Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Mad Men "Hands and Knees"

Non Spoiler Review:
Lies, lies, lies! This episode begins with some unexpected news (or maybe not so much), and then heads off into a second, more menacing plot twist. It's seven weeks after last week's episode (as made apparent by the first revelation). North American Aviation, the account Pete has been working to snag since season two when he and Don were in California, has paid off, and they are prepared to work with SCDP on a $4 million contract. That association sparks a serious problem for Don that quickly begins to spiral out of control.

Joan and Roger deal with last episode's indiscretion, and Lane's storyline receives some focus as his father, Robert, comes to town (minus Lane's son, Nigel).

A very tense episode, dealing with the results of several deceptions over the past seasons. The chickens are coming home to roost. We moved from shock to shock over the course of the hour, and by the end, we're wondering how these final episodes will unfold. As with previous seasons, the momentum is building and all the triggers planted throughout the season are being pulled. It should be another exciting finale.

Spoilers Now!
It shouldn't really be a surprise when Joan announces to Roger she's pregnant. Greg is long gone, so it must be Roger's, prompting the two of them to visit a very judgmental abortion doctor. Joan wants to take care of it and assures him she has it under control and doesn't require any further help. 

Later, as she visits the abortion clinic, she shares a conversation with a mother who has taken her daughter there. And Joan instead lies that she's there with her own daughter, as well, rather than admit that she's made the same mistake over and over again. When next we see her on the train ride home, and later at work, we're left wondering if she did take care of it. Something tells me she decided to keep it.

Lane's father is a piece of work. He has come to take Lane home (and not just for a visit). When we see them out on the town with Don at the Playboy club, Lane hits on a black waitress, Toni, and later we find out he's been dating her. When he attempts to bring Robert out for dinner with them, he refuses and is ordered by his father to end his affairs in Manhattan and return home. Then he punches Lane to the floor for his defiance, and his son at last acquiesces.

SCDP's association with North American Aviation (and subsequently the government) results in Betty getting a surprise visit from some G-men doing a background check on Don for security clearance. Betty is forced to lie for him (including a question assuring them that Don is who he says he is). She is surprisingly fair to Don, despite their divorce.

Betty calls Don, who knows nothing about it. He apparently signed an authorization form weeks before from Megan. Don is shaken, but the exchange between him and Betty is quite a different change from their usual banter, as the two of them share his secret. Though angry, Betty is not her usual hostile self, and Don is very grateful to her. It's actually a nice moment between these two if not for the circumstances.

Don is a complete wreck trying to figure out how to deal with the government, so he confides in Pete (the other one privy to his secret). Pete has a friend in the government whom he hopes can help, but Don knows his desertion of the army will come back to haunt him. So he tells Pete to get rid of the North American Aviation account.

Pete is understandably furious, and confides in Trudy how some people go through life making a mess of everything while others just try to work hard and gain success. He's still the junior partner, and he knows without Don, SCDP is dead. And he has a family to consider.

But it may be dead already. Roger and Lucky Strike Lee Garner are out on the town together, where we get the next bombshell—a new board of directors has forced them to drop SCDP. Roger  begs to get the business back, but it's already a done deal. Roger pleads for at least thirty days notice before they pull the business and finally gets a concession. We leave him grabbing his heart medication and later phoning through his Rolodex to try to salvage some new accounts, to no avail. I wasn't sure if this would be heart attack number three, or that Roger is the one jumping out of the building in the opening credits. But he lives another day.

Don and Faye are heading home when they encounter some mysterious men at Don's apartment building. Don immediately thinks they're G-men, and has a terrible panic attack. He later tells Faye the truth, who is very supportive and understanding. Don is tired of running and it looks like he may be facing up to the reality of his lie.

Pete shows up later, finding Faye there, which is an awkward moment for both. After she leaves, he tells Don that his government contact has assured him there has been no investigation yet, and if they drop the account, it will stop. So Don orders him to go ahead and dump North American Aviation.

After Joan tells an edgy Roger the next day that everything has been handled, they immediately go into one of the more tense partners meetings, when Pete announces North American Aviation has moved on, taking the blame for losing the account. Roger is outraged and berates him, but Don and Bert both step up in Pete's defense and force Roger to apologize.

What Worked:
This was a fantastic episode with great interaction between Don and Pete and Betty. It was great to see so many plot points come to fruition here—the culmination of the California meetings years before, coupled with both Pete and Betty sharing in Don's secret all played well together. Don is completely out of control since last season when Betty learned the truth.

Once again, Pete becomes a sympathetic character. Despite his snaky demeanour at times, he has worked his way up the ladder, and to have Don's secrets come back and destroy years of his work was certainly an understandable frustration. For Don to tell him to "Get rid of it" so casually is another knife to Pete's ambition and ego.

Sally has been giving Don the cold shoulder until Don tells her he's taking her to the Beatles concert, which results in a screaming fit and even more amazing, a smiling Betty. With all the mess of this episode, I thought it likely that Sally would get thrown under the bus due to Don's drama, but it was a pleasant surprise to see they actually got to attend the concert.

Lane obviously has some father issues. It was nice to see him happy with Toni, but to be beaten by his aged father was a bit of a surprise. Robert orders him to chose between Manhattan and England, but not both, so I'm hoping he does return.

I'm loving Faye and Don together more and more. I really hope this isn't leading to some breakup or worse. She was very understanding about his deception and dealt with the revelation in a rational, thoughtful manner. But given Don's everything is fine attitude at the end might be too much for her to deal with now that she's sharing in this deception.

Don's panic attacks were very effective. To see him lose control so completely when he's famous for his calm demeanour shows how dangerous this secret is to him. It's been destroying him all these years, and his readiness to flee shows that we may yet find him leaving everything and everyone at some point.

His relationship with Betty is maturing, too. Despite causing her a great deal of aggravation, Betty managed to remain civil and share some concern for what was happening to him. But too many people know his secret now, and that's going to be very difficult for him to manage.

Finally, what was his pensive, almost longing stare at Megan about? Does he think he damaged things with Faye enough that he's about to cast her off in favor of his secretary? Or is he pondering something deeper?

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