Sunday’s Mad Men didn’t look or feel like most episodes of the show, with Don Draper relegated to a supporting role and only a few scenes taking place inside the Sterling Cooper offices.
What it did give us, though, was a much deeper look at why Betty Draper and Pete Campbell are the way they are. Let’s just say the WASPy apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree.
These spoilers won’t make you angry right before you go to bed. At least I hope not.
Betty learns early on in the episode that her father has suffered a stroke — three days before anyone bothered to call her. And oh, by the way, it’s not his first. His new wife and Betty’s siblings insist that things are OK, that Gene just needs a little more rest. He’s not, though — he mistakes Betty for his late wife not once but twice (the second time in true cover-your-eyes fashion as he tries to get a little frisky with the woman he thinks is Betty’s mom. Yikes.
But God forbid anyone actually, you know, confront the problem head-on. More than ever, this episode confirmed the sense I have that Betty is from one of those families where unpleasant things Are Just Not Discussed, so everyone just puts on a happy face and pours another round. Betty is only now stepping outside that bubble, and it took her husband’s affair being thrown in her face for her to finally face such a truth (remember all the dissembling she did at the shrink’s office last year?). So it’s a bit of a surprise to see her kick him right back out of the house after he performs all his husbandly duties at her family’s home (even if her stroke-addled old man sees through it). She’s not wrong — although would it have killed her to let the guy take a shower? — because even after their late-night tryst on the floor, she knows that nothing’s really changed between them.
None of the preceding, though, should be taken as evidence that Betty’s finally acting her age, because no sooner is Don out of the house than she lets Glen Bishop, the melancholy neighbor kid, inside. Glen acts a lot older than his age, and Betty is younger than hers, so they’re pretty equal. Which makes it all the more crushing when Glen takes Betty’s hand, looks up longingly at her and declares with full sincerity that he’s come to rescue her.
To her credit, at least, Glen’s proposal snaps her back to reality. After calling Glen’s mom Helen, the two women have one of the more honest talks we’ve ever seen Betty be party to, discussing their perceived shortcomings as wives and mothers. It’s nice to see her step up and be an adult when it’s needed.
Pete, on the other hand, doesn’t do so well with the stepping up — although, again, after getting a better glimpse into the family that spawned him, it’s hard to blame him. Pete is reluctant to discuss adopting a baby with his wife in an early scene, and we see why later when he and brother Bud convene with their icicle of a mother to sign papers related to their (broke) father’s death. After hearing his mom’s callous description of adoption as choosing "from the discard pile," he practically relishes in telling her that her husband pissed away most of the family money. And really, it’s hard to blame him.
Parental approval has never come Pete’s way, and to some extent you have to respect his decision to work in a field that guaranteed disapproval from mom and dad. Pete is still Pete, though, so he first tries to get Peggy to sympathize by mentioning he’s booked on an airline flight — you know, the first time he’s flown since his father died in the Flight 1 crash — and then, when that doesn’t work, switches quickly to condescension ("You have it so easy," he tells Peggy. "It’s not easy for anyone," she replies).
Unlike Betty, Pete at least gets to escape his family for a week by going to an aerospace convention in Los Angeles for a week — and so does Don, who takes Kinsey’s place on the trip following Betty’s rebuke. This could be nothing more than wishful thinking on my part, but I kind of have the feeling that Don is headed toward something (or more accurately, someone) on the West Coast in addition to just getting away from his life in New York.
Other notes from "The Inheritance":
- I nearly thought, for a moment or two there right after Pete spilled the news about the L.A. trip, that Kinsey was genuinely interested in traveling to Mississippi with his girlfriend Sheila. I should have known better. Could his little discourse on the color-blind nature of advertising on the bus have been more pretentious?
- One more bit of oddness: Neither John Slattery nor Robert Morse is in the episode for more than a minute or two: Morse pops in on Harry’s baby shower/booze bash to say "happy birthday," and Slattery is only there to create an awkward moment between Roger, Don and Joan — at which, I might add, he succeeds entirely. Don can barely conceal his contempt for Roger now that he’s used Don’s words to justify leaving Mona for Jane, to say nothing of the way that whole mess impacts the Joan-Roger relationship.
- That was Aloma Wright — aka Nurse Laverne from Scrubs — as Viola, the housekeeper at Betty’s father’s house who, it seems, did more to raise Betty than either of her parents.
What did you think of Sunday’s Mad Men? Were you OK with Don not being front and center, and what do you think Los Angeles might hold in store for him?