As we near the end of the third season of “Mad Men,” the 1960s are moving faster than ever for the show’s major characters. Whereas earlier seasons seemingly moved in slow motion, with action moving at an almost glacial pace, Season 3 finds its central players noticing the earth beneath their feet is moving ever more rapidly. In the widening tectonic crevices left behind lies the difference between the lives these people thought they would lead and the lives they actually live.
This week’s episode, “The Gypsy and the Hobo,” centered around three couples looking at each other in the eye and seeing the illusions of their lives dissipate, leaving behind a reality that is both unforgiving yet oddly banal. Much in the way that life went stubbornly on in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis at the end of Season 3, so too does life continue to proceed even after deep secrets and shameful truths rise to the surface. And rather than hold off until the end of the recap to deal with the most seismic event, let’s join Don and Betty in the kitchen, shall we?
[Full recap of Sunday (Oct. 25) night’s “Mad Med” after the break…]
Don and Betty
Did you think Betty would bring up her discovery so soon? I certainly didn’t. I figured she would lie in wait, much like a snake, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. But rather than internalize her discovery past the point of normal human capacity, all it takes is the potential loss of her father’s estate to kick her into action.
I realize that I bring up Gene Hofstadt’s powerful, lingering shadow in the majority of my recaps, but the show introduced this figure to the brief forefront early this season in order to make his impact that much more powerful in his absence. His is a figure felt stronger missing than present, shaping (some would say infecting) Betty’s worldview at every step of the way. In talking with her family lawyer, she realized that even though she was the wronged party, in court Don would walk away with everything (including the kids) unless she could provide legal, not anecdotal, evidence of Don’s philandering. Moreover, she would be financially cut off, which would make selling Daddy’s place a financial, not moral, decision.
Well, say no more: it’s back to the house early, just in time to almost catch Don and Suzanne Farrell go off on their first vacation together. Don’s near fetishization of Suzanne stems as much from his feelings of guilt as encroachment, seeing in her a purity of purpose and spirit lacking in his own world. It’s not an accident that this episode took place around Halloween: while children in the neighborhood wore costumes for one night only, Don took his only costume off for a one-night engagement with his wife. The close shave, dark suit, perfectly coiffed hair: that’s “Don Draper,” his own version of Superman. But when finally confronted by the evidence in his locked dresser drawer, Clark Kent/Dick Whitman finally showed himself to Betty.
As for the lengthy reveal of information: it’s not enough to me to simply commend the excellent work by Jon Hamm and January Jones. That’s not to say they didn’t knock it out of the park, because they did. Rather, I was fascinated by the almost complete lack of histrionics in their interaction. Watching Don deflate in front of Betty, the keys to the drawer suddenly too heavy to bear, followed by cheeks once to full suddenly hollow, was simply stunning. These were not two people shouting at the top of their lungs. These were two people both so individually tired from their years of play-acting yet terrified of actually facing reality that they were surprised to find just how easily and quietly the truth flowed once the dam sprung a leak.
That’s not to say that such epochal moments in relationships can’t play out with verbal fireworks and frantic gesticulation. But how refreshing for “Mad Men” to once again go against the grain in giving us a scene in which Don told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It’s unclear if he was more relieved to have Betty finally know the truth or to finally bring the shoe-box into the open. By suppressing his past for so long, he’s only suffused his essence with it. But in releasing his true identity to her, he’s no longer the man she thought he was. While it’s been a while since Betty has truly seen her husband as a super man, it’s unwise to see her actions on Halloween as acceptance of his true self. They both put on brave faces for the neighbors, but they are now also putting them on for each other. Cracks will emerge soon enough.
Roger and Annabel
Season 3 has given us far, far too little Roger Sterling. I realize that his marginalization within Sterling Cooper necessitated a lighter on-screen time this season, but watching him in scene after scene tonight with his old, pre-war flame reminded all of us just how much this character used to energize every scene he was in. And tonight? He was in far over his head.
Annabel is a former client of Sterling Cooper as well as a former lover of Roger’s. Her father started a dog food company that used to employ the firm until a combination of personal and professional matters led to a split between the two factions. Tonight, she returned fresh from the death of the man for whom she left Roger in order to jumpstart her business and perhaps jumpstart the relationship she sabotaged more than twenty years earlier. But just as Betty Draper saw the man behind the Don Draper curtain, so too did Annabel see a Roger very different from the one she remembered.
Much in the way that I used to produce a worldview based on the novel “High Fidelity,” Annabel spent her married life fashioning a “what if” scenario by casting Roger Sterling in the role of Rick Blaine from “Casablanca.” Whether through a sense of regret from her choice or simply grief from her ex’s death, Annabel offered Roger the business as a way to offer Roger…um, the business. But she’s shattered to learn that Roger never shared her view of themselves as, for lack of a better term, soul mates. Roger insists that, “It’s different with this girl,” alluding overtly to Jane. But we as audience members know better.
Greg and Joan
Annabel might have fashioned Roger to be “the one,” but Joan will always hold that position in Roger’s heart. Unfortunately for both, Joan decided to throw her lot in with a clumsy, rape-y doctor. Fun. If anyone on the show can speak of the horror of reality colliding with fantasy, it’s Joan. She thought he was moving up in the world by marrying him, only to find herself clawing at the ground rather than get dragged down even further by this worthless man.
Betty and Annabel could start a support group with Joan concerning women disillusioned and disappointed by the men in their lives. While not quite topping the infamous John Deere accident from a few weeks ago, Joan beaning Greg after his pathetic rant with a flower vase nevertheless packed quite a punch. “You don’t know what it’s like to want something your whole life, and to plan for it, and count on it, and not get it,” he tells her, in a sentence that the Oxford English Dictionary might use as an example for the word “irony.” He’s a walking, talking, drinking, self-pitying epitome of her version of that statement.
Is it right to actually root for Roger and Joan to get together? Probably not. But it’s clear that while Roger’s a louse, he’s got a soft spot for his Joanie. And hey, he might get a shot after Greg goes to Vietnam after stupidly joining the Army without so much as consulting his wife about it. Sure, his desire to provide a form of economic support for her is commendable, but there’s now a body bag with his name on it coming on down the line right now. Joan expressed outward pleasure in his decision, but it’s clear that being a stay-at-home wife simply isn’t something that would make her happy. She left Sterling Cooper partly out of the realization that her talents were consistently underappreciated, but also because she felt the societal pressure to do so. In either case, she wouldn’t have left happily even if Greg didn’t operate as if he didn’t possess opposable thumbs.
In any case, The Vietnam War will kill Greg and Joan, much in the way that the Korean War formed Don and Betty and WWII split apart Roger and Annabel. War and love, people. All’s fair, and yet nothing’s seemingly fair for anyone at this point. And in just three weeks time, war will come to American soil. In Dallas, to be precise. At that point, the crevices that surround these characters will split apart exponentially.
Who will be left standing? Leave your thoughts on tonight’s episode below!