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Monday, September 27, 2010

"Mad Men" Season 4, Episode 10

Joan deciding she has enough babies in her life already.
  • Michael Yarish/AMC
  • Joan deciding she has enough babies in her life already.
If (like me) you’re a fan of Mad Men’s lead-in, Rubicon, you may have wondered (like me) how Don Draper would do in the role of that series’ hero, a high-level intelligence operator caught up in a major conspiracy. After this week’s episode, we know: not too well!

Yes, Don stumbles into his own paranoid conspiracy this week when Sterling Cooper Draper Price enters into a $4 million contract with North American Aviation, an aeronautics manufacturer involved in “defense, cutting-edge technology, and, of course, the moon.” With classified government material at stake, the whole team is subject to background screenings by smooth-talking G-men who want to know, among other things, if anyone has reason to believe Donald Draper isn't who he says he is. At this point, more than 2 million weekly viewers have such reasons, in addition to ex-wife Betty and office frenemy Pete Campbell.

Don’s reaction? Rapidly escalating panic, accompanied by serious thoughts of flight. 007 he ain’t: the episode’s funniest moment comes when Don and Betty simultaneously realize that someone might be listening to their conversation: "I don't even know if I should be talking on the phone." "[Pause] Of course you should! Ahem! There's no problem with any of that! I’m sorry for inconveniencing you!”

Not that Don shouldn’t be worried: desertion is not an offence the U.S. government just forgives. So Don puts his fate in the hands of Pete Campbell, the only member of SCDP who knows his secret, the only person with the ability to do something about the investigation, and a self-concerned weasel of the highest order.

Or is he? Campbell sees it differently, and maybe we should too. Lounging in his pajamas with a very pregnant Trudy (who's dressed in what appears to be three pink baby-doll dresses layered on top of each other), Pete proposes that he’s simply an “honest person” stuck trying to clean up someone else's mess. In a show where our hero is a debonair liar and a consummate slinger of crap, it certainly makes sense that our antagonist would be scrupulously honest. Pete even proves, by episode’s end, that he’s not so self-regarding he isn’t willing to take one for the team; not only does he cut loose an important client relationship nurtured over three years, he shoulders the blame for losing it, all to keep Don safe and working.

Meanwhile, Joan and Roger also have a secret: she’s late, he’s responsible, and they need to do something about it. We learned a few episodes back that Joan’s been through this before, twice; she does her best to make the process as business-like as possible, while Roger wrestles over the implications (Is this a sign they should be together? Should she keep the baby and raise it as Greg’s? Maybe Greg will die in Vietnam!). She sits patiently while Roger’s personal doctor degrades them both (“You’ve used this woman, and you’ve ruined her”), then makes the trip to get an abortion on her own, refusing Roger’s offer to go with. Still, her loneliness weighs on every line, every frame even—perhaps more affecting than the waiting room conversation in which she pretends to be there for her daughter (sympathy? Or saving face?) is the brief shot of her return trip, riding solo in a train car straight out of a Hopper painting.

More shocking developments: the firm’s bread and butter account, Lucky Strike, is out! (And only Roger knows, leading him to unleash on Campbell over the loss of NAA.) Lane’s father beats him with a cane! (No wonder he hates England; and yet, he’s going back for a few weeks, as per daddy’s wishes.) And Sally Draper gets to go see the Beatles at Shea Stadium! (Aw, that kid is going to turn out okay after all.)

And other things you don’t want to know:

— Don reveals his secret identity to Dr. Faye Miller! Is this a sign he's letting her in? Or yet another take-my-daughter-please fakeout?

— Interesting to consider that, in popular entertainment anyway, abortion is almost as unmentionable today as it was then—recall Jonah Hill in Knocked Up refering to it as “rhymes with shmashmortion.”

— A rare smile from Betty this week, after learning that Don is taking Sally to the Beatles, prompting every single viewer to think: This will not turn out well. Credit goes to Mad Men for defying expectations once again.

— "This is the tenderloin of your distress." I’ll be using that one.

— Is it just me, or do we have a new favorite Mad Men couple? "You know that I love you, my chocolate bunny." "Why do you have to be so damned dashing?"

— For those of you playing the home game, that’s the second appearances this season from Vomiting Don.

— G-man: “Would you describe him as loyal?” Betty: “Excuse me?”

— “We're family! I invited you to my daughter’s wedding! I don’t know why you didn’t get the invitation!”

— Lucky Strike’s Lee Garner, Jr. is out! Does this mean, with three episodes left in the season, that our Salvatore is back in? No evidence forthcoming from next week’s teaser; I guess we’ll all just have to keep Sal in our prayers.

— “Now please tell me you’re shtupping that girl out there.” Should’ve asked two girls ago.

— Closing with the Beatles’ Do You Want to Know a Secret: a bit too on-the-nose? Not for this fan.

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