"That's life. One minute you're on top of the world, the next minute a secretary is running over your leg with a lawn mower."
"A tragedy with a happy ending, my favorite kind."
- St. John Powell
I'm getting to this episode later than I wanted, thanks to the Emmys. And to that point, I'm still a little baffled by AMC's choice to air new episodes both on Labor Day's eve and opposite the Emmys, especially given the fact that the series was favored to win a few awards.
Initial impressions after viewing might rank it tops of not just the season, but of the series, thanks to it easily being the funniest. And it's got staying power, thanks to plenty of below the surface themes at work. First is the idea of false expectations, something Joan, Don, no-golf Guy and Lane experience. Joan's rapist husband not only was denied chief resident, but he's apparently not even going to be a surgeon (no brains in his fingers). Cooper had Don believing he was going to be promoted to head creative in London and the NYC office, which led to a rare loving scene between Betty & Don (who's spirits were raised in belief of a bright future).
Meanwhile, as Joan pointed out, poor Guy MacKendrick "probably woke up feeling great." While coming off as an empty suit (repeating platitudes, reassuring-yet-vacant smile), his place in the pecking order was going to actually move Don down a notch in the pecking order from the top. The riding lawnmower, wheeled out like the Checkov gun in act one, made its return and Lois, the resident chaos conduit, did her part taking out Guy with blood-splattering panache. The foot is a goner, and it's surprisingly not the only lost appendage in the episode. Roger, himself a lost appendage on the new org chart, told of his father's death, losing his hand in the fatal accident. And Joan's husband Greg metaphorically has his hands severed, being told he'll never be a surgeon.
"I feel like I just attended my own funeral. I didn't like the eulogy."
- Lane Pryce
The Tom Sawyer quoting Lane gets the 'reward' of being sent to Bombay (symbolically gifted with a snake, a fitting proxy), but instead of Twain, it's Dickens' Oliver Twist, as his fortunes are reversed with Guy's accident. Same goes for Roger, who's own severed existence gets a second life, and he can barely hide his glee at the opportunity (even as the janitor wipes the blood off interior office window).
The other main theme going on is with replacements, which ties in Sally's story. Seeing his little brother as a replacement for Grandpa troubles her to know end. In an odd parallel, the office is a bit spooked by Lane getting replaced. It's an odd parallel in that nobody really liked Lane, until they saw what would take his place. Thankfully, no lawnmower took Gene 2.0 out of action, instead we got Don imparting great wisdom (and personal belief) that the baby was a blank piece of paper, and that was a beautiful thing. The episode ended with Bob Dylan's "Song to Woody," which works in this last theme of replacement, given Dylan was thought to be Guthrie's heir apparent.
Finally, can't go without commenting on the Don and Joan scene that not only produced the lead quote here, but also recognition that the two are equals in a sense, and refreshingly coexist mutual respect and no sexual undercurrent. Peggy is a product of both their tutelage, and it's interesting to look back on both their last discussions with her to see them as kind of parents to her at Sterling Cooper. I can't imagine this is the last we'll see of Joan, with either S/C begging to get her back after Hooker fails miserably in the role, or Don brings her with him if he leaves for greener pastures.
Previously: "My Old Kentucky Home" (Episode 2.04)