Quick Take: Mad Men, "Hands and Knees"
"Do you have any reason to believe Mr. Draper isn't who he says he is?" – Special Agent Landingham
Review: Mad Men, "Hands and Knees"
(S0410) This season of Mad Men has dealt with identity and the quickening pace of change (for the characters as well as for the society at large circa 1965), and this episode walloped us with large doses of both themes. So much so that much like with "The Suitcase," getting one's mind around what it all means takes a bit of time and effort.
I'm not even sure what the biggest "bombshell" is this week: Lee Garner, Jr. telling Roger (John Slattery) that Lucky Strike is pulling the plug (and, perhaps, the money to power the lights) on Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Don coming thisclose to getting outed as Dick Whitman (again), this time by Your Friends at the United States Government (and outing himself to Faye Miller without much prompting), or even Joan getting herself into a "situation" for a third time (and this time out of wedlock) and having to take a little trip to Morristown, New York.
Or perhaps it's even learning that Lane Pryce is dating an African American playboy bunny, before seeing him getting clocked in the forehead with a cane by his father amidst getting utterly humiliated? The mind boggles.
Let's start with the return of Dick Whitman. I thought there was a good chance that Don's problems from that sphere may have been laid to rest for good now that he divorced Betty (January Jones), but North American Aviation and a potential SCDP client that does work with the U.S. government (involving "the bomb" and other scary militaristic jargon, no less) brings Don's real identity back into focus. It's ingenious, of course, as NAA has been in the picture since Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Don's Season Two trip to California. That trip was in part an effort for Don to find himself in the wake of his deteriorating relationship with Betty, so it's ironic that two Special Agents with the U.S. Department of Defense showed up at Betty's door to question her about Don's loyalties and background, including Special Agent Landingham asking, "Do you have any reason to believe Mr. Draper isn't who he says he is?"
'60s-era paranoia comes home to roost in a paranoid and darkly funny phone conversation between Betty and Don (Jon Hamm) following the agents' visit. A visibly sweating Don lapses from Dick Whitman mode into the fakest Don Draper impression we've ever seen and back again, while Betty actually takes the lead in trying to convince anyone tapping the phone that all is on the up and up. Soon after, things get even stranger as Don is forced to confront Pete, who happens to know "a little something" about Don's past, to paraphrase Bert Cooper, the other person at SCDP to be in on some of Don/Dick's secrets. When Don says to Pete that, "You can run the agency without me," in case he's forced to leave SCDP, it's shocking to believe we'd ever hear such a thing spoken in earnest between these once rivals, but Mad Men is so good at conjuring up scenarios where we're taken someplace completely new but remains organic and true to the characters and time and place at the same time. And, later, a very different power dynamic between Don and Pete emerges. When Don asks what's going on with Pete's contact at the Department of Defense and gets frustrated at the lack of immediate resolution, Pete snaps back, "I don't know. You've been doing it for years. I don't have to live with your shit over my head."
Fay Miller (Cara Buono) for her part gets her first read on the real guy behind the person who calls himself Donald Draper. She takes a visibly shaken and ill looking Don home to his apartment (and anyone keeping note on how many times a woman has taken a hung over/drunk/sick Don back to his place on Waverly and 6th this season?), and the two see a pair of men who look like Feds approach. Don has a mini-freak out, though it turns out they aren't after him. But Don knows that Faye's no dummy and that she senses something significant is up. After Don finishes experiencing something that looks to be a serious panic attack (though there's no Tony Soprano passing out involved), he very quickly gives into Faye's questions and reveals a good chunk about his desertion during the Korean War. She doesn't blink and offers her help. It's clear that she's falling in love with a Don who is more open than ever before. And I think that's partly why, after the worst passes and he manages to kill the investigation into his background by getting Pete to tank the account (he now owes Pete an immense personal debt, which I'm sure will be collected in due time), Don has a bewildered look on his face at the end of the episode. He's never been this out in the open, and yet he still has a supportive woman and firm (for now) standing beside him.
Ah, the firm. As soon as Lee Garner, Jr. (Darren Pettie) picked up the check while out having drinks with Roger, I said, "Uh oh." At the blink of an eye and the dashing out of a (Lucky Strike) cigarette, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is on the precipice of financial disaster. Lucky Strike's board is moving all of its advertising business to one agency, BBDO, and there's nothing that Lee or Roger or anyone else can do about it. "Wait, this is not happening. You don't just end business with people after 25 years. 30 years! We're family," Roger says, shocked. If Connie Hilton were at the table, he'd probably lean back and lecture him that this is business, pure and simple. I'd say it's also in line with the corporatization of America during this period, where big business and big dollars began to rule as never before and the pitch that "we can provide the human touch the others can't" begins to lose its luster. Roger ends up begging for and gets a 30-day extension on what essentially looks like a death sentence for SCDP – and it's a lucky strike if you'll pardon the pun that Don was able to manipulate the jettisoning of NAA's potential $4 million in billings before Roger is forced to tell the partners what's going on.
So, Matthew Weiner, you have done it: a cataclysmic finale to a radically different Season Four is in the offing, and I have butterflies in my stomach when thinking about what is going to happen next for Don Draper/Dick Whitman, Roger, Pete, Lane, Joan, and the rest of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. I can't help but think that Roger's stress is going to play back into his health issues at some point. Let's remember that he's already had two heart attacks, and doesn't seem to have made much effort to cut down on his smoking or drinking. Now he alone holds the knowledge that the egg timer is ticking on the firm's future and is up late at night sipping vodka and desperately running through his rolodex.
And then we have the intercontinental visit of one Robert Pryce, Lane's father. We've already heard that his idea of bonding is sending a bottle of liquor for Christmas, but in person we see that this guy is a real piece of work. Polite and nearly cordial he remains until the very moment when he literally puts his foot down on Lane (Jared Harris) after clocking him in the forehead with his cane. "Put your home in order," he orders until Lane is physically berated into meekly saying, "Yes, sir." Now Lane is headed off to London, blackmailed by his father and ex-wife into returning to London to set his affairs in order and to visit his son Nigel. Will they manage to detain him further than he would like? And of course this comes at the worst possible time for SCDP, with Lucky Strike about to go away (save some heroic action on the part of our heroes).
One of the themes of The Sopranos, so it goes, is that people don't really change. Is Mad Men beginning to make a counter-argument, I wonder? We have an episode where Don astonishingly reveals to Faye Miller a goodly chunk of the dark secrets that were forced out of him by Betty only after a period of many years and a mostly unhappy marriage. We also see Roger working his tail off to repair the potentially catastrophic damage that Lucky Strike can cause by ending its relationship with SCDP and acting generally like a human being toward Joan with regard to her "condition." And we see Lane and Don both genuinely attempting to move on with their lives amidst countercurrents.
And meanwhile, Don is taking Sally to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium, though one of the two may be wearing earplugs to the event.
More thoughts on "Hands and Knees":
Video: Mad Men, "Hands and Knees"
Head inside the episode, from AMC: