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For Auld Lang Syne

By Sarah Carlson | TV | August 9, 2010 |

By Sarah Carlson | TV | August 9, 2010 |

We barely knew you, 1964, and now “Mad Men” has rushed us through your holiday season to welcome 1965. That year, the Civil Rights movement will come to a head, from Bloody Sunday and more demonstrations in Selma and Montgomery, Ala., to the signing of the Civil Rights Act, and politics in general starts to change with the first American combat troops landing in Vietnam, the Social Security Act, the Voting Rights Act, etc. Culture-wise: The Beatles play Shea Stadium. Plus, Dylan goes electric! The world seems to spin even faster in 1965, but until then, we wait for the sea change with our advertising friends during the New Year’s holidays, biding our time in another great episode, “The Good News,” that features two of my favorite characters, Joan and Lane. Both are prominent figures this time, grappling with the feeling that they aren’t in control of their lives anymore. When will things get better, Joan even wonders, a question the entire country will be asking for the next few years.

First, Joan. She’s at the gynecologist as the episode opens, checking to see that the contraceptive pills (which weren’t even available to married women in all states until 1965 and unmarried women in all states until ‘72) are working correctly. You’ve been married two years, Joan? her doctor asks. “Most gals your age don’t wait.” Greg might be sent to Vietnam soon with the Army, so she wants to make sure they can start a family when he returns, she says, whenever that will be. But the real news, for us at least, is that she also wants to make sure the couple of “procedures” she’s had didn’t harm her ability to have children. “A couple? I only remember one,” the doctor says. “There was one before that.” “Was the other performed by a physician?” he asks. “She said she was a midwife.” He assures her that her health is fine and she should be able to have kids, news she passes on to Greg later, a man I can’t believe was able to snag a woman such as her.

That is her good news, though; the bad news is that Lane won’t let her take time off in mid-January, not after taking days off for New Year’s. She tried to butter up Lane at the office by offering to get him fried chicken for lunch (breast or thigh? she asked as he blushed). But when she asks for the extra days, he won’t budge and says he’s on to her fried chicken taunt. “I understand that all men are dizzy and powerless to refuse you,” he says, “but consider me the incorruptible exception.” As Joan leaves, he tells her, “Don’t go and cry about it.” She doesn’t cry, not to him or to Greg that night, but she does snap at Greg, who seems to be taking his impending and still undetermined Vietnam deployment in stride.

Don is trying to get out of dodge for the holiday and off to Acapulco, but he stops first in Los Angeles to visit the real Mrs. Draper, Anna (Melinda Page Hamilton). She’s broken her leg and is moving slowly, but she’s all smiles to see Dick (Don’s real name; if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll have to look it up) as he crashes there for a night. Her uptight sister, Patty (Susan Leslie), isn’t as happy as she and her daughter, Stephanie (Caity Lotz), bring Anna her laundry. Anna invites her college-aged niece to spend the evening with her and Don. She wants Stephanie to meet Don, Anna tells her later, “and I know you’ve got grass.” Lord, help us.

The trio booze it up at a restaurant, with Stephanie showing off her Berkley book learnin’ and incredulity when she learns Don is in advertising — it’s “pollution, man.” Don and Anna catch up, though, as he talks about his divorce. He’s himself with Anna; there’s no front. She knows his whole story, but it was that story that Betty couldn’t handle, he says. “I could tell the minute she saw who I really was, she never wanted to look at me again. Which is why I never told her,” Don tells Anna. “Oh Dick, I’m sorry she broke your heart,” she says. “I had it coming” is his answer. Don drives Stephanie home that evening and gets close to making a pass at her, but she stops him. She knows he and Anna never had a romantic relationship, but they love each other, Stephanie says, she can see it. That’s why she must tell Don that Anna has cancer. That’s how Anna broke her leg; it’s in her bones, and she doesn’t have long to live — and she doesn’t know it, either. Patty and the doctors thought it best to keep the news from Anna, which Don can’t believe, and Stephanie asks him to also keep the news from Anna.

Back at the house, Don carries Anna to her room and then sits on the couch all night, thinking, before getting up in the morning and painting a water-damaged portion of the living room wall he’d noticed the previous day. Anna comes in from her bedroom, amused that Don is in his boxers painting and putting off his flight to Acapulco, and she lights up a joint. Patty comes into the house with groceries, however, and isn’t amused — “You just can’t keep your pants on, can you?” she says as she heads to the car. Don puts his pants on, follows her and confronts her about Anna’s cancer, offering to take over the expenses and have Anna get better medical attention. She’s already seen specialists, Patty protests, who all said the same thing. And besides, it’s not up to Don anyway. “You have no say in the affairs of this family. You’re just a man in a room with a checkbook.” Patty asks him to do the decent thing and not tell Anna, and whether that really is the decent action to take, Don ends up complying. Back in the house, he says he needs to tell Anna something, but he can only say that he can’t extend his L.A. visit after all and must leave.

In New York, Joan has received a golden box filled with a dozen red roses, which she assumes are from Greg. She discovers they are from Lane, though, as she reads the note, and she storms into his office. ” ‘Darling, I’ve been an ass. Kisses, Lane,’ ” she recites as she throws the box of flowers at him, furious. “I am not your darling and I don’t want your kisses!” She thought American men were bad enough, but not one of them has so consistently made her feel like a “helpless, stupid little girl,” she says, not quite topping her Season Three scene in which she shattered a vase over Greg’s head, but still coming close in awesome points. Lane tells her that yes, he sent her flowers, but he also sent flowers to his wife, Rebecca, who is in London. The note Rebecca received? “Joan, Forgive me. Lane.” Lane’s secretary, Sandy (Bayne Gibby), admits that the messages were switched but blames the florists, not herself. “Sandra,” Joan says, “everyone makes mistakes. But the fact that you are the kind of person that cannot accept blame is egregious.” [pause] “I don’t know what that means,” Sandra says. “It means I can’t believe I hired you,” Joan replies, and quickly, Sandra is fired. Her New Year’s Eve already off to a bad start, Joan waits up all night to celebrate with Greg, who arrives home in the morning in time to celebrate New Year’s on Hawaii time. Joan accidentally cuts her finger while making him food, but instead of taking her to the hospital as she asks, Greg gets out his doctor’s bag and patches her up, telling her jokes and using tricks to calm her that he’s learned from working with patients. Joan finally does cry, upset at how uncertain the couple’s future remains. But Greg, for once taking charge and being the one to comfort, mends her cut with care and says, “I can’t fix anything else, but I can fix this.”

Don has decided to ditch Acapulco and go back to New York and the office on New Year’s Day, where he finds Lane hiding out. Lane offers up a bit of good news to Don, saying that although things have been “precarious” financially, it has still been a magnificent year. Soon, they are breaking out the booze and later, after Don yells at and summons Lane from across the office, they decide to head to the movies. Thus starts an unexpected and entertaining Don-Lane adventure, first with the two still boozing it up at the movies, contemplating how many people were getting hand-jobs in the theater and refusing to be shushed by other patrons during the black and white monster flick. Next is dinner, where Lane admits that he’s felt left out of the American boys’ club at Sterling Cooper and Sterling Cooper Draper Price, and now, after a series of fights, Rebecca has told him she won’t be returning from London to New York. “How did you know when you were done?” Lane asks Don about his divorce. “Wasn’t my decision. And I’ve learned the hard way not to give advice in these situations,” Don replies. “You’re supposed to tell me to get on a plane!” “Is that what you want, or is that what people expect of you?” (Nice echo to previous episode/theme of the whole freaking show.) Lane wants his beef, he says, right before his steak dinner appears, and Don tells him he had planned to meet his lady friend, Candace (the one who slapped him for Thanksgiving), downtown, and asks if she should bring along a friend for Lane. Lane first says no, but then agrees, and soon stands up, holds his steak in front of his crotch and yells, “Look at me! I’ve got a big Texas belt buckle! Yeeee haw!” Drunk. Lane. Is. Amazing.

Next stop is a comedy club as they wait for the girls, and the young comedian on stage quips about Lane and Don probably being gay. When their dates show up, though, the comedian takes it back. “I guess I was wrong. You’re not queers, you’re rich.” The foursome leave for Don’s place and eventually split off, with the friend, Janine, taking a nervous Lane to Don’s bedroom while Don and Candace stay on the couch. After a kiss with Janine, Lane takes off his glasses and kisses her again. The next morning, as Don blearily brews coffee in the kitchen, Lane comes out of the bedroom, asking for water and offering to pay Don for Janine. “I should pay for the girl. How much was she?” Lane asks. “$25,” Don says. “Fascinating. Here’s $30.” And then, “Thank you for the welcome distraction.” Days later when work begins, Lane arrives late to a meeting with the partners and top staff. Joan, at the head of the conference table, says, “All right. Gentlemen, shall we begin 1965?”

Heartbreaking sums up most of “The Good News,” as well as the previous two episodes in the holiday arc that concluded 1964. There were more laughs than usual, too, but now the drama is delving deeper into the characters’ stories. Having watched them for so long, we see how much — or how little — they’ve progressed, and every setback hurts more. Lane, one of the more honest characters, continues to try to do the right thing, only to first be belittled by his former bosses in London before he left for SCDP, and now dismissed by his wife. Joan is stronger than most of the people she’s surrounded by, but she still somehow ends up feeling helpless. Lane’s dig at her being used to charming men and getting her way was tough, but was it completely inaccurate? Her banter about the fried chickens’ breasts and thighs was too cutesy, and too young of her, and she knows it. It’s time for her to be in greater control, and if Greg is shipped out to Vietnam, a lot could be in store for our Joanie. And Don — this season actually has me feeling for him, and I wish for him that he’d stay in L.A. for awhile with Anna. “I know everything about you, and I still love you,” she told him, and I think I understand why. All the characters are all too human, and that’s why we love them. Will Don tell Anna about her cancer? Do you think that’s the last we’ll see of Stephanie? And will Lane ever be happy?

Yes, I’m quite ready for 1965.

Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh Corgi.