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Spoiler Alert Thursday: Mad Men Again

It’s November 1963, and the ’50s are finally over.

For the past three seasons, and up until this last episode, progress – social, political and personal – has been incremental and inconsistent.  Don promises to be more faithful and respectful, and then a few episodes later sleeps with a stewardess.  Betty finally gets up the courage to talk to an attorney about divorce, and then goes back to her home and seems to forget all about it.  It starts to feel like nothing will ever really change.  In the background, there’s a slow creep forward on feminism and civil rights, office wear gets more casual, and social mores relax, but it’s all very gradual.

The Kennedy assassination suddenly accelerates all of this.  It was so nice how the show presented the event as slowly unspooling over several days, with everyone huddled around televisions and radios at the office and at home and at Roger’s daughter’s wedding.  And over the course of these three days, everyone changes, shock by shock.  Carla smokes a cigarette in front of the Drapers.  Trudy decides that social niceties aren’t as important as she once thought they were.  Peter realizes that there’s little reward in remaining a lifetime company man.  And Betty comes to grips with the fact that there’s no safety or security for her at home anymore.

The scenes between Don and Betty were particularly delicious to watch.  Don is famously irresistible — especially to Betty — and he has never looked more beautiful than he does in this episode.  And yet, suddenly Betty is immune to his charms, and Don is completely bewildered and aghast.

A side note — this may be ungallant, but is Peggy pregnant again?  I feel like they’re giving her the unflattering lighting treatment.

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November 4, 2009 - Posted by | Spoiler Alert Thursdays, television

11 Comments

  1. I warmed to this episode by the end, although going in I was surprised at just how much the Kennedy assassination dominated things. Even during the Cuban Missile Crisis finale last season, the Major World Event played out more as background; this time it felt like the news reports were pretty solidly in the foreground. I know that this is the symbolic end of the fifties, but maybe I just feel so removed from the event – being born decades after it and all – that it felt weird to see everything screeching to a halt.

    “And Betty comes to grips with the fact that there’s no safety or security for her at home anymore.”

    I don’t totally buy this. Sure, Betty’s signaled pretty clearly that she wants to leave Don, but the impetus for leaving isn’t the discovery of his past life as Dick Whitman – it’s the belief that she can have what she has now without him, as the kept woman of a different man (Skeezy Rockefeller Dude, I forget his name. And really, what does she know about that guy? He likes fainting couches and terrible letters?) I think Betty’s being set up pretty clearly as one of the many women left unliberated by the sixties.

    I doubt they’d have Peggy get pregnant, unless it was to do a story where she actually gets an abortion, in contrast to Betty’s dilemma at the end of last season. I was going to say something here about Peggy’s terrible taste in men, but really, none of these guys are especially winners.

    Comment by stras | November 5, 2009

  2. I agree with Stras that Betty’s new-found boldness is primarily based on the fact that she has what she thinks is a better offer. Based on the ethos of the show, I don’t think they’ll go the “he’s just a sleazy guy who lied to her about marriage to get in her pants” — going for “they really do get married but it still sucks just as bad, if not worse” seems to be more their style.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | November 5, 2009

  3. Roger has been wonderful. His grace at the wedding, and his phone call to Joan — he just seems wonderfully unpunished by being alive. I get irritated by critiques of Mad Men that think the show’s humor comes down to “look! the doctor’s smoking! good thing we know better than that.” The show’s understands pleasure, and that grounds the social critique. Roger’s going to get through it all (or perhaps die) with regret but not resentment; Don’s going to get to see it fall apart.

    Comment by K-sky | November 5, 2009

  4. Betty’s signaled pretty clearly that she wants to leave Don, but the impetus for leaving isn’t the discovery of his past life as Dick Whitman – it’s the belief that she can have what she has now without him, as the kept woman of a different man

    I agree that Henry’s offer to marry him is important to Betty — it’s not like she’s suddenly like a liberated woman or something. But even before Henry asks her to marry him, she’s changed. I’m thinking of Don’s repeated surprise when he finds he’s unable to connect to her anymore — when he tries to reassure her about the assassination and is rebuffed, or when he gives her this melting look on the dance floor at Roger’s wedding and she doesn’t respond. Also, Betty called Henry and asked him to meet with her, which is a fairly big step for her.

    Comment by jms | November 5, 2009

  5. I don’t see that as that radical of a change for Betty. She’s been reaching out to Rockefeller Dude for a while now – and before that to the Horse Boy, who she then used to punish her friend for doing exactly what she wanted to do – and taking active steps to do so (the entire pretense of the fundraiser, those horribly banal letters – even purchasing the fainting couch was a courting gesture in its way). Through all of this, Betty isn’t reach out to this man because of anything intrinsic to him – hell, she barely knows him – but because of the hope that he might offer what Don offers, only on better terms. The closest she’s come to actually becoming independent was that moment when she talked to the lawyer about divorce – and that consideration more or less ended when the notion of Don being “a good provider” came up. So she’s gone and found another provider.

    Comment by stras | November 5, 2009

  6. I love how resentful Don was when Betty thrust her cold shoulder during their usual morning “have a nice day dear” routine. She’s at least sticking to her guns for a few days.

    In terms of Betty and Don’s future I honestly can’t see how a marriage could recover from their history and move on, nor can I imagine Betty shacking up with the politician. I am at a loss for how things may play out for them.

    Comment by ebolden | November 5, 2009

  7. Oh, I think the Dick Whitman discovery is pretty important to Betty’s new contempt for Don. She was very, very much taken with Don’s sort of suave, masculine competence — and possibly even more taken with other women’s admiration for it (Betty’s smug smile when neighbor lady [Wilson’s gf from House] gushes “Oh . . . that man!” over some take-charge action of Don’s). But now he’s just a jumped-up Okie, and she is having none of it. The sneer she gave him at the end of the episode before last, when he was starting his banquet speech!
    I am having trouble imagining what is up with Henry Rockefeller Dude’s proposal. Truly it can’t be just to get in her pants — but there is no way he is actually planning on taking in Betty and her three small (one very small!) children.

    Comment by oudemia | November 6, 2009

  8. Perhaps he’s just not really thinking. It all seems so nice when his only interactions with her are sub rosa and don’t involve diapers; he hasn’t given the potential reality of the proposition any thought.

    Comment by ben | November 6, 2009

  9. The sneer she gave him at the end of the episode before last, when he was starting his banquet speech!

    Didn’t that happen before the big Whitman reveal, though?

    Comment by stras | November 8, 2009

  10. It was before their talk, but after Betty had riffled through the box of photos and made her own discovery. That was a great moment. At the beginning of the episode, Don says that thing to Suzanne about the color blue — everyone wants to see the same color blue, and that’s what’s important, even if some people are actually seeing the color yellow. Everyone at the banquet sees the same great Don Draper, even Roger, who can’t stand him — only Betty has had the scales fall from her eyes, and the man she loved is unrecognizable to her.

    Comment by jms | November 8, 2009

  11. Bert also knows, apparently.

    Comment by ben | November 8, 2009


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