Brett Vetterlein's 140 Character Mad Men Wrap-up:
The Lede: The Ballad of Betty Francis
I hate Betty Draper.
No, no, that still seems too clean. Too nice.
I loathe Betty Draper.
She is a terrible, frigid, self-centered, egotistical child who has taken all of the worst bits of parenting she gleaned from her domineering, joyless mother and grafted them to herself like some sort of horrible 60's wench version of Mega Man 2. I hate the way she raises her children with less regard than she pays her cigarette. I hate how she has saddled Sally with image problems, where she can't even finish an ice cream sundae. I hate how she has put her own feelings in the way of others. And, most of all, I hate how she paints herself as the victim while everyone else fumbles over themselves to try and right some "egregious" wrong. If Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships to come to her aid, then Betty Francis has a demeanor that would cause a thousand ships to flee.
Upon our first viewing of Mrs. Francis this season, I guffawed, out loud, and quite heartily. Watching her children trying desperately to close one of her fabulous gowns around her engorged body was, for some reason, a wonderful moment for me. By the time she crawls sheepishly into bed like an elementary school child trying to fake sick to get out of going to church, I grinned from ear to ear. Betty Francis caused me to feel something that she has never actually shown on the show: happiness.
Betty has been pleased (being asked to return to modeling), content (returning runaway Glen to his mother), glad (on the business trip with Don in Rome), and satisfied (having "end of the world" sex with Captain Awesome), but never truly happy. Even some of her happiest moments are tinged in resentment. She is joyless upon birthing Gene, used the attraction from her amorously-inclined riding partner as a dagger in her friend's heart to feel morally superior, and, when she lands a giving, trustworthy, wonderful new husband in Henry Francis -- the exact kind of person she assumed Don would be as a husband -- she takes him for granted.
We find Betty with an actual problem that she has to worry about, one much more dire than a mother-in-law who sees Betty as a political asset on her son's arm who needs to slim down rather than an actual living, breathing person. But with the node found on Betty's thyroid, that whole "living, breathing person" bit is put into question. She calls Don not to inform him of the news so much as to get reassurance, the soothing "everything's going to be okay" because she (justifiably) needs some reassurance (the added "birdie" was a nice, sympathetic touch from the one-time husband).
But when she meets a friend who is dying of cancer, the center of the conversation stays almost entirely on Betty and her problems. While Betty is concerned about the hypothetical problems that she might encounter, she completely ignores the actual reality of her friend who admits she is dying. When Betty asks "how does it feel," it's not out of care or concern, but peeking ahead in the novel to see if it's a happy ending or if she should put the book down.
She's so cold that Weiner has to pull a dream sequence out of his bag of tricks (I'm sure mentor David Chase stood up in his living room and cheered) just to show us what's going on inside of her head. And even that sequence was bizarre: a family all dressed in black, getting on without her, turning over the chair in which she used to sit. Even in dreams of her own death that star the family she leaves behind, it firmly revolves around her.
When the test results comes back showing the growth to be benign, Henry hugs her, truly grabs her and holds her, and she looks forward, disinterested. She doesn't even really show relief. It's as if Betty was told "we managed to get the stain out, but you'll have to pick the dress up tomorrow." Not "holy shit I'm not going to die!!"
Even as Henry says, "everything's ok," the same reassuring words she called on Don for, Betty shows that it's not the case. Her demeanor shifts immediately to the Betty we know and despise, soon giving way to that spoiled ten-year-old girl voice, saying, "It's nice to be put through the ringer and find out I'm just fat." Henry even says that he doesn't notice her weight -- a compliment in most worlds -- which Betty takes as him not seeing her for who she is (because if he cared like her mother did, wouldn't he call her on it?).
They embrace one final time, as the tears slowly roll down Betty's cheeks, we pull back to the shot of the new Francis house. Large, opulent, beautiful and empty. A fitting place for Betty to lay her head.
The Rest: Happiness is a Warm Gun
The idea of happiness, and just how it's expressed, weaves its way through the rest of our cast of characters.
- Don is accompanied by Megan to have a client dinner with the head of Heinz, giving us the first real glimpse of his life without Betty. The former Mrs. Draper used to be a pro at these types of dinners: sit, be polite, look pretty, say nothing of value. But the new Mrs. Draper doesn't come with a built-in subservient setting, almost creating a faux pas at the table. She also refuses to let Don slide with a similar excuse to what Betty used on Henry earlier in the episode, one of a series of echoes between the two couples. While Don has to suffer Megan's friends on the beach, at least he has a wife who tries to meet him at his level, and not the other way around.
- New hire Michael Ginsberg can barely contain himself upon finding out that he's going to work for the Don Draper. He's a kid who wears his heart on his sleeve, something that is decidedly unacceptable in an office environment (or at least the one Peggy was brought up in -- ladies only cry in the bathroom, lest we forget). His enthusiasm is even more illuminated when we follow him home, where the good news is greeted with a solemn prayer after a somewhat dirty joke ("get two girls - one old, one young").
- Pete Campbell, glorious bastard that he is, continues to put the boots to Roger by celebrating the Mohawk account in front of the office if only to let everyone know that he's giving Roger an account to oversee. The smile on Campbell's face is electric; the misery blanket that hangs over quip-ready Roger just added a thick, despondent comforter. "When is everything going to get back to normal?" he asks Don, unaware that question will not have been answered at the time of this posting in 2012.
- Harry celebrates the possible meeting with The Rolling Stones by smoking some pot and awkwardly hitting on girls much younger than himself, which has become as routine as Harry getting a cup of coffee. His happiness is sitting in Don's car as he knocks out 20 sliders on his own, hiding away from his family and his responsibilities. All of those things he was told would make him happy have turned out to be lies. Harry laments how the girls he met at the concert could have so much fun, all the while he's learned the one lesson a married man with a family should live by: eat first, they never leave anything for you.
- That brings us to the girl at the concert. In another first for this show, we see a young, provocative girl who could very well be interested in Don. Don, however, looks at this girl and sees his daughter at worst, a potential client base at best. Either way, he's terrified. He's clearly thrown by all of her actions: how freely she mentions seeing a psychiatrist, that she'd do anything Brian Jones wanted, the reckless abandon she and the rest of her ilk display when word reaches backstage that the band simply showed up. This is a girl who expects great things to happen, something she inherently deserves, and that she shouldn't have to hide that fact from anyone. To a man who had to closet his life and emotions for decades, this earnest, unbridled joy has to send a jolt.
- The Dawning of a new age (see what I did there? I was clever with her name in a punny way in case you missed the depths of my comedic brilliance). A black person works at Sterling Cooper Draper Price who doesn't clean up after anyone. And she's on Don's desk, to boot! While she shows that SCDP are slowly moving towards equality, it also allows the audience to feast on a ton of horribly inappropriate racial jokes from Roger. This also puts us at an interesting countdown: how long before Harry pitches a new sitcom featuring a Jew and a Black working together in an office? THE HILARITY WOULD ABOUND!
The Nit Pick: Producer/Director/Star
- This episode marks the directorial debut of one Jon Hamm, who did a nice job. There were some different touches throughout: the reliance on pullback shots to place people in parallel to their surroundings (especially in the Francis house), shooting Don's office from the opposite side (the sticks are usually placed to the right of Don's desk; the man who uses the space more than anyone else gave a left-sided look at the meeting between Don and Roger that made it feel a bit more askew than usual), and the general looseness backstage at the Stones show, which is a good indicator of a director who has faith in their actors (usually a hallmark of a director who was once an actor, otherwise they usually don't trust actors any farther than they can throw 'em). A solid effort for Mr. Hamm who mostly got out of the way and let the actors play.
- A body double was used when Betty was vacating the tub. This was not only done in order to get someone with a bit of a wider back to play the role of "larger" Betty, but to make sure that they didn't lose a child on set if pregnant January Jones slipped on the floor. Take note, kids: birthing babies is more important than dramatic reality.
- Only one secretary received a full close-up as they handed in their resumes last week. I'll bet you anything it's the actress who plays Dawn.
- We've seen more of newcomer Ginsberg's home life than we have of series originals Ken Cosgrove and Harry Crane. Kid's gonna be a comer.
- I'm still waiting for a Vinny Kartheiser-directed episode. There would be so many funny little dances. Can we start a twitter hashtag for this? It'll bring more smiles than Kony2012, that's for sure.