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Friday, 16 of April of 2021

Mad Men – “Hands and Knees”

“You will not live in between.”

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I don’t think I even know where to really start. There’s just so much.

While my favorite episode of the season is still “The Suitcase” (with “The Rejected” being a close second) a ton happened in this episode. Myles McNutt said he tried to keep his review as concise as possible by only focusing on Pete and Joan in this episode. Honestly, I don’t think I have he strength to be so restrained. I mean, I feel like this episode is just as much about the people who are in it as the one person who is noticeably, painfully, perplexingly absent.

But I’m going to try to not effuse too much.

From the title you can guess that there is a lot of begging in this episode: begging for life, begging for mercy, begging for discretion. This week is a scare for what Don has coming and he is not ready. The collapse of Don’s life is foreshadowed here, if for anything because he’s become more careless about his secret identity.

Yeah, I just linked to opening to the old Jerry O’Connell series My Secret Identity. If I have it stuck in my head, you should, too.

Obviously, identity is a big deal in this episode. Let get the big kahuna out of the way first. The security clearance necessary to move forward on the ballooning NAA account puts Don at serious risk. What’s hilarious about his signing the thing that might tear him down is that, if Ms. Blankenship was still around, she would’ve asked him about it before he signed anything. Megan’s efficiency and understanding of her role as Don Draper’s secretary contributes to what he perceives to be the first step in his downfall.

And then the long panic attack starts. Don’s multiple lives (Dick Whitman, Don Draper Family Man, Don Draper Philanderer, Don Draper Cutthroat Ad Man) have been smudged together lately, with Peggy knowing about Anna, Sally arriving at the office (and sitting in Don’s chair), and Draper dipping his wick in the company ink (with Allison and Faye). But the different sides of Don Draper are allowed to co-mingle in some respect. It’s when Dick Whitman is involved that things become troublesome. And while he describes the crime of desertion as the reason for keeping the facade, he is betrayed by his own quiet confession: “I’m tired of running.” It’s not that he wants to own up to leaving the field and assuming the identity of another soldier. Dick Whitman was a rube. Don Draper was an opportunity for Dick Whitman to become something more than the son of a drunk farmer. But Don Draper is too hard to maintain, too big to keep up with. The personality, the messianic figure, is too much. When he says he’s tired of running, it’s not from the law. He’s tired of running the game. So he confides in Faye (a moment we will revisit) and it’s almost like lessening a burden. By telling people, his secret is in the ether and the inevitable life-crushing end to the Don Draper saga may finally come like sweet death. He doesn’t have to anticipate it anymore.

What’s also interesting is how irrational and impulsive he is when reacting to it. Rather than calmly figuring out a solution, he wants to kill the account. He wants to set up a trust for his family. He warns Pete that he might have to take over the company. That collected nature Draper has cultivated is threatened one more time this season, this time through panic attacks and, once again, puking. The obvious metaphor here is that Don is turning inside-out, preparing to expose his secrets and reveal parts about himself he swallowed deep inside. This was also true of his bout of drunken nausea in “The Suitcase” but to a lesser extent since Peggy only learned that Anna existed, that she was special, and that he was a part of another life. This anxiety-driven vomiting and confession is driven by a later-stage collapse than what Peggy witnessed.

The thing is that he panics a ton more than he probably should. The inquiry is very shallow, Betty doesn’t say anything [in an episode that she seems the most human(e) she has since the beginning of this season], and he is never flagged. How much clearance does Don need to do this project anyway? Does he understand that he doesn’t actually have to see the bomb, just talk about future aspects of the program? Any line of questioning into his past make Don uncomfortable (see Faye’s survey that he refused to fill out) but a federal agency with all the resources in the world makes him go bananas. Enough to say that Pete might have to take over if Don goes away. That’s just crazy talk. What’s even funnier is that Pete doesn’t immediately see this as an opportunity to bring Don Draper down. Ambitious as he is and with as much venom as he’s held for Draper over the years, you’d think this was Pete’s time to squeeze him out. Instead, Pete thinks it’s a crazy idea for Don to leave and helps him to escape the fuzz, even taking one on the chin from Roger in order to hide why they no longer want to do business with NAA.

At home, Pete isn’t so professional. When Trudy notices he’s distraught, he tells her he doesn’t like it when people drag their lies around with them and destroy everything they touch. Apparently he’s in the wrong show. That’s the general theme here, Campbell. You can only laugh at his assertion, though, since he, too, is guilty of dragging his lies around with him. He’s tried his hand at the Don Draper lifestyle, scraping together what he can with his lack of charm and presence. While Don can nail the hot school teacher (the hot anything really) and wills women to fall for him despite his being a husk of humanity, Pete can only manage the extraordinarily fragile and pretty average-looking nanny down the hall and a distraught/confused/explorative Peggy. Pete drinks, he tries to command respect, he hobnobs but does none of these things like Don can. So while he isn’t in a position to destroy everything around him, he kind of wishes that he was.

Lane is just pitiful in his Don Draper impression. To make it all that much more pathetic, it all seems like a rebellion against a strict father. Lane Pryce is a grown man and he’s still courting girls he knows his father won’t approve. In fact, the whole Anglo storyline this week is weird and juvenile, like some old fogey version of One Tree Hill. Rebecca won’t speak to Lane until he returns to London (which means he can’t see his kid). Instead of telling him this straight out, she tells his daddy on him. So then daddy comes to take him home. Lane fancies a girl that is way too young for him. But, of course, he doesn’t just fancy her. He loves her. After maybe seven weeks. Two months tops. And that’s his reason for staying in America. So what do you do when your middle-aged son is acting like a teenager? You slap the child out of him with your cane. On top of being a hilarious scene, Robert Pryce also says the thing that is most poignant in the episode. He tells him that he’s to get his house in order, that he “will not live in between.” Duty. Responsibility. Stop being a jackass. What are three things Don doesn’t have a grasp on.

Speaking of being a jackass, Lee tells Sterling that he’s taking his business elsewhere. This, of course, being the cap on Sterling’s amazing couple of days. His post-assault indiscretion with Joan has led, presumably, to a little baby. Joan, now an old hat at the whole abortion thing, knows how to take care of her business (even if she needs a little bit of Roger’s help) and but does she? All of our genre conventions tell us that she didn’t: she is non-committal about what she is going to do (“I’ll take care of it”), has a moment of reflection on the train ride home, is back to work immediately afterward. I mean, it’s possible that Joan has had the procedure so many times it’s kind of like what mothers say about their third child: just pops right out. But, with the justification that she could pretend it’s Greg’s baby, it seems like she’s going the “keeping it” route. Maybe she’s like Ross from Friends: she can’t be the girl that has three terminated pregnancies (Ross’s thing was three failed marriages — his abortion tally is unknown).

Sterling is pretty cool about all of it. Having a child with Joan is not the worst thing in the world, not by a long shot. He has feelings for her he thinks are love so tying himself to her for life doesn’t seem like a bad thing. But he’s also supportive of whatever Joan wants to do and, whatever she chooses in the end, Roger will be okay with. He is not okay with losing the account that keeps things as SCDP moving. Lucky Strike has always been a source of pain for whatever agency it’s signed up with but especially this season since the agency has had to bend to it so much in order to stay afloat. Lee opening the conversation by paying for his own meal (clients are always comped by the agency) is great and allows for a nice transaction at the end as Roger, as part of the 30-day compromise, pays for the meal. But this is after he gets unleashed when Lee tries to break up with him. Visibly upset. Almost Japanese-people-in-his-office upset. Beat-the-table-and-spill his drink upset. This, of course, dumps over to the partners meeting where he unleashes again on Pete after he tells everyone about NAA. Roger sees everything unraveling just as Don seeing his own life unraveling. The men, generally stoic in demeanor, can’t help but show the panic they are in. But both also pretend that everything is all right.

Roger begs for Lee to stay, Don begs for it to be over, and Lane begs for a life of his own (even if that begging manifests itself into teenage-style rebellion). While I didn’t feel this episode was the strongest episode of the season, it did set up a lot of story for these final three episodes. Without further ado, let’s hit on some of the other stuff:

  • Peggy. Peggy wasn’t around. At all. Here’s the thing: Peggy is supposed to be the heir apparent to Anna as the person that knows Don best and I stand by that. No one knows Don, or Dick Whitman, like Peggy. While her knowledge of the facts are limited, she understands him better than anyone on the planet. Pete’s known about Don’s past life for most of the series so that’s not a real threat to Peggy’s hold on him (though, if she knew that Pete knew and never told her, she’d be maaaaaad). But now that Faye knows about Dick Whitman and Peggy didn’t — that can only mean death for Faye. She either needs to die or go far, far away. There is no way Peggy would stand for this two-bit Dr Floozy to assume the role of “most-connected” to Don Draper. Not a chance.
  • Thank the space baby that Don is doing something nice for Sally after denying her freedom from Betty’s cold non-embrace. The tickets to the Beatles is a great step forward and, painfully, his gaze at Megan to end the episode, not to mention the lawyer suggesting that he should be hitting that (don’t suggest things for Don to tap — he will and, subsequently, destroy their well-being), makes me feel like Sally isn’t going to Shea Stadium after all. Have a heart, Don. For Pete’s sake.
  • Interesting that Joan lied about the reason she is at the clinic, allowing the mother to think that (a) she is a fellow mother and (b) she has a 15-year old daughter. It is her nature (and her job really) to make everyone feel at ease and this mother may be no exception. But it may also be that even Joan who has seen it all still feels a bit of shame conducting anti-social-normative behavior.
  • Did you catch Betty smiling? What about when she looked like she was even a little bit pleased with Don showing gratitude? Did you feel dirty afterward, too?

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