It’s fitting that an episode about the two sides of Don Draper had such a split personality. It almost felt like two mini-episodes: the first half featuring Dick Whitman’s West Coast past, and a whiskey-soaked second act with the loutish Don Draper. It’s frustrating that the second half of the episode doesn’t seem to be connected to the first part, and, well, that Don never seems to learn anything. While “The Good News” was certainly an attempt to explore the developing conscience of our protagonist, the truth is Don’s gotta be Don.
While on a California stopover, Don meets Anna Draper’s comely “drinking age” niece, Stephanie (cue to the “Mad Men” audience collectively groaning, “here we go again”). Yes, the seduction attempt is inevitable, but somehow Don seems a lot creepier than usual this time around. When he finally “turns on the charm” in Stephanie’s driveway, he comes off like a real letch.
The ick factor is only compounded when she lets him in on the big secret: Anna’s got terminal cancer, but her family has decided not to tell her. Don is faced with a real moral dilemma, as he must decide whether to come clean with Anna or side with Anna’s family and keep his trap shut. When Anna tells him, “I know everything about you, and I still love you,” we are supposed to feel the full weight of that choice. Here’s the one person with whom he has always been completely honest – about the war, his business, and even Betty and his kids, and now he’s faced with the prospect of keeping a secret from her, too. But the development comes off feeling like little more than a cheap device, and ultimately it’s just hard to care. For what it’s worth, Don ends up keeping the ruse intact, and says goodbye to the real Mrs. Draper, knowing he probably won’t see her again.
Which brings us back to where we wanted to be all along: New York City. The office is empty because of the New Year’s break, but Lane Pryce has decided to stick around — and we’re sure glad he did. When Don threatens Mr. Pryce with a good time, he delivers in a big way by getting silly drunk and making a spectacle of himself in a rollicking boys night out. It’s definitely something new to see Lane unbuttoned, as he bounces around the city from a ”Godzilla” screening to a bar and ultimately to Don’s pad, where his partner hooks him up with some professional companionship at the end of the night.
There’s a real pathos to the evening, and it’s “Mad Men” doing what it does best: showing us the power of loneliness and the loneliness of the powerful. And unlike the forced moral conundrum that begins the episode, the second act delivers Don’s desperate longing for connection in a pre-pop-psychology world.