Monday, October 26, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: "And who are you supposed to be?"

This week on "Mad Men," we saw several characters haunted by their pasts, and considering their futures. Roger was reunited with an old lover; a job-hunting Joan called on ex-boss and ex-lover Roger for a recommendation and Betty and Don...well, that's probably the best place to start this recap, isn't it?
Spoilers ahead
Betty is still reeling from her discovery of Don's box o' Dick, and still unsure of what she should do with this new information she's learned about her husband. During a visit to Philadelphia to deal with her father's affairs, Betty tells her father's lawyer about her discovery. Now, you'd think Don fabricating an identity and defrauding everyone in his life would be pretty solid grounds for divorce. But no, the lawyer says. Betty would have to prove adultery. Well, given that her husband has "entertained" women all over the country, that shouldn't be difficult. The lawyer says it will be tougher than Betty thinks, and she could lose her children and all her money.
Sigh. Divorce in the 1960s kinda sucked, didn't it? I mean, it's no picnic now, but I'm pretty sure modern lawyers would consider Betty's case a slam-dunk. The lawyer tells Betty that, as long as Don provides for her and isn't mean, she should just suck it up.
Betty, understandably, is horrified.
Now, this is where the Betty of season one probably would have just slunk home and tried to pretend she knew nothing of Dick Whitman. But Betty has grown since then. She's already thrown out her husband once and taken him back. She's cheated on Don, both with the random bar patron and Henry Francis (Yes, it was cheating, even though there was no sex. The making out and sneaking around more than qualifies it). And, of course, both of her parents are now gone.
Betty has gone from a child to a grown woman. She's no longer content to push her anger and fear aside and hope it goes away. So, she comes home early from her trip, surprising Don. And, summoning all her courage, she drags Don into his office and demands to know what's in the drawer. Don is terrified. He flails for a way out of telling the truth, accusing Betty of invading his privacy. He's a complete mess. In fact, in this moment, he's no longer the slick Don we first met in season one. He's Dick Whitman -- lost, weak and totally without the polish and panache of his alter ego.
Clearly, this broken Don is no match for his increasingly strong wife. So he does something he almost never does. He tells the truth. He tells Betty everything. He tells her about Don and Anna; about how his mother was a prostitute; about how Adam killed himself because Don/Dick wouldn't help him. Don opens up completely. He's totally vulnerable.
Betty, at first, refuses to feel sorry for him. After all, she's the one who's been lied to all this time. But it would be hard for any woman to be completely unmoved by Don blubbering over his dead brother, and she does show sympathy, rubbing Don's back.
Does she believe him? I think she does. But where do they go from here? Don, at least, doesn't seem to know. He breaks things off with Miss Farrell, whom he left sitting his car as Betty confronted him (during the whole, powerful confrontation sequence, my husband kept asking "Where's the teacher? Where's the teacher?" He was relieved to finally learn that she made it home all right).
Don also seems softer and more present in the episode's final scenes than he's been throughout the whole series. He's amazingly grateful when Betty agrees to go trick or treating as a family, rather than having one of them stay home with the baby.
But how long will this last? Can Don be Don and Dick at the same time? And what about Betty? Her husband literally became a different man before her eyes. Will she still love him?
And what about that double edged question, asked by Carlton at the episode's end (which also provided the title for this post)? Who is Don supposed to be?
With all this going on, I barely have time and space to discuss the other episode plotlines, but I do want to at least deal with Roger. This is the most we've seen of the Silver Fox all season, and it was great to see John Slattery get such a nice showcase. Like Don, Roger sees his past come back to haunt him as an old flame, Annabelle, comes to the Coop offices. She's shopping for an ad agency to improve the image of her late father's company, which makes dog food from horses.
Well, that's what she says. Really, she's there to see Roger. She left him for another man, who has since died, and she wants to rekindle her old flame. But Roger refuses to be lit by anyone but Jane. This marriage is different from his last, he says, and I kind of believe him. He even turns down the offer of a drunken romp with Annabelle. Good for him!
Of course, he might not be totally reformed. He's all too happy to help Joan when she calls him for a job recommendation.
But maybe Roger, like Don, is tired of lying. Perhaps both men are sick of giving only part of themselves to their wives. Maybe they're both looking for a way to be whole.
Anyway, here are some more thoughts on "The Gypsy and The Hobo":
* OK, I have left out my favorite part of this episode (and perhaps the season thus far). I'm speaking, of course, about the moment when Joan, completely disgusted by her worthless husband's bellyaching, hauled off and whacked him over the head with a vase. YAAAAAAAY Joan!!!!!!! To his credit, Worthless Greg actually wakes up a little after the assault, and decides to do something with his life. He joins the army. With Vietnam about to hit full stride. My heart nearly split in half when a happy Joan and Greg hugged over this exciting news, oblivious to the fact that their lives will soon be more f'ed up than ever. Oof.
* Seriously, if Greg does end up as a surgeon in Vietnam, and comes back alive, that couldn't possibly be good for Joan. War can have a terrible effect on the most well-adjusted of men. I hate to think what it would do to someone like Greg. Sigh.
* In the midst of all the intensity, we did have some levity thanks, of course, to Roger. I loved the totally flat, totally American way he said "avec plaisir" to Annabelle's French restaurant invite. And only Roger could sound charming when complimenting Joan on her cup size. By the way, I miss Roger and Joan as a couple. They're both so smart and witty; watching them banter is a joy. And Christina Hendricks and John Slattery somehow manage to have chemistry, even when they're not in the same room. How is this possible?
* Must comment on the ENORMOUS symbolism of this episode taking place around Halloween. Don, of course, doesn't need a special holiday to pretend to be someone else. He's not a child but, for him, nearly every day of his adult life has been Halloween. Also, check out the costumes his kids wear: gypsy and hobo. They're both ways to describe much of Don's life, bouncing around with no real home. Now that he has a contract at the Coop and a wife who truly knows him, Don isn't a hobo or gypsy anymore. So, to reiterate Carlton's question, who IS he?
* Also want to mention the use of light and dark in this episode. When Don goes to Miss Farrell's, the light is on, but she's not there. When he goes into his own house, the lights are off, and Betty and the kids are home. Maybe it means that his affair with Suzanne is like the house -- bright, shiny, but without substance. Yes, she clearly cares for Don. But she cares for DON -- not Dick Whitman. Not his true self. So it's empty. His life with Betty, meanwhile, is murkier, gloomier. But there's something inside of it. It's alive. His wife, finally, knows who is. Of course, I could be over thinking this.
* OK, on another light note, I love that Don tells Annabelle that he's going to talk to "the fellas" about reinventing her company. Of course, he includes Peggy as one of "the fellas." I don't whether this is a triumph for Peggy or an insult.
* Interesting that Don's solution to Annabelle's problem is to change her company's name, no? Is a name change the solution to ALL Don's problems?
* OK, there was a (I'm guessing) totally unintended message about the power of advertising embedded in this episode. When Betty is talking to the lawyer, there's a fish mounted on the wall behind him. All I could think of was the McDonald's commercial with the singing fish ("What if it was you hanging up on this wall/ if it was you in this sandwich you wouldn't be laughing at all!"). I don't think this was the effect Matt Weiner and co. wanted this scene to have, but there you go.


gipsyluvr said...

Excellent analysis. I was so impressed with the snide Roger, and he certainly is the Silver Fox. I also enjoy his banter with Joan.
Did you see Don/Dick fumbling so much he dropped his cigarette? I think he totally forgot the teacher in the car.

Audrey said...

Thank you so much for the recap. I am in Bangkok, Thailand, and really missed this episode last night. We caould not get Mad Men in Bangkok. I have it tivoed and will return to watch it. I'm a big fan of Mad Men.

Bill Scurry said...

Amazing that even as Don is getting his shoebox emptied in front of him and his double-life exposed, that STILL wasn't the biggest scandal he had running that moment, what with his son's teacher hiding in the car expecting an illicit tryst later.

Much like Sal and Joan bring written into the margins, I wonder if the writing staff is winding up the series too soon -- the Secret of Dick Whitman has kind of been a prime mover in this series, and without it, you lose much of what makes Dick "Don Draper."

TV Writer said...

I disagree. I think having the character of Don/Dick evolve to the point where he reveals his past was a terrific, unexpected idea.
First, it will add a whole new element to his marriage. And I don't necessarily think the change will be good. There's been a lot of damage done by his lies, and I'm sure he'll be able to fix it.
Also, don't forget -- there are plenty of people who still know Dick as Don.
He'll still want to conceal his secret from, say, Roger or Hilton. And what if Pete leaves to work for Duck? Don't know if that will happen, but wouldn't that cause a bit of tension, considering what Pete knows?
There are a lot possibilities with this.
And I don't think Joan is totally done, do you? Roger, despite professing fidelity to Jane, clearly has some connection to Joan still. I don't think he's ready to let that die. And with Worthless Greg away, maybe Joan will get bored and take up some kind of job that will at least put her in contact with the Coop.
But I don't have a great feeling about Sal.

Robert said...

Good summary. I particularly enjoyed the storyline between Joan and her husband. Oh, how the mighty has fallen.