The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Mad Men: “Hands and Knees”

Posted by therebelprince on September 29, 2010

Lies, lies, lies. I wasn’t a huge fan of Don’s “secret life” back when it served as the foundation for season one, but by now it is surely representative of the series as a whole. Everyone’s leading double lives these days at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, but some are better at hiding them than others.

Where to start? Let’s say Lane Pryce, who gives us the episode title this week. I was slightly uncertain when the stern and stuffy British father appeared, but my God was I misled. Lane has fallen in love with a – gasp! – African-American cocktail waitress and decides, rather gamely, to be upfront about it. The news sends his dear old dad into a rather brutal – but clearly not surprising – beating. Jared Harris has made every moment of his stand out, and it’s to his credit that I’m fascinated by Lane even though we haven’t really seen a lot of him. The addition of his clearly challenging upbringing is another interesting piece to the puzzle. But I have to say, this secret life revealed this season’s slightly erratic nature, since Lane’s girlfriend really did feel out of the blue.

Then there’s Joan: pregnant with Roger’s child. Well, not any more. Greg has already been away for seven weeks, and he’ll never know about any of this. This episode really moved with panther-like speed, didn’t it? The amount of shocking revelations all around felt a little bit overdone, but – again – Christina Hendricks and John Slattery really played the hell out of their scenes. And a sobering moment for Joan, at the abortion clinic, realising that she’s getting to the age where her society barely even accepts her falling pregnant, yet alone falling pregnant with the illegitimate child of her boss. Somehow, Joan’s life has shifted before her eyes. It’s the life she apparently wanted, but with the wrong man, no financial stability, and no friends. Yep, this show is definitely the most depressing thing on television. (And I love it).

While both of these storylines felt rather sudden, Don’s breakdown has been a long time coming, and was exquisitely rendered.  On the face of things, it was shocking enough to witness Don so terrified. He has lived with the secret for so long that – until his brother showed up – Don assumed he could just leave it in a box in his study. But with Adam dead and Pete silenced, the worst that could happen to Don (admittedly quite heartbreaking) would be for Betty to find out. To suddenly face the full consequences of his desertion and identity theft hits him hard. More importantly, since leaving Betty, Don has begun a process of self-examination and started to deconstruct his image. He’s already removed himself from the image of ‘suburban husband’, and now – for one night at least – Don seriously considers leaving SCDP. In the episode’s most touching scene, Don confesses the basic truth to Dr. Faye, and then spoons her, a gesture more intimate than we have ever seen on this show. In that moment, he is completely free from pretence. This is the man who flourished when he visited California, a man without status or identity. A free man. At episode’s end, with his head removed from the chopping block, it’s a huge sigh of relief to see in Don’s smile that he still has true feelings for Faye. She was far too self-sufficient and mature for the old Don, but he’s managing to pull together the two disparate halves of his self. Faye might just be perfect for him.

Moreso than anyone else, it’s a real pity that Pete has been so sidelined this year (although every Pete scene up to now has been gold). His change-of-heart and decision to free Don from the shackles felt a little out-of-left-field, to be honest. Like everyone else, Pete as a person has greatly progressed in the five years we’ve known him. He long ago gave up the idea of being a liar – he’s just not as good as Don is. And he knows now that outing Don is neither the right thing to do, nor productive for SCDP. It wasn’t an incomprehensible decision, but I feel like we’ve only spent ten minutes with Pete Campbell this year, and I don’t really understand where he’s at right now.

Rather neatly, it’s Don whose life is now looking up. His relationship with Sally is still strained, but at least they’ve got Shea Stadium. On the other hand, Roger and Joan may have erased their immediate problem, but it’s clear from their pained conversation later on that neither of them got what they wanted. As I said last week, Joan knows the state of her own life and is trying to deal with that the best she knows how. Roger is living a life so full of bullshit that he completely believes it. Jane, Joan, what does it matter? Roger is consumed by the need for more, by a desire to have the perfect wife and yet have someone else to be completely honest with. There was never a chance he would leave his wife and raise a child with Joan, but inside his own head, Roger made the gallant decision, and remains the hero. I hope against hope that Joan makes it out of Mad Men in one piece; I suspect Roger’s day of reckoning, however, is nigh.

And at the end of the day, we find ourselves poised on the edge of another shift for the series. Pete screwed one big deal to save Don, and Lee Garner, Jr. – the bastard – severed his ties with SCDP. As he breaks up with laughter in the partner’s meeting, Roger asks a loaded question: “is there any more business?” How does SCDP survive if they lose Lucky Strike? All these questions and more…

Everyone remains a liar at episode’s end. Pete can’t explain himself to Trudy; Lane is off to England for purposes he’ll keep to himself; Joan keeps her crumbling life secret; and Roger still believes he can salvage Lucky Strike. Only Don Draper is now free, but we’ll see how long that lasts.

Diverse observations:

* The Betty/Don relationship is a thing of beauty. Her delight when he announced the concert tickets was lovely: it’s been almost two years now, I guess, so it’s nice that they’re beginning to reach that level of post-divorce maturity. (Betty? Mature?)

* I intensely dislike how AMC series now incorporate coarse language, even though they then censor it. It happens on Breaking Bad far too often. I appreciate that the DVDs can thus go uncensored, but on first viewing, the sudden silence always pulls me out of the moment.

* Bert Cooper makes an appearance at the four-minutes-to-go mark! I have this tear-inducing image of Robert Morse breaking out his yellow highlighter when he gets the script each week, and then turning page after page, wondering when his big moment will come.

* I’m pretty sure Joan went through with the abortion, but not 100%. I think the look in her eyes during that conversation with Roger was just the general smoothing over of the massive cracks in her facade, right?

* Trudy’s meringue-shuttlecock-combo nightie was adorkable.

* Poor, dead, forgotten Miss Blankenship.

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One Response to “Mad Men: “Hands and Knees””

  1. […] initial review here […]

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