday) by drunkenly cavorting around town and ending the night with a few prostitutes back at Don's place. Jared Harris is a marvel as Lane, and watching him unbutton and come out of his shell a bit was a sheer joy to watch. Watching them go to see Gamera instead of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (which I say is a good call, all things considered) and Lane drunkenly yelling "This movie is very good!" was fantastic, yet there was a tragic undertone to the overt hilarity of the night. For Lane, this was one drunken distraction from his crumbling life. As for Don, well, his prostitute knows her way around his kitchen, which may be the saddest sentence I have ever typed while covering this show. There was a lot of laughter in the scenes between Don and Lane, but there was even more tragedy hidden beneath them. "The Good News," showed us Don being stripped of the one relationship in his life that has been truly honest. What he is left with is the tattered life he has back in New York. Yet what he makes of that in the weeks to come, is still his own to decide. When Stephanie, Anna's niece, blithely comments, "I don't understand who's in charge," Don's response is both a quip and an existential mantra: "You're in charge. Trust me, I work in advertising." Don may be down and out, but he still has the power to take back control, if only by altering the perceptions of others. Hopefully someday soon, Don Draper will get back on his horse and retake the reigns of his life.

Grade: A-


-"I started thinking of everything I know, and how flimsy it might be." "You don't have to see a UFO to know that."

-"You're just a man, in a room, with a checkbook." Cold words from Anna's sister. She may grasp how important Anna is to Don, but what he misses, at least initially, is that his occasional visits do not entitle him to make decisions about her life.

-"Is that what you want, or is that what people expect of you?"-Don, rewording Dr. Miller's sentiments from last week, and re-addressing one of the major themes of this season, and of the series as a whole.

-"Hey, I've got a big Texas belt buckle. Yee-haw!"

-"We're not homosexuals, we're divorced!"

-"I love your apartment, its very manly." "It came this way. I think Norman Mailer shot a deer over there."
Tags: Mad Men
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