Last week, fifties manhood never looked more impotent, pathetic, or cruel, as Don and Roger flailed and drank and smoked — while Betty, Joan, and Peggy all gasped for air. This week, the show goes even darker.
Mum and Dad, they fuck you up.
All season Mad Men has been destroying idols, and with just four episodes left, the pace is quickening. This week, against another backdrop of war heroes, astronauts, comic-book superheroes, and more aspirational fantasies, the cast — who all look like picture-perfect, advertising-ready models — are revealed to be more petty and damaged with every passing minute, clinging to childhood fantasies. No wonder everyone’s so angry to find that their once-idealized fathers and mothers are just as lost. As Pete says of his mother, “Get a rope.”
Trudy nearly convinces Pete to adopt, then Pete’s uptight mother threatens to disinherit him from a family fortune that has already been squandered on his dad’s illegitimate second family. Mr. Nice and Normal Harry Crane has an office baby shower that only reminds us of his past affair and the fact that Peggy probably birthed Pete’s child. (Peggy serves him cake; he leers.) The plot accelerates toward the season finale: Jane and Roger’s affair seems to have deepened, since they give Harry a Tiffany gift together. Plus, Paul Kinsey is arm-twisted into becoming a history-changing Mississippi freedom rider, after lying to his girlfriend (but, hey, at least he seems to be engaging directly with her and the world outside Madison Avenue).
But this episode belongs to Betty, who finds out that her patrician father has had a stroke — and that his mind is scrambled. Don makes the trip to the family home just in time to hear Pops rant about him: “He has no people, you can’t trust a person like that.” Don tells Betty to eat something, and she cuts him down to size: “Stop it, Don, nobody’s looking.” She spends the day mourning for her Camelot, wondering where the old ottoman went, and complaining that her father’s new wife “talks about under things.” At night, though, there’s a strange, almost dreamlike bit of romance between Don and Betty that is either the first sign of rapprochement or just one last tumble. Meanwhile, Betty’s mush-minded father gives her a compliment and grabs her breast. Which is weird. She leaves the room for a half a minute and then returns, composed, to ask Daddy if he’d like to finish that puzzle. She’s proving her strength to herself all the time now.
After ditching Don, Betty returns home to find Glenn, that creepy little Eddie Munster, sitting in her playhouse. Betty brings him inside and seems to enjoy watching TV with him, like Daddy’s little princess all over again. “I came to rescue you,” says the kid, no more absurd than Don or Pete or Roger. But Betty toughens up again and finally kicks him out. Later, Glenn’s mother, sympathizing with Betty over their wayward husbands (Dan and Don), tells her, “The hardest part was realizing you were in charge.” But Betty’s line, just before that, might be the show’s saddest yet: “Sometimes I feel like I’ll float away,” she says, “if Don isn’t holding me down.”
The Early Results
The episode’s last image is Don on that airplane bound for California, face bathed in sunlight, prepping a California arc for the season’s last three episodes. This episode’s a season-end workhorse — setting up plot turns for Pete, Harry, Paul, Don, and Betty — but Betty, again, steals the show. Other characters, like Roger, have obvious tragedies looming before them, but Betty’s is up in the air — somewhere between Idlewild and Hollywood.