“Mad Men” Recap: 403, “The Good News”
Three episodes into Season Four of “Mad Men,” and all three belong in the series’ pantheon, but “The Good News” is easily the high water mark for the season to-date, mainly because the spiral that became so evident in “Christmas Comes But Once a Year” is accelerating but, for most of the hour, we’re having too much fun to even notice that Don Draper is falling ever more abyss-bound. While “The Good News” delivered some of the biggest laughs in the series’ history, those were set against the story of an anti-hero who cannot even do right by his mother figure, Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton).
As we know from the Season Four episode “The Mountain King,” Anna was the wife of the real Don Draper, the one whose identity Dick Whitman borrowed in Korea, and Don/Dick has been supporting Anna since. It’s just before New Year’s Eve, and Don is leaving New York City and planning to go to Acapulco but with a short layover in Los Angeles. As usual, AMC throws red herrings out whenever they show scenes of the upcoming episodes: what looked like Draper asking his receptionist Allison (Alexa Alemanni) out for New Year’s Eve last week was just small talk before he leaves Allison and his Dirty Santa present to her in his ever-widening wake of destruction to light out for the West.
When we cut to Don in L.A., he’s rented a convertible and is cruising the PCH, which puts us in mind of “The Jet Set,” but there’s no joy — or Joy, for that matter — on tap for this trip. He arrives at Anna’s bungalow in San Pedro to find her hobbling around with a broken leg and being waited on by her sister Patty, whom she cannot stand, and her niece Stephanie (Caity Lotz), who is Anna’s best source of weed and an immediate point of interest for Don/Dick. Stephanie is a quick study of Don/Dick and she knows how to tweak his sorry ass, playing some pre-rock ‘n’ roll on the jukebox just to shine a spotlight on his increasing antiquity during the revolutionary 1960s. When he drives her home, Don/Dick makes the most pathetic and least persuasive play for the college girl in his history of seductions — for the love of all humanity, this man is off his game. Then Stephanie lowers the boom, possibly just to get Don/Dick off her: Anna broke her leg because she has bone cancer, and it has metastasized throughout her body. This being late-1964, a period when doctors felt perfectly fine not informing female patients of their true conditions (a la Betty and the psychologist), Anna is completely in the dark.
Don confronts Anna’s sister, who claims that they’ve done everything and seen everyone, which doesn’t seem likely — how would Anna not know that she was in an oncologist’s office? — to which Don/Dick makes a crack about Anna being treated by quacks in “Peedro.” That was an interesting little jab, and I’m wondering if it was, for Don/Dick, a little too geographically aware given that he’s not really an L.A. guy. Perhaps Matthew Weiner was providing a little grace note for Minutemen fans. Don seems to want to tell her and help Anna get the treatment she needs, but then seems to realize that that might entail commitment. When Anna wakes up, Don/Dick is painting a section of water-damaged wall, and she wonders if it all should be painted — after all, “a patch of new paint’s just as bad as a stain.” How true. This is a woman who might be the last person who can love Don/Dick unconditionally, and he’s telling her that he’s going to Acapulco. This turns out not to be true, which isn’t terribly surprising, is it?
So he returns to New York where Lane Pryce (Jared Harris, having his best hour of the series so far), is having his own meltdown. Earlier, we saw him whipping out his constant tight-money mantra on Joan, who was trying to sweet-talk him into some days off with her weasel-wannabe-army-surgeon husband so she can get pregnant before said-weasel is off in the Mekong Delta humming “Fortunate Son” to himself. Then he apologizes for being callous by sending flowers, but since he’s trying to appease both Joan and his haughty-snotty wife back in Blighty, he’s sending flowers left and right, but one of the receptionists switches the left and the right, with Joan getting long-stem reds with the note “Darling, I’ve been an ass. Kisses, Lane,” and the soon-to-be-ex Mrs. Pryce getting a conciliatory bouquet and a “Joan, please forgive me” note. Yes, that will go swimmingly. Lane and Joan seem to bond over the battle for who gets to fire the secretary, but Lane is still a mess. Which is a perfect time for Don Draper to show up.
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