Monday, September 27, 2010

Mad Men - Season 4 Episode 10: "Hands and Knees"

“How is it that some people just walk through life, dragging their lies with them, destroying everything they touch?” - Pete

Mad Men has always, since the very beginning, been a show about lies. Its characters work in an industry predicated on telling half-truths, and exist in a world where a restrictive morality still just barely reigns, forcing people to live furtive double lives. The most notable of these secret identities, so to speak, is Dick Whitman, the out-of-his-depth farmboy who learned to dress up and play Don Draper as his vision of the ideal '60s man. But Don's not the only one. Last week (OK, yesterday on this blog), we saw that the ladies of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce have all had to hide to a greater or lesser extent. This week, we're seeing the ways that other characters butt up against these secrets and lies, and how they handle the consequences.

As "Hands and Knees" seems to be putting pieces into place for the season's final episodes, there are a few big developments to get to, so let's take the biggest one first. Thanks to Pete's almost-complete signing of defense contractors North American Aviation, the SCDP gang signs off on Cold War-fueled background checks for the Department of Defense -- unknowingly, in Don's case. When some "G-Men" show up at the Francis house and start asking questions about Don's past ("Do you have any reason to believe Mr. Draper isn't who he says he is?"), we're reminded of exactly how vulnerable his future may be. Sure, the late Anna Draper may have been the "only person who really knew" him, but a few other characters know enough about his past to be able to hold it over him, if they so desire. Pete, remember, tried to use the information to blackmail Don at the end of season one, and he certainly hasn't forgotten. And Betty, who divorced him in large part because of his hidden identity, also knows enough to bury him. And while both of these people ultimately prove willing to cover for Don -- albeit for different reasons -- it seems as though, for the first time, Don may be realizing that, however long you dodge the other shoe, there's no preventing it from dropping.

Perhaps this is why Don decides to unburden himself to Dr. Faye Miller. She witnesses his disturbing panic attack over two men he THOUGHT were there to take him away, and refuses to leave his side through the night. This panic attack is like nothing we've ever seen out of Don; his helpless, wide-eyed horror is even scarier than the low point he hit in "The Suitcase." When he finally calms down, he tells Faye the truth. "I'm tired of running," he says, and the two share a sweet moment together. Maybe the "smart money" really was right all along, and Faye is the next future ex-Mrs Draper. At any rate, we see that their relationship has been kept under wraps at the office to this point, both when Pete is surprised to see her at Don's apartment and when Don and Faye engage in playacting to disguise the real reason she visits his office. This nicely bookends the playacting Roger and Joan perform earlier in the episode. But more on that later. 

For the moment, we have to wonder why Betty and Pete would cover up for Don. Pete is clearly exasperated, in that he has to take the blame for losing a $4 million account to prevent Don's secret from being exposed. Even if it doesn't always seem that way -- particularly when he's sitting around his apartment in his pajamas, looking like a little boy -- Pete MUST have done a lot of growing up over the last few seasons if he could realize that SCDPs future depends less on him than it does on Don Draper. But Betty? Her few short scenes are a bit more enigmatic than we're used to seeing from a character who is often childishly forthright. When Don scores Beatles tickets, in an attempt to appease Sally over last episode's hot mess, Betty looks almost as happy as Sally does. Later, though she's clearly unnerved by the agents' visit, she holds her ground and even plays along with Don in a tense-but-funny scene when they think the phone might be tapped. It's genuinely hard to tell if she keeps the secret purely to cover her own ass, or out of some sort of sympathy for Don. At any rate, whatever she may say, I doubt she does this to protect Henry Francis, a political man whose life could be ruined by the taint of a scandal, though she does tell him that she doesn't want any secrets between them.

This focus on the destructive nature of secrets also rears its head in Roger and Joan's story. Thanks to their amorous post-mugging encounter, Joan is "very late." But because this child would obviously not be Greg's, and because its secret parentage would cause a lot of strain, Roger says "Let me take care of this." Soon, after a tense visit with a judgmental doctor, Joan is off to have another abortion. I'm not 100% sure if this is the first time Joan has ended up pregnant with Roger's child, since we don't know who was responsible for her earlier abortions. Nor am I 100% sure that she actually had the abortion this time. She SAYS that she did, but without on-screen confirmation I think it prudent to reserve judgement. Still, the secret of their on-again, off-again affair, and of Roger's rekindled feelings for Joan, must be weighing heavily on them both. The late-season emphasis on this relationship certainly SEEMS to suggest some sort of change is coming, but Mad Men does tend to zig when you expect it to zag.

This isn't the only secret Roger is stuck with this week. When Lee Garner, Jr. offers to pick up the tab after a night on the town, Roger realizes something is up. Garner's Lucky Strike account, Roger's sole responsibility at work and the young firm's primary source of money, is gone, thanks to Lee's nonchalant attitude and the ire of the company's board. Roger has to beg for thirty days to get SCDPs affairs in order before Garner makes it official, but you get the sense that there's no saving it, especially considering that Roger has lived on the back of this "inherited" account for so long, his Rolodex has dead people in it. And, of course, Roger can't bring himself to tell the rest of the partners at their regular meeting, instead taking it out on Pete for losing the North American Aviation account. Between losing American Tobacco and North American Aviation, and Lane's potential departure for London, it looks like the firm is approaching a crisis -- a crisis that will only be compounded if Don's secret comes out.

Despite all of that, the episode's most shocking moments involve Lane Pryce. Anticipating a visit from his son, Lane instead finds his gruff father Robert waiting for him with a demand that he return to England to sort out his family. Lane's attempts to dissuade the old man -- including the reveal that he's dating Toni, a black Bunny from the Playboy Club -- all fail, and culminate with Lane on the receiving end of a cane to the face, broken, literally under the heel of his brutish father. You get the feeling this isn't the first time Lane has faced this treatment; he, too, has secrets about his personal life, though his are far more harmful to himself than others! It seems as though he'll have to decide whether to stay in London after his "leave of absence" is over, but we now have to wonder what shape the company will be in if he does return.

There are three episodes left, and after this episode we can't help but detect the powder keg the writers have set up here. There's a good chance that, if any of these potentially-catastrophic events come to pass, the show will be a very different thing come next season. If SCDP goes down, or splits up, or reorganizes once more, I can't imagine what that would mean. If Don is outed or finally owns up, perhaps even doing time, how many years will we have to skip ahead? Will Faye wait for him? Would he even want her to? In spite of his spilling his guts to her, he DOES push her away quite a few times, but one could just read that as a manifestation of Don's self-punishing streak. Still, that last lingering look at Megan makes me wonder if he's already forgotten the brutal lesson Allison taught him. And what if Joan really hasn't gotten rid of her baby? The show's already got ONE secret illegitimate child, would it be too soap opera-esque with another?

Three episodes left. I'm excited to see where we end up.

Notes and Quotes

  • I'm still not really sure why Ken Cosgrove had to come back this season. The show has felt a bit stretched this year, with some characters often being left out even before Ken's return. I suspect Ken will play a role in the season's end game, especially if SCDP DOES have to dissolve or reconfigure. His rivalry with Pete can't be over.
  • How adorable was the EXTREMELY pregnant Trudy? That pink nightgown made her look like a dumpling or a powder puff.
  • I didn't really take note of any Rogerisms this week. He struck me more as alternately sad, wormy, and out-and-out jerkish than funny.
  • Another example of Don being behind the times, despite his best efforts: He asks Sally not to be mad if he wears earplugs for the Beatles show at Shea Stadium
  • You know, I miss Peggy when she's not around. I would have loved to see Don go to her for support, developing that relationship further, but I guess she would have spread things even thinner. Still, she's a woman with secrets that would have fit in well here.
  • I also miss Danny when HE'S not around, but that's neither here nor there. Glad to see him back in one of the scenes in next week's teaser!

Well now. This was at least a LITTLE more timely than last week's post. We'll see if I can keep this up! Til then, my friends, adieu!

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