Tuesday, October 19, 2010

'Mad Men's' Fools in Love, Or Just Plain Fools?

In episode 11 of the third season of Mad Men -- entitled, “The Gypsy and the Hobo” -- Betty confronted Don about that secret box that he kept in his locked drawer in his office. She demanded to know who was this man who called himself her husband, really? Why were there all these photos inside of his mystery box which included ones picturing Don, only they had a different name on the back of them? Who was Don’s first wife? Why did he buy her a house? Why were there multiple sets of dog tags inside? Why had he kept all this -- his secret identity, his lies about his family – from her after being married to her for more than a decade?

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Betty asked. “Why couldn’t you tell me any of this?”

“When?” Don pushed back defensively. “The day we met? On our first date? On our wedding night? Why did you need to know?”

When Betty said she didn’t really feel like she knew him even after all that time together, she said, “You lied to me every day. I can’t trust you. I don’t know who you are.”

“Yes,” he said in a small voice, “you do.”

When Betty finally decided to end her marriage, in the wake of the JFK assassination at the end of episode 12, “The Grown-Ups,” she did so on the grounds that Don had started their marriage atop of a stack of lies, therefore rendering its foundation unstable from the beginning. “I don’t know where to begin . . . I want to scream at you for ruining all of this, but then you tried to fix it and there’s no point.”

At what point along the way will something like this conversation happen with Don’s wife-to-be Megan? Don certainly had an opening to tell her about his secrets when he tepidly told her, “I’ve done a lot of things,” and adding that Megan doesn’t really know him. To which she replied, “I know who you are now.”

Don may see Megan as his own, personal “fresh start” after a really crappy year which he spent punishing himself (including paying a prostitute to literally abuse him) for his failed marriage, but she’s not a fresh start, she can't be, not with Dick Whitman out there, lurking like a wet blanket. Eventually she’ll find out about it and he’ll have to endure this same conversation all over again about why he never told Megan that his real name isn’t Don Draper. Why he didn’t tell her when they met, or on their first date, etc.? Faye knew all about Don's stolen identity and was willing to stay with him anyway, but he made fast work in dumping her. Stupid man.

Does Don think the trick of telling his wife the truth again will actually work the second time around? Shouldn't she know about these vital pieces of information before marrying him? From this perspective, he’s not moving forward, he’s moving in circles, repeating his mistakes, only with a younger, improved model, one who’s good with children and doesn’t tend to explode in anger. Oh, and this new one speaks French, whereas the Bryn Mawr educated Betty spoke Italian.

Image credit: AMC
Don’s crazy marriage proposal to Megan also reminded me of Roger’s similarly impetuous move in season two which also occurred in the eleventh episode, “The Jet Set.” Roger had recently told Mona he was leaving her after three decades of matrimony to marry his young secretary Jane. After a romantic interlude in a hotel room, Jane was wrapped up in stark white sheets, her dark, wavy hair loosely hanging around her shoulders as she read aloud poetry she’d just written. (By contrast, Megan "Maria von Trapp" got Sally and Bobby to serenade Don in French in a hotel room.) Roger, who’d just emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a bright white bathrobe, sat down next to Jane and caressed her face and hair.

“Oh God, you’re getting to me,” Roger said. When Jane said she was afraid he was going to send her packing he said he’d never do that because, “I love you Jane.”

While she thought about that, he pressed forward, “I’m not being impulsive because I’ve been thinking about this all the time. I want you to be my wife.”

“What?” she asked, shocked.

“Marry me,” Roger said.

“What, Roger are you serious?” (Maybe she questioned his sincerity because he didn’t present an engagement ring like Don did to Megan.)

“Will you do that for me?” When Jane nodded yes, Roger donned the same kind of stupid grin on his face that Don wore when he sat down on the edge of the bed and asked Megan, who was wearing a nightgown, to marry him.

In the very next season two episode, “The Mountain King,” we saw that same kind of smile again, in flashbacks, when Don was confiding in Anna on Christmas Eve that he’d met someone, Betty. “I met a girl,” his face positively beaming in a boyish, naive way that you didn't see in the present day Don. “She’s so beautiful and happy. She’s a model and she’s from a good family and she’s educated . . . I just like the way she laughs and the way she looks at me. I want to ask her to marry me.”

Yes, that was Don talking about Betty. As laughing, as happy, as giving him adoring looks which he loved. And yet somehow, all of that went away and she blamed Don's cheating and lying for it.
“This is a chance at a whole new life,” Anna told him at the time. And that's what Don's counting on now, and what Roger was counting on when he proposed to his secretary in season two, yet in season four he impregnated the office manager in an alley and Faye said Don's fiance should know that he only likes the "new" parts of a relationship.

Roger and Don: Fools in love or just plain fools?

Image credit: Carin Baer/AMC.


john bord said...

"Just Plain Fools," Love it, one of the all time great comments on life and TV.

Store it in the recycle file, should be lots of uses for that line.

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