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Affairs of the heart on ‘Mad Men’

Sal ends up paying for Don knowing his secret, Betty opts out of an easy dalliance, and Don is back to his dirty-dog tricks on Sunday night's episode.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

''I want what I want when I want it,'' said Betty, giving voice to her hungry baby in the middle of the night. ''You don't care what it does to the rest of us.'' Pause. ''Sounds like somebody else I know.'' Ostensibly she was talking about Connie. The old coot has taken to snapping Don awake at all hours to wax folksy-like about the Hilton mission. And by golly, if he wants the moon then Don better craft a pitch that will make the moon gratefully hand herself over. But of course Betty could easily have been talking about Don. Or that stinking Lucky Strike low-life, Lee Garner Jr. And in the miserable end of the darkest “Mad Men” I can remember, her words could even have applied to ruined Sal.

And yet not Betty, who spent the episode flirting with her desperate need to be desired. There was an interesting moment during this knotty hour of TV when a Rockefeller spokeswoman assumed the bleak hearth of the Draper home. ''First of all,'' the Cokie Roberts look-alike declared, ''I would like to dispel the rumor that there's a mandatory contribution tonight. This is the taking of a pulse.'' It was as if Betty too wanted to test the own beat of her heart. We opened in her dreams. She's languishing on her illicit chaise when a faceless Henry appears and strokes her face and spreads open her dress. Before she can get to the good stuff the damn phone rings and the baby starts squalling. Even her sex dreams end with Don lighting a cigarette.

So Betty starts a girlish pen-pal fling with the man — an action that I'm not sure I really buy from this character. Soon enough a breathless Henry appears in the Draper foyer and Carla walks in on the two of them looking googly-eyed at each other. She has bigger things on her mind than whether or not a rich white woman is stepping out on her husband, but Betty is aghast. Henry pretended he was there on fund-raising business so now Bets is in charge of rounding up a posse of well-heeled women to hear about the Rockefeller cause. Betty hurls the moneybox at him for failing to show. Of course, this leads to a breathless smooch and just when you think Henry's going to lay her out on his own matching swoony couch, Betty stops herself. Consummating their affair would be ''tawdry'' and she apologetically backs him off.

No such restraint from the men. My God did people behave badly this stormy episode. So much pain inflicted! So many wounded stares! There were few scenes I didn't find myself hollering at the tube in dismay. ''We have an impulse and we act on it,'' said Connie. ''How do we know to do it?'' Don, rubbing his bleary eyes, guesses instinct. ''So you're just like a dog,'' said his new boss before hanging up without saying goodbye. Don, always left holding a dead phone with this man, couldn't get back to sleep. So he headed into the office before dawn and, dog!, picked up Miss Farrell who was jogging on a lonely stretch of highway, her peaches bouncing up and down under her cut-off T-shirt.

I tend to go on and on about the various loose screws I think are knocking around in this woman's noggin but at least she is aware of the world around her. When Don, a great orator and message man who you might think would at least admire the master, moves to turn off the radio playing MLK's ''I Have a Dream'' speech, Miss Farrell insists he leave it on. She's going to read it to her students when school resumes. Such reverence leaves Don dumbstruck. ''Who are you?'' he stammers, Hamm playing the scene a tad jejune for my taste. ''Dumb? Or pure?'' She turns down Don's invitation for a simple cup of coffee (hey, it worked for Henry!), so off to a tense office the man goes.

Perhaps the only glimmer of light in this relentlessly dark episode was the sight of Peggy, Smitty, and Kurt on Don's sofa. Good people, these young three. And well done, Don, for putting Peggy on the Hilton account after that nasty dressing-down he gave her. But Don is sleepy and crabby and uninspired. He needs genius. He's got Daddy to impress. Oh poor Don, always looking for love in all the wrong places. Connie summons him into the city late one evening to discuss a crisis of his missionary soul. They're passing back and forth a prohibition-era bottle and Connie sighs about how hard and lonesome it can be on the side of right. ''It is my purpose in life to bring America to the world, whether they like it or not,'' he said. (My golly did American foreign policy take a beating this episode.) Connie is God-sponsored arrogance personified. The liquor leaves him feeling indulgent and grandiose, and he tells Don the younger man is like a son to him. Sweet nectar to our orphan's ears, who looks stunned to the point of tears by the man's largesse.

Sal makes a standSal is also burning the midnight oil for a client. Now that Don has given him the opportunity and encouragement to flex his directing muscles, Sal is once again behind the camera. (OK, OK, second glimmer of light: Pete coughing like an old nag in the wings after taking a drag.) Sal is shooting a Lucky Strike commercial and the boss' tough-talking son is making a nuisance of himself on set. With a red lightbulb flaring ominously, and Harry sucking up to the client, Lee Jr. claps Sal almost threateningly on the back. ''Let's take a risk together, shall we Sally?'' Later that evening in the editing room Lee Jr., drunk and proprietary, corners Sal. He wants action and he wants it now. Sal, embarrassed and indignant, backs him off. It was around this point in the episode I think I started sounding like a cat in heat, with a ragged groan building in my throat.

Of course, ole Lee don't take kindly to being rebuffed. What with him being the client and all. So he wants Harry to get rid of our beloved Sal. Harry assumes the man is drunk and wishes the whole matter away. But when Lee sees Sal sitting around the conference table the beast barrels out of the room. It's a slap in the wrist to see Roger retaliate by firing Sal. It's a roundhouse kick to the head and heart to watch Don do the same. Don, you no-good, son of a..., how dare you, why I oughtta. ''You must have been really shocked,'' he says meanly, ''but nothing happened because nothing could have happened because you're married.'' No secret is safe. Everyone will eventually play it. ''You people,'' he goes on, sneering under his rotten breath. Don! You love Sal. You love his work. Come back to us! Poor Sal looks so stunned and broken by his friend and colleague's betrayal. ''I didn't do anything but turn him down,'' he says simply and sadly. ''He's a bully.'' Sal thought he had a real ally in Don — someone who knew him, really knew him, and still accepted and respected him. Turns out his friend is something of a bully too. Damn you, Don. Roger is right: You are in over your head. You are losing the best parts of your fractured self.

What comes around goes around. In seasons 1 and 2, how I loved watching Don take the head of the room and pitch his clients. It was like all the longing and ache he walked around with in his everyday life somehow came together in a brilliant bit of storytelling. But when pitching Hilton to Hilton Don seemed kind of stiff and bloated. ''We're not chauvinists,'' he says of Americans. ''We just have expectations.'' Oh for the love of…. Well Connie, who is really turning out to be a bit of a cuckoo clock, sits there for a second after Don gives his final ta-dah. ''What about the moon?'' he asks gruffly. Don looks confused, saying he didn't know Connie was being serious about Space Hilton. ''Well isn't this something?'' says Connie, his salty voice suddenly a little terrifying, before asking to speak with Don in private. Peggy, of course, shoots Don a last lingering glance before shutting the door, as if she knew Pop was going to give her big brudder a spanking and she felt powerless to help. Connie's speech of disapproval is not unlike Don's verbal smackdown of Peggy. ''You want me to just say yes to everything you do,'' snaps Connie. ''What do you want from me, love?'' Yes, actually. And the old badger is mean to toss it out so easily in the Waldorf suite only to yank it back when Don doesn't lasso him the moon.

So Don, who believes himself to be essentially unloved and unlovable, rebounds from Connie's slap into the arms of Miss Farrell. It was a mortifying progression, from Don on the bed pretending that Hilton has summoned him once more to the city to him showing up at the door of a garage apartment with his hat cocked to his pleading declaration of intent. ''I wanted to talk,'' he says. ''Right,'' Miss Farrell hands him back dryly, ''says the man unbuckling his pants.'' It started to get a little creepy when Don impatiently insists that she's been flirting with him and how can she deny their attraction. ''I want you,'' he says, echoing Betty's earlier analysis. ''I don't care. Doesn't that mean anything to someone like you?'' Turns out no brunette alive can resist Don's forceful charm. They end up in bed together, Don finally asleep for the first time all episode. Damn it. And damn it that Sal, broken and betrayed, is driven to find a little cold comfort cruising a friendly stretch of the park. But when he calls Kitty and tells her he loves her, at least he means it.

Maybe I have the emotional constitution of a Wet Nap, but this hour of TV has left me terribly blue. I'm exhausted by these people. You know who else is? Carla. In the Draper kitchen, she listens to the funeral service of the four girls murdered in a Birmingham fire. ''You can leave it on your station, I don't mind,'' says Betty, who was more trying to appeal to Carla's sense of loyalty than share a human moment of grief and outrage. ''I hate to say this,'' she goes on primly, ''but this has really made me wonder about civil rights. Maybe it's not supposed to happen right now.'' Sorry, Birdie, if this all makes you uncomfortable. But the outside world is pounding at “Mad Men's” borders. We got yet another ominous mention of Dallas. Vietnam, and the steps our government took to maroon us there, looms. A housewife thinks she'll vote for JFK again. Martin Luther King Jr.s' voice hovers ghost-like over the whole proceedings. We are in over our heads.

Best line of the evening: Roger, of course. ''That's what you want this place to be known for? That and some guy losing his foot in the lawnmower.''