Betty struggles to come to terms with Don's infidelity, while Joan briefly escapes her little box
Mad Men, January Jones
Thanks to costume designer Janie Bryant , Hamm's '60s ad man single-handedly revived an interest in the classic two-button suit.
S2 E8
Show MoreAbout Mad Men
  • TV Show

Last night’s episode of Mad Men opened with Betty on horseback, charging as if she were in a jousting match. Often she has the empty look of someone who is blocking out reality, or racing from the truth. Here, though, she was focused and sweaty and barreling towards some unseen confrontation. After her ride, Betty loomed over a bleary-eyed Don in their bedroom, blowing out a plume of smoke like a dragon, demanding that he once and for all live up to his earlier promise.

Betty seemed able to distract herself from recent revelations about Don’s exploits by focusing on the preparations for an intimate dinner party. But the goose was cooked long before the guests arrived. With a bottle of Pride furniture polish on the table, she rattled a wonky chair before awkwardly smashing it to pieces. During cocktail hour, Roger and his wife, along with a hotshot from Rogers & Cowan and his wife, pretended to look interested in Sally’s ballet moves. Betty, ensuring that Sally can add body dysmorphia to her growing list of issues, said that the child’s dance class would soon be presenting Winnie the Pooh and “She’s going to be Piglet!” Duck arrived late to the party, stag, and had to endure a drunken Mrs. Colson harrumphing when he passed up a pre-dinner drink.

Betty had the dress, she had Carla, and she had a around-the-world course menu. She even had a tub of iced-down Heinekens, thanks to a Sterling Cooper marketing scheme at her local grocery that was designed to appeal to her easily seduced demographic. When Duck started chortling at the table, innocently marveling how Don had nailed her, Betty froze. When the guests cleared out, she snapped off the television. “You embarrassed me!” she repeated sternly three times, as Don looked at her like she was a commercial for Maxi Pads come horribly to life in his family room. “You knew I would buy that beer because you know me so well,” she sneered. “You know everything about me.” He tried talking her out of her fury, his voice thick with condescension, but this train couldn’t be derailed. Finally, outraged by Don’s attempts to pacify her and put her to bed, she let loose. “I know about you and that woman!” she said to his retreating back. “I know you’re having an affair.”

He turned back and looked as if he were ready to charge himself, flabbergasted that she would accuse. “How could you?” she sputtered, searching for the words that I hoped would really force him to face his actions. “She’s so old.” (You can take a girl like Betty out of the 1950s, but you can’t take the 1950s out of the girl.) Don refused to back down, but Betty artfully dodged the trap of slice-and-dice wordplay he tried to set. He slept alone in their bed, looking like a little boy who knew he threw the ball into the window but just can’t come clean, and Betty crawled into bed with Sally. She spent the next 24 hours in her party dress, drinking and smoking and hunting for evidence of her husband’s transgressions. When Don returned home, she looked broken. “How could you do this to me?” she asked him. “I didn’t do anything,” he insisted cruelly. And later, when her spectral voice woke him up on the sofa, she was a vision of bathed white, trying once again to get him to be honest with her. “Nothing happened,” he said. (It will shock you how much it never happened.) Betty asked him a reasonable question. “Do you hate me?” she said. “Oh, God, no. I love you Bets,” he said. “I do. I love the children. I don’t want to lose all this.” She shrugged off his grasp and practically floated back upstairs alone. (Both actors ought to think about submitting this scene for next year’s Emmy consideration. The show has already won big at this year’s Creative Arts Emmys.)

NEXT: Reading between the linesMoving on from Jackie to Marilyn, I’m surprised to read the occasional commenter talk smack about Joan. I’ve obviously expressed, ad nauseam some might say, my terrific affection for the character, so maybe I’m just not objective. But to me anyone who reduces her to a catty, petty, past-her-prime office hottie just isn’t seeing her clearly. This is a woman very much schooled in a certain professional code of conduct that is fast becoming dated. It’s long been her job to be the smartest, shrewdest person in the office, and it’s also her job to pretend otherwise, and just stick to playing the role of the sexiest.

Joan prides professionalism above all else. She may have stepped out with Roger, but not once have we ever seen her try to parlay her sexuality into career advances. If anything, she is routinely, maddeningly reduced to nothing more than an hourglass figure undulating up and down the carpet. Even if we all knew it was coming, I wanted to scream when Roger told Harry he had the go-ahead to hire another man for his department — which was doing gangbuster business because of Joan’s canny suggestion like capitalizing on As the World Turns‘ “special summer story line.” When Harry told Roger that it was Joan who had been assisting him all this time, the boss decided that “her attentions are divided at best. Let’s get Joan back to her job.” I don’t think Roger is a total jackass, or a man who operates from a dangerous position of menace. But watching him wait obstinately for Harry to open his own office door reminded me that this silver fox is often guilty of being small and selfish. (I just want to acknowledge the opportunity for a “That’s what she said!” line here.) Joan got engaged and took herself off the market, and Roger, however unconsciously, has since undercut her authority with both the women and the men at Sterling Cooper.

Nobody would ever argue that Joan doesn’t work her curves like a racehorse. But it would take a stony heart not to see the delight she took in finally taking a seat at the conference table. And the way her face sagged almost imperceptibly when Harry introduced her to the new man in charge of broadcast operations was heartbreaking. “Joan knows everything about this,” Harry said. “That makes one of us!” said the gopher-faced new hire. Joan’s earnest expression of enthusiasm defaulted back to her blank, beautiful semi-sneer as she realized that she was expected to hold someone’s hand while she herself was shooed back to the narrow constraints of a job she’d long since outgrown.

NEXT: Spiritual probingMeanwhile, Father Gill asked Peggy, the girl yet to be catered to by Madison Avenue, to market the Catholic Youth Organization dance to the kids in the neighborhood. She pitched a “Night to Remember” campaign that offered “the wholesome promise of the kind of hand holding that eventually leads to marriage” and then sneered when the women in Mama’s Family dresses told her that the young couple on her flyer ought to “leave some room for the Holy Ghost.” When Father Gill later showed up at the office to take advantage of the Xerox machine — girls rearing back in fear when they saw a priest had entered the premises — he took that opportunity to press a confessional moment on Peggy. “There is no sin too great to bring to God,” he said, as she bobbed and weaved from his gaze. “Do you feel you don’t deserve his love?” he gently asked Peggy, who looked like she’d been clotheslined. God’s love? Her son’s love? Pete’s love? Her absent father’s love? Her bosses’ love? Peggy quickly snapped to and shoved the church fliers into a box.

Everybody stayed stuck in their boxes this episode, with the possible exception of Betty. In the end, Joan sat down on her bed alone, peeling off her hot pink slip, wincing as she rubbed the spot where the tight strap had pinched naggingly at her. I’m worried about her, and worried that there isn’t a single man in her life — not her condescending fiancé, or Roger, or even amiably oblivious Harry — who sees beneath her bombshell armor. I’m worried too that the comparison of Joan and Marilyn Monroe from a few weeks prior may come sickeningly into play by season’s end. From Joan we zoomed to a shot of Peggy with her hair down in her bathtub, naked, empty faced, and emotionally underwater. Then we said good night to Father Gill in his spare, boyish room. He unstrapped himself from a priestly uniform, relieved to be unbound. In his undershirt, he sat on the edge of his twin bed, opened his guitar case like a kid on Christmas morning, and started joyfully singing for help and guidance in this broken, confused world. Finally, there was Don, alone in a kitchen that looked like the backlit room from a dollhouse. He helped himself to a Heineken in the fridge and sat down alone at a table that seemed too small to contain him. Then the camera panned out onto the darkened Sterling Cooper office, and the volume of the gospel song got cranked louder.

Best line of the evening: Roger, making introductions at the Draper house. “Crab, Duck — Duck, Crab.”

What was your take on the scene of Father Gill relieving himself of his garb and sitting down to play the guitar? Do you think that Father Gill is second-guessing his calling, wishing he was sharing soap with Peggy in the tub, or simply reaching out to a complicated soul? Is Joan heading for a breakdown? Does Warren, the banana eater, remind you of The Office‘s Kevin? Do you agree with me that however fine season 1 was, season 2 is leaving it in its glorious wake?

Episode Recaps

Thanks to costume designer Janie Bryant , Hamm's '60s ad man single-handedly revived an interest in the classic two-button suit.
Mad Men

Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama

  • TV Show
  • 7
stream service