‘Mad Men’ Recap: ‘What Are You Doing?’ ‘I Don’t Know’

Jon Hamm in the 'Mad Men' episode "The Good News" (AMC)

Jon Hamm in the 'Mad Men' episode "The Good News" (AMC)

Mad Men‘s Don Draper turned down by a young lovely? Hard to believe, but it’s true: For the second week in a row, someone actually said no to Don’s advances. Is TV’s handsomest man losing his mojo?

This time, in the third episode of the AMC hit’s new season, the rebuff came from a comely California co-ed named Stephanie. She’s the niece of Anna Draper (played by Melinda Page Hamilton), who you may or may not remember is the widow of the real Don Draper, the dead Army lieutenant whose identity Dick Whitman assumed in the Korean War. The real Mrs. Draper tracked the phony Don down, but instead of exposing his secret, she and Don/Dick (Jon Hamm) struck up an unusually close friendship, with her household in southern California forming the closest thing to a loving home that Dick Whitman has ever had.

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Now divorced and facing the holidays alone, Don/Dick turned up on Anna’s doorstep again, ostensibly on the way to an Acapulco getaway. That’s when he met Stephanie and made his move (after smoking some “grass” with the coed and Anna), but like the previous week’s rejection by a pretty nurse who lives down the hall, Stephanie (Caity Lotz) turned him down – a far cry from previous ‘Mad Men’ seasons when Don Draper could effortlessly bed anyone he wanted.

After learning the tragic news that Anna has inoperable bone cancer, Don bagged his Acapulco trip and returned to New York and the Sterling Cooper office – his only real home nowadays. There, he found ad agency partner Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) in his own office hard at work, escaping from his own marital difficulties. The two men bonded over a drunken New Year’s Eve dinner and then hospitable Don treated his partner to a hooker.

Are the writers of ‘Mad Men’ going out of their way to make Don Draper as unlikable as possible this season? Here he is befriending a troubled colleague who is lonely and upset now that he, too, is separated from his wife, and all Don can think to do is enlist the services of an escort. (The woman was a “colleague” of the woman Don invited over to slap him silly on Thanksgiving earlier this season.)

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Speaking of the former Mr. Whitman, the writers seemed obsessed with the d-word in Sunday’s episode. There was the joke related to Joanie by her doctor husband and a crude “Howdy Doody” comment from Don when he proposed that he and Lane catch a movie and Lane questioned if they should.

Speaking of references to old TV shows, there was a moment some of us have hoped would occur this season – a reference to ‘Bewitched,’ the classic sitcom about a New York ad man balancing his professional life in Manhattan with his domestic life in the suburbs (though Darrin Stephens was married to a witch – a real one). In real life, ‘Bewitched’ premiered in fall 1964, which is the same time period this season of ‘Mad Men’ started off with (around Thanksgiving).

Where be the ‘Bewitched’ nod? In Sunday’s episode, Sterling Cooper’s head of TV, Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), proposed that Don have lunch with “Bill Asher” at the Brown Derby in Los Angeles during Don’s stopover en route to Mexico. (“He’ll probably try and cast you,” said Harry, trying lamely to flatter Don, who was coldly dismissive of the lunch idea and Harry himself.)

Though the word ‘Bewitched’ was never uttered, Bill Asher was the real-life creator and executive producer of the series, which starred Asher’s wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, as the show’s titular spellcaster.

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Similarly, ‘Godzilla vs. the Thing’ – the movie Don and Lane presumably caught – was actually released in fall 1964, and in a time when gigaplexes weren’t turning over inventory every other weekend, it could have still been enjoying a run at year’s end.

This episode of ‘Mad Men’ was focused quite narrowly on Don, Lane and Joanie. Missing were, well, everybody else. What did you think of the episode? Is ‘Mad Men’ still a delicious retro thrill?

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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