Mad Men recap: When in Rome
The mosquitoes were thick last night. Men buzzed about with news of their power. Women got kissed. Sally upended it all by planting a wet one on Francine’s helpless boy and then walloping Bobby in the guts. Carla and Joan — the most capable and least powerful people on this show — worked hard for their money.
The office was shutting down for a long August weekend. Pete, catching up on his latest issue of Ebony, gave his secretary his best bit of paternal smarm and then sighed over the sorry plight of single girls to his buds. What his secretary would do for a taste of the suburban bliss going down in Westchester. Betty, looking adorable in her ponytail, worried over her Junior League volunteer cause. (”I’m paid enough already,” she told Don when he insisted she should make money for all her work. Sigh.) She poured him a beer and kindly sent him out back to catch lightning bugs with the kids. Hey, maybe life in the suburbs isn’t so bad afterall. Betty barely glowered when Don, on the phone with Hilton’s office, scribbled the details of a last minute summoning to Rome on her meticulously kept call sheets.
There was a chilling scene of Betty and Sally in the mirror. Mother, after a routine day of errands and her rigid brand of childcare, put the final touches on her face before rushing off to the community vote. There was Betty in the glass, with eyes only for herself. Crowded into that mirror were Sally’s sponge-like eyes — studying her mother’s porcelain reflection and wondering perhaps why the woman didn’t even notice her in the picture. At the meeting, the Junior Leaguers (”I’m Mrs. Jack Farrelly and we’re representing…”) waited for their white knight. In swooped Henry Francis, who very efficiently back-burnered the reservoir deal and earned a coquettish smile from Betty. ”When you have no power, delay,” he told the women, explaining the essence of politics and wealthy women in unhappy marriages. As Francine drove off, with a knowing smirk on her face, Henry deposited Betty in her Dad’s old Lincoln. (This guy, smooth as they come, knew to praise the car’s beauty.) Soap opera music crescendoed in the background as Henry spoke of his desire to make Betty happy and leaned in for a long, lingering kiss. As Betty drove off into the night it was hard to tell if she was looking at Henry in the mirror or simply enjoying the view of a desired woman staring back at her.
At home Betty did a cute little dance celebrating their victory and parroted Henry’s line about politics. Don gave her a quizzical look, both charmed and mystified by her girlish glee. I’m not sure if it was guilt that kept Betty up that night, or simply distaste for her suburban melodrama, but she needed an escape. Their two-month-old can go suck a bottle. Betty was taking Don up on his offer to accompany him to Rome. ”I just need to get on a plane,” she told him. So much time this season has been spent in the temporary, time-suspending coccoons of elevators, hotels and planes. ”Mayday, mayday!” as poor little Bobby cried.
What a thing to see Betty on the other side of the world — let alone the bed. She walked off that plane a different person, fluent in language and custom. It was like all pf a sudden she was that sunny, powerful girl Don fell in love with back in her modeling days. (”You’re tiny!” he said in a drunken, delighted voice.) She emerged from her beauty salon appointment in smoking black eyeliner and saucy beads. Here was a woman in total control, batting back the Italians’ advances and seducing dashing strangers at a sidewalk cafe. It was awkward watching Don and Betty pretend not to know each other. Surely Betty must realize that this was how he behaved with strange women on all of his business trips. But when in Rome, wear black lingerie and eat your breakfast in the shower. Betty looked reborn, as did Don’s affection for her.
NEXT: Pete’s true colors?From the view of one city to another, Pete was enjoying a big bachelor baby weekend in Manhattan. While Trudy was off shucking oysters or biking around a beach town in pedal pushers, Pete snickered to cartoons and ate cereal and got drunk and narrowly beat out his shirt and tie in an awkward wrestling match. (My God, Vincent Kartheiser is a beautiful physical actor.) Pete is a child who likes to tell himself he’s a man. So when he ran into a whimpering young woman in the hallway all he could see was the chance to play the hero for a change. His neighbors’ solid-bodied German au pair was heartbroken over the wine stain she’d inflicted on the borrowed missus’ party dress. It was a punishable offense and one she worried could send her packing. Pete magnanimously promised to get her out of this fix. ”Don’t worry, I’m not going to get you in trouble.” (This is where a reference call to Peggy might have come in handy.)
Off Pete went to the women’s dress shop. He had an emergency, and this one called for the manager. So, brilliantly, out swanned Joan. She was just helping out, she smoothly assured him, mostly for the plum pick of dresses and to busy herself while Greggie Weggie finished up his residency. ”He’s actually thinking about a new specialty. You know doctors, whatever’s the latest thing!” Turned out her old triangle-backed man was going to give his bum hands a rest and give psychiatry a whirl. Good grief. Joan’s face flickered for just an instant, as she marveled that the taffeta number didn’t look to be in Trudy’s size. She effortlessly caught on, solved Pete’s problem with an efficient rip of instructions, and promised discretion without ever suggesting there was anything to be discreet about. ”This never happened,” she promised him. (It will shock you how much…) He left, feeling like the cock of the walk, while she sadly laid her head in hands. News of her new job will spread through the secretary pool come Monday morning. So much for caviar and children. Joan will always be a fixer of other people’s messy problems.
The au pair was nervously grateful for Pete’s unexpected kindness. She even gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek. But she had a boyfriend, she stammered when she turned down Pete’s oozy invitation to sip schnapps with him. He tromped back to his apartment, hit the sauce, and decided that he wanted to play with his toy now. His kindness must be repaid, so he downshifted from amiable gentleman to rough superior. It was Pete’s ugliest moment yet when he shut that door on Gudrun, effectively locking her in her servant’s room. Women like Betty get lingering kisses in their father’s Lincolns. Poor Gudrun gets pawed on her thin, borrowed sheets. The au pair would tearfully confess to the man’s advances, but of course it turned out her boss is every bit the brute. His smack-down of Pete consisted of telling the man to go get his rocks off with nannies in other buildings.
Trudy, so tinny-voiced, so oblivious, was happy to get home to her husband. There’s the obligatory awkward elevator ride with the au pair and her charges. Pete sulked in the background. Trudy mistook his ‘tude for shame over their childless home. ”You always get that guilty look on your face when you see little children,” she cooed. (Sister, if you only knew!) Pete looked like he was going to blow, and confess not just one sin but all of them. Trudy prepared cold salads as defense. She would just TALK LOUDER AND FASTER ABOUT FRUIT MARKETS if it meant they could avoid tension. Pete looked so tired for a second that I about started to feel for the guy again. ”I just don’t want you to go away anymore without me,” he said finally. It’s like he knows he can’t trust himself without a babysitter. Works for Trudy who was very happy to change the conversation and har har over Pete and the boys’ ketchup water balloons at the office. It was like watching two rich kids play at their toy grown-up table in their very tastefully attired playroom.
NEXT: Return to normalMeanwhile, the Drapers weekend of play-acting had come to an end. We went straight from a shot of Betty languidly dropping her towel to join Don in the shower to their tastefully attired foyer. There was Carla, ready to hand little Eugene back into his mother’s arms. (”I missed you,” Betty cooed. Those other rugrats, not so much.) Don ditched the women as soon as Carla brought up Sally’s beatdown of Bobby in her parents’ bedroom. It struck me how many times I’ve brought up Don’s very loving interactions with his children. And yet he never really engages in the nitty gritty of raising them. They order room service cheeseburgers and catch fireflies and share tender good nights. Anything tedious or trying about raising children is left up to Betty. No wonder he gets to be so great with them!)
So the next morning Betty lost her temper about Sally losing her temper over breakfast. After eyeing that Buick of a chaise parked in the living room, Betty sighed and called her daughter down for a lecture on gender relationships. ”You don’t kiss boys, boys kiss you,” she insisted. (Just ask Gudrun.) Betty talked at Sally, about the poignancy of a first kiss, and the loss of mystery suffered afterwards, while her daughter just nodded along cluelessly, happy for any bit of attention When Betty asked her if she understood, poor, angry Sally said ”I think tho.”
That night there was a cold casserole on the counter, dishes in the sink, and Francine nattering away about a similarly reinvigorating trip to Lake George. Betty turned dour, angry to have her experience compared to Francine’s, and looked like she wanted to smash the glass pan on her friend’s head when she teasingly brought up Henry Francis. ”I’m done with that,” said Betty. ”We made our stand.” She could have an affair. She proved that. But she is nothing like the banal women on her tree-lined block — or at least she didn’t used to be. Don came home, and still had some vacation glow in his cheeks. But the taste of a different self had left Betty with a sinking feeling of what might have been in their bedroom, the scene of some of their ugliest fights, the stage where Sally earlier reenacted her mother’s pent-up rage, Don looked like he thought he might get lucky again. But Betty pushed him away, announcing her hatred for their friends, for their town, for their very home. He tried to win her over with a little present under her pillow, a charm of the crumbling Coliseum. She looked at him with such regret — like April Wheeler out of Revolutionary Road — and sadly declared it a tiny, painful token of her small, suburban life.
What did you all think? Somehow do you too feel closer to Betty? I’ve always rooted for Pete, worminess and all, and yet something about the way he shut Gudrun in that room hardened my heart. What about you? Will it end up being Betty who leaves Don, not the other way around? Help me out — what was the signficance of Betty and Don smelling that noxious odor when they first got to the Rome Hilton?
Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama