Mad Men, Season 5

Has Don Become Too Square?
Talking television.
April 2 2012 9:20 AM

Mad Men, Season 5

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Has Don become too square?

Mad Men (Season 5).
Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm)

Photograph by Michael Yarish/AMC.

Julia, Patrick:

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

I was wondering how Mad Men was going to handle the death of Pete Fox.

Patrick, I’m with you: This was a bad night for Betty, even by Betty standards. You already noted several of the lowlights, but there are a couple more I thought we should dwell on. Having learned she might have cancer—and unable to locate Henry Francis—she frantically calls Don at work. Patrick, you described Don’s response as “somewhat robotic,” and I suppose it was, but he seemed genuinely stricken to me (recalling, perhaps, his loss of Anna Draper to cancer in ’65), and I thought it was sweet that he switched from “Bets” to his old term of endearment “Birdy” as he attempted to comfort his ex-wife.* Yet when Betty learns that her tumor is benign, she doesn’t have the courtesy to call the father of her children to let him know that she’s going to make it after all. It was pretty heartless to force Don to call and get the news from a curt Henry Francis.

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And speaking of Henry Francis: Betty’s forgetting to tell Don the good news can perhaps be excused on account of Don having been the worst husband in the history of matrimony. Henry, by contrast, seems to be vying for the title of Best Husband Ever. He doesn’t press Betty when she finks out on the Junior League soiree at the last minute due to a wardrobe malfunction. He’s sweet with her about her newfound bag-a-day Bugles habit and the way it has her filling out her housecoat. (Has Pete bumped into Betty at the Westchester Lawn and Garden Club? It’d either confirm his fears about Trudy, or have him thanking his lucky stars that she’s still as fit as she is.) He calls in a favor from the mayor of New York City so Betty can get her lump checked out quickly. And he takes the day off work so he can be with her as she nervously awaits the results. What a guy! And what thanks does he get? Betty tells him his mom is fat.

That’s cold, Bets. Julia, you’ve mounted impassioned, convincing defenses of Betty before, and I hope you’ll do so again. Are we being too hard on her? For me, the best way to understand her behavior has always been to think of her as a child, having been coddled first by her father and later by Don. (I thought my pop diagnosis was backed up last season by Betty’s sessions with Sally’s child therapist—which quickly turned into sessions for mom instead.) Betty exhibited plenty of child-like behavior last night: Lashing out in fear, hoping to delay her trip to the doctor, and, as Patrick noted, showing an inability to consider anyone else’s predicament but her own. I'd harbored some hope that she'd matured during the long off-season, having settled into a new home with her new husband. But here she was, finishing off her daughter's hot fudge sundae.

I thought it was perhaps not by accident that the Rolling Stones song Heinz brought up at dinner was “Time Is on My Side.” Time seemed decidedly not on Don’s side in this episode. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him so perplexed by the zeitgeist. Don’s always been a square, yet he’s managed in the past to keep up with the culture by sneaking out for matinees and reading Frank O’Hara in dimly lit bars; last week, when the Heinz rep explained that he wanted a cool bean campaign, he added “you know what I mean, Don”—he’s got a reputation, at least, for knowing what the kids are up to. But Don was totally out of his element at that Stones concert. And it’s not just that he looked out of place; his little focus group of one with the teenage Stones fan was a failure as well. He didn’t know how to speak the girl’s language, didn’t seem to grasp that a teenager might indeed know something about psychiatry, never seemed to process what it was about Brian Jones that would make this kid want to be all over him “like Jack Ruby.” To Don’s credit, there was an endearing fatherly concern to the exchange (“we’re worried about you”), but from a cold, hard business perspective, I’d say it’s cause for worry: Don doesn’t seem to know which way the wind is blowing any more (and his sidekick Harold Lee—I mean, Harry Crane—can’t tell the Trade Winds from the Stones).

For SCDP’s sake, let’s hope that Michael Ginsberg really does have a connection to the poet Allen—maybe he can write some hip copy for the Heinz folks (“never let the greatest minds of a generation go starving again—keep a can of Heinz in the house!”). As ad man Adam Hanft noted in Slate back in the Rachel Menken days of Season 1, Jews were already playing an important role in the industry by the 1950s—in 1956, Proctor and Gamble gave business to Grey Advertising, a firm started and run by Jews. SCDP’s hiring of a Jewish copywriter is thus arguably more belated than its hiring of a black secretary. I confess I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the resume-up-the-sleeve shtick Michael laid on Peggy. I guess it was meant to show us he’s a bit of schlemiel, but with chutzpah to spare. I’m hoping that the bracha Michael’s father said brings his son good luck and he becomes a worthy partner—or rival—for Peggy. Stan, obviously, is never going to be the one to light a fire under her, and it doesn’t seem like Don will anytime soon either.

Finally, one moment that went past quickly last night but seemed to augur future drama for the Drapers. At the business dinner, when Lady Heinz complained that all the ad man jibber jabber was “boring,” Megan went along, but with some reluctance. She clearly would have liked to continue playing the role of colleague, but settled for the role of wife for the good of the evening. I wonder how many times she’ll do that.

We should do this again,

John

Correction April 2, 2012: This post originally referred to Anna Draper as Anna Whitman. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

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