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A new life comes to ‘Mad Men’

After four episodes of enduring Betty's bitchiness, viewers needed this episode's gripping reminder of her vulnerablility.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

I was out to dinner with a friend this week and before the appetizers even arrived we got to worrying over this season of "Mad Men". ''You don't think Don is going to have an affair with Sally's teacher?'' she asked. Please, I said. Every time folks claim to know what's coming on this mysterious show they're inevitably wrong. There's no chance they'd do something as predic…. Oh no, why is Miss Farrell's satin bra strap hanging off her shoulder in the international symbol of crazy lady on the make?

The episode opened in Sally's classroom, with Don squeezed like an eager beaver into a child's desk. Turns out little Sally shoved a fat girl into the water fountain and she won't stop obsessing over the details of civil rights activist Medgar Evers' brutal murder. We already know that Miss Farrell — played somewhat clumsily by Abigail Spencer — is a bit twirly-headed after her romp around the maypole. But now she's grabbing Betty's hand in commiseration and worrying over Sally's grief cycle and bringing up her own childhood hurts. All of her curious emoting drives Betty from the room and I daresay gives Don something to hide under that desk.

When it comes to brunettes who've caught the man's eye, Miss Farrell is the anti-Bobbi. Soft, sensitive, empathetic. And a bit of a mess, judging from that weird after-hours phone call to the Draper house. She seemed drunk, and was leaning into the wall like it was a therapist's couch, and that bra strap looked like a call for help as she confided to Don that she lost her father when she was only eight years old.

''I might have overdone it relating to Sally in that way,'' she said. ''I guess I can get a little caught up in things and lose perspective.'' There is something Glenn Close pre-bunny boiling about the woman, but maybe I'm being too hard on her because the idea of another affair makes me weary. Betty appeared at the bottom of the stairs, the baby determined to come into the world, perfect or not. She asked Don who was on the phone and that weasel instinctively said no one. Dammit Don — everything is not going to be fine, as he kept emptily assuring everyone all episode, until you find it within yourself to experiment with telling the truth.

Betty gives birth aloneAfter four episodes of enduring Betty's bitchiness, we needed last night's gripping reminder of her vulnerablility. Seeing Don drop her off at the nurse's station it struck me how truly alone this woman is in the world. Everyone underestimates or abandons her — even her doctor. As she was wheeled down the hall, Don disappeared and an apparition of her dead father mopping the floors popped up only to ignore her.

''Breathe and think about the beauty parlor,'' the nurse snarkily told her as she shot Betty full of drugs. I'm not big on richly-colored highly-stylized dream sequences, but I have to wonder if that unlucky caterpillar floating down to her palm on a string is symbolic of the children who come into Betty's life. She loves the fantasy of being a mother. She's intrigued by their innocence and the prospects of clean beginnings. But she doesn't know what to do with such a gift and so, her eyes glinting madly, her child-like instinct is to squash.

January Jones was a beautiful tragic mess throughout these scenes, unsure of how she ended up alone, shaved, and trapped on a gurney in such a terrifying position.

''Why are you doing to this to me?'' she seemed to ask of the world. ''I'm just a housewife.'' She swam in and out of her twilight sleep, that half-pretty, half-terrifying lilting music serving as the background to her dreamlife. She woke up at one point and snarled at her nurse. ''Where's Don?'' she cried piteously. Told he was waiting for her in the lobby, she cried bullshit. ''He's never where you expect him to be! Have you seen him?'' she said, clinging desperately to the nurse. ''Have you been with him?''

Back she went to lala land, to her kitchen where her father sneered at her over his mop and her mother coolly sopped up the blood of Evers' wound. ''I forgot my lunch pail on the bus and I'm having a baby,'' Betty announced like a little girl to her unimpressed mother. ''Do you see what happens to people who speak up?'' her mother warned. ''Be happy with what you have.'' Her dad, underscoring the cruelty of his tapping Sally for a life of possibility, smirked at the utter uselessness of his daughter. ''You're like a house cat. You're very important and you have little to do.''

If Betty was in the boat — using the nurse's metaphor — Don waited on the shore with an overwhelmed corrections officer who was scared for the welfare of his beloved wife. Don loves his angst. Don loves women who are attracted to his angst. Don does not know what to do when men reach out to him and lay their own angst at his polished feet. When bewildered Dennis wondered if he'd be able to love the child if his wife was harmed during the delivery, Don looked puzzled by his anxiety. His only idea of comfort was to quote Sal quoting Balzac.

Dennis told Don he believed him to be an honest guy (ha!) and made him bear witness to his solemn promise to be a better man and to leave the ugliness of his work far from his innocent family. Later when the men passed each other in the hospital hallway Dennis acted as if they had never met. I'm as confused as Don. His wife was empty-handed so could they have lost the baby? Or is it that what happens in the waiting room stays in the waiting room? Did Dennis not want to be reminded of his promise to do right by his wife and kid? In the sober light of day did he see Don as stations above him and thus not a friend for the civilian world?

Don was there when Betty woke up to find their baby boy in her arms. She told him that he looked a mess and she shrunk from his own flattering gaze, insisting that she had to put her face on. Sigh. Betty looked into her newborn's face and murmured her father's name. Gene. Don played deaf, ignoring her wishes. (You dick.)

Later at the office, Don was awakened from a nap on his sofa by Peggy. She'd bought Don's boy a baby gift and Elisabeth Moss played the scene just right. Her own baby was the little blue elephant in the room between them and her voice was thick with longing, if not regret. However tired Don was, however tight the new Sterling Cooper budget, Peggy very succinctly asked for a raise. She was inspired after her clandestine meeting with Duck. (Duck lives! Duck wears turtlenecks!) The Duckman wants to woo Pete and Peggy over to his side. After Pete stormed off, peeved by Peggy's presence at his seduction lunch, Duck assured the girl that this was her time to shine.

Peggy and Pete revealed
She kept the meeting with Duck a secret from Don but did try out how the new phrase ''equal pay'' would sound at the Sterling Cooper agency. He brushed her off. She forced him to engage. ''I look at you and think I want what he has,'' she said, fingering a little crocheted baby booty. ''You have everything and so much of it.'' He looked back at her, chastened. ''I suppose that's true…. What do you want me to say?'' Just like his wife, he is compelled to destroy the good things in his very rich life.

Duck seemed very blasé about calling Pete and Peggy out as a team. I'm guessing he was speaking in professional terms. But I hope we are treated to a better showdown between these two than their minor tiff in the hallway after Pete spotted her exiting Don's office. He brattily accused her of spilling the news of Duck's lunch to Don. She brushed him off, assuring him that her only job was to look out for herself. ''It's my decision Pete,'' she said. ''Your decisions affect me,'' he snapped back. Okay, maybe that exchange was a little too on the nose.

I want to take quick note here to acknowledge the increasingly loud minority out there who insists that "Mad Men" is a tedious, ponderous show where nothing ever happens and its fans have stupidly confused style with substance. You're all nuts by the way! But I will say that this particular episode included a few too many of the symbolic flourishes that drive these folks so crazy. A quick shot of Sally smearing blood on her face. Gene swabbing the floors with a bloody mop. The caterpillar on a string. Enough is enough — give us action! Give us banter! Give us more of Joan than a shot of her red hair at a budget meeting! It was a relief when the show snapped back to Earth whenever Roger appeared on screen, cracking wise while tinkling his spoon in his sundae glass. Or when Mr. Cooper snapped at Pete for daring to suggest to a table full of old white men that there is bushels of money in the untapped African American market. ''This is a sensitive issue,'' Mr. Cooper barked at the bewildered younger man. ''Businesses hate that!''

Back at the Draper house, where all continues to look perfect and everyone continues to sink deeper into their depressions, Betty put the new baby in a dead man's room. That first night home, while Don slept besides her, she was roused by her new son's cries. That eerie music started playing again, and she floated like a specter down another hallway, pausing halfway as she summoned the will to tend to her child. Don has a nightmare where he finds himself trapped in Sing Sing. Betty's whole life is a bad dream from which she cannot or will not wake.

Some questions for you all: What was the symbolism behind Don's stopped watch? What was with Dennis' poker face as they crossed paths in the hallway? How soon before La Monde Byrd — Hollis, who so effectively and gracefully rebuffed Pete's careless attempts at market research in the elevator — becomes a huge star? And finally, someone assure me that Don isn't going to end up in bed with Miss Farrell!