Mad Men, Season 3

Week 11: Don and Betty Have "the Talk"
Talking television.
Oct. 25 2009 11:01 PM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 11: Don and Betty Have "the Talk"

So it turns out that Betty, our little anthropologist, understood everything she found last week in Don's shoebox of secrets. After a quick trip to Philly for a consultation with her father's lawyer, she confronts Don with her discovery. And the scene that ensues—the scene, really, that the whole series has been building toward—is a knockout: deftly written, incredibly well acted, and orchestrated for maximum suspense.

Don stops at home for a quick errand. He leaves Miss Farrell outside in the car; they're en route to a lovers' getaway. Inside he finds Sally, Bobby and Betty, home unexpectedly from Philadelphia. He tries to slip out to "get his hat"—and presumably tell Suzanne to scram—but Betty's not having it: "Get it later. I need to talk to you."

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is Slate's deputy editor and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast. Follow her on Twitter.

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And so Suzanne—and, by extension, all of Don's philandering—hangs heavy in the room as Betty finally forces Don to be honest about his past. Jon Hamm's performance here is remarkable, further proof that he's the George Clooney of the aughts: an actor inexplicably overlooked until his 30s and destined for a career beyond TV as soon as he's free of the show that made him. When Don refuses to open the locked drawer in his desk and Betty says "You know I know what's in there," Hamm's face goes ashen, his eyes deaden with fear, he sweats and stoops. Don Draper's savoir-faire disappears, and in his place we see: Dick Whitman.

In the conversation that follows, Don tries to convince Betty that a name is just a name. "I didn't have a choice. And I don't know what the difference is." It's a variation on the case he made to Sterling Cooper client Annabel earlier in the episode. Her dog food concern has come under fire thanks to the film The Misfits, which drew attention to the fact that there's horse meat in every can. She wants to keep the brand name, Caldecott Farms, which her father chose, but Don shows her that customers recoil at the sound of it. "Any agency that does not change the name is stealing your money," he argues. "The product is good, it's high-quality. Dogs love it. But the name has been poisoned. I'm not saying a new name is easy to find. … But it's a label on a can. And it will be true because it will promise the quality of the product that's inside." He could just as well be justifying his own personal rebranding efforts.

But Betty doesn't buy this line of thinking. Throughout their confrontation, she's wary and hard, on alert for the usual Draper B.S. When Don promises he can explain, she replies with contempt: "I know. I know you can. You're a very, very gifted storyteller." When he claims to have divorced Anna the day he met Betty, she calls him on the lie. And when he asks her why his new identity matters, she has an answer: "You lied to me everyday. I can't trust you. I don't know who you are."

By the end of the episode, though, Betty knows Don better than anyone in the world—better even than Miss Farrell, who can tell that he's unhappy (empathetic genius that she is). Don invites Betty onto their bed and shows her the pictures of his youth. He tells her about his prostitute mother, his upbringing, and, when she asks, about his brother, Adam, crying and shaking when he explains how he drove Adam to hang himself. "I couldn't risk all this," he explains. Betty pats him tentatively on the shoulder, looking sad for him, and in her vain way flattered, finally understanding what he's given up to keep her. When Don wakes up the next morning, he looks like Dorothy after Oz, expecting to find that it's all over. Instead, Betty's there in their kitchen, and she's still there after work that night. Was it just me, or was there a new tenderness between them as they took the kids out together to trick-or-treat, finally together without any disguises? (My only gripe: The scene's final line—"And who are you supposed to be?"—was uncharacteristically clunky. The point had already been made.)

This was also a great episode for Roger fans, and Patrick, I'm eager to hear what you thought. We met Roger's first love, Annabel, whose name evokes the Poe poem about childhood sweethearts torn asunder. Ostensibly, she's come to Sterling Cooper looking for a new ad campaign, but it turns out she's mostly looking for Sterling himself: Her husband has died, and she's realized that she's still pining for Roger. Their love unfolded in Paris before the war, and it sounds like it warrants a show of its own: There was "eating in cemeteries" and, on Roger's part, boxing. But Roger holds her at arms' length. "You want to know if it was a great time? It was. You want to know if you broke my heart? Obviously." John Slattery's delivery here is amazing; you can hear the years of scabbed-over heartbreak in the line, and suddenly we see the root cause of Roger's barbed insouciance. But when Annabel declares he was "the one," Roger replies, "You weren't." Did the exchange leave you wondering who is Roger's one and only? Annabel assumes it's his new wife, Jane, but his brief, charged exchange with Joan suggests that he may have hopes of once again roaming those "magnificent hillsides." As he notes in a call to a friend when trying to find her a job, "She's important to me."

I'll leave it to you two to dissect Joan's vase-smashing fight with her man, but I do want to briefly note the song the episode ends with: "Where Is Love?" It comes from the show Oliver!—a musical about orphans, you'll recall—and in it impoverished urchins sing plaintively about their quest for motherly love. "Where is she?/ Who I close my eyes to see?/ Will I ever know the sweet "hello"/ That's only meant for me?" The song caught my ear because it supports the Universal Theory of Suzanne that you laid out last week, Patrick: the idea that Don is attracted to Miss Farrell because he's feeling increasingly connected to his orphaned, Dick Whitman self, and thus increasingly in need of a mom—or, barring that, the nurturing mom-esque love that Miss Farrell seems to provide. But I left the episode with new optimism about Don and Betty's prospects (and not just because Suzanne eventually figures out out that the trip to Norwich is canceled). Betty knows who Don is—knows the worst thing he's done—and she's still there. I'm hoping she'll stick around.

I'm happy now,
Julia