Slate culture editor John Swansburg joined readers on Facebook on Monday to chat about the third episode of Mad Men’s new season. The following transcript of the discussion has been edited for length and clarity. Read the full conversation here.
John Swansburg: Looking forward to chatting with you guys about episode 503, but a warning: I just got back from drinks with the Mohawk guys.
Neil Hamilton: Not enough Joan!
John Swansburg: I agree. The cast is big enough now that it seems to be the norm that major characters will fall out for an episode at a time.
John Swansburg: What did folks think about the Betty plot line? Julia Turner defended it well in her post, I thought. But I still can't say I love it when the show lingers on Betty.
Melissa de Castrique Thomson: It's hard for me to wholeheartedly agree with Julia's defense of Betty because I'm still mad about Carla.
John Swansburg: One thing I'll say in Betty's defense: Can't be easy having that mother-in-law.
Melissa de Castrique Thomson: I'm wondering about the ramifications of Betty's health scare. It would be un-Mad Men-like to have a storyline like that limited to one episode. I'm guessing that maybe it'll change the dynamic of Don and Betty's relationship? Also, does Henry just hate Don or does he feel threatened by him?
John Swansburg: Good question about Henry's feelings about Don. Saying that "nobody" had called at the end of the episode was pretty stark. Henry eventually lost what patience he had with Don last season; it'll be interesting to see how their dynamic plays out during this one. Certainly if he knew that Betty had called Don with the news of her growth, he'd not have been happy ...
Michelle Bisson: Henry Francis is threatened by Don, and, it seems, for good reason. As much as Betty is capable of having feelings for anyone aside from herself (very limited, as we know), she has them for Don.
Janice Jitchaku Mullaney: The idea that Betty might go from being a cold and heartless person to a warm, loving mother and wife all because she faced her own mortality was worrisome. Betty is the character we all love to hate. However, now that we have seen those feelings surface, we are also forced to realize that somewhere in the complexity of who Betty really is, she knows she is not a good person. Where does she go with that knowledge? That will be interesting to see.
John Swansburg: I agree. As Julia points out, Betty seems to quickly revert to her old childish self as soon as the scare has passed. But maybe it won't be as simple as that.
Deborah Wilker: Insultingly laughable NY accent attempt by Ben Feldman—totally ruined an otherwise good episode.
John Swansburg: I'm excited about the idea of Ginsberg joining up at SCDP, but I thought Feldman was a bit all over the place last night. The accent was a little much, and he was a bit scattered too. Jon Hamm directed last night, and I wondered if his inexperience showed most with the newest character.
David Haglund: What did you think of Hamm's directing generally?
John Swansburg: One moment I found a little on the nose was the jump from Betty's stuck zipper to Megan's decidedly not-stuck zipper. Not sure that was a directorial move, but it was a little easy. I thought bringing in a fortune teller in an episode about a possible terminal cancer diagnosis was also a bit much. But again, that might well be in the script.
Steven Bear Swyryt: Do you really think Megan wants to play colleague? The last 15 minutes of the season opener was her complaining about how she didn't like the office.
John Swansburg: That's a good point. But didn't you get a sense that she wasn't content to just entertain the wife at dinner? She wanted to be a full partner in the business conversation. She might not ultimately decide she likes the advertising world, but she's not going to be like Betty and make polite conversation about children and cooking when out to dinner, I don't think.
Tree Fitzpatrick: I don't think Megan was being genuine when she told Don maybe she shouldn't work there. That chick is a player and always playing. She might be instinctively manipulative, but there she was manipulating Don, seeking to bind him more closely to her. She wanted to be part of the shop talk at dinner this week. She wants to be involved in the game of advertising, of cutting-edge culture.
Michelle Bisson: I think the show is best when it focuses on the office. I found this episode very slow. I also feel like it has lost its way. This season feels like Season 3, my least favorite season, more than seasons 1, 2, and 4.
John Swansburg: I'm with you on preferring the office. I loved the premiere, but I confess I got a little restless during this episode. Even the office stuff was somewhat slack.
John Swansburg: Anyone have a theory as to the significance of Pete Fox, the baseball player whose death Ginsberg's dad mentions? I feel like it's rare for details like that not to have some significance, but a quick look at Fox's career didn't suggest any larger meaning. (He did die on July 5, 1966, so I suppose it could just be a date marker.)
Melissa de Castrique Thomson: Ginsberg's dad's comment, “he was only 57,” struck me as a little ominous. Maybe I'm reading too much into the line because I'm always worried about the health of our elder SCDP partners. But I wondered if that comment and the "death might be nearer than you think" tone of Betty's storyline portend something tragic later in the season. (I'm reaching, I know.)