Mad Men Mondays: I’ve had a tough year

During the third season of Mad Men Feministing writers will offer some of our thoughts on feminist moments, scenes, and themes in the new episodes in order to start a discussion about these topics in our community. *WARNING: Lots of spoilers follow.
And now the season finale of our most mistitled Tuesday column.

Don’s flashbacks.

Outside of his general denial that Betty is leaving him, I think these scenes partly explain why Don chooses to prioritize saving his company over his marriage. It wasn’t just growing up poverty-stricken, but potentially blaming his father’s death on the fact that they went broke (after all, he wouldn’t have been so drunk had things been better) drives Don to save his own business, and hence his life. -Vanessa
Don’s arc has been strikingly Oedipal this season. This continued with seeing the death of his father in the same episode where major challenges to his power lead Don to reevaluate his priorities and begin to create a life on his own terms. -Jos
As one of my Mad Men-watching buddies pointed out, yes, these childhood flashbacks point Don toward re-evaluating his life. But it’s always his work life, not his home life, where he decides to make changes -Ann
The end of Sterling Cooper, the beginning of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Cooper: “I lost my business last year!” Don: “Well do something about it.”
This illuminates the difference between the Connies and Coopers of this world, and the Roger Sterlings. Don obviously took to heart what Connie said about building something himself — and was not only inspired himself, but was able to awaken that motivation in Cooper, too. This scene, along with so many in this episode, really shows what a brilliant salesman Don is, despite his comment to Roger that he “learned his lesson” about his shortcomings in managing clients. -Ann
Betty: “I made an appointment with a divorce attorney and I suggest you do the same.” Don: “Maybe you should see a doctor. A good one this time.” Betty: “I’ve had a tough year. I felt I should tell you rather than let you get a phone call at work.” Don: “Well forget it. i’m not going to let you break up this family.” Betty: “I didn’t break up this family.”
So many power dynamics shifted in this episode, and in a number of cases we were shown a linked gaining of power by a woman and loss of power by a man. Betty, in pants again, is taking control of the situation. Much of the power regarding her marriage is now in her hands. Don’s attempts to stop this process felt like the angry, potentially (and later actually) violent lashing out of someone who knows how little power they have. Trying to medicalize a woman actually taking a stand, trying to put all the blame on Betty are pretty standard responses, but they’re also not very intelligent reactions. It was really satisfying to watch Betty work to liberate herself from this marriage. -Jos
Agreed. This episode could have been called “Don Eats Crow.” -Ann
Gawd, I loved watching Betty say all of this to him. Especially when Don suggested that she needed to see a doctor. Amazing. -Jessica
I thought it was so interesting that he brought up the idea of Betty going to see a doctor, because the last time Betty went to see a doctor, Don blatantly betrayed her trust by receiving updates from her doctor on what were supposed to be private sessions. Now, he’s bringing up the idea of seeing another doctor to invalidate her feelings, but in reality he’s just providing another piece of evidence for why she should leave. -Lori
I had that thought, too, Lori. It’s like, wow Don, perhaps referencing one of the many points when you broke Betty’s trust is not the best way to convince her not to divorce you. -Ann

Betty and Henry Francis meet with a divorce attorney. “You think the governor needs another scandal on the ticket?” “I know it’s hard to understand, but the state of New York doesn’t want anyone to get divorced. That’s why people go to Reno.”
…But of course Betty is not OK with the possibility of being a single mother. She needs to be married, anything else would be too far outside the realm of possibility. She’s making smart decisions from a very practical and capitalist standpoint, finding a man with status who can make the divorce process easier and provide for Betty and the children. I wonder how much Betty has actually thought about being married to Henry Francis – I think she’s chosen assumed honesty and respect instead of a relationship grounded in emotions. -Jos
This is the downside to the whole Betty-getting-a-backbone theme. She’s leaving one man she doesn’t really know for another she doesn’t really know. And I have to say, I found Henry’s insistence that she not try to fight for any money kind of unsettling. She’s supposed to depend entirely on him? -Jessica
Does anyone else think that Betty is going to spend six weeks with Henry in Nevada and realize this is a really bad idea? I don’t trust Henry at all. Yes, Don was bad. He might be worse, in different ways. -Ann
Peggy: “You just assume I’ll do whatever you say. Just follow you like some nervous poodle.” Don: “I’m not going to beg you.” Peggy: “Beg me? You didn’t even ask me.” Peggy: “I don’t want to make a career out of being there so you can kick me when you fail.”
This scene was full of win. -Vanessa
Could I possibly love Peggy any more? -Jos
The best part of Peggy not taking Don’s shit was that it worked and he came back begging. -Jessica
Don to Pete: “In fact, you’ve been ahead on a lot of things: aeronautics, teenagers, the Negro market. we need you to keep us looking forward. I do, anyway.”
OMG, how big was the boner Pete popped when Don said this? He was SO satisfied. I thought this and the convo with Peggy made for interesting parallels to Don’s conversation with Connie at the beginning of the episode. Both Pete and Peggy look up to Don so much — if not quite as a father figure, then as a big brother. Don telling them how much he respects and values them was what Don wanted (and didn’t get) out of his talk with Connie. -Ann
Don: “I need an attorney. Divorce.” Roger: “So it’s true, huh?” Don: “What are you talking about?” Roger: “Henry Francis.” Don: “Who?”
Just another example of how oblivious his is to Betty’s existence as a real person. It’s like the possibility of her having an identity outside of the Draper residence just isn’t fathomable to him, let alone her have someone else mean something to her. -Vanessa
I also love how the first question Don asks is if Betty slept with him. Uh, hello?! He’s been banging his way across this series for years and he’s concerned about her infidelity? Not to mention, Betty was unfaithful (remember her quickie in the bar?) but that wasn’t the real danger to their relationship. -Jessica
You misunderstand, Jess. Don is a man. It’s practically his birthright to screw any woman he wants to. Betty, on the other hand, is a woman. Her cheating is, like, an actual problem. -Ann
Yeah, I think it’s interesting that she’s choosing not to sleep with Henry until after she ends things with Don, especially considering she has been unfaithful to Don in the past. I think in her mind, waiting to have sex with Henry makes it more of a “respectable” transition (remember her reaction whenthe divorce lawyer assumes that she and Henry were already sleeping together), but it is also emblematic of how little she and Henry know each other (See Jess’ post on premarital sex). -Lori
Don is physically violent with Betty. Don: “Who the hell is Henry Francis?” Betty: “Why do you care?” Don: “Because you’re good and everyone else in the world is bad.” Don: “You’re so hurt, so brave with your little white nose in the air. All along you’ve been building a life raft.” Betty: “Get out.” Don: “You never forgave me.” Betty: “Forgave what? That I’ve never been enough?” Don: “You got everything you ever wanted. Everything, and you loved it. And now I’m not good enough for some spoiled mainline brat.” Don: “I’ll take the kids. God knows they’ll be better off.” Don: “You’re a whore.” Baby Gene cries. Betty: “I want you out of the house.”
The threat of violence has long been a part of the Draper’s marriage, being drunk and angry is not atypical behavior for Don, but watching him grab Betty and forcefully move her body was still jarring and incredibly painful to watch. I was impressed by how we got to see both character’s experience of this scene. Don’s actions almost made sense to him as he tried to bury everyone he’d done to Betty and rationalize away all the problems in their relationship as being about their class dynamic and Betty’s infidelity. From a pure storytelling perspective we now know why baby Gene cried at exactly the right moment so often this season – to prepare us for him crying, in the same room no less, when Betty needed it the most. -Jos
This scene was frightening. -Ann

Lane: “No one knows how this works.” Roger: “Let me make a phone call.”

This is the moment I jumped out of my seat and excitedly threw my arms in the air. -Jos
Jos, same here. I yelled, “Get Joan!!!” -Jessica
Don and Betty tell Bobby and Sally. Sally: “You said you’d always come home.” “Did you make him leave?” “You made him sleep in Gene’s room and it’s scary in there.”
I was struck by the fact that divorce falls far outside Sally and Bobby’s experience and knowledge of the world. Glenn is probably the only kid they know whose parents are divorced, and they never saw that process. Many of the characters on Mad Men are early adopters for their socioeconomic bracket, which means they’re moving forward without a road map. And this has been wreaking havoc on Sally and Bobby’s lives for a while now. -Jos
Don goes to Peggy. “I think I see you as an extension of myself.” “Because there are people out there who buy things, people like you and me. And something happened, something terrible, and the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that, but you do. and that’s very valuable.”
Possibly the best sales pitch we’ve ever seen from Don? Yes. But I think he was being honest. In a position where all the power he worked for could be lost Don actually has to think about who he values and what he needs from other people. Peggy and Don are connected in many ways, but beyond that Peggy has proved her talent despite all the roadblocks that exist because of her gender. This is something Don identifies with to a certain degree, especially since he is thinking more and more consciously about the role his class history plays in his personal journey. Don is no feminist (duh!) but he identifies with the experience of overcoming major obstacles and succeeding based on talent and determination. -Jos
“Mrs. Harris, what a pleasure to see you.”
I could not agree more! -Jos
This. That is all. -Ann
Roger: “Peggy, can you get me some coffee?” Peggy: “No.”
LOVE. They’re in this new endeavor together and on equal ground. This is not to say that Peggy would have got Roger’s coffee if they were still at the office, but I don’t think she would have said no so bluntly – she knows they need her, and the office gender dynamics no longer apply. At least for now. -Vanessa
Amazing. I just hope that’s a marker for what office relationships are going to be like moving forward. -Jessica
It was interesting he didn’t ask Joan. Somehow, I don’t think she would have had the same answer as Peggy. -Ann
Trudy listens in on Pete, Don, and Roger’s conversation, brings lunch.
In an episode that emphasized Peggy, Betty, and Joan’s processes of liberation from some aspects of gender oppression it was an interesting reminder to see Trudy playing the devoted, supportive wife, completely committed to her husband’s career. I was reminded of the Heineken dinner party and the extreme contrast with the Betty we’ve seen lately. And I’m not just talking about the switch from Wonder Bread dress to pants! -Jos
Agreed, Jos. Though I did think that scene showed how Trudy is – at least to some extent – involved in Pete’s decision-making. Her calling from the room to speak to him when he was being nasty to Roger and Don was a not-so-subtle hint on her part. -Jessica
Her calling from the other room was amazing! Did anyone else catch the knowing glance that Roger and Don exchanged after that? -Ann
Don to Betty: “I hope you get what you’ve always wanted.”
What does Betty want? She feels like she’s been liberated right now, but I am really curious to watch her process next season. She knows the marriage to Don was not acceptable, but I don’t see Henry Francis making her happy either. Betty has taken huge steps this season, and in the context of her life she’s gone through an incredible feminist awakening, at least as it relates to her personal needs. But that doesn’t mean she’s not still a problematic character, not still attached to certain markers of class privilege. More and more I’m hoping we get to see Mad Men continue into the 70s so we can following Betty’s process (and that of many other characters – I still want to see more of Sal in queer New York!) -Jos
In the same vein, I think the point of this statement is that Betty has no clue what she really wants. She has been raised to want certain things. She knows she doesn’t want other things. But her true self and her real goals and desires are something she seems pretty alienated from, except in fleeting moments. -Ann
Check out this fascinating interview with Matthew Weiner. A preview:

The Daily Beast: While there have been cracks in Don and Betty’s (January Jones) marriage before, their marriage appears now to be well and truly over; is there any hope for the two of them to mend the wounds they’ve inflicted on each other?

It’s so unambiguous to me that this marriage is over, but the audience seems to cling to the idea that they should be together because we want to believe in those things. The marriage was not good. It was built on a lie and the lie was exposed. In the end, Don coming clean really damaged his relationship with her, more than the lying, her seeing who he actually was. I do believe when he says his mother was a 22-year-old prostitute that Betty is looking at something that is very far from what she had planned for herself… That was the whole story of the season. When Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) came on to her… a switch went off in her head of what was missing in her life, which was a true, romantic attachment. In the end, that combination with her gut feeling that something wasn’t right in her marriage and finding out the truth, they don’t belong together anymore, kids or not. You’ve got to take it pretty seriously when someone’s flying to Reno to get a divorce.

Carla stays with Bobby and Sally.
Betty goes away for six weeks but Don is still around – and the person who takes care of the Draper children is Carla. Probably the most consistent presence in their lives and someone whose parenting role is completely undervalued. Again, I’m expecting a lot for Carla’s storyline in the future. -Jos
“Shahdaroba means the future is much better than the past.”
Now I have a better understanding of why Mad Men played so much with genre this season – to prepare us for a major stylistic shift to accompany the shift in our character’s lived reality. The show has luxuriated in long pauses, open spaces reminiscent of film sets that looked more like theater sets, as we’ve watched emotions slowly fight through extreme repression and come to the surface. This episode was fast, witty (has Roger Sterling ever been funnier?), and immediate (plus it paid homage to The Apartment, one of my favorite films). That end of the world I’ve been talking about all season? As Cooper pointed out it happened at the end of last season, but now the aftermath has finally fallen into place and our characters are standing on different ground, seeing from different perspectives, and approaching their world in a new way. Miss Farrell would fit right in now (if we actually got to know her instead of see her through the eyes of characters who weren’t there yet). Welcome to the 60s – capitalism style. We’re still following some incredibly privileged characters, and their experience of 1963 on will be very different from the history of hippies that fills the pop culture imagination. Betty, Joan, and Peggy have all gone through some form of liberation struggle, but they are all still very much within a capitalist system, filling new but acceptable roles. I’m really excited to watch them navigate these new positions and discover that parts of their psychic pain and experience of oppression have not gone away and new challenges will continue to be revealed. -Jos

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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