08/16/2010 11:57 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mad Men Recap: Shall We Begin 1965?

The writers seem eager to begin 1965, holiday hopping through the end of 1964, this week's episode of Mad Men landing on New Year's. (Maybe now the show will slow down to its regular pace). Doe-eyed secretary Allison seems to have made it through New Year's. She still looks at Don eagerly, and though it seems like he's managed to maintain a professional relationship, he's a little flirty when asking about her new years plans. When she says probably Times Square, Don replies, "I always wondered who did that," so have I!

So the happily (or not so happily) married couples are away on vacation-- Pete and Trudy, Roger and Jane, Betty and Henry--and we're left with those still in the office, those who don't have plans with their families on New Year's. Even Peggy ducks out early for plans with her boyfriend (I guess she won't be alone on New Years after all). This episode is really about Don, Lane and Joan--a welcome window into their lonely, more troubled lives.

On his way to Acapulco, Don stops in California to visit Anna Draper--the real Mrs. Draper--in effect going home, to the place where they know his real name and his persona Donald Draper was born. In this trip to California, we see two things that have been missing in New York--a real relationship for Don and the cultural context of the mid 60s.

With Anna, Don is Dick Whitman and the Draper mask can come off, allowing him to finally relax without the constant fear of someone finding out his true identity. About his life with Betty he tells her, "I saw the minute she saw who I really was she didn't want to look at me again." Anna knows Don in a way that Betty never could because he didn't let her in, until too late. His marriage fell apart because he was too paralyzed by the fear of his lie and now his life/work is struggling under the same fear. He walks in to find her with a broken leg, that we learn is really the result of bone cancer they haven't told her about (its crazy that they used to do that). This trip to see Anna is very symbolic. Anna is the one link Don has to his former self, to Dick Whitman, and it's her existence (and acceptance) that's allowed him to continue living a lie. She is the one and only person that says to him, "I know everything about you, and I still love you." The fact that she's dying, from within her bones, and with a broken leg, means that Don's home base is falling from under him and he's going to need to stand on his own. The same as with being the new face of the company and under public scrutiny, Don really needs to come to terms with his past and become a whole person, not just a shell of one. He had created the perfect cover story for himself--a perfect cookie-cutter family, a beautiful wife and three kids. Now that he's lost that appearance he worked so hard to create, he really needs to find out what's inside. He wants to do everything he can to save her, but as her sister shoots back, "you're just a man, in a room, with a checkbook" he realizes it's not his place, that this, in fact, isn't his life, and he lets her go. He paints her wall, which shows he just wants to cover everything up with a fresh coat of paint, but the stains under the paint remain. He sweetly paints "Dick + Anna '64" on her wall, which suggests to us that this union will no longer exist in '65. He needs to build his own house and finally become a whole person because the lie is becoming toxic, like the cancer.

With Anna's niece, Stephanie, the Berkeley student studying poli-sci, we get a glimpse into the 60s youth movement. She has grass, Don asks if she's "sitting in,"--she's not but agrees with the movement--she offers to hitch a ride home. She thinks that "advertising is pollution," shooting down Don's made up existence for what's real. We hear the Beach Boys in the bar and Don is donning a new, colorful California jacket, leaving his New York suits at home. Stephanie asks about his college experience (he's honest here in California) and he says he's strung together night classes at city college--oh, that's what he did--and she calls him a self made man--she has no idea how much so. In a show with so much subtext, certain lines are so lucid, and it's this young hippie that sees clearly. She's mocking awkward dates, and tells Don, "But nobody knows what's wrong with themselves, I mean everyone else can see it right away." And just when I thought Don was looking hot again--ugh don't hit on her! We all saw it coming but...come on! It's really just pathetic, you don't have to hit on everyone, but I guess he does. And when Anna's sister walks in and says, "you just can't keep your pants on can you?" (it was fun to watch him paint in boxers) that's not the situation at the moment, but HA! in general it was very appropriate and a much needed rebuke.

After the heart breaking news of Anna's disease, Don no longer wants to party in 'poco, so, back to the office, to find the other person who's alone, Lane Pryce. I found their sad lonely date to be quite cute and touching. A movie, dinner, comedy club and $25 hookers, they go out for a wild night on the town together. Hand jobs in the movies(!), Lane slapping his steak on his crotch as a Texas belt buckle and yelling "Yeeha," the proper Brit has a debaucherous American night. While in general I don't support Don's whoring, it actually didn't bother me as much here. It was almost nice as he was offering some sort of fraternal support to another man whose wife left him. It was pretty sad when Lane said, "Rebecca convinced me you were all on holiday together, without me," and we realize how left out he's been. Now that they've had this night of male bonding, I'm hoping he'll really become part of the team.

And Joan. The episode opens with her at the gynecologist (he's a little flirty, why is he calling her Jo-Jo?) to check to make sure she can start a family with her Vietnam-bound husband. We see a more vulnerable side of Joan in this episode. She's always so calm, cool and collected, but in this episode we see her falter. She says she's had two procedures and wants to make sure everything is alright. The fact that she had two abortions (presumably one with Roger) shows us a more fragile side of Joan. She's had her problems but she's also dealt with them. Since Greg can't get New Year's off, she's home too. Both Joan and Lane are aggravated in their marriages and they take it out on one another in a blowout fight. So Joan, she comes into Lane's office to butter him up with fried chicken, sensually saying " thigh, breast" and casually asks for time off. He replies, "I understand that all men are dizzy and powerless to refuse you but consider me the incorruptible exception." He then sends her flowers to apologize, which humorously get mixed up with those for his wife--misplaced flowers for misplaced aggression. That he sends her flowers at all totally goes against his being the exception. Seeing the card meant for his wife calling her darling, Joan cracks for the first time since she cracked Greg upside the head with the flower vase. Interesting she has an issue with flowers, maybe that they're girly. He says to her "don't go and cry about it" and later tells him he made her feel "like a helpless, stupid little girl," the epitome of what she is not--but she does collect herself in time to fire the incompetent secretary. For the first time, we have a nice moment with Greg as he stitches up her finger, making jokes to distract her from the pain. He comments that her finger he can fix, but not much else. I love how even when in severe pain she manages to get out in her calm Joan voice about filing papers, "I don't do that anymore. I have other people do that."

In the final scene, Roger, Don, Pete, Harry and Joan are back in conference room, Joan at the head of the table, with past squabbles aside ready to start afresh. "Shall we begin 1965?"