As 1965 approaches, Don has realized that his life is a complete mess and decides to take a break. Until some bad news spurs him on to create another mess of a life.
“The Good News” is a Don Draper-powered hour with little seen of Pete, Peggy and Roger and absolutely nothing from Betty. New Year’s Eve and Day are the last holidays to get through before 1965 arrives and the misery can perhaps subside, but in attempt to run away from the new problems he has created in New York, Don Draper takes a trip out to California and becomes Dick Whitman again.
That’s an easy card for the series to play because it makes Don a little more likable again after the two opening episodes took him even deeper into the hole of alcoholism and depression. However, it absolutely makes sense that amid a particularly rough holiday season, Don would run off to California so he can shed the Don persona and just be a free-wheeling nice guy with little or no consequences. It doesn’t hurt that Anna Draper is also someone who won’t judge him no matter what, so visiting her gives Don something of a human connection he’s been trying (and miserably failing at) to obtain throughout November and December 1964. It’s a testament to the writing and especially Jon Hamm’s performance that after all we’ve seen Don do and how much most us surely hated him after last week’s episode, it’s easy to get lost in the sadness Don projects when he’s in Dick mode. Obviously the persona switch allows Don to let loose all the emotions he’s cooped up and he’s surely especially hurt because the only time he was honest with Betty and revealed his Dick persona, it backfired.
However, just as we’ve seen in the last two episodes, it’s not all a cakewalk for Don/Dick. Anna’s niece is all grown up and attractive, but unlike Dick’s escape vacation to California in S2, this time the young thing doesn’t fall for his charms, even though she does seem interested in a way. Moreover, the world seems especially modern and progressive in 1964 California, with talk of politics, change and young people and it’s unclear if Don is really able to grasp and appreciate those sentiments, even if he does acknowledge that they exist. So yet again, despite the role he’s playing, Don doesn’t have much success convincing anything of anyone.
And the mini-vacation comes all crashing down when Don finds out that Anna has cancer and doesn’t have much time to live — and she doesn’t know any of this. It’s then when Don realizes that despite his insistence on his love for Anna, his willingness to share everything with her and desire to be close with her, he’s not her family. He’s not really anyone’s family at this point. He’s just a man in a room with a checkbook. Crippled by that realization and sadness over Anna’s situation, Don returns to New York to surprisingly find someone who is also without a family and willing to embrace Don’s attempts at friendship: Lane Price.
With his wife and kids across the pond and apparently still disappointed in his work choices, Lane’s also having trouble with the holidays. He’s avoiding going home because he knows there’s a fight waiting for him, so he keeps people at work longer and is unwilling to give Joan the holiday time she rightfully asks for. It seems if he can’t enjoy the holiday, no one will. However, once Don returns and opens up, Lane realizes that he’s not alone in his alone-ness. A drunken duo is born, as Don and Lane ruin a theater’s full of people’s viewing of a Godzilla flick, make fools of themselves at a restaurant, get mistaken for a gay couple at a trendy-looking comedy club and end up spending the night with hookers. While Lane looks initially nervous, he quickly figures out the situation and is apparently aware of his date’s profession the next morning when he’s willing to pay Don back for services rendered.
It’s great to have Lane get more to do and delve deeper into his personal life, even if it’s depressing to watch Don suck someone down into his spiral of booze and women. I’m not saying that Lane’s going to keep tip-toeing towards the edge, but he’s started a journey towards a precipice that could be very great to watch, but not good for the agency or him personally. It’s also important to note that it’s obvious that Don doesn’t really care about his actions anymore, especially in light of Anna’s cancer, because he’s very willing to bring Lane down to his level without worrying about consequences. It’s unclear what will knock Don out of his funk, but there’s certainly no end in sight.
Finally, while Don and Lane lament and then ultimately ignore their lack of family, Joan spends New Year’s trying to salvage what little familial relationship she has with husband Greg. He’s headed off for basic soon and then probably to Vietnam, which means no kids anytime soon — though it’s obvious that Joan’s had two abortions and/or miscarriages, right? — and more fighting for a couple that’s hard to root for anyway. Doctor Greg still doesn’t appreciate Joan’s skills at work or at home — he still thinks she just files papers — but proves to be slightly worthy when he’s able to save her sliced finger. I think most fans want Greg to go off and die in Vietnam, but not at the cost of Joan’s happiness, but it looks to be heading that way. Sigh.
The holidays are over, it’s 1965. Does anyone think Don Draper had any New Year’s Day resolutions? Probably not, but hopefully the turn of the calendar page means better things for Don. And Lane and Joan, for that matter.