Mad Men, Season 3

Week 8: First Kisses
Talking television.
Oct. 5 2009 11:05 AM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 8: First Kisses

I'm glad you asked about Betty's speech on first kisses, John. "The first kiss is very special," she counsels Sally. "It's where you go from being a stranger to knowing someone, and every kiss with him after that is a shadow of that kiss." Although the line felt a little stilted—would you actually say that to a child?—I thought it offered insight both onto Betty's flirtation with Henry Francis and her decision not to pursue it.

What Betty desires most is to be courted, chased, and caught. Domesticity does not figure high on her list of turn-ons. Henry intrigues Betty because he wants her, because he sees her the way she sees herself: young, beautiful, and powerful for her beauty. But Betty is sharp enough to recognize that what excites her about their exchanges is not Henry himself but the thrill of the new. It would be all downhill after that kiss in the Continental, despite Henry's blathering on about how happy it makes him to make her happy. And so she drives off, throwing herself into her marriage with new fervor and proposing that she accompany Don to Rome. This was a moment of remarkable self-awareness from Betty, who, despite her anthropology degree, rarely seems so astute about her own emotions. Whatever happens next for the Drapers, I do think Henry is gone for good.

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 liked Betty's consoling words for Sally, who worries that she's squandered the specialness of her first kiss by planting one on the neighbor boy while seated in the bathtub. "You're going to have a lot of first kisses," Betty says, in a moment of genuine, motherly reassurance. She means, of course, that Sally will eventually date plenty of boys and has other first kisses to look forward to. But the line also harks back to the cafe scene in Rome, when Betty and Don flirt as though they've never met. Their kiss that night was a first kiss, of a sort. And so for a moment Betty sounds as though she's dispensing Oprah-esque advice: Rejuvenate your marriage by pretending each kiss is the first! A little travel, a little role-playing, an appointment at the parrucchiere … and voilà: So much passion, even the sirens wailing through Rome sound sexy.

Of course, any hope that the Drapers' marriage might be on the mend is quickly dashed at the episode's end, when Betty bitterly accepts the souvenir Don gives her. In this episode, we saw a more capable Betty than usual—working the phones, chattering away inItaliano—which heightened our understanding of why she feels so trapped at home. Might this be the most sympathetic Betty we've seen yet?

Another odd aspect of this episode: It gave parallel plotlines to Betty and Pete, who both stray from boring marriages before recommitting to their spouses. I've never thought much about what these two have in common, but they're not unalike. They're both loathsome, petulant, and strangely naive. And they both like guns!

In general, though, I find Pete's motives harder to follow. While Betty's angst is archetypal, Pete is just weird. Why on earth did he pursue that au pair? How could he possibly think that raping a girl in his own building could redound to his benefit? He's usually such a canny schemer, so careful about consequences. And what did you make of his chagrin when Trudy returned home, full of amorous kisses? He seemed honestly remorseful, like he wanted to come clean. But it's not as though he hasn't cheated on Trudy before. (He makes out with Peggy on the eve of his wedding and again once he's already married.) All of which reminded me of the thing that confuses me most about Pete: his supposed love for Peggy.

I've never quite understood what Pete sees in Peggy. She's plenty lovable, of course, but it's surprising that Pete would be the one to fall for her. What is it that he admires about her? When he confessed his feelings for her at the end of Season 2, he said: "[Trudy] doesn't know me. But you do. And I know you. And I think you're perfect." But how does Peggy know Pete? What does she know about him? Between the swooning and the business with Duck, I have a feeling we're headed for more Pete-and-Peggy shenanigans. Are you two moved by their apparent mutual attraction, or mystified?

Finally, a sartorial note: We seem to be moving '60s-ward on the fashion front, with Betty's mod bouffant and Trudy's delightful Capri pants. It's only a few more years until miniskirts come on the scene.

Ciao,
Julia