Mad Men, Season 3

Week 11: Paging Dr. Cutup
Talking television.
Oct. 26 2009 12:02 PM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 11: Paging Dr. Cutup

Still from AMC's Mad Men. Click image to expand.
Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men

Dear John and Julia:

My dog is relieved to have Roger back in the picture.

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"Did you divorce what's-his-name?" Sterling asks the horse meat heiress Annabel. After learning that, actually, her husband has died of lung cancer, Roger says simply, "That's too bad." You know Roger is back in fighting form when he's referring to tragic events with that breezy, slightly contemptuous air of disregard. In a cast of jaded wisecrackers, Roger has no rival for astringency. When Annabel likens herself to Ingrid Bergman at the end of Casablanca, Roger replies, "That woman got on a plane with a man who was going to end World War II—not run her father's dog food company."

I think you're right, Julia: After three seasons, we're finally getting an insight into what makes Roger so sour. Mona and the corner office were concession prizes, which Roger built a life around with the same ambivalence that Joan would have felt as the wife of a psychiatrist. Every brass ring after Annabel amounted to second place, and he's clearly still bitter about it. (Already three martinis in, Roger suggests Annabel accept a full bottle of wine, assuring her, "I'll help.")

So why, do you suppose, he doesn't just go for it? When he was married to Mona, Roger never hesitated to cheat on her, not with the Cartwright twins, not with Joan—and not with Jane. And Annabel isn't just an old flame. She's a client! She's Lee Garner Jr. in drag! (When Annabel storms out of the focus group, Roger has the good sense to ask, "Is this about last night?") It ain't loyalty to Jane that's keeping Roger honest, no matter what he says about "this girl" being "different." Jane's a flake and a child, and Roger knows it. So why not hook up with the Caldecott Farm girl, for old time's sake?

I don't really buy that the answer is Joan. But it did seem, through most of this episode, that Joan was poised for a return to Sterling Cooper, or at least to the office of one of Roger's cronies. To judge by Greg's interview prep ("There are other ways to heal people besides cutting them open"), he's not exactly suited to the talking cure, and I'd thought his continued troubles would drive Joan back into the fold. But now Dr. Cutup, as Roger calls him, is going to be shipped off to Vietnam ("if that's still going on") and presumably written off the show. Despite her smile, Joan seems to intuit that this won't end well—you could see it in her eyes as she walked off to prepare for the celebratory dinner. Something tells me Annabel won't be the last comely widow to seek out Roger Sterling when death makes her available.

As for Don and Betty, I don't have much to add to the astute analysis you two have laid out. But a few stray observations:

I once wrote an article about a con man, who, now that I think about it, had a fair amount in common with Don Draper. He came from humble origins but concocted a new identity, legally changing his last name to that of a wealthy industrial family. When I confronted him with his actual birth name, he responded, almost word for word, as Don does: "People change their names." Pretending to be someone you are not, this rationalization suggests, is no different from taking a stage name. This is the kind of lie you might use to comfort yourself about the gravity of your own duplicity. But it's a tough sell when you run it by someone else. My con man protested that Larry King and other entertainers change their names. Don points out, even more feebly, that Betty changed hers when they got married.

What I wonder, Julia, is if the confrontation scene was the moment "the whole series has been building toward," as you suggest, then where do we go from here? Can Mad Men retain the kind of dramatic tension that has made it so compelling for three seasons when the question at the heart of the show—will Betty learn Don's secret—has been resolved?

I don't mean to suggest that Don is reformed. On the contrary, when Suzanne asks if she's going to see him again, he replies, "Not right now," which to me, anyway, suggests that he's planning his standard period of penitential monogamy, followed by a return to form. And Betty is too pragmatic to divorce Don purely out of grievance. But the more interesting possibility, it seems to me, is that once her initial sympathy wears off, Betty will want to move on, not because she's angry with Don Draper—but because she's not in love with Dick Whitman. "All this time I thought you were some football hero who hated his father," she says. "I knew you were poor. I knew you were ashamed of it. I see how you are with money. You don't understand it." Betty and Don have confected a certain aspirational lifestyle, but they come from very different backgrounds. Betty's a snob and always has been. There's a deep strain of Yankee classism in that "You don't understand it."

You're right, Julia, when Don realizes the game is up, it's as if he physically transforms into Dick Whitman. Betty might be able to mother a backwoods orphan, a connoisseur of horse meat who can't keep his wits about him long enough to light his own cigarette and pour his own drink. But can she love him the way she loved the strapping, silver-tongued football hero Don Draper?

Bonus question for the Fray: Last week, I wondered why Don is such a hoarder, keeping a scrapbook of his own secrets and crimes. One possibility that had not occurred to me is that this behavior might be pathological—on some deep, twisted level, Don might have wanted to get caught. "You obviously wanted me to know this, or you wouldn't have left your keys," Betty says. "You wouldn't have kept all this in my house."

With Dr. Cutup back in surgery, we're short on shrinks. Do you buy Betty's analysis?

Still? Or again?
Patrick

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