Mad Men, Season 3

Week 12: How Betty Draper Broke My Heart
Talking television.
Nov. 2 2009 6:11 PM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 12: How Betty Draper Broke My Heart

Still from Mad Men. Click image to expand.
Mad Men

One of the most useful words you'll learn on Internet message boards is the verb to ship. Derived from relationship, it describes what fans of a television series are doing when they root for certain characters to become romantically involved. Most fans of Cheers shipped Sam and Diane; some fans of The West Wing shipped Josh and Donna. It's a useful term. Before it was invented, there was no simple way to express the strange feeling of wanting fictional people to fall in love.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

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

So let me confess: Somehow, I've become a shipper of Don and Betty. When Betty awoke to baby Gene's cries at the beginning of this episode and found Don cradling him in the nursery, I was happy to see that the Draper marriage seemed intact, even rejuvenated and newly egalitarian, after last week's revelations. And when Patrick suggested that Betty might be too snobby to love humble Dick, I was indignant on her behalf: I thought perhaps a fresh honesty might flourish between them. As a result, then, I was disconsolate when Betty crushed Don's heart this week. "I don't love you," she says. "I don't love you anymore. I know that." Don retreats to the bedroom, and the shot of him sitting there—looking crumpled and Dickish, shaken and lost—may be the saddest the series has given us yet. "Where is love?" Not on Bullet Park Road.

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Why do you think Betty confesses her lack of love to Don? Is it the tumult of the assassination? The escape route Henry Francis' proposal offers? The inevitable fallout from Don's confession? I wondered whether Betty might just finally have tired of being treated like a child; when Don comes home after Kennedy's murder, he critiques her for letting the kids watch TV, then tells her to "take a pill and lie down." And later, when she tries to express her anger, he dismisses her with little more than a there, there: "Bets, don't. You're distraught. …You'll feel better tomorrow." (Anyone who doubts Jones' acting chops should check out the little snort of frustration she gives after this line.)

I'm also dying to see where Mad Men will go with Betty's declaration, because I've always been convinced that Matthew Weiner is an even bigger Don/Betty shipper than I am. Why else would he give Suzanne and Henry all the heft of cardboard cutouts, creating affairs that are—as you note, Patrick—completely devoid of spark? (We know Weiner can write a sexy assignation when he needs to.) And why else would the single most romantic episode of the season be the one in Rome? Was Weiner just setting us up to be heartsick now that Don and Betty's breakup is upon us? Or is there hope for the Draper marriage yet?

Even if Betty does leave Don, I'm not convinced she'll take up with Henry Francis. His promises to her are just like Don's—he, too, wants to make her happy and says that everything "will be OK"—and they sound equally empty to her: "I wish I could believe you," she responds. "I can't believe anything right now." She can, however, fantasize about a matinee of Singin' in the Rain, a movie about a pair of silent-film actors who look perfect together but squawk discordantly once the talkies are invented. Sound like anyone you know?

OK, enough Draperology. A few other points for you gentlemen:

First: Is any format better suited to Roger Sterling's strengths than the wedding toast? I loved his ode to his ex-wife—a "lioness"—and his genuinely moving words about his bratty daughter: "To Margaret and Brooks Hargrove. The adults—we all wanted to be strong for you. But your spirit, your love, your hope: It's giving us strength. If you can make it through a day like today, marriage is a cakewalk." The toast seems even more Sterlingian when we learn, later in the day, that he actually thought the wedding was "a disaster," which suggests his sweet lines were about as sincere as his encomiums about Don at the Sterling Cooper anniversary party.

Second: Patrick, you're so right about Mona's deliciously sharp tongue. "Just because she went to India doesn't mean she's not an idiot" is a line that should beget an entire Mona spinoff show. It's unclear how those two produced a dud like Margaret.

Third: Do you think Kinsey figured out that Peggy's nooner was with Duck? Olive identifies Peggy's caller as Mr. Herman (no more Clorox, apparently), and Kinsey's face lights up with the glow of incipient gossip when he senses what's afoot. There's no way that Paul—with his jealousy and job insecurity—won't use whatever he's figured out to his advantage next week.

Finally: an obligatory round of gloating. I was so right about JFK's assassination! I'll take Maker's or Knob Creek, Swansburg.

Everyone in the country is drinking!
Julia