Mad Men, Season Three, Episode Twelve, "The Grown Ups"
Another wow this week! I was only two-and-a-half when President Kennedy was shot, so have no memory of it. But this episode really threw me right into the middle of what it must have felt like to need to sit in front of the television for hours--for days. It was a way to connect with others in the country. A way to process what was going on. I've never liked Pete and Trudy, but as he refused to go to the Sterling wedding ("It's one thing to go there and pretend I don't hate them. It's another to go there and pretend the president hasn't been murdered." Great line.) and we see them curled together on the couch two days in a row talking things over with each other, I liked them. They seemed--at least for a short time--to be maturing into "the grown ups" of the title.
And the assassination seemed to make equals of Betty and Carla--for at least a short period of time. When the two sat on the couch together, crying, and Carla lit up a cigarette (we've never seen her smoke) as Betty had, they were united. Just two women together, watching a tragic event reported.
But it's the way the show pulled off the merging of personal and national tragedies so effortlessly that was stunning. When Betty jumps up in shock after viewing Lee Harvey Oswald's murder live on TV and cries out, "What is going on?!" she's railing at the chaos and disintegration not only of the country's life, but of her own life and marriage. As my husband noted, a national illusion was shattered when "Camelot" was destroyed and the illusion of Betty's marriage was shattered with the discovery of the box. She tells Don, when he comes home on the 22nd, that she "can't stop crying." Perhaps the assassination was an event on just such a scale that allowed Betty--who's often so cold--to access a depth of emotion usually unavailable to her. As she sat captive to the television set, no make up, dressed only in a bathrobe well into the middle of the day, she seemed to feel things for the dead President that then morphed into feelings about Don's betrayals that she'd not been able to express before. The question is: has she finally become a grown up too, using this event to acquire insight into the reality of her feelings for Don and her marriage and what she must do with her life? Or is she making the mistake of crafting a huge decision at such a traumatic and emotional time? (Please don't jump into a marriage with Henry Francis! In past episodes, he's seemed more grown up about his and Betty's relationship--such as it is--but tonight not so much, declaring his desire to marry a woman he barely knows. Come on!)
Neither Betty nor Don has been happy in their marriage. So, being honest about that and telling Don, "I don't love you" is a huge step for this woman who for so long kept her head buried in the sand. Part of me applauded her--though her timing was lousy. Yet Don looked so stricken as he walked into their bedroom that my heart ached for him. We've seen a lot of genuine emotion from Don in the past few weeks. His first scene tonight: holding baby Gene in the rocker in the dark, looking down at him tenderly was such a vulnerable moment. He's the better parent. What would a divorce do to him and his affection for his children? What what it do to the children? But, Don needs something to pull his head out of the sand. It was classic Don to tell Betty, "Everything's going to be fine." It wasn't classic Betty to challenge him: "How do you know that?" Indeed. He wanted the children not to be watching coverage of the assassination and when Betty seemed upset, suggested she "take a pill and lie down." But Betty seems unwilling to "take these pills" anymore. What will Don do with Betty's new clarity and unwillingness to hide? And what is the nature of his caring? Last year, while he was living in the hotel after Betty found out about the affair with Bobbie, Don told Roger that he wasn't unhappy about it--and seemed to mean it. But, then he begged Betty to take him back in that beautifully written letter. Does Don, after years of uncomfortably being both Dick Whitman and Don Draper, have a "split personality": Dick, who needs the security and love of home and family that he never got as a child, so clings to Betty for that; and Don, who must constantly re-create himself and not put down roots, who needs to roam from woman to woman so his identity will never be discovered? What does he feel for his marriage? Can he really believe--as the ending song conveys--that "it's the end of the world" that Betty no longer loves him? Will this confrontation finally force him to become a grown up?
Other observations: Roger seems to be growing up as well. He and Mona can be civil to each other and his phone call to Joan was adult-to-adult not lecherous older man to sexy young woman. They're truly friends. For him to need to talk to her at this time was touching. "No one else is saying the right thing about this." I wonder what he would think was the right thing. It was interesting, too, that Joan offered the explicit reflection on how the rest of the world did go on--and the tragedy in Dallas was just one of many that day. That hospital in Dallas, she knows, wasn't the only one to which people were brought in emergencies, in which people died, in which relatives mourned. It was a large-scale reflection of what goes on all over. And, sadly, just a precursor of more assassinations and deaths in war and chaos to come as the decade grinds on. And this show is such a truly wonderful way to have it all reinterpreted for us.