Mad Men, "The Good News": Dick Whitman in Long Beach

Quick Take: Mad Men, "The Good News"
"I could tell the minute she saw who I really was… she never wanted to look at me again." – Don Draper

Review: Mad Men, "The Good News"
(S0403) This was an episode of Mad Men operating at its furious full capacity, an episode chock full of killer lines, hilarious lines, devastating lines, with many scenes both supremely funny and bitingly tragic all at once. To anyone who talks about how "there's nothing good on TV" (and there seem to be fewer of those types these days, or is it just me, perhaps?) I would simply submit "The Good News" as evidence, yes, of some form of televised salvation.

So much seemed to happen over a course of an hour, but the more I thought about it, aside from the bombshell about Anna Draper's (Melinda Page) health, it was essentially a tour de force that focused tightly on Don Draper (Jon Hamm) at the end of 1964, with a lot of well deserved screen time for the likes of Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) and Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) as well.

Where to begin? Dick Whitman, the real name behind the person and persona the world knows as Don Draper, in Long Beach, is a good place to start. Don/Dick travels to California for the ostensible purpose of a 24-hour layover on the way to a New Year's holiday in Acapulco. In reality though, Don was looking for a little respite at Anna's house. And for a spell, it looked like he might get it. Anna uses her charms to ensnare her niece Stephanie to go out for dinner and drinks (the fact that she's carrying grass helps), and the three share a lovely time at a local dive where The Beach Boys (or a similar surf band) provides the musical backdrop. Don gets to reflect out loud for the first time too about the forced revelation of who he really is to Betty and its aftermath: "I could tell the minute she saw who I really was… she never wanted to look at me again."

It's only later, when Don drives  Stephanie back to South Pasadena and makes a now typical lame-ish pass, that she halts the proceedings long enough to drop the bombshell that Anna has bone cancer. I knew something about her broken leg didn't quite add up, and the clues have been there dating back to Don's Season Two visit. And incredibly, Anna doesn't know either – Pattie in consultation with the doctor decided that her time was short enough that she shouldn't be bothered with that kind of memo.

Don's instinct is to stay and help Anna – perhaps the person on the planet who knows the most about him. But when Don tells her that he can't stay, consciously choosing not to tell her she's going to die, it's beautiful and heartbreaking, Don's attempt to do the "right thing" for once, and what he failed to do with his family and Adam Draper and Betty and even Miss Farrell's brother in Season Three.

Instead of going to Mexico, Don heads back to New York and the office, perhaps the one remaining place where he feels some sense of control. And he finds solace in the form of an equally lonely Lane Pryce. The two end up playing a drunken odd couple at the office over the holidays, and it's both sad and hilarious. "Lane!" "What?" "C'mere!" And their (very drunken) man date to see Godzilla is even better on both counts. "This movie is very good!" Lane exclaims. And then Don, in what might be the funniest single line in the history of the show: "You know what's going on here, right? Hand jobs." "What percentage, do you think?" Have to lovingly note too that Lane and Don are seated with a chaste empty seat between them.  Things get even more raucous over dinner, with the normally buttoned up Lane yelling, "Look at me, I've got a big Texas belt buckle!" while brandishing a full cut of steak about his nether regions.

Don convinces Lane to meet up with a few "lady friends" of his, which ends up with the four of them back at Don's bachelor pad. The next morning, Lane takes a British mid-'60s version of the walk of shame, insisting on paying Don back for the lady's services, and leaves before even Don's first pot of post-hangover coffee is ready. Don slumps down on a sheetless bed, as lonely and lost as ever.

More thoughts on "Good News":

  • Is Harry Crane a racist? Everyone catch that little comment about how "we know who they are" with regard to cars that inevitably breakdown on the Triborough Bridge on the way to JFK, ensnaring traffic?
  • It completely threw me off for a second when Pattie says, "Hello Dick."
  • I must admit that when Don asks Stephanie if she's "sitting in" at Cal Berkeley, I thought he meant as in auditing courses for a moment (and not the bourgeoning student protest movement, which was likely gathering steam by the end of 1964).
  • "I agree with what they're doing but… somebody's got to go to class." – Stephanie
  • It's striking how relaxed and at ease Don is on the West Coast, away from the worries and masks and shields and armor of his New York life
  • It's incredible to think about an era when a young woman (and an attractive one at that) thinks nothing of hitchhiking from Long Beach to South Pasadena at night!
  • Nice health care theme, mid-'60s style, going this episode with Joan's visit to Dr. Walter, the chain smoking doc in the opening scene (the same one we saw Peggy Olson, played by Elisabeth Moss, visit in the pilot episode).
  • Wonderfully and painfully ironic twist on the episode title, "Good News," here as well, as we're lead to believe that it is with reference to Stephanie's Cal roommate who flipped out, going fanatically religious along the way.
  • "I know everything about you, and I still love you." – Anna
  • "You just can't keep your pants on, can you?" – Pattie, to a painting-in-his-boxers Don
  • "You're just a man in a room with a checkbook. I'm sorry." – Pattie
  • "And then you're going to Vietnam." – Joan "We don't know that." – Greg. Uh… yeah, I think we do, says audience from 2010
  • "Is it donkey dick?" – Dr. Greg Harris
  • Joan cutting her finger badly while prepping Greg's breakfast (in "Hawaii") allows us to see that it seems that while Dr. Harris may never have the makings of a decent surgeon (maimed grunts in Vietnam, be warned), he does appear to be a caring and decent doctor. And when he says, "I can't fix anything else, but I can fix this," and smiles, we can see why Joan fell for him in the first place, aside from his looks and his credentials on paper.
  • The bit with Lane's apologetic roses mix-up is both hilarious and tragic (for Lane's bumbling secretary, Sandy). It seemed both Lane and Joan were able to save face and feel a bit of vindictive holiday cheer in making Sandy the scapegoat for their spat over Joan's request for time off in January to go to the Poconos with Greg.
  • "Those instructions you understood." – Lane (how awesome is Jared Harris?)… and later, to Don and with regard to a bottle of liquor he received from his father: "He's one of those alcoholics who thinks he's connecting.
  • Lane reveals to Don that his wife, Rebecca, has left him to return to England permanently.
  • "We're not homosexuals, we're divorced!" – Lane, to the comedian on stage
  • I was hoping to hear a bit more of Rudy Jensen covering The Animals' "House of the Rising Sun" before the cut to commercial break
  • "I think Norman Mailer shot a deer over there." – Don, with regard to the aesthetic of his apartment. Instant classic.
  • "All right gentleman, shall we begin 1965?" – Joan
  • Lots of love to David Carbonara and his musical scoring. He's great week in and week out, but I particularly noticed how the music in each scene fit the mood just so. And, really, it so often does.
  • Video: Mad Men, "The Good News"
    Head inside the episode, from AMC:

    From Around the Web: Mad Men, "The Good News"

  • TV Overmind: It was a lot of self-searching and sitting around and talking, but the character development was deep and meaningful. Don learned a lot about himself through Anna Draper and her family, and we might just be witnessing a bit of a turnaround in Draper.
  • Reviews STL: I think a better title for this episode would have been, “Don and Lane’s Excellent New Years Adventure.”  That segment last night was hands down the funniest seven minutes or so of Mad Men in this viewer’s opinion and was a brilliant addition to an already terrific season of Mad Men.

  • By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

    About the author

    Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at]-tvgeekarmy.com 

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    2 Comments
    On: Monday, August 9, 2010
    Gordon S. Miller said:
    I loved that they went and saw Gamera and Lane babbled at that woman in what I presume was faux Japanese
    On: Tuesday, August 10, 2010
    Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:
    Oh man, that scene is so epic, if only to see Jared Harris let completely loose for once. Monsters !!
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