Mad Men, Season 4

Week 10: Why Did Betty Lie for Don?
Talking television.
Sept. 27 2010 7:00 PM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 10: Why Did Betty Lie for Don?

Roger Sterling (John Slattery) is one of the partners in the Sterling Cooper Ad Agency on "Mad Men." Click image to expand.
Roger Sterling (John Slattery)

Wait, I thought if you had sex standing up, you couldn't get pregnant.

Michael, I'm with you—I think Mrs. Harris is still with child. These things happen, as Roger notes unhelpfully, and we discovered in earlier this season that they've happened to Joan twice already. * Maybe she was concerned that a third might ruin her chances at ever having a child. Maybe it occurred to her, when mistaken for the mother of a teenager by the woman in the waiting room, that she's not getting any younger. Maybe some part of her does still love Roger, though as the two of you have noted, he was at his most unlovable this episode—the last time he behaved this badly he was wearing shoe polish on his face. Or maybe Joan's going to cross her fingers and hope Greg doesn't do the math, as was the case, Roger says, with many of his comrades. Something tells me, though, that this GI/M.D./jerkface isn't likely to keep his questions to himself when he gets home and finds a baby in the bassinette with a mischievous grin and a suspicious shock of white hair.

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At least Roger's misbehavior in this episode didn't go unpunished. First he got a tongue-lashing from his discreet but judgmental doctor, then he got hit by a surprise attack from Lee Garner Jr., who clearly didn't look kindly on Roger's remark about Gettysburg. Now, I don't have an MBA, but I've just been punching some numbers into my adding machine, and I don't think there is an SCDP without Lucky Strike. So what now? Lee Garner didn't seem persuadable, and even if SCDP convinced him to give the agency all of his brands, could they handle that much work? Several of our commenters have taken a stab this season at calculating SCDP's billings. Based on those calculations, would North American Aviation be enough to rescue the agency in Lucky's absence? Are we sure we've seen the last of the tight-lipped suits from NAA?

Of course, like all Mad Men fans in good standing, I'm rooting for Lee Garner to make good on his threat to take his business to BBDO, clearing the path for Sal's return. How delicious would it be to watch him show Stan how things are done? And to hear what he has to say about Harry's furniture?

A final thought on Roger and Lee's dinner: It was telling, I thought, that while asking for his 30-day reprieve, Roger reminds Lee that he's told many lies for him over the years. Quite a cynical way of looking at the advertising business, though in the case of Lucky Strike, probably just a statement of fact. (Or might Roger know about Lee's sexual predilections?) It also pointed up the degree to which the characters on this series survive thanks to the lies that others are willing to tell on their behalf. In this episode, both Pete and Betty tell difficult lies for Don. You both alluded to the fact that Pete's marriage persists because Peggy is willing to lie for him, or at least keep the truth to herself. Last season Don kept Sal's secret, and Joan, during her stint at the department store, never voiced her suspicions about the dress Pete was trying to return. In Season 2, Peggy bailed Don out after his DUI, and Don visited Peggy in the maternity ward, etc., etc. Everyone at SCDP has an atomic secret about someone else—and thanks to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, the staffers barely ever tell. (Cooper did leverage his knowledge of Don's past rather nicely last season.)

I agree with your analysis of why Pete kept Don's secret, Michael. Let's consider why Betty lied for Don. I suppose the simple answer is that she doesn't want the father of her children to go to jail, or perhaps more selfishly she worries that the Ossining chapter of Stitch & Bitch would have a year's supply of gossip should it come out that Betty Francis' ex-husband is a farm boy and scofflaw. But the investigators so take her by surprise that instinct was likely at work in the moment she lied to them—and her instinct was to protect Don despite the anger she clearly still harbors toward him. I loved the phone conversation between Betty and Don after the background check: their simultaneous realization that the line might be tapped and their subsequent attempt to make their exchange seem like innocuous bickering between former spouses. It was clever of Betty to make it seem as if what annoyed her wasn't having to lie about her husband's past, but how it might look for the wife of a man in the governor's office to be entertaining unannounced G-men.

Here's what Don and Sally have in store for them on Sunday. If Don takes out his earplugs, he might find that "Help!" really speaks to him. Though she's not a real doctor, Faye seems like the woman who could help Don get his feet back on the ground. But nothing good can come of his gaze Megan-ward.

Julia, why do you suppose Lane asked Don to come along to meet Toni? To show him how acclimated he's become to the life of the New York City bachelor since Don so kindly showed him the ropes over New Year's?

I sign things without looking. That's what I do.

John

Correction, Sept. 28, 2010: This dialogue entry originally stated that it was revealed in the season premiere that the character Joan Harris has had three abortions. It was revealed in Episode 3 that she's had two. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

John Swansburg is Slate's editorial director. Follow him on Twitter.