No Third Option
Written by Duana
Oh man. I say it too often, but buckle up. The week we just had at SDCP was enough to make me apologize for ever even thinking my life was boring, if the alternative is this. While last week showed us these beautiful girls – and the lives they have to navigate because of some men – this week explores these men in all their messed-up, petulant glory. It’s not considered couth to say, in a forum like this, that men are intrinsically childish, and that’s not what I mean to say, exactly. Having said that, if I had only this show to go on, that’s definitely the impression that I’d get.
One slightly technical note, for a number of reasons, I’m not happy with the time jump that Mad Men made this week. Obviously they have done this before – a 13 episode summer season often spans most of a year – and it’s not the jump itself that bothers me. But given that we pick up with some big moments that occurred only last episode, and have given them enough time to marinate, I could have used an episode in between to allow for the feasibility of what comes next. You know what I’m talking about…
Don’s life starts off all right this week. Not only did he hold Faye – hold her! in the middle of the day in his office! – but a calculated move to win back Sally’s love pays off. When he promises her Beatles tickets, she is overcome with joy and (trust me) won’t figure out that she resents him for doing that until 10 years from now. This is a moment where you have to bring yourself back around to thinking maybe January Jones is a bit of a genius, and knows exactly what she’s doing. Because her joy at Sally’s joy is real. She’s impressed with Don in a way we haven’t seen in two seasons. The shrew we’ve seen in previous episodes might have made up some reason Sally couldn’t go, but Betty is legitimately happy for her daughter, whose father remains in her life, and for whom treats like this are a consolation prize, yes, but very welcome nonetheless.
It was a nice and authentic moment, and it speaks to what comes next. When Betty is interrogated on Don’s behalf – even though she betrays herself by running instantly for her cigarettes –she keeps his peace. She doesn’t spill the secret she could so easily, and hurt him, like he hurt her. My love for Betty returned, just a little. He’s not her husband, she doesn’t have to keep his secrets, but she can’t bring herself to ruin the man who was such a part of her life for so long.
Partly I believe she doesn’t want to do that to Don, as living well has been Betty’s best revenge, but partly she would have to admit to herself that that horrible lie is true, to say nothing of the moments between them. I don’t for a minute think that Betty and Don are going to get back together and live happily ever after, but I also didn’t miss how he called her ‘Bets’ and she didn’t blink, and how, when her conscience demanded that she tell Henry what happened, she didn’t tell Henry what happened. Because nothing is black and white.
Don’s unraveling is pretty rapid from this point on and though it hurts to watch, it gives us some great moments. Pete, telling Don to calm down! Don, preparing for the eventuality of going into hiding by setting up a trust for his kids! And the panic attack in front of Faye, when he realizes that not only might he have to leave his agency and his life, but that this fear and horror, which he’s been pushing down for years with a house in Ossining and litres of booze – it’s never going away. For the rest of his life, any man in a suit where he’s not supposed to be will fill Don with horror. Ultimately, getting rid of North American Aviation is only a band-aid fix. This will come up again (potentially in the next episode? Who can tell anymore?) but in the meantime, Don is a terrified shell, and Pete is owed approximately one thousand favours for the rest of Don’s natural life.
And Pete must be addressed. I caught the look of wonder – even the small smile – on his face when Don asked if he’d known about the security clearance. Vincent Kartheiser does an absolutely wonderful ‘resolute martyr’ face when Roger is chewing him out. And so I’m quite sure the idea that Pete planned this will come up – but I don’t believe he did. That’s what the scene with (soooo cute and pregnant! ) Trudy was meant to let us know: Pete sees himself as honest. As one of the good guys. The fact that he might not be altogether devastated if the chips fell knocking Don down a peg is one thing, but I don’t believe he set him up. There’s simply nothing else to do – and Pete does it.
Meanwhile, of course, Joan and Roger’s situation is very black and white – except when it isn’t. Of course their interaction last week resulted in a pregnancy, and of course Roger is utterly pragmatic in taking care of it. Which couldn’t be more surgical, more clinical – just like the procedure itself – and in what is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the series to date, Roger distances himself from the ‘problem’ immediately. He talks about how ‘Joan’ could keep it. How it would be fine to dupe her dumb husband Greg into having the baby… ‘if he comes home’. And Joan’s face betrays what she already knew, but allowed herself not to think – there is no third option here. Either she pretends her pregnancy is a happy accident with Greg, or she gets rid of it. There will be no third option with Roger.
Which leads us to still more questions. When we get to the surprisingly clean and pleasant doctor’s office upstate, and a distraught young mother (Hi, Susan May Pratt! I’ve missed you since your days as Maureen the bitchy dancer with no heart! I’m going to go rent ‘Center Stage’ now!) weepily asks Joan how old her daughter is – because of course nobody of Joan’s age would be in trouble like this – Joan answers, decisively,‘fifteen’.
Is this how long ago Joan’s first ‘procedure’ was? Or the age she herself was when she had the first one? Why didn’t she say sixteen or seventeen? It’s the nature of our Joan – even in a lie, she wants to make the other woman feel better than she herself is entitled to.
I desperately wanted, as did you, for Joan to pull a Juno and high-tail it out of the office. Wanted to see her holding her belly as she looked out the window of the bus. Not because of pro-life leanings or because I actually believe everything can work out. I just wanted to see what would happen if she decided not to clean up the mess she and Roger made. But unless we hear otherwise, our Mrs. Harris is far too competent, far too considerate of Roger over and above herself to ever make a selfish decision.
She knows other things, like the possible defection of Lucky Strike (line of the episode “I invited you to my daughter’s wedding! I don’t know why you didn’t get the invitation!”) will be all he can ever handle. So, we call her wise. Which maybe she is. Mrs. Harris can already progress, in her mind, to what the life of that child would be like.
As for Lane, and his beloved bunny, it was hard for me to dredge up some emotion about what was going on because I felt so indignant on the behalf of his Playboy paramour. How dare he put her in a position not only to be scrutinized by his coworkers, but also his father? He may well love her. He may want to begin a life with her but he’s so snottily proud at showing off that she is, in his words, “a negro”, and his father’s violent response to his dalliance seems upsetting to Lane but not all that surprising – it’s an adolescent rebellion 30 years too late –there doesn’t seem to be much more to be said.
In closing, of course I caught the increasing presence of Megan, and saw Don consider her as if for the first time as she adjusted her makeup. But the show hasn’t yet given me any reason to believe she’s any different than the Alisons or Bethanys that went before her – so I will wait to be surprised otherwise.
Oh, and also? I was really glad those Beatles tickets finally showed up. I was worried.
Attached – Jon Hamm with Jennifer Westfeldt this weekend walking their dog.
Photos from GSI