With the various unravelings taking place in “Hands and Knees,” nearly every major character in “Mad Men” is facing just how tenuous success, happiness, relationships or simply the fragile balance of day-to-day life can be. The episode was a kind of chamber of horrors — everything that can go wrong, short of death or the cratering of the entire advertising industry, is going wrong for our Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce heroes and heroines. That being said, it was not a landmark episode on the order of practically everything that came before it this season, but it was extremely plot-heavy, likely serving as the springboard for some key moves in the final three.
Jon Hamm recently told NPR’s Terry Gross that one of Matthew Weiner’s key tenets for “Mad Men” is that actions have consequences — maybe not from week to week, but everything catches up eventually. This week, we see an unexpected consequence of actions set into motion in season 2 (Pete’s aerospace deal from StaticBlog’s beloved “The Jet Set” episode), and something from last week (Roger and Joan’s post-mugging alley romp). At the top, Joan informs Roger that “she’s late,” and that it could not possibly be her husband Greg, who by now is probably drinking pre-mixed martinis out of an IV bottle in an olive-drab tent. Greg left seven weeks ago, and the mugging was six weeks ago — that’s going to be one silver-haired baby.
And apparently, the bad feelings between Sally and Don persist, and Don is doing everything he can to make up for the fact that he won’t let his little girl live in his Greenwich Village man-cave and make French toast for him, so he calls up to Chez Betty Francis to see if Sally wants to go see the Beatles at Shea Stadium. Sally starts screaming — she might want to save that for the show: she won’t hear a note, but it’ll be 30 minutes that she’ll never forget.
Now we find out we will get to meet the evil bag of pickled Yorkshire pudding responsible for impregnating Lane Pryce’s mother. Robert Pryce (W. Morgan Sheppard) has arrived in New York to bring his son back to Blighty and make nice with the estranged Mrs. Pryce, because hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way. Lane asks Don to go along to dinner, mainly because he could use some backup, but also because Don is essentially Lane’s designated wingman after last New Year’s Eve. So before the festivities, Lane, Pete, Don and Harry meet the rocket men from North American Aviation about promoting their hot new technology, and while key information is currently being blocked out, the NAA guys promise our SCDP men that the big, black blocks will magically go away as business progresses, but as we’ll soon find out, this will require some work from G-men and whatnot.
Playboy Club time — it’s pretty amazing that it took Lane Pryce to escort us to that monument to 1960s swinging, the Playboy Club, after 3.75 seasons. So we’re sitting there as Lane tries to big-dog it in front of his pustule of a father and Don is just observing, bemused at the sight of Lane. Mr. Pryce just bitches about not getting his drinks, but Lane wants to introduce his new girlfriend Toni (Naturi Naughton, who played Lil Kim in the Biggie Smalls biopic “Notorious”). Lane is pretty happy with himself, and he seems to be using this new relationship as a symbol of his independence — a not-so-subtle message to Dear Old Dad that he cannot tell his boy what to do anymore, and besides, he’s got a new life in NYC.
Cut to the following day, and men in hats appear on Betty’s doorstep. These guys are doing a background check on her ex-husband, and suddenly a new dimension to Don/Dick’s subterfuge becomes scarily apparent: because Don needs a government clearance to work with North American Aviation on their account, everyone could soon find out that Don Draper was killed in Korea in 1952. The G-men ask Betty if Don is who he says he is, and while that seems to be code for “Is Don Draper a commie pinko?” Betty is freaked, but not as freaked as Don will be. She calls Don to tell him about the interview, and Don goes into extreme damage control mode, sweating like a nattily dressed stuck pig. He immediately goes to his new secretary Megan (Jessica Pare) and asks her if she submitted a background investigation form on him. It turns out that Megan filled it out herself and asked Don to sign it. Like he does, Don just signed it without knowing what it was, and now he runs the risk of having everybody besides Pete Campbell know about his past and, beyond all that, probably wind up in Levenworth.
Megan, who in her sexy android way is so eager to please, practically begs Don to fire her for screwing up, when in truth she followed standard protocol at SCDP. This subservience is just what Don likes, but not what he needs right now.
In another life, I used to process background investigations in the military and was subjected, during boot camp, to my own background interview and subsequent investigation, so I’m particular interested in and attuned to just how quickly Draper’s false life would fall apart under today’s circumstances. By modern standards, his back story would be in ashes in about 30 seconds. In 1965, if the full investigation were to go forward, he’d probably have a week or so before he’d need to hop a flight to Rio and spend the next several years trading swimsuit models with Ronnie Biggs.
Lane, on the other hand, has more familiar and familial problems at hand. He goes back to the Playboy Club after hours to talk to Toni. “You know that I love you, my chocolate bunny,” he tells her. She’s definitely swayed by how “dashing” he is, but an accent can go a long way.
So Roger and Joan go to see Joan’s OB, who is one seriously judgmental scold (“You have used this woman!”). He tells Roger to write down the name of a doctor who performs abortions in Jersey, because he doesn’t want it in his own handwriting. One thing “Mad Men” has excelled at is chronicling the shift in medical ethics and even the tone and bedside manner used by doctors. The doc talks like Joan isn’t even in the room.Meanwhile, Don is losing his feces over the investigation and calls in Pete to see if his buddy in government can get the investigation halted, telling him he’d probably skip town and country to get away. Pete is pissed, because he knows this means the contract, which he’s been working on since 1962, is probably going away.
The silver fox shows himself as truly a silver weasel in the next scenes, where he wonders aloud if the pregnancy is a sign that he and Joanie should be together, but that doesn’t exactly fit into his scheme given the fact that Jane Siegel Sterling is sitting at home and Roger isn’t keen on two alimony payments a month. So he tells Joan she should just raise the kid as Greg’s baby: it would be Roger’s child, but he would not be in the picture. Joan isn’t sold on this one and, frankly, Roger isn’t exactly impressing her with his chivalry. “I’ll take care of it,” she tells him. Throughout this episode, Roger seems more upset that his dream of having Joan as his woman on the side again isn’t happening according to plan. With this scene, he basically carves a tombstone for their relationship.
When Betty tells Henry about the investigation, Henry is a little upset that agents were in there talking to his wife without his knowledge, but then he gets this kid who wants to be an astronaut look in his eyes and ponders that, just maybe, he’ll be the subject of a background investigation someday. Oh, dare to dream, Henry. But Henry has more to worry about than not measuring up to Don in terms of importance to national security: Betty willingly lied to investigators about Don/Dick. If she hated Don as much as she professes, she would not have done that. She might just have been worried that Don’s heart was going to explode in his chest, but I think there’s more to it than mere medical concern.
Pete’s ire is only rising over the NAA account: the next day, he tells Don he thinks the agency could survive and thrive even if Don were exposed as Dick Whitman and got carted away to the hoosegow, but Don is unequivocal: “Get rid of it.” Pete doesn’t have any leverage, and it’s in sharp contrast to the way Pete perceived things back at the old Sterling Cooper when he found Don/Dick’s true identity. Speaking of which, has Don ever heard of a safe deposit box?
Don directs his accountant to establish a trust fund for Sally, the boys and Betty, and the accountant is more than a little dubious about the notion, thinking it is unwise to grant Betty access to such funds. Yeah, me too — this plays like one of those seemingly minor moves that turn into a colossal problem two years from now. Or, it’s one more step on the road back to Don and Betty’s marital unhappiness.
But true unhappiness, thy name is Joan. She sits in the waiting room of that New Jersey doctor while a mother her age or younger cries for her daughter as she gets an abortion. The woman assumes that Joan is there for her own daughter and asks how old she is. “15,” she replies. It’s a lie of comfort, but you can see that Joan, having been here a couple of times before and riding alone back to the city on a bus, feels like no progress has been made.
Roger, meanwhile, is getting his ass handed to him by Lee Garner Jr. After dinner and drinks, the Lucky Strike scion tells Sterling that he’s covering the check — an ominous move, given that it’s the agency that traditionally wines and dines the client, not the other way around. Garner informs Roger that they’re consolidating all their business with BBDO, and Sterling looks like he’s going to throw up, which is actually Don’s job at the moment. Roger tells Garner that he has covered for him in the past (re: Sal, I suppose), and that he owes him to give SCDP 30 days to make things right. At the moment, we don’t know what this means. He might try to mitigate the loss (yes) or convince Garner that SCDP should take care of all company business (a tough bill). At any rate, according to Lane Pryce, Lucky Strike constitutes anywhere from 68 to 72 percent of SCDP’s business. This is bad.
So yes, Don is a quivering mess of a man, feverish and sweating profusely when Faye finds him in his office and insists on taking him home. Once they arrive in the Village, Don sees two men in hats walking down the hallway, and he can barely contain his stomach — he rushes into the apartment and projects epic chunks into the porcelain. Faye is concerned, but Don isn’t suffering from chest pain, and if she learned anything from her heart-patient father, that is the dividing line between panic attack and heart attack.
Now, when it comes to actual pain, Lane Pryce knows what that feels like, now that his kidney pie-eating pig-tyrant fossil of a father has shown up to press the issue on Lane’s return to the British Empire. Lane had Toni there and had hoped that he, Toni and his liver-stained potted meat mound of a father could have dinner so they might get better acquainted. Well, Robert is going to take a pass, so Toni goes on ahead while Lane and Robert have some quality father-and-son time, culminating in that ancient, moldy treacle tart rapping Lane hard in the old bean with his death cane and then stepping hard on our old lad’s bangers-and-mash grabber. God, what a bastard that old booze sop is — I was hoping Lane would take his now-swollen hand and give that tepid beer swiller a sock in his shepherd’s pie hole.
Up on Park Avenue, Trudy, wearing poofy pregnancy lingerie, walks into the living room to find Pete brooding and/or pouting. He won’t share what is bothering him, but he bemoans the people who leave destruction in their wake (Don) while “the honest people” are left to clean it up. So, who are these honest people you speak of, Petey? Everybody’s got something to hide except for me and my monkey: Roger is at the office, frantically calling old contacts to cover up for the impending Lucky Strike loss, finding out that some of them have died while he was writing his memoirs and resting on a big pillow of tobacco money. But Don, to his credit, is sick of all the lies and, well, just sick: he tells Faye about the real Don Draper and Dick Whitman. It’s strange, but Faye never really seems shocked at anything Don tells her. You would think that there would be at least a pause, but Faye never misses a beat, suggesting that Don might be able to get leniency. Don counters, telling Faye there is no statute of limitations on desertion. But then Pete shows up, acts a little haughty and disgusted at seeing Faye there, although it could be just one of his faces, and tells Don that if they drop the account, the investigation will not go through.
Joan tells Roger that the procedure went fine and they averted “a tragedy,” which might be a kind of loaded statement if you think about the possibility that Joan could have ended up shackled to this mewling has-been for the balance of her life. Roger and Joan go into the partners’ meeting and Pete reveals that NAA is toast, which gives Roger license to rip Pete up and down. This serves two purposes: Roger has a legitimate complaint because they’re passing up good money, and Roger can use Pete as a convenient whipping boy and object of Lucky Strike fury. When Joan goes down the list of clients and asks if Lucky Strike is stable, Roger gives her a “thumbs up.”
Then Faye comes into Don’s office, where he tells her everything is resolved on the Don/Dick potential fiasco. She tells him, “You see? Everything worked out.” But Don Draper is still Dick Whitman is still Don Draper. After agreeing to dinner on the weekend, Faye leaves and Don kind of luxuriates in the pliant, vacant beauty of Megan, watching her apply lipstick so that she’ll be pleasing to everyone. That’s our Don — tell Faye everything you’ve ever hidden from the world, and then threaten your very well-being when you have sex with another secretary (well, to his credit, he skipped one) and incur Faye’s wrath.
And as we saw a couple of weeks before, Faye’s got wrath to spare if she’s crossed.