The first thing we learn in “The Good News” is that Joan has had two abortions. Once again on Mad Men, we see that a confident, take-charge exterior merely hides a severely wounded interior. Joan the brassy man-eater has had her share of damages done to her, but will never show her scars to the world.
No matter who you WERE or who you ARE, you can’t outrun the past.
And since this is shaping up to be possibly the darkest season of Mad Men yet, Joan gets the good news that she’s healthy enough to conceive, but there’s a bitter lining: it may take 30 days, at which point Greg may have left for boot camp, en route to Vietnam.
But she doesn’t know if he’s going. Or when. This is the controlling theme of this episode: learning to make due with a rotten situation that’s out of your control, so perfectly summed up by Greg: “I can’t fix anything else. But I can fix this.”
Across the country in sunny Los Angeles, Don visits Anna, his closest confidante on the planet, the woman to whom the original Don Draper was married. (Sidenote: I always think that Anna is one of those people who should be good-looking but, for some reason, isn’t. Am I the only one?)
The most powerful moment of the episode occurs when Don tells Anna, “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.”
It always moves me to see Don’s massive shame and insecurity, which he covers up with sex, sarcasm and classism. But he’ll never get rid of it. He’s ashamed of who he is…where he came from…and who he came from and it will never go away.
Anna knows this better than anyone, so she offers, “I know everything about you, and I still love you” and it is a touching moment. It’s exactly what Don has needed to hear, possibly since birth. Then there’s all her talk about seeing a UFO and the question of extra-terrestrial life, which felt stillborn to me but hopefully will pay off at a later point (thematically, not literally!).
Technically, although it had great moments, I felt this episode didn’t quite live up to the previous two this season, with too much on the nose dialogue (e.g., Stephanie the Cal Berkeley student: “Nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves. Everyone else can see it right away.”) or the time-lapse shot from night to morning in which Don doesn’t move. There was nothing particularly impressive about the shot or elucidating; it was just a trick with practical lights that reiterated that Don was troubled by the news that Anna was unknowingly dying of cancer.
Or does Anna know? Her sister can’t suppress a single thought without blurting it out so why should we believe that Anna can’t read her like a clock?
Then there’s Don and Lane’s boy’s night out, which offered some very funny moments — the light in all the darkness. The movie theater scene was the best, beginning with the ironic cut from their contemplation of Umbrellas of Cherbourg to their choice of the decidedly lower-culture Gamera, accented by Lane’s preposterous line “This is a really good movie.”
I didn’t really get the whole “Texas belt buckle” joke — was this a slam at Lee Garner, Jr. or just a drunken play on the meat being in the shape of Texas? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. It was good (but incredibly rude) drunken fun and it was great to see Lane cut loose.
Both men are drowning their sorrows; in Lane’s case, his botched flower delivery has prompted his wife to inform him that she’s not returning to New York City, which is essentially more good news turned into bad news. (Must have been all those nasty “insects.”) .
It seemed a bit harsh to fire Lane’s secretary over the flowers mix-up, didn’t it? Joan looked to have been taking out some of her personal issues on the hapless Sandy.
Back to the bachelor’s night out, which must feature easy women, so why not just buy a couple, huh? Don gets Lane a “date,” who immediately made me think “ugly Peggy with boobs.” You, too?
The next morning, does Don give Lane a break on the price or was she really only $25? My take is that it was a low-ball price to make up for Don essentially corrupting him and the type of gift that Lane would most appreciate: a sensible economic transaction.
Alright, gentlemen and gentlewomen, shall we begin 1965?
p.s 1: My quick interview with Jared Harris on the red carpet — interesting to note that he talks about “not having to hit the back of the house” when acting on film the way you do in theater, but yet in this episode he had more than one moment with loud, theatrical exclamations!
p.s. 2: And here’s a fantastic montage of some of the many drinking moments on Mad Men…