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maryann johanson | watching movies at home

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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