Mad Men, Season 3

Week 11: Betty Draper Would Have Made a Great Lawyer
Talking television.
Oct. 26 2009 10:10 AM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 11: Betty Draper Would Have Made a Great Lawyer

I agree, Julia—"the talk" was masterfully written and acted. I'm not sure I'm ready to bestow Clooney status on Jon Hamm, but he did show me something this week. Don is so preternaturally cool, it's been hard to gauge Hamm's range. (Last year's comic cameos on 30 Rock and SNL were inconclusive—he was basically just making fun of Don Draper.) But Hamm was outstanding this week. Caught in his biggest lie, Don is rendered incapable of lighting his own cigarette. He gulps his Canadian Club with none of the suavity we've become accustomed to over the last three years. You could hear him laboring for breath as his world came down around him.

In the current issue of the Atlantic, Benjamin Schwarz condemns January Jones as a casting mistake, but Jones too was impressive this week, demonstrating deep anger toward her husband and then, later, a measure of pity and maybe even acceptance, if not quite forgiveness. Betty the character impressed me, too: She may have applied her training in anthropology to piece together Don's secret, but what struck me most was her sharp lawyering. Betty wins a pretrial hearing over the admissibility of the box of secrets. (Don's lame contention that his desk is private—illegal search!—doesn't hold up for a minute.) And eventually, she elicits as full a confession from Donald Draper as anyone ever has. "The talk" itself felt like a cross-examination of a hostile witness. As you noted, Julia, when Don tries to fudge the date of his divorce, Betty calls him on it without consulting the evidence—she's committed it to memory. She even sounds like a hard-nosed litigator. After Don asks when he was supposed to reveal his secret, she snaps, "You don't get to ask any questions." When baby Gene forces Betty to temporarily adjourn the proceedings, she warns her husband "We're not done." Somebody's been watching The Defenders.

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor. 

 

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But Betty's lack of expertise in black letter law did seem to hamstring her in one respect. Forced to consult her father's lawyer for advice, Betty receives what seemed to me like suspect counsel. I have no doubt that New York state divorce law favored men at the time, but Betty's options can't be as limited as Gene's lawyer made them out to be. As Betty forces Don to admit, he broke the law in assuming the identity of his fallen commanding officer. Never mind divorce—couldn't Betty have the marriage annulled, on the grounds that Don defrauded her? The man Betty thought she married isn't the man she actually married. A lawyer with a slightly more progressive outlook than Milton might have asked a few more questions before telling his client to "go home, give it a try."

In Milton's defense, Betty didn't quite convey to him the severity of Don's actions. Was this because she didn't fully understand Don's lie before interrogating him? Because she didn't have the legal savvy to know which details were important? Or because she's not ready to become a single mother of three, to give up her edge over her petulant brother with regards to their father's house, to become the Helen Bishop of some new neighborhood? As you noted, Julia, the end of the episode suggested that Betty is going to give it a try, and I don't think it's just out of fear of being on her own. When Don finally told Betty the truth about his childhood, Betty seemed to feel real sympathy for what he endured as a child. And as overwhelming as the discovery of Don's secret clearly was to Betty, she must also have felt some degree of relief. Finally, an explanation for why her husband is the way he is: his dark moods, his unwillingness to talk about his past, even his inability, apparently, to handle the household finances.

(Though you're totally right, Julia, that it broke the show-don't-tell rule, I kind of loved the "Who are you supposed to be?" line. Every now and then the real world delivers an accidental bon mot like this, plus I thought it was totally believable coming out of the mouth of Francine's silly husband. As for Bobby dressing up like a hobo, that felt a bit much …)

Patrick, do you think Don has gotten rid of Miss Farrell this easily? She seemed very understanding on the phone—too understanding. I'm no fan of Miss Farrell, and I'd be pleased to see her go, as, I'm sure, would Don's cardiologist—pasta with cream and butter and cheese? But something tells me we haven't seen the last of her long curly hair, gold stars, and NESCAC jogging gear.

As for the writers' decision to have "Dr." Greg Harris be the first Mad Men character set on a direct course for Hamburger Hill, Vietnam—well, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. That said, I was of two minds about the vase. On the one hand, it was undeniably cathartic—what fan of this series hasn't been rooting for this guy to be smacked upside the head? On the other hand, it was a little Three Stooges. Here's hoping that Greg gets shipped off to an active theater sooner rather than later, and the peace talks between Joan and Roger continue apace.

Avec plaisir,
John