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Wednesday, 22 of September of 2021

Mad Men – “The Good News”

“I had it coming.”

Ah, the incorruptible Lane Pryce. One night with Don Draper and you’re now just one of the boys.

Lane’s relationship has been somewhat tenuous for the length of his time on the show. He started off just as much a caricature as the rest of the limeys (limies?) that took over Sterling Cooper last season, a cup of tea and an elitist football reference short of a stereotype. While he was the most willing to accept America as his home (to his wife’s chagrin) and seemed the most sympathetic character in the new cast introduced in season 3, he has pretty much held on to the stuffy, stiff-upper-lip, moneyman type.  But he’s fallen on hard times, particularly in his marriage with his cold and “severe” better half (she is English afterall — which media has taught me is par for the course unless receiving a Joni Mitchell education), and wants a break. And who’s back just in time to drag a man of scruples into the tarpit that is his own existence? Fresh off his own stint of jackassery, it’s Don Draper, expert in swallowing pain and then drowning it in brown liquor and quasi-anonymous sex.

He really should wear a cape or a pencil mustache or something, just to warn people.

In other news, Joan finally gets a storyline this season.

Joan is ready to be the girl that settles down. She wants the family, the husband that comes home every night, the whole thing.  Except that her life won’t allow it.  While her body is primed and ready to conceive (despite a couple of “procedures” to correct some earlier indiscretions), her domestic situation is not and everything is still in the air. As you can imagine, for the hyper-organized Joanie, this doesn’t jibe all that well though she hides it expertly (as she has been capable of in the past). The only indication that she’s upset comes after Lane sends flowers to both her and his wife only for the deliveries to be mixed-up (the wife gets a card that reads, “Joan, please forgive me” — HA!).  Joan explodes at Lane, who was horribly dismissive to her earlier in the episode, but she very cooly returns to her calm center and fires the poor secretary that had nothing to do with the florist’s mistake.

Can Joan stay faithful to a man she hardly believes in while she works in an office full of successful, handsome philanderers?

The interesting part of Joan’s story comes when she cuts herself, at least horribly enough that she requires medical attention. She constantly pleads with Greg that she needs to go to the hospital, making excuses like a husband shouldn’t be treating his wife. Is this hangover from the decision against him to be chief of surgery? Joan is always around flawed yet successful men. Does she still have a hard time dealing with her husband being flawed and unsuccessful?

The thing is that he’s capable and fixes her up just fine, calmly and expertly.  And then it happens. The stress gets to her and Joan actually breaks down into tears. Even when she was being raped by her husband she was able to look off and not think about it. But this is all too much for her to deal with and the pain from the knife wound plus the pain in her life mix together in that proverbial (if overly generalized) spaghetti. It was a little uncomfortable. They have an “it’ll-all-work-out” talk but — can it? Can Joan be an Army wife? Can Joan stay faithful to a man she hardly believes in while she works in an office full of successful, handsome philanderers?

By the way, add one more philanderer to the party.

So Lane Pryce is on the rocks, stuck being the stick-in-the-mud, married to a woman that would rather leave him than join him in the capital of the world, suffered being the butt of Joan’s built-up rage through misunderstanding, so he sits alone in a dark office, drowning his sorrows in work. Don Draper’s unexpected arrival ushers in a new age for him for the new year, or at least a way to leave everything in the past year. But let’s rewind a bit and set up Pryce by setting up Draper.

Draper was headed down Mexico way for New Year’s with a stop in California to be Dick Whitman for a day. He visits a broken-legged Anna and is quickly introduced to her sister and caretaker, Patty, and Patty’s college-aged daughter, Stephanie, who, of course is blonde, educated, and can fill out a bathing suit top. This, of course, is a problem.

But it shouldn’t be. The thing is when Draper is in California as Dick Whitman, he’s almost a likeable guy. All the traits that come off as insincere in Draper are honest and good in Whitman. While Draper’s connection to people is generally superficial (but given false depth by his charisma), Whitman honestly cares about Anna and the people in Anna’s life. Whitman is candid where Draper is guarded (examine the differences between his discussion of Betty with Anna and then later with Pryce for an example). So this cute young girl, who plays a brief part as surrogate daughter in the strange coupling of Anna and Whitman (amplified by Anna’s assertion that she “had a hand” in raising Stephanie to be the woman she is), being preyed upon by Draper on the ride home not only feels creepy and a bit incestuous, but also deeply out of place. Draper does not belong in California. Happily, his savoir faire is just as well-received here as it is on the East Coast.

Draper does not belong in California. Happily, his savoir faire is just as well-received here as it is on the East Coast.

While Stephanie smartly denies him, she also drops a bomb. Whitman learns about Anna’s condition, terminal cancer exploded in her body, and suddenly feels the panic to help her with the resources he has as Draper (he’s kind of like Batman in that way). But the appeal from Anna’s family to keep it from her, since specialists say there is nothing they can do, draws out the Draper in Whitman. Where Whitman wants nothing but to tell Anna the truth and make everything okay, Draper comes out with his expert ability to swallow everything that is painful and leave the scene as quickly as possible. Whether or not you feel like that is a good decision (to not tell Anna to spare her worry) or a classless move (Anna is the only pure, good thing in his life and deserves the truth), the point is that it wasn’t Whitman that left her, it was Draper. And thus Draper finds a way to poison even himself.

So Draper brings this baggage back to New York (he skips Acapulco) where he spends a night on the town with the beleaguered Lane Pryce. Despite telling Joan earlier that he is “incorruptible,” it only takes one night with Draper before Lane is chugging his father’s expensive liquor, talking about hand-jobs and being racist in a movie theatre, shouting at the top of his lungs at a steak restaurant, and cheating on his wife with a prostitute. The last bit I imagine is still the case since Lane never indicates that any measures have been taken to dissolve the marriage just yet, only that he is in emotional shambles and insinuates he has trouble standing up to her (shocking).

When Lane lays the money down on the table for the prostitute later to pay Don back, he mutters “fascinating,” as if he just taken a tour of a life he was not privy to before. Mr Pryce, welcome to Don Draper’s Valley of the Jackass Tour. Witness the depressing solitude. Feel the hazy boundary between reality and drunk. Marvel that anyone able to maintain this existence. I don’t think Don can even believe that this is his life.

The final scene has all the heads of SCDP in one room, Joan at the head, organizing projects, Lane running a bit late. Let’s start 1965.

  • A brief note because I love her: do you think Peggy’s comments to Joan about her being in a stable relationship were sincere? I always think Peggy looks up to Joan, not in the same way she looks up to Draper but just as a put-together female, while still feeling a little competitive. While Joan demonstrated in this episode that even she can be vulnerable, Peggy has only seen the well-constructed version of Joan (and translates that into being a robot) and, perhaps, her persona, at least in the beginning, is a combination of the collectedness of both Don and Joan. She really has the worst role models ever.
  • Do you feel like Allison still has goo-goo eyes for Draper in her scene with him or is this pity for a pathetic man, like she’s seen behind the curtain and has been disappointed? Though she was hurt before, has she come to terms with the fact that Draper may be her boss but he is only human, is unable to live to the puffed-up expectations everyone has of him, and that he is a laughable train-wreck?

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