Sunday, September 26, 2010

MAD MEN 4.10--"Hands and Knees"

"How is it that some people just walk through life dragging their lies with them destroying everything they touch? . . .No one knows except the honest people, who have to pick up the pieces."

So, last week, in one of the most baffling Mad Men episodes ever in terms of tone, Don and Dr. Faye got it on, Sally showed up to raise hell and be bratty as she's desperate to escape from Betty, Peggy dealt with one of the most obnoxious art-school bohos I have ever met, and Joyce (who I can now refer to by name and not "Peggy's Lesbian Friend," which sounds like the most awkward kid's book ever) ran out the clock with an utterly hamfisted and clumsy metaphor about how men are like soup and women are pots and . . .I'm not picking on the lesbian here, but as with Don's schoolteacher dalliance (and her brother) this show occasionally will take newer characters and give them absolutely dreadful bits of dialogue (I mean, like, Attack of the Clones bad, here) which can't help but piss you off right at the point you're supposed to be establishing some connection with them. I'm sure even lesbians sometimes just talk about whatever bullshit is on their minds, and not every word out of their mouth is a treatise on feminism or a monologue justifying their sexuality. We get it, it's the 60s, this kind of thing is new and scary and people are trying to stumble through blindly despite being ill-equipped for the most tidal social change ever, thank you I got it. Doing that skews this closer to all that Baby Boomer shit you always see in TV shows and documentaries about the 60s, which exalt everything as the Most Important Thing That Ever Happened, And If You Are Younger Than Us, You Will Never Experience Anything As Remotely Cool No Matter What, and that bullshit never fails to rankle me.

God, what a long paragraph. Who do I think I am, Faulkner?

Oh, Joan and Roger got hot and heavy apres-mugging (as you do--random street crime is an aphrodisiac, you know) and Ms. Blankenship died. Hilarity, surprisingly ensued, as did the occasional angsting, which cumulatively registered at 3 Claremonts.

This week, things begin with a bang. Joan is late, and with her asshole rapist husband hopefully pulling a Full Metal Jacket in basic training, that leaves only one possibility. Mind, we had that scene which seemed gratuitous in isolation, but given Joan's apparent history abortions and inability to conceive with her husband and his feelings for Roger . . .well, this bears watching, dunnit?

Meanwhile, Don triggers a screaming fit when he tells Sally she's going to see the Beatles, which Don advises that he will probably wear earplugs for. Yeah, you and another icon of 60's manliness, Don.

Lane, meanwhile, receives a visit from his dad. His wife will take him back, but only if he goes back to London (a callback to a thread from last season--his wife hated HATED New York) In the meantime, he also receives a gift of a Mickey Mouse doll with balloons tied to it, which is probably just a curious thing and in no way implies any potential future plotlines, even though the season finale is called "Tomorrowland." Meanwhile, the oft-courted North American Aviation gets to the table and they hash over some classified thing which everyone's rather excited by, which you consider he was so terrified by NAA's gleeful presentation about the lighter side of nuclear missiles when they were in California, he ran the hell off, leaving Pete to close the deal (a little detail which bites him in the ass this week, as if he didn't have more of that)

Later, Don, Lane, and Lane's father hit the Playboy Club, because the 1960s that why and I realise with a shock that Lane's dad was the Klingon Commandant from that ice planet in Star Trek 6 and I realise I could stand to be a more well read than I am. We also learn that Lane has a taste for brown sugar, and given the evidence, it's not hard to see why.

My hopes soon spike upward and the FBI shows up and Betty's house. Sadly, they're not there to haul Betty away for her ass-tastic parenting, but they are there to confirm with her about Don's potential security clearance vis-a-vis the North American Aviation account. Given what Betty knows about Don this is a pretty intense bit of business, especially when they ask if he "is who he says he is." Betty naturally takes this as an opportunity to have a go at Don and we get a fantastic moment where Don looks like he's going to evacuate his bowels in terror at any moment, and the whole moment when they suddenly decide "Oh shit the phone's being tapped" and suddenly start play-acting like nothing's wrong with roughly the same level of believability as Han Solo talking his way out of the detention block.

Needless to say, Don is in panic mode for the rest of the time--desertion from the Army has no statute of limitations, as he always is when his subterfuge about his identity is about to be found out. Also, unlike the other people who know his secret, he can't force or enlist the government to enable his lie. This leads to more tension with Pete, who was the first person who discovered Don's secret and so employs Pete to help him fix it, or track how far it's gone. It's a telling moment that in their exchange, Don offers to give Peter his share of the agency and run (which has always been Pete's ultimate goal) and Pete is so terrified of the prospect that he demurs almost immediately.

Meanwhile, tension ratchets up quite a lot. It's telling that between Don's problem, and Roger and Joan having their little "Papa Don't Preach" moments, which are deeply unpleasant in their matter-of-fact-ness about how to play out their little lie or abort the child, the idea of Lane having a relationship with the black Playboy Bunny is, if anything, comparatively mild even though that would probably be the most scandalous element, given the time.

Meanwhile, Joan heads to the abortion clinic. The scene between her and the mother of a young girl who's also there for an abortion is awful in it's blunt pain and is a curious parallel to Don's scene with another man as his son Gene was being born. Whereas their conversation was all about how to be a better person, there is a quiet desolation in the scene between Joan and the mother, which is all about how to handle the damage from what they've been forced to do by circumstance.

And because enough anvils have not been quietly dropped this week . . .American Tobacco, the backbone of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is backing out, consolidating their work with another ad agency. Roger hangs in there as best he can, but there is no mistaking that this is Armageddon. Roger actually manages to get Lee Garner Jr to blink (or so we think, Lee's a bit of an opaque asshole) and the upshot is that SCDP has 30 days to win the account. That hissing sound you're hearing is a fuse being lit for a potential explosion.

Meanwhile, Don is freaking the fuck out and explodes into a full-blown panic attack due to a case of mistaken identity. Dr. Faye stays with him, and you get the sense Don really wants to tell her what this is all about, but . . .well, practically that means adding another person into the Don Draper/Dick Whitman conspiracy (not that Dr. Faye, with her mobbed-up relations, might understand more than most) but also since Betty rejected him upon learning the truth, it's not a leap he's quite ready to make again, especially as he's experiencing his own personal Armageddon at the moment.

Lane introduces his father to his new girlfriend, which goes as well as you might expect. Lane asserts he's staying where he is, and his father smacks him with his cane right in the fucking face, and leaves him with an ultimatum that whether he makes his home in London or New York, he's got to stop living in between. Presumably after he picks himself up off the floor.

Things are not going well anywhere else. Pete is full of angst and sullenly delivers this week's quote (mind you, the idea that Pete is one "the honest people" is fucking hilarious) Joan rides home from the abortion, alone and desolate, Roger is desperately calling up clients and trying to keep the ship afloat and Don is near-catatonic. Even though this season began with the self-destruction of Don Draper, it seems positively light by comparison.

And, borrowing a quote from Achewood's Roast Beef: "Ohhhhhhhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiit." Because Don tells Dr. Faye what he's done with a weary sense of fatalism. But some small ray of hope may be had even in the midst of this bleak, dark, tension-filled episode, because while she's obviously shocked, she doesn't leave (which probably scared Don more than being arrested for desertion) The upshot of this is that provided Pete Campbell ditches North American Aviation, the investigation will go no further. Pete is obviously not happy about being drawn in even tighter to Don's web of lies, and this leads to a tense partner's meeting wherein Pete lies for Don and Don rises to his defence when Roger loses his shit, as he's projecting the loss of American Tobacco on Pete, and Lane leaves for London with a jaunty confidence, saying that the firm's in great shape. If he only knew, huh?

Mad Men has always been, among other things, about the notion that people are imprisoned by lies, and actively collaborate with the lies that imprison them and bring in others to buttress the conspiracy. How many of these conspiracies did you count in this episode? Because holy shit are there lots going on.

Mericfully, at least, Don gets the Beatles tickets, which is the only damn thing that seemed to go right this episode.

Things are not good. Roger's had the heart of the new agency torn out. Don's on the run. Lane may have to sever his ties with SCDP, and Joan has just suffered silently. The heart and soul of SCDP is falling apart, and it's especially worrying because the end of season 3 was all about why these people, and only these people, could do what they did, and they're falling apart right at the point where their two years of working together should have held them together more than this.

So uhm, yeah. Things are getting, getting, getting, kinda hectic.

NEXT TIME: It was alluded to two weeks ago by Dr. Faye, and now is when shit gets real, as we're on Episode 11 (or Disc Four, if you're following this visa DVD) and we're T-minus three episodes until the end. Once again, I'm not gonna play this game and try to read the chicken entrails. Next episode--"Chinese Wall." The history of the galaxy turns another page.

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