A couple, embracing in a moment of intimacy. Both are seemingly on the same page, sure of their world, their judgments of others. Pete and Trudy share a moment. “Just remember. Everything’s good here,” she says, as her husband proudly rubs her pregnant belly.
What could be more evocative than “Hands and Knees” for the image of being forced into submission? Hearing those words, who doesn’t imagine “Down on your hands and knees” as though you’re about to be arrested, or subjected to violence?
A series of head-on encounters shows positions of power that turn on a dime. Scenes of strength and weakness offer vignettes that are subtle, and others that are explosive.
Don and Pete
Don and Pete clash; as part of the North American Aviation deal, a security check threatens to reveal Don’s background. It may be Pete’s account, but Don’s duplicitous lifestyle and lack of attentiveness is what landed him here.
His freedom, his family – everything is suddenly at stake if it’s discovered that he’s technically a deserter from the army, and that he’s been living another man’s identity. He’s panicked and sick. He needs Pete to help him, but the younger man is supercilious and resentful, while our protagonist is more scared than we’ve ever seen him.
Roger and Lee
Lee Garner Junior finally puts the squeeze on Roger, about to withdraw the massive Lucky Strike account that remains the mainstay of the agency’s business. We watch the power shift take place in an instant, over a meal, as Roger begs for 30 days to come up with a way to keep the account.
We knew this was coming; Roger ignored the signs. He finds himself figuratively prostrate before Lee Garner Junior, if not literally.
Don and Faye
In striking images, we see Don with his hands firmly planted on his knees as he leans forward, trying to steady himself. He runs to the bathroom where he is violently ill after a panic attack. We imagine him on his hands and knees in front of the toilet.
Faye stays at his side, comforts him. Listens. Don explains, directly and without embellishment, how he was wounded in Korea, mixed up with a man who died, and he’s been “living as him” all this time. He seems exhausted, beaten, and powerless.
Don and Betty
As Betty receives the “G men” who arrive at her home as part of the routine background check on Don, she’s caught off guard. Startled by their questions, she nonetheless retains her composure and doesn’t give away any of his secrets. She fills Don in on the telephone, and seems almost complicit. When it comes down to it, she doesn’t want to destroy him. Or perhaps she’s simply protecting her own position.
Lane and his father, Lane and Toni
Lane has a new love interest, though his wife remains in London and their situation is unresolved. Girlfriend Toni is not only a Playboy bunny, but she’s black. Lane’s father arrives unexpectedly from England, and while Lane wants to impress him, instead, once in private, the old man strikes him hard with his cane, knocks him to the floor, orders him back to London and then steps on his hand forcing him to say “yes sir” in a scene that nothing less than shocking.
Lane is no longer the measured Brit in charge. He’s reduced to submission by a vicious old man, left very nearly crawling on his hands and knees as the elder Pryce departs.
Roger and Joan
We aren’t surprised to find out that Joan is pregnant following her encounter with Roger. Could she pass the baby off as her husband’s? He’s been gone seven weeks. It would be tough, but not impossible.
This on again-off again duo discusses things calmly. Roger takes the lead like a man in control, and in this particular pairing, he is gentle with Joan. His mixed emotions are evident, but he’s relieved she agrees to abort the baby – clearly not the outcome she hoped for, but one she seems to take in stride.
Roger and Pete
Roger decimates Pete at the partner’s meeting over losing North American Aviation. And of course, Pete didn’t – he’s covering for Don, while taking all the wrath that Roger can hit him with – his own displaced anger. Senior partner Burt Cooper tells him to apologize and so he does in another exercise of power at a more subtle level.
We know what’s eating at Roger – the fact that Lucky Strike is about to disappear. Still, this Roger is raw and out of control, in stark contrast to his usual demeanor, to the earlier scene of his desperation with Lee Garner Junior, and his tender cowardice in dealing with Joan.
Confrontations, Power Plays
These confrontations and power plays make revealing fare, but they’re painful to watch. Who hasn’t lived their own sharp and vulnerable urges, conflicting sentiments, decisions that will impact lives? Who hasn’t experienced some measure of emotional terror at the thought of losing a loved one or a way of life?
Don is diminished by fear. Lane is emasculated by his father. Roger is up against the wall at the hand of Lee Garner Junior, not to mention social convention that shows him to be weak and selfish.
As for the women – how can we not think of Trudy in her pregnant bliss, Peggy’s child given up for adoption, and Joan’s prior abortions and current situation?
Who offers examples of strength in this episode?
Pete may temporarily hold the upper hand, but he’s young yet and we know him to be a man of “convenient” moral character. Joan’s public face is unimpeachable. But did she actually go through with the abortion? Faye seems steady and supportive, and willing – for now – to take Don along with his complicated history.
The future, pairings that will persist?
We are not without a glimpse of Betty and Henry as well; their relationship has cooled in the bedroom. But Betty opens up about the background check regarding Don. She and Henry hold each other. She doesn’t want secrets between them, she says.
Will Lane stand up to his father and persist in his relationship? Will Don continue to trust Faye and be more open? Roger’s under enormous stress. How will he manage the loss of Lucky Strike, or whatever Joan may have decided? Mad Men certainly doesn’t lack for its elements of sophisticated soap.
Perhaps Joan says it all, as she opens the partner’s meeting…
Life goes on…