This week's Mad Men episode "Hand and Knees" got crazy. It was both terrific and traumatic, a rollercoaster of emotions, as all the recent positive motion forward was spun backwards and upside down. As the title suggests, both SCDP and their characters are left down on their "hand (significantly singular) and knees," in sheer desperation. I think the singular hand means that they've got one hand left, grasping to pull themselves back up. Just as Don was reassembling his life and things were starting to settle down, the walls come crashing down around those at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. All of a sudden, the little dormant problems that have been brushed aside spring up to throw the characters down. We've got pregnancy, abortion, affairs, beating, lies, Playboy, vomiting and the Beatles! There are four main lines of disaster, Roger got Joan pregnant, North American Aviation is checking into Don's background (his worst fear realized), Lane's father comes to bring him home, and Lucky Strike fires SCDP. YIKES! All four revolve around secrets, discussed in private, behind closed doors throughout the episode, as the characters desperately try to "put [their] home in order."
The episode opens, it's "weeks later," and Joan comes in to tell Roger she's "late, very late." His initial snide reaction is "congratulations," implying it has nothing to do with him, but she reminds him Greg's been gone for seven weeks, it must be his. Problem 1. Nothing like a surprise pregnancy to a ruin a would-be-fun-affair, right? Roger, unfortunately, is still innately flawed as ever, and in a sweet tone, responds rudely. His casual reaction, "you're overreacting," "these things happen, right?" suggests they've gone through this before, with presumably the more recent procedure she discussed with her gyno. "Let me take care of this," he says, meaning figure out and pay for the abortion. It doesn't occur to Roger that Joan is not the young secretary at Sterling Cooper he's just screwing anymore, that maybe she would want to have this baby.
Before the next storm sets in, the silver lining of the episode: The Beatles! (Finally!) As Betty's using the sewing machine and is actually almost in a cheerful mood, Don calls to speak to Sally. Betty responds, "you can try," with something that resembles a smile. Since she watched him play with baby Gene and do a good job with Sally last week, Betty's warming up to him. Don first tells Sally, "I missed you this weekend," implying that since her visit a few weeks ago, he's been making more of an effort to be in her life. Maybe she's been visiting him on weekends since then? The ultimate dad-of-the-year move, Don tells Sally he's taking her to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium on Sunday (making it Monday or Tuesday, August 9th or 10th, with Sunday as August 15th, 1965). Sally's response is perfect, and Kiernan Shipka shrieks it flawlessly. She's the exact image we've seen a million times. Betty's too impressed to say anything negative, potentially the only surprise that could do that (knocking her attitude down). Don tells Sally, "you can't be mad at me if I wear earplugs," (slash the same thing my mom said to me at the Jay-Z/Eminem concert a few weeks ago).
Lane, poor Lane, hoping to be father of the year as well, adorably equipped with a stuffed Mickey Mouse holding balloons walks out to greet his son and instead finds his (apparently abusive) father, who says, "I'm here to bring you home." Problem 2. Lane tells him he will not be returning to London, but offers to dine with him anyway. He asks Don to come along, "I would consider it a personal favor," obviously feeling close to him after their Christmas escapade and not wanting to be alone with his father. Lane takes them to the New York Playboy Club, where Lane's a key-holder, and he's starting dating a black Playboy Bunny waitress. This is just perfect. After Don introduced him to the world of whores, Lane's really come into his own. He joined the Playboy Club, which is fitting, because it's less promiscuous and uber-American. Lane's so cute, he probably went in there, struck up a conversation out of awkwardness, found out he liked her, and started dating her. Not knowing they're dating, Don's face is priceless as he watches Lane touch and introduce the waitress, it moves from an expression of WTF ? to an amused smile when Lane says, "she's the finest waitress."
Meanwhile, two special agents from the Department of Defense show up at Betty's doorstep to ask questions about Don. They tell her that Don has requested security clearance regarding business with the U.S. government. Problem 3. It's ironic as they ask her questions, "would you describe [Don] as a man of integrity?" "Would you describe him as loyal?" because no she would not, he cheated on her constantly, but they don't mean in their marriage, they mean to the country. She stays calm, and then...the clincher, "Do you have any reason to believe Mr. Draper isn't who he says he is?" As you can see a wave of fear fall over her, she handles it and covers for Don, "No," (good thing he called earlier with The Beatles news). When it came down to it, she stood up for him and kept his secret. It was nice to see her act with a semblance of warmth in this episode. She calls Don at the office to yell at him for not warning her, but, of course, he had no idea what she was talking about. You can see him start to sweat as she tells him what just happened. He asks what she said, "what do you think I said? Nothing," and he sighs with relief. She says, "I don't know if I should even be talking on the phone," he pulls himself together, "there's no problem," and she follows his lead--a small moment where you can see them working together. He grasps the phone, "Betty," and mumbles "thank you," before she hangs up. Through all their issues and hatred, finally there's a moment of solidarity between them.
Reminded of already having lived in a marriage full of secrets, Betty tells Henry what happened, "I don't want any secrets." She's trying to be honest, but she still looks like a sad child confessing to her father. "I have to tell you something. Two men came from the FBI today." He blows it off, and as he strokes her arm says, "if everything goes as I hope, one day you'll be talking to them on my behalf," which comes out slightly creepily. She kind of loves Don again, don't you think?
And Don is freaking out. How did this happen?. He asks Megan if he'd been contacted by the Department of Defense. Yes of course he has, he signed the form, he just forgot to read it! North American Aviation is investigating Don's past for a security clearance. Everything he's worked so hard to hide is at risk of coming out. He yells at Megan and she shakes and apologizes and even offers to be fired, but he knows it's his fault, he signed it without looking as he later tells Pete, "because that's what I do." This security check affects those who know--both Betty and Pete--both of whom could go either way on whether or not they'd want to protect Don. But in this trying moment, they both come through for him, which shows real loyalty to this guy who doesn't get too close to anyone.
Especially in terms of Pete--he really comes through for Don, when he doesn't have to. Don immediately goes to Pete for help. It's sad but wonderfully acted by Vincent Kartheiser as Pete's face shifts when Don asks, "were you aware that we applied for security clearance to the Department of Defense?" His face, filled with pride as he says, "did that go through already?" goes blank, as he realizes why Don's asking, the corners of his mouth falling flat from a smile, with disbelief and then disgust as he exclaims, "Why did you fill out the form?!" (fair question). Don explains the severity of the issue, "there's three lies in eight questions here" and asks him to use his in at the Department to look into it. As Pete looks undecided, trying to figure out what to do, Don tells him, "Look, this isn't your problem, I just want some warning." He tells him he'll do whatever he has to if it comes down to it, "You can run the agency without me." The idea of losing Don, for business, freaks Pete out, "Are you kidding me?" he immediately responds, kind of in shock and promises to look into it. (By the way, Don's prepared to do what? Turn himself in? Go to jail? What?) With Pete's response, we see how much Don really is needed and the immediate fear of losing him. Pete, who's really grown up since he last tried to expose Don's secret, knows its best for the company to take this $4 million dollar blow and save Draper, that he's more valuable than any account.
Even though Pete realizes this, he still wants to make it clear to Don what kind of a sacrifice he's making. In the elevator (where all the emotional business goes down), Pete stands up to Don. He tells him it'll be okay, it was a long time ago, "it must be past the statute of limitations." Don tells him, "it's desertion there's no statute of limitations" (Oh--is that what it was?). Pete rolls his eyes, "I thought nobody cared about these things," remembering when he brought it to Cooper and was rebuffed. Don, desperate, asks what to do, and Pete, who doesn't feel the need to be responsible, says, "I don't know, you've been doing it for years, I don't have to live with your shit over my head." Pete reminds him he's grown this account "from cocktails to 4 million dollars," after signing it three years ago (back in season 1) when Don ditched him (aka when Pete saved his ass and covered for him already) to go off on a weird orgy (remember?). Don demands, "Get rid of it," and goes to his office to do further preparation in case the shit hits the fan.
He meets with his lawyer, Mr. Keller, who's worried about his urgent call and the tone of his voice. Don wants to set up a trust for his kids, that Betty can access now, making Mr. Keller nervous he's about to commit suicide or disappear. Don's obviously visibly freaked out to the point where Mr. Keller tries to calm him down, "I know this has been hard on you, the divorce, but don't go spinning, everyone has bad dreams every once in a while."
While Pete and Don were duking it out in Pete's office yesterday, Joan and Roger went to see a doctor, who's disgusted by Roger's behavior. He chastises Roger for his"selfishness" and "irresponsibility," especially for a man of his age, before giving them the info for a man in Morristown who can do the deed for $400. Joan and Roger go back to "their" place to discuss what's happening. There's a fleeting moment of hope when Roger says "What if this is a sign? I haven't stopped thinking about you. Maybe I'm in love you," where you see in between putting out a cigarette and lighting another, all of Joan's hidden hopes lifted and shattered within seconds. She looks at him, puts out her cigarette, and says meaningfully, "So you want to keep it?" Without missing a beat, he immediately says "no, of course not." No, of course I didn't mean--I love you, I've always loved you, we should have this baby and ride off into the sunset together. Duh. He wouldn't want things between them to start with a "scandal." As he says no, her eyes tear up and she looks down and relights her cigarette to steady herself. He's so dense. It's almost a slap in the face to us (viewers) from Matthew Weiner, saying be careful for you wish for, you wanted them back together and now see what happens? He's showing us what Roger's really like. Roger doesn't have the emotional capacity that we so badly want him to. Weiner gave us exactly what we wanted last week, with the ultimate backfire. Roger says "I guess you could keep it," but means have it and pretend its Greg's. He doesn't even consider her keeping it as their baby, leaving Jane and raising the baby together, even though he did just tell her he's (maybe) in love with her. Beyond insensitive, "it wouldn't be my child, lets make that clear" and then adds, " I mean, if he comes home." Joan responds, "Jesus, Greg dying is not a solution to this," which was very rude but is kind of funny because, compositionally, it definitely is the solution to this. Joan acts cool and calm as always, realizing that nothing has changed. She may have thought they're older now, they have something real, they've grown, but he still doesn't consider taking her seriously. It's the same way he treated her when he was married to Mona, his overall attitude is Jane is my wife, (even though we haven't seen her all season!) and you are my secretary whore, nothing more. "I'm going to take care of it," Joan assures him. He responds, "Whatever you want. I'll take care of it obviously," pretending to be nice and supportive, only making it worse. She tells him she'll go by herself.
As Joan watches the lady, aka Maureen from Center Stage (Susan May Pratt), sit with her 17 year old daughter at the abortion office in Morristown, Joan feels her age, her biological clock, and a dash of shame when Maureen asks "how old is your daughter?" assuming she couldn't be there for herself, that no one that old gets an abortion. She lies, "15." She leaves, and I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure she doesn't go through with it. The image of Maureen and her daughter speaks to the transitioning lives of women in the generation. She tells Joan, "I had her when I was 15, and I don't regret it, but she seems so much younger." She probably didn't have the same opportunity to have an abortion and even though she doesn't regret it, what kind of life could she have had? Now her daughter is in the same situation and she wants her to have that chance for a different kind of life.
Lane goes back to the Playboy Club, and we find out that Lane is actually dating and in a serious relationship with the bunny waitress, Toni Charles, he spoke so highly of earlier. In a pretty cute exchange, Lane says, "you know that I love you, my chocolate bunny." He insists they have dinner with his father, "I want him to know why I'm staying," and she asks, " Why do you have to be so damn dashing?" He wants to stand up to his father and meeting Toni is part of it--but the evening doesn't go as planned, instead his father rejects dinner and ends up beating Lane with his cane! Lane asks his father "Are you more distraught that I found someone I love or that she's a Negro?" He says, "you're coming home lane," and cracks him over the head with his cane, artfully knocking him down to specifically one hand and his knees (like the title). As his other hand searches for his glasses, it gets trapped under his father's foot, threatening to crush it. He threatens, "put your home in order, either there or here, you will not live in between." He says, yes, "what was that?" his father demands, until Lane can get out a coherent, "yes sir." His father has obviously been abusing him throughout his life. Now we know why he loves America so much, we see what he's running from. It's crazy that his father still has so much power over home and that he flew all the way from London to beat him up. What's the deal with that?
In this episode, they're all under a foot about to crush them, and we have all the characters struggling to say 'yes sir.' Over the course of the night, all Lane, Don, Roger and SCDP are knocked down on "hand and knees."
Lee Garner Jr. fires Roger and SCDP. Problem 4. Lucky Strike is SCDP's life blood, and this is going to crush them, pushing both Roger and SCDP on their hand and knees. Lee Garner picks up the check, something he never does, and says, "It's over, I'm sorry." Roger tries to guilt trip him, they've worked together for 25-30 years, we're family, "I invited you to my daughter's wedding." He tries everything, but there's nothing he can do, they're consolidating all their business with BBDO. He reminds Roger in a painful line, "You're not Sterling Cooper anymore." Roger begs him for 30 days to get his house in order, the same thing Lane's being ordered to do. True to his disgusting form, Garner leans in and says, "I don't owe you squat, you inherited this account." Guess what Junior, so did you (and long after Roger did)! But he agrees to the 30 days, in perhaps his single moment of compassion on the show. Roger hesitantly shakes his hand, before popping his heart medication, hoping not to have another heart attack after he, too, has gotten the wind kicked out of him.
I'm not sure how SCDP is going to get through this loss financially, but I say this is a blessing in disguise, getting rid of that closeted evil asshole, because we know what this means! Can I hear you say, BRING. BACK. SAL? With Garner out of the way, this is finally a real possibility. Maybe by next episode? How great would it be for Sal to ride in and save the day bringing new accounts with him? This news, though, mixed with Pete's withdrawal from North American Aviation in order to save Don, is detrimental to the agency. Roger looks even more defeated later that night, when going through his Rolodex looking for old clients who've died. His generation is slipping away, and without Lucky Strike, what more does he have to offer?
While Roger pops his heart pills, Don thinks he's having a heart attack. With what's really a panic attack, he falls down to his hand and knees (over a toilet). Faye, who enters notably late in the episode, really takes care of Don. She finds him looking sick in the office, and takes him home. In his hallway, they run into men in suits, who happen to be in the wrong building, but who Don imagines are coming for him--setting off his panic attack. Don tries to push Faye away, "you should go," and the best, "you're not a real doctor," but she stays with him anyway. He then throws up, really violently vomiting once again. Again?? How aggressively he throws up symbolizes his need to get out everything that's been bottled up, his past he's been hiding that's coming back and up through his mouth. Or maybe he has a serious stomach problem caused by stress? His fever, too, signifies a physical reaction to his emotional distress. His body is burning up, ready to explode with what he's been hiding. She lets him sleep, and after coming in with an offer of a valium (like hey, I am a real doctor), she sits down with him. "Thank you for staying," Don says, happy to have someone there for him. She asks what happened, with the men out there. He says, "I'm tired of running," she asks of what and then--he actually tells her everything! He confesses, quickly and succinctly (and maybe too carelessly?): "In Korea, I was wounded, but this other man was killed and they mixed us up. I wanted them to. And I just kept living, as him." And tells her the problem, "but now I think it's over." Faye accepts him, discusses how to handle it, and whispers, "there are things you can do." What does that mean? Maybe daddy and his mafia friends can help Don out of this mess? Once again, brilliantly acted, Jon Hamm looks truly exhausted, scared, and vulnerable all at once. And then pulls her down to spoon her, and be close to her, and notice even when Don's most upset, he's still big spoon!
While Faye cuddles and comforts Don, Trudy does the same for Pete. And how adorable is she! Dressed in her pink maternity lingerie, she looks like a pink cream puff cupcake. She sees Pete's distress, and wants him to open up to her, but he just laments the people who "walk through life dragging their lives with them, destroying everything they touch." And he's one of the "honest people, who have to pick up the pieces." He hates it but he's going to be loyal and pick up the pieces for Don. As they baby kicks, and he feels his baby in her stomach, she tells him, "just remember, everything's good here" and despite what happened with Peggy and all the other problems, you can feel the real strength in their marriage. He also needs to be strong for his them. He knows his business won't survive without Don and he has to suffer this loss to provide for his growing family.
Pete shows up at Don's apartment the next morning, and sees Faye, another thing he doesn't want to know, "Oh." Don's been flagged. If they end things with NAA, he'll be fine. Pete confronts him, "so I walk away from $4 million dollars, and I just keep this to myself because, why? Because you can't live in the open? You don't know any other way." Don gives instructions on how to get out of NAA. Pete asks, "and what do I tell the partners?" Don gives him a look, like, please just do this for me and Pete storms out, but he does it. He saves Don. And it was a good move. Now Don owes him big time and he's established a new level of power he didn't have before. How is Pete going to end up holding this over Don's head? How will he use this?
Roger sees Joan the next morning, worried and sensitive, saying "I wish I could hold you right now," but Joan just doesn't want to talk about it. She says, "We avoided a tragedy." He's distracted and doesn't think twice, but, to me, that said, I kept the baby. She tells him, "We have a partner's meeting [...] Life goes on."
The episodes closes with a meeting of the partners, for the first time, where they're all in one room, and the consequences of the week play out. Pete covers Don's ass in a major way, and blames it on an irreparable misunderstanding on a document and himself, "because I didn't pay enough attention." Roger rips him apart, overreacting (because of Lucky Strike), Don defends Pete and Bert tells Roger to apologize, and he does. Lane announces he'll be going to London for 2 weeks to a month to sort out his family affairs and ironically, he announces that the company's finances "are in a state of stability, even with this morning's news, and all matters financial may be referred to Mrs. Harris." Roger, inappropriately starts laughing, realizing how ridiculous this is as their company is about to implode. But laughter is all he can get out, he doesn't share the news with the rest of the team, and weakly gives a thumbs up when they're running down the list of accounts.
Faye comes to check on Don. He assures her, "I'm fine, everything's fine," but turns down her offer for dinner, "I think I better be on my own tonight," needing a little space. They're interrupted by Megan (which may be foreshadowing Megan interrupting their relationship). She leaves and Megan comes in sweetly and nervously to give Don The Beatles tickets. She apologizes, "I know I messed so many things up" and stuttering, offers the tickets she had sent over hoping to make everything okay. She tells him, "you see, everything worked out." As he looks down at the tickets, an instrumental of the Beatles, "Do you want to know a secret?" appropriately comes on, and then he looks up at her, mesmerized as she stands putting on lipstick, glowing angelically.
Now Megan. Megan's become more and more significant in each episode recently. Last week, we saw how she effortlessly picked up the pieces and handled everything with the Miss Blankenship/Sally disaster. Sally took a particular liking to her, holding on to her at the end of the episode, identifying something in her innately good natured. She's been quietly taking care of everyone, sitting at the front of the office all season. Mr. Keller says, "please tell me you're schtupping that girl out there," and he doesn't even consider her. But in that last scene when Don stares at the image of her standing in the doorway, he finally sees her too. He's going to start to fall in love with her, because when does a Beatles song not mean true love? Faye is good for him, and cares for him, but with her questionable background and Don's reckless trust, something's bound to go wrong. For someone who's so guarded, Don opened up to Faye too quickly and it seems like he's bound to get hurt. When he does, Megan will be there, with a warm glow to take care of him.
"Do you want to know a secret?" is the perfect closing song for an episode about telling and discussing secrets. Past secrets and mistakes come back to haunt everyone, becoming all too real with Joan's pregnancy, Don's investigation, Lane's British invasion and SCDP's risky dependence on Lucky Strike. It's the problems they've been hiding from and denying, thrown back in their faces. Don's major secret was whispered about with three different people, meaning it's starting to come out. Do you think he'll ever really tell everyone? In the Beatles theme, (I know I'm so corny), they also get by 'with a little help from their friends.' Pete, Betty, Faye, Megan and Harry all work together to save Don when his life almost fell apart, and Don accompanied Lane to dinner to save him from his father. Where was Peggy? She missed out on so much!