Mad Men, Season 5
Has Betty ever been this unlikable?
Dear Julia and John:
Now we know why Betty was MIA last episode: She had an appointment with Peggy’s makeup artist from Season 1. Yes, it’s true, in real life January Jones was pregnant and had a baby (a mystery baby!) recently. But as Betty’s doctor leaned in during tonight’s episode and started prodding her prosthetic jowls, I had a terrible (albeit period-appropriate) flashback to Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover.
Really, January Jones must have the patience of Job. We’ve wondered in the past what kind of grudge Weiner and his writers hold against this woman, given the serial humiliations to which her character has been subjected. Betty was never very likable: She was sympathetic only to the degree that you pitied her, and she was so vain and vindictive that it was hard even to pity her for long. But man, this episode took that sadism to new places. This could have been the moment when Betty’s humanity burned through her frosty demeanor. But even if you bought the notion that her sickness might be dire, before you could so much as shed a tear for the martyred Mrs. Francis, she went and announced to her lunch companion, who was suffering from something genuine, “It turns out I have the only kind that makes you fatter.”
I don’t know about you two, but that left me kind of hoping Betty was terminal.
It was touching, I’ll admit, that she telephoned Don, and appeared comforted by his unpersuasive, somewhat robotic reply. It was also revealing that she referred to Megan as his “girlfriend,” before catching herself—“Well, they’re married.” But what did you make of the way Don let the news be known, to Megan, and to Roger? I can understand him keeping it from Megan initially, and I loved her retort about how it was fine to go to the Stones, but when it comes to a jaunt to Fire Island with her friends, Betty’s condition was suddenly just “too overwhelming.”
But why did Don tell Roger when he did? Why did he tell him at all? Was it an old-guys bonding thing? We’re a couple of old timers, dealing with old-timer problems, like cancer. Or was Don trying to comfort Roger after his Mohawk betrayal by Pete? If it was the latter, then Don underestimated the solipsism that is so typical of characters on this show. Roger isn’t going to let Betty’s prognosis stand in the way of his pity party—or of his astringent, insensitive wit. His first reaction to the news that the former Mrs. Draper may not be long for this world is, “Well, that would solve everything.”
The most exciting news in this episode, for me, was the arrival of Michael Ginsburg, an idiot-savant copywriter whose outer-borough origins and raw ambition seem equal parts exasperating and endearing to Peggy. Does she see something of herself in Michael? Or is it simply the case, as she says, that Peggy likes working with talented people, because they “inspire” her? One thing is certain: What’s Up, Tiger Lily? premiered in April 1966, and I’m guessing that Mr. Ginsburg bought a ticket. You don’t dream up Woody Allen lines like the following without actually trying to do so:
Peggy: “You know your book really does have a voice.”
Michael: “That’s what they said about Mein Kampf.”
I’d love to hear predictions from you two about Michael’s future at SCDP. Did you share my impression that what really won him the job, in the interview with Don, was his suggestion that he wants to be a part of the firm because he thinks it’s “on the way up”?
There is so much more to chew on: Don’s new secretary—Dawn!—and Harry Crane’s suggestion that the similar names might lead people to mix her up with her boss. (“People keep saying that, but we haven’t had any problems…”) Don’s decision to wear a suit and tie to the Stones concert. Harry’s clandestine munchies. And my favorite: Henry’s dig at Mitt’s dad, George Romney, who was running for re-election as governor of Michigan in the summer of 1966, and would soon be seeking, ahem, the Republican nomination for president.
Why don’t we try again tomorrow. Asbury Park?
Patrick Radden Keefe is is a fellow at the Century Foundation and the author of The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream.