Mad Men, Season 3

Week 10: Why Is Miss Farrell So Annoying?
Talking television.
Oct. 20 2009 10:59 AM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 10: Why Is Miss Farrell So Annoying?

I'll confess, I cheered out loud this week when Betty discovered Don's box of secrets. It was an amazing, surprising, show-shaking development. And without it, I would have dismissed this episode as unforgivably pokey. Sterling Coop prepares for a party! Wrong number at the Draper residence! Elementary school teacher misplaces gold star! It sounds like you two liked the whole episode; I thought it was uneven, redeemed only by the Kinsey meltdown and the sight of Betty making like Nancy Drew.

Patrick, you're right that the big question now is How many of Don's secrets does Betty comprehend? As a Betty sympathizer—someone who finds her character compelling, if not likable—I'd like to think she's put all the pieces together. (One commenter suggests her anthropology degree might have helped her assess the evidence.) But the consensus in the Fray—and I think I agree—is that Betty seemed more interested in and shocked by the divorce papers than anything else in the shoebox. It did seem that she flipped past the photo of Don labeled "Dick" pretty quickly, while she lingered on the documents suggesting that she might not be the first Mrs. Draper. Given Betty's heightened sense of propriety—after all, this is a woman who opted not to have an affair because sex on a desk seemed too crude—one can only imagine that a secret ex-wife, and the revelation that Don was still married when he was courting her, won't sit well with her. And was it just me, or did the camera hold for an extra beat on that California address? Perhaps Betty decided not to confront Don because she wants to go sleuthing on the West Coast instead.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.

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I also loved the sight of Betty reading The Group, which was a best-seller in 1963. Mary McCarthy's novel follows a group of Vassar graduates who pursue interesting careers in their 20s only to find themselves, to varying degrees, hamstrung by domesticity in later life. The book is an intriguing addition to Betty's reading list because of its complex and generally accurate take on American gender history; the book acknowledges that women actually had more opportunities and autonomy during the '30s than in the decades that followed. Given Betty's nostalgic longing for the cosseted state of Victorian womanhood—see: the fainting couch, her fondness for epistolary romance—I wonder what she makes of the independent operators in The Group. Could they have offered her some inspiration to keep her own counsel this week?

The week's other highlight, of course, was the dynamic between Peggy and Kinsey as they struggled to devise a Western Union campaign. I loved it as much as you guys did. Only two points to add. First, it was heartbreaking to hear Peggy say of Don, "He hates me." I don't think Don does hate Peggy; this season  he's taken to snapping at Peggy the way Betty snaps at Sally, and it's clear his outbursts have left her feeling uncertain of his esteem. As we know, that's a recipe for disastrous choices on Peggy's part.

Second, did you see the visual aid Kinsey selected for his masturbatory moment? It was the Marilyn/Jackie Maidenform campaign he devised in Season 2. When he brought it out, I thought at first that he was looking to past successes for inspiration. Turns out he just wanted to jerk off to his own work. Blecch. But as metaphors for the behavior of frustrated, self-important creative types go, it's a pretty good one.

But despite these high points, the episode was bogged down by the gigantic, clanking anchor that is Miss Suzanne Farrell. I've been thinking a lot today about what makes her so annoying. The actress who plays her is good. She and Don have decent chemistry. The dialogue is terrible, of course. (I couldn't believe the writers forced her to dwell this week on that schoolboy question about the color blue—that's a cliché beyond cliché, the oldest stoner conundrum in the book.) But I don't think the dialogue alone is the problem. I think it's that Miss Farrell's character—or, more precisely, Don's interest in her—is so ill-conceived.

Why does he want her? She's pure. She's naive. She's a wood sprite. She dances barefoot. She holds strong beliefs about the innocence of children. She's both nurturing and modern (unlike his wife). This all sounds good on paper, but it doesn't feel right on-screen. The Don who wants this ingénue doesn't mesh with the Don we know. He has typically gone for women more sophisticated than Betty, not less; women who can match his worldliness, not challenge it. The Don who's infatuated with Suzanne is not one we've met, and I don't think the show's done enough to explain why he's changed his tune.

Sound right? Or do you guys have alternate theories?

And I'm also dying to hear what you make of the show's obligatory Rome reference of the week, from Suzanne's brother: "Caesar had epilepsy and he ran Rome."

See you in your dressiest Stetsons,
Julia