Mad Men Recap: Episode 3: The Good News
How many markers of the 1960s can be squeezed into one Mad Men episode? I count “the pill,” abortion, Vietnam, “grass,” Berkeley student protests and the youth revolution, hitchhiking—and that’s all before the first commercial break.
Let’s start from the beginning. Joannie is at the gynecologist, feet in stirrups, finding out if she all’s clear to “start a family.” The doctor is surprised she hadn’t done so already. After all, she’s been married for two years already! She’s been on the pill (FDA approved in February 1961 and first made available to doctors in July of that year although not available to married women in all states until a court case in 1965 – and not available to unmarried women in all states until another court decision in 1972) but has discontinued use and will be fertile soon. They discuss the fact that she’s “had a couple of procedures”—one the gynecologist knows about, having performed it himself, the first time with a woman who “said she was a midwife,” i.e. a “back alley” abortion. Joan is lucky she’s found an accommodating OB-Gyn with whom she can be frank about her medical background (Roe vs. Wade is not until 1973).
Harry Crane wants to know if Don can do a little more Hollywood schmoozing the day he’s in LA on the way to Acapulco but Lane comes into the office and scolds Harry to stop all that “fiddling about” in LA. Obviously a generational divide. Harry is young and to him TV is the wave of the future, but fuddy duddy Lane will have none of it.
Lane is in a foul mood all around. He upsets Joan by yelling at her when she requests time off in January to be with her husband, who has to work on New Year’s.
Don Draper arrives at the LA bungalow of Anna Draper (widow of the real Don Draper) and she welcomes him warmly, despite a broken leg. He looks so much more relaxed and genuinely happy with her. She calls him Dick and is incredibly affectionate and loving. You can see what a relief it is to Dick/Don to be around someone with whom he can be completely honest and himself. It’s like a great weight has been lifted.
Anna’s niece Stephanie (whom Don last saw when she was “missing teeth,” so a dozen years ago?) supplies them with “grass” and is a student at Berkeley. Don asks whether she is taking part in the student protests. She says she attends class instead, but does talk vaguely about the social unrest gripping the country: “I don’t understand who’s in charge.” Don: “You are, you young people.” It’s the youth revolution, and Don seems to understand that. She asks him where he went to college and he’s honest with her in a way we never ever see him being in New York. “I strung together several non-consecutive years in night school—City College.” She: “A self-made man.” Got that right.
Don seems so light-hearted and happy. In the bosom of a loving family. He says he’ll bring the kids out in the spring to meet Anna. She can be their aunt. Anna would love that. She’s never seen them. He also confides in Anna about the break-up with Betty: “I could tell the minute she saw who I really was she’d never want to look at me again.” That’s why he lied to her in the first place.
All this in the first fifteen minutes. Whew!
Don drives Stephanie home (she wanted to hitchhike) and she asks him if he’s dating now, and if it isn’t weird, interviewing people on dates: “No one knows what’s wrong with themselves and everyone else can see it right away.” Don makes a mild, quasi-sleazy move on her but she is undisturbed by it, instead talking about how seeing Don and Anna together, she can see how much they love each other. It’s a different kind of love, Don tells her. “Anna and I never had a romantic relationship.”
Then Stephanie can hold back no longer and tells him the news: Anna has cancer, in an advanced stage. That’s why her broken foot (she’d been hobbling around on a cast). Her bones are fragile and eaten away. The thing is that she doesn’t even know. Her sister Patty is keeping it from her because it’s so advanced there’s nothing that can be done. Don is shocked and completely shattered. Anna is the only real family and love that he has in the world, the only one who understands both of his identities. Weiner indulges in an unusual bit of theatricality, letting the lighting transition from night to morning in seconds, as Don broods on the sofa all night.
In the morning Anna is all radiant and loving, telling Don that she’s so proud of him: “I know everything about you and I still love you.” The words he’s always wanted to hear and can never hear from anyone else, least of all Betty. She is his only family. He has the kids, she reminds him, but he tells her that is different. And it is. He decides then to skip Acapulco and stay with Anna all week but just then Patty drops in with groceries. She sees Don in his boxers painting Anna’s wall and smells the marijuana and lambasts Don. He follows her back to her car and confronts her about the cancer but she basically tells him to butt out: “You have no say in the affairs of this family.” When he goes back in Anna tells him he is her family by choice, not her sister, whom she wouldn’t have chosen. But Don decides that Patty is right. He has no right to Anna, no true place in her life, no right to tell her the truth about her condition. He leaves for Acapulco, drinking and brooding on the plane. He will likely never see Anna again, nor will his children meet her.
Back at SCDP, Lane’s secretary flubs flower orders for his wife and Joan. Both were apologies, but obviously worded very differently. And now the notes have been switched, ruining his effort at rapprochement with his wife. The secretary is summarily fired by Joan.
Joan makes a belated New Year’s celebration with Greg, but he’s rather ungracious about her efforts. In the kitchen, she slices her hand badly and he sits her down to stitch it up. He distracts her with jokes and funny stories as he stitches and she, looking heartbreakingly sad, begins to weep. It’s not the pain, she tells him, it is something else. I assume it’s her fears he’ll be sent to Vietnam and die.
Don is back at the office, having left Acapulco early. And there’s Lane, who also apparently can’t stay away, work being the distraction from personal problems. He’s had a horrible row with his wife, he confides, and she has left him. But he’s had a look at the books and has something to tell Don. No, please, Don pleads: “I can’t take any more bad news.” But the news is good. Despite the current cash flow problems, “it’s been a magnificent year.” The two men toast to that, with some amazing liquor that Lane’s “alcoholic father” “with connections” gave him for Christmas.
The two men work but then Don is looking at the paper and declares, “We’re going to the movies.” But what movie to see? “The Guns of August”? No way, says Don. He hates guns and he hates August. What about “Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” starring Catherine Deneuve? Wow, would I have loved to see Don watching “Les Parapluies,” but their choice is inspired: Godzilla! Passing a flask back and forth the two are totally pickled and having a great time. Lane is hilarious: “This movie’s very good!” Don points out patrons to their right who are ostensibly giving “hand jobs,” and Lane yells in fake Japanese, cracking Don up.
After that the two order steak at a posh restaurant, although they seem too drunk to eat. When Don says he’s not hungry, Lane grabs his steak and jumps up and dangles it obscenely in front of his crotch, calling it his “Texas belt buckle.” Next thing you know the two are in a comedy club, being mocked by the comedian as a gay couple. Then Don’s prostitute and her friend show up and the comedian corrects himself: they’re not gay, just rich. The two prostitutes are extremely un-California—stiff hair, stiff dresses, big spiky jewelry and lots of make-up. Seems the casual hippie aesthetic of the California youth revolution hasn’t hit New York yet. That’s their New Year’s Eve: two lonely co-workers rolling in the hay with $25/night prostitutes. I wish some economists could tell us how much that is in 2010 dollars. [EDIT: See Chester's comment below].
Last scene: crisp, clean, sun-lit offices of SCDP, after the holidays. Despite all the dark drama of the prior two weeks, SCDP (and Joan and Pete) are back at it at their shiny mod conference table (appears they finally got one), all slicked and professional looking, no sign of trauma. Groovy ’60s music plays as the camera pulls back. Joan calls the meeting to order. Welcome, 1965!