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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

a few thoughts on ‘Mad Men’: “The Good News”

Gosh, it’s almost time for a new Mad Men, and I’m just catching up with the previous one.

“Shall we begin 1965?” Joan asks the top guys at SCDP at an executive meeting at the end of the episode. But what a way to exit 1964!

Two characters get an emotional roller coaster ride in this episode: Joan and Don. Separately, of course.

I think Joan’s talk with her gynecologist must be one of the most casual discussions about abortion I’ve seen on TV, not just for its frankness but for how relaxed both of them are. For all the era-appropriate condescension women come in for on this show, it’s kinda shocking for Joan to be on a first-name basis with a male doctor (it’s unsurprising that he address her by her first name), and for him to be so nonjudgmental about things that women are still today judged on (having had abortions; not having had children). Even his comment on how women her age don’t usually wait to get pregnant once they’ve gotten married sounds more like something a concerned friend would say, not a scolding authority figure.

His smoking in the exam room, though — whoa! Just like that doctor on Battlestar Galactica!
Joan’s scenes with Lane are perfect examples of how laden with unspoken text nearly every moment of Mad Men is, and how shocking it is when someone breaks the tacit rules about what is and isn’t to be said. Her buttering him up before asking for a couple of days off (“Breast? Or thigh?” Tee-hee!) is her putting on her best Joan show… but he refuses to play along, informs her that he is “incorruptible” before her, unlike other men, and that she shouldn’t go cry about it. Her fury radiates from the screen, and it’s really a shame that her literally throwing the flowers in his face later had to backfire like that.

And then her husband, outta nowhere, suddenly is not an ass for five minutes while he’s sewing up her finger. This is the man she wants to have a baby with, not the other guy who so thoughtlessly imagines she could be happy without her job or that he can keep stringing her alone with the army thing, worrying whether — or when — he’ll end up deployed to Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Don — aka Dick — is visiting Anna, the real Don Draper’s widow, in California. And while they’re having dinner together, I suddenly wonderded, Is this is the only woman he truly respects, truly recognizes as another human being? His terror at her impending death revealed a Don that we don’t usually see… but he’s back to the cool, suave Don Draper back in New York, hitting the town with Lane and female companionship he has to pay for. How does a man like Don reconcile in his own head such disparities in how he sees and deals with women?

The kid, Anna’s niece: “Nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves, but everyone else can see it right away.” Don’s startlement to hear that, too, is palpable: Maybe she’s saying she sees what’s wrong with him, or maybe she doesn’t, but he’s certainly thinking, What does she see? Just like he got a little knock from the marketing research woman who “pegged” him, here’s another woman doing the same thing. Maybe Don is being set up for a major kick in the pants? (Or maybe he’s just gonna be on the receiving end of a series of small kicks.)

“I know everything about you, and I still love you,” Anna tells him. That’s something everyone should hear. I bet Don never has heard anything like it before.



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  • Lady Tenar

    it’s kinda shocking for Joan to be on a first-name basis with a male doctor

    I could be wrong but isn’t that the doctor from the very first episode to whom Joan refers Peggy for birth control? If so, then he and Joan have been involved and that’s why they’re so familiar. Even so, their frankness about Joan’s abortions is certainly rare for TV. I’ve seen a lot of shock over it floating around on the internet, like this is a Big Reveal and it shouldn’t have been treated so nonchalantly. But that’s exactly the point. It’s not a Big Reveal. It’s simply the experience of a huge number of women, then and now and the writers treat it accordingly. I guess that’s hard for some people to handle.

    And then her husband, outta nowhere, suddenly is not an ass for five minutes while he’s sewing up her finger. This is the man she wants to have a baby with, not the other guy who so thoughtlessly imagines she could be happy without her job or that he can keep stringing her alone with the army thing, worrying whether — or when — he’ll end up deployed to Vietnam.

    Or who revenge-rapes her for having a sexual past that doesn’t include him. I don’t think anyone should be surprised that he’s capable of kindness and concern sometimes. Nobody is one-dimensional but having some good points doesn’t necessarily make someone a good person. And people like him wouldn’t have anyone to treat like shit if they didn’t occasionally treat those people a little nicely. And he was still hugely condescending to her, still completely oblivious to what her job is, how she’s risen in it, basically who she is. He still treats her like a little girl. And it’s clear that she feels that condescension coming from all sides and that’s why she finally blows up at Lane. (Still awesome, even if it was based on a misunderstanding.) Greg is still an ass as far as I’m concerned.

    I suddenly wonderded, Is this is the only woman he truly respects, truly recognizes as another human being?

    I think she’s the only person, male or female, with whom he can truly be himself. It makes a world of difference. He was transformed when he was with her and her family.

  • MaryAnn

    I could be wrong but isn’t that the doctor from the very first episode to whom Joan refers Peggy for birth control? If so, then he and Joan have been involved and that’s why they’re so familiar.

    Yeah, I’m sure he’s the same doctor. It’s still a familiarity that I’ve never had with a doctor.

    Or who revenge-rapes her for having a sexual past that doesn’t include him.

    Wel, yeah. But I was referring just to examples of him being an ass in this episode alone. :->

    I think she’s the only person, male or female, with whom he can truly be himself. It makes a world of difference. He was transformed when he was with her and her family.

    Ha! That’s it! It’s that *she’s* the only one who really sees *him* as a human being!

  • drewryce

    The show is exceptional for it’s period detail but I think they made an error in last weeks treatment of Dr Rape and his potential ship out to Vietnam.
    If the episode is taking place over xmas 1964 then there aren’t many US troops in RVN and most of the US believes that even those few US troops will be brought home. LBJ had just won an election on that promise. The public feeling in late 1964 was similar to what I imagine the public feeling in the immediate aftermath of a Kerry win over Bush would have been in 2004. To wit, the President won’t escalate and indeed will begin to bring them home. The first US combat troops don’t arrive in RVN until March, 1965 and the first major battle involving US ground troops isn’t until November, 1965.
    In a nutshell, I don’t see the fear and awareness level of Vietnam exhibited by Joan as belonging in late 1964 but it would have been typical post 1966 and understated for post Tet, 1968. The overwhelming liklihood was Dr Rape being posted stateside or, if overseas, at a soft berth in Germany.

  • DaveTM

    No mention of Lane other than that he was a pain to Joan. His life is falling apart at the seams as well. I truly read his denying Joan the time off as trying to spread his misery around. Doesn’t make it a nice act but at least makes him more relatable. I also could see where he’d see the attempted “Buttering Up” as an insult to his intelligence. She didn’t even wait 10 seconds between the two. Who knows what would have happened if she had just asked him straight away. He is now really and truly alone in a strange land with only his job to keep him going.

    Don (Dick) now has no where to hide. Anna was the only person he ever opened up or knew the “real” him that hasn’t rejected him. It was the only place he could let his guard down. I also wonder if he really felt he was helping Lane or just simply didn’t have any idea what to say so he fell back to how he’d treat a client. The last scene with her was heartbreaking and I’m convinced that Anna knew that something was seriously wrong with her but was protecting both Don and her sister from having to deal with it openly.

    Joan’s life is starting to slightly look up but that just makes me fear even more for her since everyone elses life seems to be spiraling downward so far this year so I can’t see her getting spared.

  • mortadella

    Don’s relationship with Peggy is pretty decent, though maybe not perfect. He sees her as an equal, I’m sure. Last season he admitted to seeing her as an extension of himself, though his idea of her had to evolve.

  • MaryAnn

    In a nutshell, I don’t see the fear and awareness level of Vietnam exhibited by Joan as belonging in late 1964

    I don’t get the impression that Joan is afraid he’ll be killed — she just doesn’t want him to be on the other side of the planet.

    I also could see where he’d see the attempted “Buttering Up” as an insult to his intelligence.

    Absolutely. It’ll be interestingto see what happens with Lane in upcoming episodes.

    Don’s relationship with Peggy is pretty decent, though maybe not perfect. He sees her as an equal

    I suspect that maybe Don pretends in his head that Peggy is a man, and that’s how he copes with her. :->

  • Lady Tenar

    In a nutshell, I don’t see the fear and awareness level of Vietnam exhibited by Joan as belonging in late 1964 but it would have been typical post 1966 and understated for post Tet, 1968.

    If Joan were married to a civilian and worried about him being drafted, I’d agree with you that her concern is anachronistic. But Greg is in the army, the conflict had already begun and American troops were already over there. Why wouldn’t a military wife exhibit a lot of “fear and awareness” over the prospect of her husband being deployed to a violent country on the other side of the world

    I also could see where he’d see the attempted “Buttering Up” as an insult to his intelligence. She didn’t even wait 10 seconds between the two. Who knows what would have happened if she had just asked him straight away.

    I can understand why he’d be insulted too but Joan wasn’t raised in a world where a woman can get what she wants by “asking straight away.” She hasn’t been raised to be direct and assertive about her needs. She’s been raised to believe that if you want something, you have to get it from a man (which is pretty much true in this era) and if you want to get it from him, you have to feed him, fuck him, or dangle the possibility of both or either in front of him until he gives it you. If Lane objects to a world in which women feel the need to manipulate men with their sexuality to get what they want and need, then he should be marching with the feminists in a few years. Don’t think that’ll happen though. :-/

    I suspect that maybe Don pretends in his head that Peggy is a man, and that’s how he copes with her. :->

    Interesting point, Mary Ann. I think you’re on to something. If he doesn’t see her as “male”, he at least seems to see her as non-gendered. She can’t be a woman and a professional equal at the same time, obviously. So if he treats her with respect, it’s not because he respects her as an intelligent woman, it’s more because he doesn’t truly see her as a woman. Notice how the only time he really acknowledges her gender is when he’s trying to belittle her, as with his comment two weeks ago that the meeting shouldn’t have a “girl” there which was an obviously slight to her after she’d nailed him with the “our reputation is right where you left it” comment. Peggy only becomes female to him when he wants to use her femaleness as a weapon to put her in her place.

  • mortadella

    Wow, that’s really interesting, MaryAnn. Does Don think of Peggy “as a man”….except when it’s convenient not to? I dunno. I detect real affection there, between Peggy and Don. Know what else? I don’t think Don is an actual sexist…though, I do think he uses sex as one of his drugs of choice. During the earlier seasons of Mad Men, Don’s most notable liaisons involved complicated, strong-willed women. I think he prefers the company of equals. This season, we see Don employing a call girl. I think this is Don’s way of avoiding intimacy. To be honest, I think he has good taste in women (I’m not counting Betty). I don’t think he wants to be tempted into marriage again. And yes, he is very fickle, but some of his past affairs weren’t exactly casual.
    Maybe to Don, Peggy is family.

  • Lady Tenar

    Does Don think of Peggy “as a man”….except when it’s convenient not to? I dunno. I detect real affection there, between Peggy and Don.

    What about Don thinking of Peggy as a man, or at least a non-woman, means that there can’t also be affection between them? It’s a complex relationship that is definitely deeply intimate in some ways but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still sexism and power issues at play.

    I don’t think Don is an actual sexist…though, I do think he uses sex as one of his drugs of choice.

    Not a sexist? After his dismissive, patronizing, sometime cruel treatment of his wife? After violating her privacy by talking to her shrink behind her back? After scolding her for the crime of being hit on by his boss (after he springs a surprise visit from him on her, for which she gives up her own dinner). After blowing up at Peggy last season simply for being ambitious and for asking for equal pay in accordance with the law because “she has a job that men would kill to have?” After a billion other things I can name? I think Don is most definitely an “actual sexist.” What he isn’t is an irredeemably evil human being. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t sexist.

    During the earlier seasons of Mad Men, Don’s most notable liaisons involved complicated, strong-willed women. I think he prefers the company of equals.

    As long as they are mistresses and therefore a covert, compartmentalized part of his life.

    To be honest, I think he has good taste in women (I’m not counting Betty).

    But you can’t dismiss Betty as an exception. He married her for a reason. Remember what Midge said way back in season 1? “I don’t make plans and I don’t make breakfast.” Don needed someone who made breakfast. He wanted to go out cavorting with interesting, unconventional women and then come home to his angelic, blond, Perfect Housewife and live the life of a wealthy, respectable family man. He needed the madonna as well as the whore. He needed what Betty represented to him and he wouldn’t have given it up if she hadn’t called it quits first.

    I think in some ways, the two types of women that Don goes for correspond to the two personas he has, and they meet needs that go much deeper than just his sexual needs. There’s Don Draper, successful, confident, self-assured who needs a wife like Betty to complete his sense of self. And then there’s Dick Whitman, damaged, scared, and insecure who knows that Don Draper is a fraud, who seeks out beatniks, Jews–social outsiders like he feels himself to be, people who Don Draper would not and could not associate with.

    Whatever his reasons, Don definitely has some pretty messed up attitudes towards women. He’s complex yes, and he appreciates smart, independent women in particular contexts but he’s abslutely an “actual sexist.”

  • mortadella

    No, no, I too think he treated Betty horribly. Of course he did. But I’m not so sure if that was him behaving simply as a sexist or just a flat-out asshole (in that particular relationship) with no natural instincts for marriage, made worse by his mounting paranoia over maintaining his public persona. Yes, sometimes Don Draper is an asshole….sometimes he’s not. No, I’m not OK with all the behavior you mentioned above. Horrendous. I’m not trying to let him off the hook. But I’m not so sure his bad behavior is simply motivated by sexism or just being screwed-up, across the board. His relationships with men aren’t perfect. The way he grew up, seeing his dad as a mean bastard who beat on him…essh. There’s a lot going on there. He basically killed Duck’s future at the old company by just walking out of a meeting. At first, Roger didn’t like the idea of going into a new business with Don, because, as he said, “(Don)… doesn’t value relationships.” How often does he tell clients that they’re basically stupid? Does calling Don a sexist actually explain his actions, why he does what he does? That’s the part I’m not sure about.

    Off topic, does anyone else think that Joan and Lane will be drawn to each other in later episodes? Naw, I’m just crazy, right? There could be a developing empathy there.

  • Lisa

    Betty’s all kinds of strange too which is not to justify Don’s cheating on her. She’s intensely unhappy and repressed. I see nervous breakdown all over her, especially when she starts to lose her looks.

    I think Don knows Betty’s secret life and that has a resonance for him.

    That market research lady said that Don would be remarried within the year so I’m looking out for that! Like Lady Tenar said, he needs a wife to complete that perfect image of himself that he likes to project but I think he actually likes coming home to a family, which given his past, is no surprise. I think that he believes he’s not worthy of that, either, which leaves him all screwed up too.

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