Saturday, 25 September 2010

'MAD MEN' 4.3 - "The Good News"

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Appropriately for this episode, I had a split reaction. Divided into two halves -- one focusing on Don's (Jon Hamm) real identity (Dick Whitman), the other the man he became after adopting a dead soldier's name -- I found value in both, but it felt a little disjointed to me. That said, it's always a pleasure to delve into Don's psyche, and this quasi-sequel to season 2's "The Mountain King" left an indelible impression.

It's the Christmas holidays and the staff at SCDP are bidding adieu to the workplace until New Year. Don uses his vacation time to travel to Acapulco, via Los Angeles for an overnight stay with Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton), the wife of the US soldier whose identity he stole, who's since become the only person that knows and understands Dick's decision to assume another life. It was great to see Don and Anna interacting again, with Don clearly more relaxed and happy in her presence and concerned about her recently broken leg.

The arrival of Anna's sister Patty (Susan Leslie) and niece Stephanie (Caity Lotz) also expanded this particular branch of Don's life, although you couldn't help but cringe when Don decided to proposition Stephanie after driving her home from a bar. But just when you were expecting it to all blow up in his face (would Anna have been pleased about him sleeping with her niece?), it instead imploded with Stephanie's reveal that Anna's dying of cancer. Even worse, Patty's decided to keep the diagnosis a secret from her own sister, which Don doesn't agree with. Of course, he has no real say in Anna's life, as it appears he's only considered a family friend by Patty (or, more accurately "a man in a room with a chequebook"), despite the clear mother/son vibe between them.

There was also an intriguing subplot with Joan (Christina Hendricks), whose feminine wiles are proven not to work on Lane (Jared Harris) when she asked for an extended holiday to be with her husband, who's working during the official Christmas period. But the really fascinating moment was seeing Joan slice her finger open in the kitchen, with husband Greg (Sam Page) quickly putting his medical skills to good use, but in a manner that confirmed he doesn't really perceive Joan as anything other than an immature trophy. See him infantilize her by telling a joke and distracting her in the manner he would a child patient. A dark cloud always looms over Greg's character, ever since he essentially raped Joan on the floor of Don's old office in season 2, but the show hasn't really followed up on that shocking moment. Was it a scene never to be repeated, or did the writers choose to ease off on Greg's depiction and go for something more subtle?

The split in the episode came when Don decided to honour Patty's wishes and, despite his intention to stay longer than a day and repaint her wall, decided it was in her best interest to fly back to New York. He'll revisit again in Easter with his kids, introducing them to a hitherto unknown "aunt", but I wonder if her health will have deteriorated by then. Lovely touch with Don literally signing off on their life, painting "Dick + Anna '64" on her wall.

Interestingly, in "The Mountain King" Don's visit to Anna was something of a calming oasis in his tempestuous life, but in "The Good News" he simply returned to the Big Apple and dived ever deeper into his Don persona. Only this time, he found the company of another man wanting to forget his problems: Lane, who has cancelled his trip to London because of so much work. I've never felt that Jared Harris has been given enough to do on Mad Men, but this episode went some way towards fixing that problem. Lane and Don's night on the town was wonderful: watching a Japanese movie and upsetting cinemagoers, having a meal together where a drunken Lane embarrassed himself by pressing steak to his crotch ("I got a big, Texas belt buckle! Yee-haw!"), and being mistaken as homosexuals by a comedian at a club. Most surprisingly, Don called Candace (Erin Cummings), the call girl he's been seeing, and got her to bring a friend over for Lane to sleep with – to get over his crumbling marriage. Clearly Don saw a man in his own situation with Lane, but it'll be interesting to see how far this potential new friendship goes.

Overall, "The Good News" was another compelling episode, particularly if you're fascinated by Don's character and have been desperate to see Lane given more prominence on the show. The L.A storyline wasn't the greatest (just there to deliver information for later pay-off when Don visits at Easter with his kids, I'm guessing), but the second half with Don showing Lane a good time downtown was superb. I'm really enjoying the fresh tone this fourth season has, and it's doing wonders with Don's arc in particular. Jon Hamm's clearly relishing all the opportunities with Don in a freefall. I'm pretty sure Anna's not going to last long, too, so it'll be very interesting to see how Don copes without her as a spiritual touchstone. When she dies, ex-wife Betty will be the only person who knows his secret, but he'll have nobody who really understand who he is. Can he overcome that setback, or will losing Anna cast him adrift in the world?

A great episode, bringing us neatly into the mid-'60s with the closing scene of Joan taking the minutes for a meeting. "Gentlemen. Shall we begin 1965?" she asks. I'm hoping this means we have another four seasons left until Mad Men's story is told.

  • Actor Remy Auberjonois's father is Rene Auberjonois, an actor perhaps best known as Odo in Star Trek Deep Space Nine.
  • Great visual with Don sat on Anna's couch after returning home from Stephanie's, so numbed by news of Anna's cancer that he sat motionless all night, the room turning from night to morning in time-lapse.
  • One person who doesn't respond to Joan's feminine charms is Lane. "I understand that all men are dizzy and powerless to refuse you, but consider me the incorruptible exception." And wasn't her attempt to sweet-talk him into giving her extra holiday something a child would do? Does Greg have a point? Clearly, Joan is aware she's being infantilized at home, as she lashed out at Lane over his mix-up with some flowers of apology, saying he makes her feel "like a helpless, stupid little girl." She's just misdirecting her thoughts about her husband elsewhere.
  • Joan's had two abortions already. Has the circumstances of that been alluded to before, or was this fresh information?
  • What are the odds on Greg being shipped off to Vietnam and killed?
WRITERS: Jonathan Abrahams & Matthew Weiner
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Getzinger
GUEST CAST: Alexa Alemanni, Erin Cummings, Sam Page, Melinda Page Hamilton, Susan Leslie, Caity Lotz, Remy Auberjonois & Bayne Gibby
TRANSMISSION: 22 September 2010 - BBC4/HD, 10PM