‘Mad Men’ 9/26/10: The high price of secrecy

PAJAMA GAME: Sanctimonious Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) ruminates on the consequences of deception in this past Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men.” Photo: AMC


NEW YORK, Sept. 27, 2010 — Talk about your mid-life crises!  The men of ‘Mad Men’ were mired in the muck of their own self-made messes on Sunday night’s episode of the AMC drama series.

The episode – titled “Hands and Knees” – was the 10th installment of the ongoing fourth season.  It began and ended with the Beatles.  At the outset, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) phoned daughter Sally (Kienan Shipka) some time during the work week to tell her he’d scored two tickets to the Beatles’ concert at Shea Stadium the following weekend.  Sally’s reaction?  She screamed, and probably continued screaming all the way to Sunday (Aug. 15, 1965), when the real-life Beatles concert drew 55,000 fans to the home of the New York Mets in Flushing, Queens.

At the episode’s conclusion, we heard an instrumental, ’60s-style, lounge-music version of the Beatles’ hit, “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” a very appropriate choice of music given the many secrets both revealed and concealed on the show.

Over-riding the entire episode: The possibility that Don’s big secret would finally come out as the result of a government background check set in motion by his application for a security clearance.  It had to do with an agency client, North American Aviation, a defense contractor involved in the sensitive business of providing aircraft and missile systems to the Department of Defense.

Don’s secret, of course, is that he was once Dick Whitman and adopted the identity of a dead lieutenant named Donald Draper during the Korean War as a way of getting out of the war.  As a result, “Dick Whitman” is still considered a U.S. Army deserter.  Few people know Don’s secret – among them, wife Betty (January Jones), ad agency colleague Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), agency senior partner Burt Cooper (Robert Morse) and, as of Sunday night, Don’s current squeeze, demographer Faye Miller (Cara Buono).

Incredibly, nobody squealed – not even Pete, who could have used the information to ruin Don and elevate himself in the agency hierarchy.  And even though Pete railed to wife Trudy (Alison Brie) about people who keep secrets, we all know Pete has one himself – that he had an illegitimate child with Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) in Season One.  Pete kept Don’s secret, even though it cost the agency this crucial client.

If Don was facing the possibility that a lifelong secret was about to upend his middle-aged life, then two of his partners faced mid-life crises of their own.  Roger Sterling (John Slattery), apparently already bored with his much-younger wife, has once again set his sights on Joan Harris (nee Holloway – Christina Hendricks), with whom he formerly carried on an affair.  She informed him Sunday night that she’s pregnant with his baby, stemming from their sidestreet tryst in the previous episode.  She went to Morristown, N.J. (a quiet suburb about 30 miles west of New York City), to have the pregnancy terminated.  Roger paid for it.

Meanwhile, upright Britisher Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) was forced to deal with his strict, assertive father, Robert (guest-star W. Morgan Sheppard), who came all the way to New York from the U.K. to order Lane to return to his family and patch up his relations with his wife.  In response, Lane took dad to the Playboy Club (with Don in tow) and introduced his father to his new love, a Playboy bunny who also happened to be black.  In one of the most shocking scenes yet seen on ‘Mad Men,’ Robert Pryce slugged his grown son in the head with his cane, then stepped brutally on one of his hands as his son writhed on the floor in semiconscious agony.

By the episode’s end, it was apparent that Lane’s father had won the confrontation as Lane announced at the partners’ meeting that he was headed home to England for a few weeks.

Incredibly, none of these secrets were the biggest of the evening.  The secret with the most far-reaching consequences for everyone at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was the loss of its biggest client – the one the agency depends on most for its financial health – Lucky Strike.  Roger was the recipient of this bad news and he kept it under wraps, nearly having another heart attack when he got the news.

And now, there are only three episodes left in the season for the agency to pull itself back from the brink of ruin – again! – which was also the situation in Season Three.

OK, ‘Mad Men’ fans: How did you like Sunday’s episode?  And with just three episodes left, where do you think we go from here?

Contact Adam Buckman: adambuckman14@gmail.com



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