Thursday, October 21, 2010
[Spoilers for Mad Men through episode 4.13, "Tomorrowland."]
The "Draper" marriage has been Mad Men's primary indicator of America's stability and happiness. By the 1960s, it was all happy memories built on unacknowledged lies, you know, like equality and opportunity. In 1963, it got assassinated live on television. And now, two years later, the coffin is sealed shut and lying in a burial plot, the Drapers and their country seeking better alternatives to the way things have been, though their respective solutions (Henry Francis and Megan TheSecretary) are far from perfect. They stand there in the kitchen one last time before selling the site of their memories. "Things aren't perfect," Betty says. "It's okay, Betty," replies Don.
November 1960: Don has a lovely fantasy that he arrives home just in time to accompany his disappointed wife and doting kids to her father's for Thanksgiving. But it's a fantasy of a happy home, because when he actually walks in the door, they've already left, and he sits on the stairs, alone with his secrets.
October 1962: Betty tentatively brings Don back into her life after a spell apart on account of Don's magnetic penis. After sitting together awkwardly on the couch while the kids watch their show, Betty invites Don to a Serious Conversation wherein she reveals she's pregnant. His silence is reaction enough. This baby will not save this marriage. It's only a matter of time.
December 1963: Don calls Betty on the first official day of business for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to tell her where he'll be working and that he won't make trouble for her in the divorce proceedings. She melts, her steely pissed-offedness at her husband's tremendous neglect and abuse (a few nights prior, he physically dragged her out of bed, shook her, and called the chaste-to-a-fault mother of his children a whore) evaporating in an instant. It's enough that she can summon a word of thanks and a consolation: "You'll always be their father." They hang up, but both seem relieved. Their long nuptial nightmare is over.
September 1965: Betty's finally moving out of the Ossining home she shared with Don. She's also finally realizing her marriage to Henry Francis was a lateral move, and it did nothing to heal her wounds. So she adjusts her makeup for her "accidental" run-in with her ex-husband, and the two share a cup of wine, even smiling at each other, conversing like old friends. Until Don drops the ring bomb. Betty, mastress of keeping it all hidden beneath a practiced smile, can't even look him in the eyes as she engages in the required pleasantries. She knows she has to say the words, but she can't perform like she usually does, and Don lets her off the hook, abandoning all pretense and acknowledging what they'd otherwise keep unsaid. "It's okay, Betty." It's enough to let her recover. She hands him her house key, and they walk out opposite doors, leaving an empty house with only his wine bottle and her cup.
Since Don telecommutes for Season 3, every season's final Don-Betty scene (in a way, the final scenes period, though Season 3 tops it off with a montage and Season 4 a quick glimpse at Don and Megan's new life) takes place in that Ossining kitchen, a place of ostensible nourishment that has seen as much fighting as eating. But Don getting married and selling the house finally puts that marriage, that is, the old regime, to bed. The late '60s are just around the corner.