Mad Men Season 4 Episode 3: The Good News

1965 will not be celebrated as Mad Men‘s Don Draper expects. Good news? What Don learns is anything but; the one person who loves the man – not the name – is dying.

Dick Whitman + Don Draper = ?

Part of the fascination of Mad Men is watching the inner lives of our favorite characters differ from the personas presented to the public – whether to a spouse (as in the case of both Don and Joan), or in social and professional contexts – for Peggy, Sal, Lane and others.

And while Don continues to put up a good front in the office, as the New Year unfolds he’s off to California to be with the real Mrs. Don Draper – Anna – who accepts him for who he was and who he has become.

The man we see cruising the California highway in a red convertible is the Don Draper we know – sizzling and sexy, ruggedly handsome, confident and cool.

And the man with Anna? His guard is down. He’s Dick Whitman, who has lived as Don Draper for a dozen years or more. He’s younger, sadder, more vulnerable, and more relaxed. He speaks to Anna in ways that he can’t speak to anyone else. He explains that once he confided in wife Betty about his true background, she no longer wanted him.

Anna later takes his hand and says:

I know everything about you, and I still love you.

Mad Men‘s Joan and Lane

Domestic scenes between  Joan and husband Greg underscore the double meanings and double lives that run rampant in this episode. In fact, Episode 3 opens with Joan at the gynecologist, being reassured that despite two abortions (that her husband is surely unaware of), she can still bear children. Yet she’s putting it off. She has no idea what the future holds for her marriage. She isn’t ready to commit to becoming a mother, but she wants the possibility nonetheless.

When Joan cuts herself in the kitchen, it’s obvious she doubts her physician husband’s skills. She hesitates to let him stitch her finger, though we quickly see that he’s at ease doing so. She gazes at him wistfully. How much more does Joan keep beneath the surface? How much vacillation between actual love and tolerant acceptance?

Lane’s private life is no picnic either. In scenes with Don, as the two men drink their way through New Year’s, we hear about his marital problems. It’s an unlikely duo to form a friendship, but Don even treats the stuffy Brit to a $25 hooker at the end of a dingy night of male bonding.

What the future holds

Ample references to popular culture and current events situate us in the times: clothing, furnishings, Berkeley, sit-ins, surfing music, Anna’s politically conscious niece, the new films playing as Don and Lane consider taking in a movie – Zorba the Greek, It’s a Mad Mad World, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (and Don notes appreciatively, “Catherine Deneuve”).

Joan once again raises the specter of Vietnam, reminding her husband that since he’s joined the Army, he’s likely to be sent overseas. She hates that her future is so uncertain, sensing that Greg dismisses more serious issues that affect her life, her dreams, and her career.

As for Don’s future, he takes one more hit when he hears that Anna has cancer. Her doctors and family haven’t told her, and they insist that he say nothing. But he’s stricken by the news. Anna is family – part mother, sister, and best friend. Who will he be when she is no longer there for him? How will he act out, when there is no outlet whatsoever for Dick Whitman, no one with whom to share his complex history? No one who knows him and loves him for the truth of who he is?

The actual “good news” comes at the end of the episode, when Lane lets Don know that despite being financially precarious, it has been “a magnificent year.” And as the episode ends, it’s business as usual, the brain trust of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce seated around the conference table, as Joan says:

Alright gentlemen – shall we begin 1965?

Photos courtesy

Read more Mad Men musings and recaps.

© D A Wolf



    • BigLittleWolf says

      Ah Belinda. There was plenty wrong with the decade – and I don’t just mean the little pointy white glasses in the first half! There was blatant racism, sexism, and of course, civil rights and Viet Nam caused incredible divisiveness, even within families. It’s easy to romanticize a period of time when it’s presented on the big screen or the little one. Still, it’s a remarkable mix of great story, characters, and cultural reflections that are illuminating. I can’t recommend this show enough. Ultimately, it’s about men and women, and individuals trying to do the best they can with what they have. Human stories. Isn’t that the most intriguing stuff around?

  1. says

    I couldn’t get over the $25 hooker. They were glamorous, beautiful women. That would cost a heck of a lot more these days!

    The scene that tugged at my heart though was when Greg had stitched up the finger and some something along the lines of “it is going to be alright” and Joan put her head down and asked, “when?”

    I love her character. She is a true representation of what a lot of women lived with in the sixties.

  2. says

    I haven’t started Mad Men yet – I don’t know when TV and I are going to get together again! – but it sounds great. Thank goodness for Netflix. By the time we have a house set up again, we’ll have a queue three years long.

  3. says

    Okay, we finally watched it last night. What’s most interesting to me this season is that my husband is about to jump ship. After every episode he says “There’s no one in it that I care about.” What he means is that there are no characters who are without such catastrophic flaws that he can stay invested. We both like Joan the most, but he senses that we’re about to get a taste of her dark side as well.

    I, on the other hand, am loving this season because it’s such a change from the previous seasons’ templates.

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