Dear Julia and Seth,
I want to talk about the specter of Fat Betty that hung over this episode. Betty has never been the most flexible woman, but in her post-Fat Betty stage, she has achieved a new kind of rigidity. The woman who, in the aftermath of a divorce and a new marriage, allowed herself to put on weight was a more human type of human than the Betty of much of “Field Trip.” Fat Betty was a person who had desires and whims she couldn’t always control, and didn’t always try to control. The moment this week when she took a swig from that milk bucket was the only moment Betty reminded me of her old self. The Betty of the rest of this episode, gorgeous as ever, felt sharp-edged, irrationally scheming—and again and again it had to do with food.
At lunch with Francine, Betty gets self-righteous a number of times, but she reserves her most pointed look of disgust for Francine’s offer to split a coffee cake. Betty’s answer is calm and friendly, and her glare is anything but. In it we can feel her disdain for Francine just asking her to split a cake at all, like she should know better, like it’s a set-up. Cake is still a live-wire issue for Betty.
Then she forces Bobby to eat all of his gumdrops because he traded away her sandwich. “I didn’t know you were going to eat,” Bobby protests, both a shortsighted kid-wants-candy error and the assumption of a boy whose mom often skips meals. The way she fixates on the sandwich as a particularly cruel slight, the way she forces the gum drops on Bobby: Betty sees food as particularly weaponized. When she sat in bed at night and asked Henry why her kids don’t love her, I wanted to throw up my hands: Bobby was vibrating with love for her all episode! (“You can’t sit there, that’s for my mom!”) But Betty can’t see it. She can only see herself and her sandwich.
Don is on a diet of his own, a fewer-liquids diet, which finally becomes an open topic of conversation. “I’ve been good! I’m not even drinking that much,” Don says to Megan, which leads her to the devastating rejoinder: “So every day, with a clear head, you got up and decided you didn’t want to be with me.” (As someone I was watching with noted: If this really the end of Don and Megan, it did, in fact end with a bang.)
Seth, you noticed that Don copped Megan’s strategy, and it makes me wonder: How seriously are we supposed to take Megan’s allegedly frantic behavior in the first place? Megan seems depressed, sure: “It’s sunny here for everyone but me,” she says. But how are we supposed to take her acting out to directors? As Joan and Peggy have discussed, Megan is someone to whom things have always come easily. Now that life is difficult, is she fraying? The way she handled Don—tough and perceptive—made me doubt that she’s behaving badly for any reason other than Don. I just don’t see Megan as the girl who screws up her career by failing to read men in positions of power correctly.
Don, on the other hand, might be doing just that. Every previous time Don Draper has messed up his M.O. has been to run away, start anew. In the case of SC&P, that would be the right thing to do, but Don can’t do it. It’s of a piece with his Hershey’s pitch, an emotional breakthrough in exactly the wrong circumstance. What was illuminating about that board meeting between the partners—besides what a snake in the grass our Joanie is—is how much leverage Don has. They have to buy him out of being a partner! And if they fire him, his non-compete doesn’t apply! Don, then, holds a lot of cards, enough cards to get himself another job somewhere else, if that’s what he wants.
But that is not what Don wants. Instead, as he has now explained to both Megan and Sally, Don has a desperate need to make amends, to right things at SC&P. It’s the most sentimental we’ve ever seen him about anything, and it leads him to taking this bum deal. At least now, about halfway through this truncated half-season, we’re finally somewhere: We’re rooting for Don to remind SC&P what he can do and defeat the uninspired Lou, while everyone roots against him, even Peggy. (Whose burn was such a lie—she misses someone with Don’s vision every minute of every day!—that I’m optimistic about a rapprochement between the two.) Don made a very poor strategic choice for all sorts of squishy reasons, but let’s see if he can’t spin magic out of it anyway.
Come back, I miss you,
Read all of Slate's coverage of Mad Men.
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