Monday, October 26, 2009

'Mad Men' Monday: The Gypsy and the Hobo

*Warning, spoilers ahead from the recent episode of Mad Men.*

I don’t entirely trust Don Draper and how he reacted to being caught in his web of lies as his carefully crafted image was smashed to smithereens by his wife. When I watched “The Gypsy and the Hobo,” after a tough-as-nails Betty called Don on the carpet and refused to back down in the face of his attempts to bully her, I kept wondering if Don and Betty were trying to play one another and whether an actual emotional connection was being formed between them as a realignment and a leveling of marital power was unfolding in front of my eyes.

Why so cynical? Several reasons, chief among them was that Betty had no reason to raise the issue of Don’s serial deceptions with an attorney unless she was seriously considering divorce, particularly in the wake of Don asserting financial control over her, refusing to give her more money when she knew for a fact that stacks of cash were sitting in his desk. Betty doesn’t usually respond well to feeling like someone’s made a fool of her. At the end of season one, she told her therapist that she knew Don was cheating on her, but didn’t directly confront Don. The reason she tossed Don out of the house in season two was because Jimmy Barrett told her Don and Bobbie Barrett were sleeping together and Betty felt publicly humiliated, so much so that she vomited shortly after Jimmy told her. When Don tried to make her feel as though she was an idiot and fabricating a Don-Bobbie affair in her head, she booted him.

When Betty learned from the Hofstadt family attorney that if she sought a divorce she’d get nothing, could lose the kids and everything else to Don unless she could prove his infidelity, I got the distinct impression that Betty started mulling how she could accumulate evidence to hold over his head and use at her convenience. Now she’s confirmed that Don broke the law, stole someone’s identity, went to California during his marriage to Betty to stay with his ex-wife Anna, plus Betty knows about Bobbie and has a witness in Jimmy Barrett, who hates Don.

When Don was cornered and ‘fessed up about the tragic truth of his family background, Betty tentatively put her arm on his shoulders to indicate that she isn’t without compassion. But regardless of Don’s tears, I think Betty’s going to continue to compile a dossier of information about his misbehavior, just in case. Betty’s so miserable, so betrayed, so tired of Don’s lies that I could definitely see her trying to get Don’s money and attempt to keep her parents’ home for herself so she could start over, maybe with Henry Francis, someone who’d trust her with his heart and wouldn't erect walls of deception between them.

My husband, however, argued that Betty’s decision to accompany Don and the kids trick-or-treating is an indication that she’s going to find a way to make peace with all of this, now that the power dynamic between Don and Betty has now been leveled. Don has to take Betty seriously because she has information that could destroy him. I’m just not as certain of Betty’s desire to remain married to Don as my husband is. In season two, for example, I don’t think Betty would’ve let Don back in the house had she not been pregnant. If she learns about Suzanne Farrell, I think it’s curtains for the Drapers.

As for Don, when he was caught with his box of deceit, I kept wondering if he was simply executing a hastily-made, desperate pitch to try to convince Betty of his sincerity amid his tears and throw himself at her mercy. Think about the way in which he revealed his personal backstory and his emotions to Betty as compared to how he came clean with Rachel Menken in season one. The post-coital revelations to Rachel were genuine, from the heart. His emotions weren’t manufactured and had no ulterior motive other than in forging an emotional connection. He’s held Betty at arm’s length and hasn’t been honest with her because he didn’t have enough faith in her love to tell her the truth, whereas he trusted Rachel. With Betty, he had to be compelled to tell the truth, once she had the hard, cold evidence. Don wouldn’t have come clean willingly because he’s never really let Betty inside, as he admitted to Anna Draper last year, yet he’s been willing to allow at least two of his mistresses, including Suzanne Farrell, closer to him than his own wife.
While his tears were real, as were the regrets about his brother and the shame he feels about his conception and lineage, I don’t foresee Don suddenly feeling comfortable with being himself with Betty as he has with Rachel and Suzanne. He seems like he simply wants to preserve his hollow, stolen identity, no matter what.

Another reason why I’m suspicious about Don’s sincerity is because when Suzanne asked him if he’d called to tell her he couldn’t see her anymore, his response was, “Not right now. No.” Was he telling her that they had to cool things temporarily until Betty gets less wary, or was he really breaking it off?

However I must say that Don’s dramatic dropping and releasing of his clenched fist in which he held the keys to his desk drawer and all his secrets after Betty said she knew what was inside, the tears he shed over Adam, all made Don seem like a shattered soul. (Jon Hamm was fantastic.) The next morning, though, with his suit of armor back on, it was hard to tell if this event will really fundamentally transform the Draper marriage.

What do you think? Were Don and Betty were being sincere with one another and do they really wish to make their marriage work, or do you think one or both of them is playing games? Will this change anything?

Image credit: Carin Baer/AMC.


Cooley Horner said...

I am inclined to agree with your husband on the future of Don and Betty, or at least on the brighter outlook. Betty doesn't know that Don's revealed those details to other women, so I think she really seems to enjoy being "part of his secret." If Don has spent his adult life seeking passion and joie de vivre from other women, Betty has spent her marriage trying to be taken seriously and viewed as an adult. The revelation scene in the bedroom, as Don went through his box of memories, was perhaps one of the most adult moments we've seen from them, and in particularly from Betty. I think she'll be inspired that he shared those things with her--even if she strong-armed him into doing it--but I agree that this is far from over.

I read a complaint from a fan on The person wished Weiner and friends had given Pete and Peggy as much attention as Don and Betty, and I'm inclined to agree. This has been a great season, but it's certainly been more weighted on the Draper family side of the plots than on the business side. I was glad to see Joan and Roger again last night, but I hope the final hours of this season give some time to Peggy, Pete, and the rest of the S&C gang.

Great review as usual! I like how you presented your POV and your hubby's; gave me something to chew over. :)

amy said...

I kept waiting for the loathesome Ms. Farrell to walk in the house calling for Don. I guess this isn't her first affair with a married man (I think she alluded to that earlier in the episode with the eclipse) and so she's used to being treated badly.

I think Betty is going to stay with Don and make him pay. She already told the lawyer she isn't afraid of him and I don't think she wants to be divorced...there's no place in the 1960s for her to BE, except a wife and mother. She doesn't want to run a dog food factory! And if she became the girlfriend or wife of Henry, she's end up feeling just as useless and bored as she does now.

If she lived now, what would Betty be doing? Would she still be married, have kids? What job would she want? I can't imagine her having the energy for anything. I think she'd be on an antidepressent and swilling even more wine than she does already.

Even if she does discover Don's continued infidelity (no way is he going to fall in love with Betty or remain faithful to her), I don't think she'll divorce him. I think she'll become bitter and withold sex, affection, use the kids against him, but the ultimate revenge will be staying married to him and torturing him within the marriage. And THAT is something I imagine Betty might have the energy to do.

Meredith said...

Fantastic comments Amy and Cooley.

Great point Cooley about Betty not knowing that Don has previously revealed his Dick Whitman secret to Rachel Menken. (She doesn't even know about Rachel, not that we're aware of anyway.) Only we, the viewers are privvy to that. Betty seems as though it would make her feel important to possess such information about an important man.

As for what she'd do if she found out about Don and Miss Farrell, Amy's also got a good point when she suggested that Betty would choose to stay in the marriage but be icy and use the kids as a weapon against Don. I could see that as a very plausible possibility.

I also vote to see more Joan. Plus Joan wielding vases.

Cooley Horner said...

I think Betty will definitely stay married to Don, and I say that especially if she found out about Miss Farrell. I think the spectre of Helen Bishop, a lonely, (supposedly) pitiable divorcee in suburbia still lurks in the minds of women like Betty. Better to be miserably married to Don with money and social security than be single again with kids and aimless walks. (NOTE: One of my all-time favorite scenes from the series is when Francie, Betty, and the other women ask Helen "where" she's going when she's out walking. "Just walking," she replied with a shrug. With the introduction of Miss Farrell's morning runs, it would seem that only supposedly liberated/supposedly humiliated chicks actually exercised back in the day.

Mad Men is a tough show because there is absolutely no room for romance in it. Consider...

Hoorah! Don and Betty have found each other again in Rome!
BAM, they're back in suburbia giving each other the cold shoulder.

Yey, Joan found love!
Oh, too bad he's a disrespectful loser who doesn't care about her.

Exciting, Trudy is coming back from vacation soon!
Oops, too bad Pete just had awkward neighbor sex with Fraulein Helga.

As much as I want to cheer for Pete/Peggy and Don/Betty, as I did with Jim and Pam and I now do with the main couple on "Bones," it's hard to root for "Mad Men" romance when, sadly, it seems to be bleakly DOA.

amy said...


There actually IS a romantic, love relationship on Mad Men. It's between Roger and...Roger.

Cooley Horner said...

Haha! Good point, Amy! Roger DOES love himself. Actually, one could say the same thing about Betty, Don, Peggy (to some extent), and many of the other characters. Weird that Sally is often the one expressing the most adult emotions....

Anonymous said...

I think the writers know viewers may very well lose interest in the Don/Betty story if they get divorced. Even when Betty kicked Don out last season, it kept our interest because we knew somehow Don would sweet talk his way back into the marriage.
It's much better to have them married and have Betty holding the reins. Power struggles between Don and Betty make good television!

I believe Don and Betty like the idea, "the image" so to speak, of loving each other and having a mutually respectful marriage. But they seem incapable of actually doing it -- Don with his identity crisis and infidelity, Betty with her childish manner and restlessness in her boring life.

-Kris Spazz

Anonymous said...

I think everyone here is clinging to the wreckage -- the tide of the 60's (and the foreshadowed wedding of Roger's daughter on the day Kennedy will be assassinated) is about to sweep away many of the props.

(Am I the only one who felt a bit sorry for Joan's spoiled husband as he walks blindly into the maelstrom of Vietnam?)

Glenn Kulbako said...

In his moment of tears, I thought "could this be bad acting by Jon Hamm?" Hard to believe. Then I thought it might be misguided writing/direction that had Don Draper experiencing such a sudden reversal of character.

Something was wrong. The shakes. The guilt. That hand to the forehead as he cried seemed so... cliche. This was not the same uneasy Don as he was confronted by Pete Campbell. His confession was riddled with ad-talk sophistry: the chronology of his previous "marriage," his half-true overtures of devotion to Betty (as his mistress sat outside in the cold, nice touch), even the veracity of his name when caught red-handed.

Then it occurred to me: this might actually be a perfectly played scene of yet another strategic lie on the part of Dick Whitman. Remember those kids that used crocodile tears to cover their tracks with adults? Remember that cheesy pitch made for the Kodak Carousel, dripping with emotional pretense? It's no wonder that Dick's resume includes the career of the much maligned used car salesman (and a dash of furrier Charles Stuart).

And maybe that's what we're watching here, a history of the horse trader, from its rough and tumble beginnings to the alcohol-fueled space age. This may not be the death of a salesman, but perhaps a slow death as Don Draper becomes corned, inch by inch, by the truth. It reminds me of Paul Fussell's dictum (in his funny and astute book, "Class"), that only women who marry may elevate themselves to a higher social strata -- everyone else fails the sniff test. Good luck to the Hobo, maybe he has just found his gypsy partner.