However, before delving into what was so great about the episode, I have to address MAD MEN’s big screw-up! At last, we have found the chink in MAD MEN’s much-vaunted period-research armor: kaiju eiga, or Japanese giant monster movies! Late in the episode, the drunken and stoned Don and Lane decide to take in a movie, and after passing up such cinema treasures as Zorba the Greek and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, they end up watching Gamera. Well, sort of. The problem was, the movie was not released in America until Dec. 15, 1966 — in a vastly edited form and under the new title Gammera the Invincible (Yes, they added an M to his name!). So whether the guys were in the theater in the last days of 1964, or the dawn of 1965, they were still nearly two years early for the feature presentation.
Anyway, about the episode as a whole… Joan (Christina Hendricks) began the episode in the company of her chain-smoking, Doris Day-quoting OB-GYN, who declared her fit to have children if she goes off the pill – even though she has already had two…er, “procedures” (that’s abortions to 2010 audiences). But what Joanie was really worried about was her surgeon husband Greg (Sam Page), who was waited to be detailed for basic training and them potentially sent to Vietnam. She set up a Hawaiian luau for him after work, and when she cut her finger really bad, and he gently and capably treated her as she sobbed uncontrollably. “Everything’s gonna be okay,” he insisted. “When?” she cried. Not anytime soon. Back at the office, Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) was all business, even though everyone else wants to slack off in the lazy days before New Year’s Eve. He insisted he was immune to Joan’s seductive charms, and indeed insulted her with all the alacrity that the other boorish men regularly insult their “girls.” Later, he tried to send her roses as an apology, but the order got muddled and Joan received the flowers meant for his wife, while Mrs. Pryce got the bouquet addressed to “Joan.” Oops!
Another vulnerability was also exposed; the weak spot in Don’s emotional armor. Anna (Melinda Page Hamilton), the real Don Draper’s wife, was dying of cancer. Don routed his trip to Acapulco through Los Angeles, so he could drop in on Anna and slip back into his Dick Whitman persona. He gets to meet her dutiful sister Patty (Susan Leslie) and cute niece Stephanie (Caity Lotz), who was studying poly sci at Cal. But Aunt Anna liked her because the co-ed was usually holding grass, which Anna really (really) enjoyed. At dinner, Don broached the beginnings of demographic marketing by suggesting that young people and their buying power are “the boss.” Steph joked about stopping buying stuff, but in a few years boycotts will become no empty threat.
Don was mostly serious when he mentioned the threat of stranger danger when Stephanie suggested hitchhiking home in the middle of the night. “You’ll get picked up by some creep,” he warned. “I guess this is safer,” she snarked. More than merely recognizing a wolf at her door, Steph was pretty perceptive for a college student. She observed that people never know what’s wrong with themselves, even though other people can see it right away. She also seemed immune to Don’s charms. Is Don seriously losing it? He appeared to get his mojo back at the end of the season premiere, but last week he was having trouble holding his liquor and landing a nurse; now he cannot even score with a college girl? Oh, Don… But wait, Steph was all emotional because she’s holding a terrible secret: her Aunt Anna has advanced bone cancer, and that’s why she broke her leg. And worse: Anna doesn’t even know she’s sick, because her doctors said she has so little time there was no point in telling her! Patty figured since there was no treatment it was some kind of mercy and went along with keeping the terminal secret from her sister. Don was, of course, utterly horrified. When he returned and found Anna passed out on the couch, he gently carried her to bed.
Don sat up all night, then decided to paint that old stain on her wall…in his underpants. “I’m not gonna fight seeing Dick Whitman paint my wall in his shorts,” she joked. While she merrily puffed the wacky weed (now we know why she enjoyed it so much; it eased her pain) they discussed her belief in UFOs, — which Don deemed unlikely – and the ephemeral nature of life. (Did she suspect?) Don lamented that Betty wanted nothing more to do with him after she learned the truth, but Anna reassured him: “I know everything about you, and I still love you.” Okay, but the problem was, Don knew everything about her! He confronted Patty, who was intractable in her belief that keeping Anna in the dark is “the decent thing” to do. Don was devastated, and Hamm pulled out all the stops to show viewers a Don whose world was rocked. He was on the verge of exploding into tears in a way he wasn’t even verging on last year, when Betty uncovered his secret. Just when it looked like Don was going to break and tell the truth, he copped out told her, “I have to leave.” He had to get the hell out of Dodge before he cracked. As he beat a hasty retreat he mentioned bringing the kids out for a visit. Anna insisted he sign the wall he painted, so he scrawled, “Dick + Anna ’64.” He hugged her, and told her to call if she needs him. And damn if he wasn’t in tears as he choked, “Goodbye, Anna.” And he even looked back! He sat on the plane in a daze; so much so that he didn’t even notice the stewardess.
Shattered, Don bagged the Acapulco trip and returned to Manhattan, where he found Lane working. The two lone wolves quickly formed their own pack, becoming something of an odd couple, drinking quality booze, smoking and hanging at the office. When they attended the anachronistic Gamera showing, they were high and drunk and shouted mock Japanese at the screen. Then they went to a fancy steakhouse, where Lane opened up about how his wife returned to England – to stay. Don quickly noted, “I learned the hard way not to give advice in these situations.” His solution was to offer to secure Lane a “lady friend.” And by lady friend he meant hooker. “It’s the least I can do,” he smiled. The guys moved on to a nightclub, where a Lenny Bruce-wannabe made off-color jokes about the duo being homosexuals – until the lady friends showed. Don’s Thanksgiving guest Candace (Erin Cummings) brought her friend Janine (Elaine Carroll) for Lane. Just after the girls arrived, the comic gave way to a musician, who strummed “House of the Rising Sun” – which the English band The Animals had a hit with in 1964. The song is purportedly about a whorehouse, so that was pretty fitting, eh? The guys took the girls back to Don’s place – where Don kept Janine and Lane from venturing into the room the kids use…
The next morning, Lane wanted to pay his freight for the girl, and Don named her price: $25. Saying, “Thank you for the welcome distraction,” Lane gave him $30. (And why not? After all, Janine had pretty much given him what fans of SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL know as “the girlfriend experience” – essentially going on a date.) A couple of hours later, Don and Lane were back at the office for the first regular workday of the new year. “Gentlemen,” Joan announced. “Shall we begin 1965?”
If this episode is any indication, it’s going to be a very good year…