IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Betty learns a secret about Don on ‘Mad Men’

Don wins accolades while living his double life and enjoying his affair with school teacher Miss Farrell.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

Let’s begin with Achilles the janitor. I groaned a little at the first mention of the fellow’s name, but it did keep rolling around in my head all night. What exactly is Don Draper’s fatal weakness? Is it, as Miss Farrell’s epileptic brother summed up after Don slipped out of his sister’s bedroom, his arrogance? Is it soullessness? (The home without a hearth…) Or a crippling lack of faith — in himself, in the people around him, in the roiling world that he believes he must forever navigate alone?

The episode, another bleak one that left me driving my fingernails through my palms, opened at the kitchen table. Sally wondered aloud why the Draper family didn’t go to church. Betty, so self-conscious now of Carla’s judgment, snapped that they did indeed attend. Only on Christmas, Sally pointed out, when Carla goes every week. “We don’t need to go every week,” hissed Betty.

No, not the Drapers, they’re doing just fine on their own. Roger’s ex Mona once declared that Don and Betty looked like they belonged on the top of a wedding cake. I admit I’ve always rooted for these two to somehow find a way to hold onto each other. Maybe it’s because of the flashback in season 2 where Don first described to Anna his thrilling love for the girl. He looked so earnest, so light, so free from the cynical drag of his movie star cheeks. He’s never looked like that with any of his brunettes that I can remember.

But I spent last night’s episode hissing “Just divorce already!” at the TV. Whatever problems I have with Betty, they pale in comparison to my growing disgust for Don. He deigned to join this family at the kitchen table for an early dinner. He’s due back in the city though. Duty calls, dontcha know. Betty worries that he’s working too hard. “Bets,” he sighs, “I don’t have a choice.” You lie!

So he scurries off to the garage apartment, where Miss Farrell waits with gold stars on her cheeks and loaves of fresh date nut bread cooling on the stove. We zoom back to Betty, left alone at home to read a Mary McCarthy novel about largely unhappily married women.

Back to Miss Farrell’s we went, where Don and Teach enjoy some cozy pillow talk in bed about her student’s questioning of the color blue. How do we know your version of blue equals mine? “The truth is people may see things differently but they don’t really want to,” said Don. He’s so intrigued by this wild woman, the anti-Betty, who dares to scream during orgasms and likes it on top.

From his admiration of Miss Farrell’s long, curly hair — “No one has that anymore,” he purrs — we zip to a brain-storming session for Aqua Net. (There were many neat piggybacks this episode, but all in all I felt like the rolodex spin of quick cuts buggied up the rhythm a little.) Don unwraps his damnable napkin of date bread while Paul assumes the make-believe driver’s seat of the campaign. Paul describes a lengthy scene of a woman in the backseat, hair all atumble, and her envious relationship with the perfectly coifed woman in the passenger seat. (I fear that one day down the road, once Don has returned to his family and sworn to himself yet again that he will be a better man, that Miss Farrell may lurk behind pretty Betty and seethe over her manicured life.) Don is bored by Paul. “Every time I hear ‘and then,”” he says, “there’s another chance for the ladies at home to misunderstand.” He really does think very little of his wife and her ilk.

Peggy seamlessly interjects, boils Paul’s idea down to the essentials and impresses Don. Paul, that blustery ox, later explodes on her. He accuses her of only getting ahead because of her dress, and Don’s unearned favor, and her infuriating spontaneity. He’s right about one thing — Peggy’s professional genius is her spontaneity, her ability to conjure up the emotions and impulses it takes to be moved by an ad. And she’s not afraid of Don. I love Peggy. Hey, where was Pete this episode?

Back to the garage apartment we went, even though I would have given anything to be elsewhere. There was no more humiliating scene all night than Don wrestling himself back into his pants and the coarse sound of his zipper as Miss Farrell tends to her brother out in the living room.

Don wants to stay the anonymous man in her bedroom; she wants him to meet the most important person in her life. Her brother is a smart, caustic 25-year-old who lives on the margins of society because of his epilepsy. Don backs out the door, with banal wishes of good luck, and refuses to kiss his mistress in front of her brother. “I’ll call you,” he says wanly. “Tomorrow,” she insists. “He knows how to leave a room,” said Danny. “Like Mom.” I’ve never liked Miss Farrell. I think she’s all kinds of trouble. Damaged goods — whether by that hinky mother or a series of men like Don. But she is good to her brother, which is more than can be said about Dick Whitman.

There was something mordantly funny about that hang-up at the Draper house. And it wasn’t little Sally’s dramatic “Jeez Louise.” The family is enjoying a supposedly cozy evening at home. Don’s doodling Western Union ideas. The TV is on. Sally and Betty are holding down the kitchen table. Then the crank caller breathes paranoia into the space and both Mommy and Daddy are left assuming he or she was calling for them. Betty hopes it was Henry. Don fears it was Miss Farrell. Later that night Don stuffs some of his bonus money into his secret locked drawer and, in a hammy bit of bad timing, the baby cries. Distractedly, he throws the key into his bathrobe pocket and we all know where this is leading and the many tedious steps of Betty’s laundry day only deflated the sick thrill of her eventual discovery.

For true tension I’ll take Miss Farrell surprising Don on the train over the clinky clank of a key in the dryer. “You said you’d call me,” she said, her voice tightly corded. Don looks so stunned to have the compartments of his world intersect on his morning commute. And yet he ends up holding her hand discreetly at his side and apologizing. “I don’t care about your marriage or your work or any of that,” she tells him, warning bells ringing in my ears. “As long as I know you’re with me.”

At home, Betty finally has an excuse to get back in touch with Henry so she calls his office and wonders if the man had played a little ringy dingy last night. He tells her he didn’t call her, he won’t call her, but if she’d like to call him, then don’t look for bogus reasons to talk. “I’m not playing a game here,” he says, not unkindly. I’m beginning to think that out of this twisted quartet Henry is the lone grown-up.

Just like that, Betty has the keys to her husband’s secret life. She had such an interesting smile of triumph when her husband’s drawer finally clicked open. There were snapshots of his past life, and of people she’s never seen or heard about. And she didn’t know what to make of the two sets of dog tags, one bearing Dick Whitman’s name. But she realizes once and for all that her husband is a stranger when her eyes fall upon that divorce decree. I wanted to weep for her as she prepared for the confrontation we’ve all long waited for. Finally, these two will be forced to deal with their real selves, and the chasms of secrets between them. She sat for hours at that kitchen table, girding herself with glasses of wine and shaky drags of cigarettes. But of course Don betrayed her even then. He went home that night to the garage and mysteriously offered to shepherd Danny to his new depressing gig at a Bedford VA hospital.

I’m usually grateful for the choice moments that remind us of Don’s innate desire to do right in this world. This scene did not cut it for me. “I can’t do anything that you can do,” says Danny, after asking the older man to let him out on the side of a lonely road. “Everyone knows sooner or later that something’s wrong with me. I am afflicted.” This perhaps is Don’s Achilles heel — the belief that he cannot escape his own fraudulence, and the paralyzing knowledge that sooner or later he will be found out. “I swore to myself I would try to do this right once,” says Don, before giving him some money and his business card. (Was he trying to repent for his betrayal of his own brother?) Bah, at the end of the night the sleazebag’s hand twists the doorknob to his mistress’ apartment rather than that of his own home. Betty, spirit broken, returns the secrets to their hiding place and the key to the robe, and goes to bed alone.

At the office the next day, Don yanks open his own drawer of crisp white cheating heart shirts. He asks his secretary to summon Betty. She lay in bed, alternately hissing and sighing into the phone. Don wants her ready at 5:30 to leave for the big Sterling Cooper anniversary party. She claims she’s too sick to attend. Nonsense, he says, lie in bed all day with a hot water bottle. But the partners and clients are expecting the perfect accessory on his arm. He wants to show her off. I was reminded of that terribly sad confrontation last season where Betty, wise to her husband’s affair, quietly wonders why he hates her so much.

It’s time for Paul and Peggy to present their best Western Union ideas. Paul, who thought he’d stumbled upon a ray of genius after a conversation with Achilles and a quick session with jazz music and hand lotion, forgot to write his idea down. He had nothing. “Don’t yell at him,” she scolds Don, before turning to her peer. “Tell him what happened,” she nudges. She knows Don. She knows that type of frankness means something to the man. Then, brilliantly, she brings up Paul’s mournful Chinese saying: “The faintest ink is better than the best memory.” It’s a fun thing to watch her wheels turn as she crafts a moving pitch for the telegraph. “Oh my God,” exhales Paul afterward. He realizes that it’s not the pleats in her skirt that got her in that seat. She’s just that good. “See, it all works out,” Don tells him, clueless to the fact that the faint ink on his divorce decree may finally undo him.

At home Betty sits on the bathtub ledge, barely able to breathe in her cinched costume of the dutiful, beautiful wife of a powerful man. It was the second shot of the bath this episode and it got me morbidly worrying over whether Betty will one day be driven to take her own life there. (Oh no, I am dark!) “Doesn’t Mommy look pretty,” Don says approvingly when she finally emerged from the bathroom. Damn him.

The party is poignant on all sorts of levels, not the least of which is the marking of time passing for Mr. Cooper. Mr. Pryce, who I adore, and who I would love to see more of though I could live without any more scenes of his petulant wife, has received news from the mother ship that they are getting ready to unload Sterling Cooper. We all saw this coming. That damned Sinjun is the devil. It was like the last dinner on the Titanic. Forty years earlier Mr. Cooper helped start this firm. “We were giddy,” he told Roger. “We didn’t know the soup was getting ready to hit the fan.” The soup is getting ready to hit the fan.

Roger, glumly forced into the role of Don’s champion, tells the room of muckety mucks about the many virtues of his former chum. “He’s loyal, charming, quiet but not modest,” he brags. Well, yes, in a way I myself used to love all these admittedly intermittent traits of Don. And yet when the man assumed center stage, all puffed up like the cock of the walk, I found myself looking at Don with the exact same expression as Betty. I don’t know how it happened, but 10 episodes into season 3 and I feel nothing but acidic disdain for the man. He looked wedding cake handsome up there in the crisp tuxedo that Betty had remembered to fetch him at the dry cleaners. And yet the very sight of his stiff grin about made my stomach turn. Were the walls of his pretty world not so obviously about to come crashing down, I dare say I’d hate the man. But then that’s no fun because he hates himself too.

Thank God for the one truly amusing bit of the evening. Roger and Mummy, dressed to the nines are in the backseat on the way to the Sterling Cooper affair. That stiff and humorless string bean sat smushed between them. “Enjoy the world as it is Margaret,” warbles Mummy. “They’ll change it and never give you a reason.” “Mummy,” he said, sounding all of 11 years old, “she’s not Margaret, she’s Jane. She’s my wife.” “Does Mona know?” I miss you Mona.

And thank God for Lois, too, who really made me laugh.

How did this episode leave you fine folks? Am I being too tough on Don? Is Miss Farrell going to unravel hard when he inevitably abandons her? Is Betty going to end up the new wife of Henry Francis in season 4 or, gasp, is there any reason to believe she’s not going to make it out alive? Viva Mummy!