Yes, I know that I’m a week behind in recapping ‘Mad Men.’ Between covering the New York Film Festival and drinking until I black out, time does slip away from me. But that’s an apt metaphor for last week’s episode. ‘Hands and Knees’ (co-written, once again, by Matthew Weiner) sets up a ticking clock: Will Don be able to secure tickets to the Beatles at Shea Stadium for his lovely, chronically screwed-up daughter? Only then, the episode meanders to and fro, and indulges in a number of plot digressions, some of which are fulfilling and others less so. Which is my way of saying sorry that I’m filing this so late.
First, a question for the five people that read these recaps: Do you think that the decision earlier this season to show Joan at the gynecologist’s office, where her doctor said that her previous two abortions shouldn’t complicate further pregnancies, lessened the dramatic heft of this week’s episode? To recap (which is what I’m supposed to be doing, after all): in the prior episode, Roger and Joan had some very hot sex on the stoop of a building downtown after getting robbed at knife-point. (In one of the best flourishes of that moment, a tenant walks by without disturbing their frenzied coital bliss.) This week, Joan informs Roger that she’s late. As in, late late. What follows is a series of incredibly awkward, emotional, sometimes horrible scenes with Joan talking to Roger about it. Then she goes to the doctor’s office to have the procedure done, where a woman – bringing her teenage daughter – asks Joan how old the daughter she’s accompanying is. (Ouch.)
Most of the time, I rally against scenarios like this, because they’re another way of pop culture punishing women for the enjoyment of sex. (Statistically speaking, not every time a woman has unprotected sex will she get pregnant.) This week, my ire is tabled. This storyline goes along with the grand scheme of ‘Mad Men,’ in which even the tiniest of successes is usually followed by some huge, catastrophic event. Also, the episode handles it very well by going into the era-specific realities of what a procedure like this would entail, both practically and emotionally. And of course, Christina Hendricks is so damn good.
What do we think about Don’s brush with sweaty-faced paranoia? To me, it’s done well enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s totally coming out of left field. It actually makes me think, “Gee, ‘Mad Men’ is doing government-tied conspiracy stuff better than ‘Rubicon,’ a show that’s actually about government-tied conspiracy stuff.” There’s still a little bit of predictability in that subplot. Don’s getting too comfortable – he’s toned down his drinking, taken up an adult relationship with Faye, and asserted himself both in his workplace and at home – so of course something’s really got to shake him up. Still, it’s nice to revisit the stolen identity angle and to have him explore his unlikely alliance with Pete, who discovered Don’s true identity a couple of seasons back.
One thing that Don’s subplot leads to is the firm having to reject a contract involving the Defense Department (or something). This is a crushing financial blow that comes hot on the heels of Lucky Strike firing them, in a cold-hearted bit of business that serves as one of Roger’s best scenes this year. The firm goes from being on the brink, to a time of relative security, to now being in an even more dangerous position. Chances are that things will be seismically reshuffled once again before the season is up in just a few episodes.
One final question before we go: Did anyone else think about real-life actor Jared Harris and his potentially thorny relationship with his certifiably thorny father, actor Richard Harris, in the scenes when Lane’s cantankerous dad comes to visit? I was speculating the entire time, even when I wasn’t entirely buying his relationship with a Playboy Club Bunny.
Stay tuned. I’ll catch up with a recap of the most recent episode shortly.