TV Club

Week 3: How Much Does Anna Really know?

Week 3: How Much Does Anna Really know?

Poor Anna Draper. Her roof is leaking, her bones are rotten with cancer, her family disapproves of her marijuana habit—and now we must add Swansburg’s scorn to her list of worries. John, you and I have always disagreed about Don’s odd kinship with the wife of the man whose identity he stole. You’re right that their bond is improbable, but I find the scenes between Don and Anna completely believable—a testament to the acting of Melinda Page Hamilton, who brings a centered, Laura Linney-esque warmth to the role.

Mad Men would be a lesser show without these California interludes. Don is never as open and unguarded as when he’s being called Dick in that bright blue-green living room; it reminds us what a strain his assumed identity is, even when his mastery of Manhattan seems effortless. Now the one person with whom he can discuss what it was like to reveal himself to frosty Betty is crumbling along with her house. And when he tries to help, bawling out Anna’s sister and promising to take Anna to the finest doctors, he’s sharply reprimanded and reminded he’s not really part of the family. Were you not moved by Don’s woe as he bids Anna farewell? In the one place where he can be honest, he’s now forced to lie. Also: We think Anna knows the score, right? What with her don’t-worry-about-repainting, and her I’m-so-proud-of-you valedictory, and the tears in her eyes as they part?

I’m with you, though, on the inanity of Stephanie, Anna’s niece. She was not so much a character as a bundle of sass and sexual provocation. Her messy-cute hairdo tips us off to her hippie tendencies: This is the first woman we’ve seen on the show who doesn’t submit to the blow dryer. Stephanie’s not “sitting in” at Berkeley—”somebody has to go to class,” she says—but she is appalled by Don’s profession, calling it “pollution.” I liked her oblique approach to her generation’s politics: They’re fodder for conversation and even flirtation with the adults in her life but not the stuff of righteous conviction. But I’m beginning to think it might be useful to get to know one of these hippies for real. So far, our glimpses of the counterculture—Stephanie, the grifters of Season 3, Midge from Season 1—have been fleeting and somewhat inchoate. Perhaps this makes sense; it’s a reasonable facsimile of how the social currents of the decade might have filtered into the consciousness of Don and his cohort. But I’m getting tired of these disposable “voice of youth” characters popping up and then disappearing.

Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and Greg Harris (Sam Page). Click image to expand.
Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris and Sam Page as Greg Harris in Mad Men

Perhaps my favorite moment this episode, however, was Joan’s kitchen mishap. I think it’s a genuine accident, John, and that she’s initially terrified at the prospect of Dr. Butterfingers stitching her up. But then she’s surprised by his gentleness, his competence, and his bedside manner—and perhaps realizes that he would be good with the kids they want to have—which makes her even more worried that she’ll lose him in Vietnam.

As for your multiple choice, Swansburg, I’ll choose option F) Don stripping the sheets of the bed where Lane trysted with his $25 prostitute before taking a nap. If Internet inflation calculators are to be believed, $25 in 1964 is $171.08 in modern dollars, not nearly enough for a seven-diamond experience.

Dick + Anna 4eva!