Mad Men blogging: Grazie
How much do I love it when “Mad Men” reveals yet one more of the many talents of Betty Draper? Of course she speaks Italian and has the courage to wear her hair in one of those new-fangled bouffants that reaches the epic heights that were acceptable in Italy. Of course she and Don, when taken away from the demands of their kids and their house in the suburbs, become playful with each other and finally have some hot sex for once. It’s much remarked upon that Don has a thing for intelligent women with a little spark to them—so unlike his wife—but what is rarely noticed is that the show hints that his wife used to be that way, before he knocked her up and sequestered her in the suburbs. I see more hate aimed at Betty than any other character on the show, because she’s so sullen and petty and boring and she’s a bad mother. But who among us could say that we wouldn’t also be depressed and sullen if put in an environment that’s toxic to us, and kept in a perpetual state of boredom? She’s not easy to like, but she’s also trapped. It was nice to have an episode where we’re reminded that under the layers of tedious boredom and stifled anger, there’s a Betty Draper who is stylish, funny, and smart. A Betty who takes to sophistication like a duck to water. A Betty who does a goofy little victory dance when she gets her way after some political wheeling and dealing.
She’s not a good mother, of course, and we’re seeing some more problems with Sally’s bad behavior and temper. And that speech that she gave Sally about first kisses was some fucked up shit. But it’s increasingly clear that Betty is not cut out for motherhood, but that doesn’t mean that she’s a bad person. She’s a person who could excel at many other roles, but ended up with a job she really hates. She’s easily bored, and that was the subtext to the “many first kisses” line, which was also a nod to her first kiss with the governor’s adviser early in the episode. The favoritism Betty shows for the baby is just more evidence of this. Those other children are just yesterday’s news. Change attracts Betty’s attention. There’s a lot of talk about the many talents of Joan, and what Joan could have been in a more feminist era, but this episode forces you to ponder the same things about Betty. Could Betty have been an ambassador? A journalist covering foreign affairs? Someone in a career that involved a lot of flexibility and constant change seems appropriate.
Things sure went to shit quickly after they came back. The line of the adviser’s that Betty aped before they left for Rome—about how, in politics, if you can’t stop something you just delay it—seems ominous, and not just because that seems to be the Republicans and conservative Democrats’ approach to health care. That’s what she and Don have been doing for years now, when it comes to their failed marriage. The day of reckoning, where they actually have it out about what’s making them so unhappy, is always being put off for this reason or that. There’s a baby. Or a death. Or more lies and infidelities. And finally, after all this time, Betty finally just fucking said what she’s been afraid to say for years now: She hates living in Ossining, and she hates being around suburbanites, and she’s bored.
But despite this, I feel the first glimmer of hope for Betty and Don. They each regard the other warily as a prison guard keeping them in this trap. The elephant in the room is that they feel pretty much the same about their shared situation. The question hangs between them: What if they just said no, and decided to find a different way to be married to each other? But easier said than done, of course, and that Betty has spoken up doesn’t necessarily mean that Don’s willing to listen and realize that hey, all those feelings of being trapped he experiences, his wife experiences, too. And she’s not empathetic enough to realize that Don’s resistance to any trap like a contract at Sterling Cooper means that they share a hatred of traps, and a desire for adventure. That the thing that brought them together is still there, underneath all that resentment.
Meanwhile, I can’t help but think that Joan and Pete’s chance meeting is going to end up meaning more than just giving the audience a chance to see what happened to Joan. Perhaps this has created the path back to Sterling Cooper? Joan is the model of poise and discretion, as always. I hardly think the show is done with her.
Now Pete’s story line is going to be the hardest one to swallow. In the past, he’s been a brat, an asshole, a sexist, and a cheater, but in this episode, he came across like a monster. He blackmailed that girl into bed, and while I don’t know if you could legally call it rape, it certainly fits into the sexual assault rainbow. Of course, Trudy doesn’t know about the coercion and hints of violence or at least retribution that Pete used against the au pair, but I think there’s very little doubt that she knows he cheated. And she swallowed that up like she has swallowed up some of his other routine cruelties. Trudy is beginning to be the character I sometimes feel the most sorry for. She’s annoying in that chipper WASP sort of way, but when you look at the big picture, Trudy is a decent human being with a big heart. She’s industrious, kind, and generally has a strong sense of decency. She’s just a doormat, which is, of course, what she was raised to be.
Pete likes walking all over women; that much is certain. It makes him feel big and powerful. Without Trudy around to take his grief, he picked on the first random girl he had even the slightest power over. We’re in the process of rewatching the first two seasons with friends who’ve never seen the show, and one thing that sticks out now in earlier episodes, knowing what we know of Pete, is how much he enjoys lording himself over Peggy. Making little comments, getting her to sit quietly and listen to him bitch (and then fucking her), snapping at her when she has the nerve to have too much fun in his presence. Pete might be the biggest full-blown misogynist on the show. Don, who can be very perceptive when he wants to be, picked up on that, which is why he decided to lay the mortal blow on Pete by promoting Peggy and putting her on one of Pete’s accounts. It worked, too. I don’t know if Don knows about Pete and Peggy, but he knows that Pete will reliably shit a brick upon seeing a woman get promoted to a job he covets. Now that Peggy’s gained some confidence and has basically told Pete to fuck off, Pete has even more resentment and anger. And that German au pair just got the brunt of it.