What’s worse than being caught in a lie? Maybe being caught in a lie that you’ve perpetuated for years and one that is the foundation of your entire marital relationship. As his wife Betty says, Don Draper is a very, very talented story teller but a story like Don’s requires you to engage in a suspension of disbelief. Everyone suspected there was something up with Don Draper but nobody wanted to dig deep enough to discover just what. I mean, who wants to destroy a character so perfectly drawn? Who wants to dismantle a fantasy so seamlessly executed? Burt Cooper himself was willing to keep the dream alive as long as he had exclusive rights to Draper’s talents. But everyone eventually wakes up from dreams and this week Betty Draper awoke from hers.
Don Draper is a man who strains against boundaries. He is not one to be kept, not at work and certainly not at home. So it’s no surprise that Draper splashes on a little extra after shave as soon as Betty and the kids hit the road for a week to argue over the dearly departed Grandpa Gene’s estate. Yes, it’s time for a little quality time with The Other Woman.
And what a woman Ms. Ferrell has turned out to be. I think most of us saw a twinkle of Glenn Close in her eyes when she plopped down beside Draper on his morning commute, but she seems more inclined to cook up Don’s dinner than his pet rabbit. “I swear, I’m not talking about our future,” she says to Don in a late night conversation, though she adds that whether she pictures herself in Don’s life or not, she sees an unhappy man. “I’m happy now,” he replies. And who wouldn’t be? Draper lives in the moment and at that moment he had a foxy young school teacher in his arms and a Johnny Walker buzz in his head. Life was good.
Speaking of fine ladies, Roger Sterling likely has a parade of classy broads in his past. Roger has as much silver on his tongue as he does on his dome (and in his wallet) and the ladies love a good talker. Roger, Don, and Burt Cooper meet with Annabelle Mathis – an old flame of Roger’s from Paris “before the war,” which sounds about as romantic as the juiciest bits of a novel. Annabel’s company, Caldecott Farms, is losing market share because consumers have learned its dog food contains horse meat. She’s making the rounds and challenging the big ad agencies to reverse public opinion or at least get them comfortable with the notion that all dog food in those days was made with horse meat. The ground rules: She won’t change the recipe, or the name on the label. She’s tough and quick witted and beautiful as can be. Seems like the perfect set up for the devilish Roger Sterling to wander from his young new bride. I mean, this is Roger F-ing Sterling we’re talking about here, a master swordsman of the highest degree. Mz. Mathis best be ready for a good time!
Our Joan coaches her fiancé Dr. Nobody for a psychiatry residency interview since he washed out of his surgery residency. In the process, he reveals a family secret — that his father underwent psychiatric treatment — and she encourages him to be as open with the interviewer as he was with her. But the good doctor is stiff as an Old Fashioned and about as emotionally deep as well. I get that public acceptance of psychiatry has come a long, long way since 1963, but who would argue with The Red Rocket? He gets his in the form of a vase on the back of the head when he dismisses our Joan tells her she doesn’t know what it’s like “to want something your whole life” and not get it. Joan bashes his head but good.
Back at the Grandpa Gene compound, Betty, seeking family lawyer Milton’s advice in private, describes Don’s secret past. There weren’t a lot of options for unhappy wives back then and Milton explains that divorce could leave her broke…and she could lose custody of the children. “It’s a lie so big,” Betty argues but it doesn’t constitute abuse or even adultery—at least not that she can prove in a court of law. After getting her to agree that Don is a good provider and wouldn’t harm her, Milton counsels Betty to try to salvage her marriage. Top notch advice there. No wonder our grandmas were downing Quaaludes like they were Junior Mints.
Over dinner, Annabelle reminisces about being young and in Paris with Roger, who reminds her that she dumped him for someone her father found more suitable. Roger, she counters, was adrift, walking around “like you were hoping to be a character in somebody else’s novel,” and it seems that novel was written by Papa Hemingway himself. Roger even took up boxing. The two get tight (that’s Lost Generation speak for inebriated), but when Annabelle says that she knows Roger still wants her, he replies, “So what? I’m married.” Of course he was married to Mona at one time as well and was still chasing tail all over the Sterling-Cooper halls, but “this girl is different.” When Annabelle expresses regret over dumping him back in Paris by telling him he was the one, Roger coolly dismisses her with, “But you weren’t.” That’s a line Jake Barnes only wishes he could have mustered.
Back at the office the next morning, the gang at Sterling-Cooper get a taste of what too many clients really want: change my reality. Annabelle watches behind a two-way mirror as focus-group participants become incensed when told their pets are eating samples of Caldecott Farms dog food. “The name has been poisoned,” Don says. She’s not buying it and declares that she’ll find someone else to fix it, which may be as much a slap at Roger as it is to the agency. Roger’s non-plussed and bids her adieu in the staff break room.
Don and Ms. Ferrell decide to get out of town for a few days so they can at least pretend to carry on a normal relationship and actually get dinner together beyond the prying eyes of neighborhood snoops and Ms. Ferrell’s giggling students. She remains in the car when Don stops at his house to grab a bag and some clothes before their trip. Discovering that Betty and the kids have returned early, he says that he left his hat in the car. “Get it later,” says Betty. She has that steely look that Don knows all too well cannot be quelled through charm and a web of well crafted lies. He leaves Ms. Ferrell waiting in his car across the street and follows Betty to his den.
Don is a master of compartmentalizing. He has his home life with Betty and the kids where he can believably pull off the loving husband and doting father; he has the unwavering Creative Director role in which he dazzles clients and dumbfounds subordinates with his grasp of advertising magic; he has his existential deep thinker character that allows him to move among circles of beatniks, poets, and Intercontinentals with ease and fluidity. He keeps them in boxes and can open them at will, but they’re hidden away and accessible only to whom he chooses. If one box is breached, he simply shuts the interloper out and moves on. He did it with his free spirit girlfriend from the Village, he did it with the young jet setter he met in Palm Springs, he does it with his staff, and he does it with Betty. Until now.
Bets has clearly been stewing and waiting to confront Don with the discovery she made of his secret past. While Ms. Ferrell cools her jets in the car outside, Betty lays into Don about the life of lies they’ve been living. She knows everything—the divorce from the original Mrs. Draper, the house Don bought her, everything—or so she thinks. Don finally fesses up to the whole charade and tells Betty how it was that he came to assume a false identity, but to do that required he clean up a few loose ends, including the wife the real Don Draper left behind. Stunned, Betty asks if that isn’t illegal, which Don confirms. Throughout the entire scene the tension tightens and we all wait for Ms. Ferrell to breeze in oblivious to the drama playing out inside the Draper household. Such a confrontation would have provided the release we the viewers expected and even maybe secretly wanted, but it would have also been entirely predictable. The dramatic break finally comes when Don confesses to Betty that he did in fact have a little brother as well. We all want to break down just like Draper as he explains that Little Adam was dead by suicide after Don turned him away a year ago. “He didn’t even want help,” Draper laments. “He just wanted to be part of my life.” That Adam is dead and Betty is on the verge of leaving with Don’s kids and his sense of self may have finally shaken Draper to reality, if only for now.
Roger, meanwhile, phones a friend, suggesting that Joan could whip his business into shape. “She’s important to me,” Roger says. Yes, he can be a cad sometimes but like so many of his lost generation, Roger is a gentleman. There’s a core of class under that gin soaked exterior.
Over at Joan’s apartment, Dr. Nobody returns with flowers, an apology for “feeling sorry for myself,” and a surprise: He’s joined the army. He’ll be able to work as a surgeon, and Joan won’t have to return to work. Of course he hasn’t considered the fact that Army life means moving around the world and the hanging potential of deployment to war zones. In 1963 Viet Nam is just revving up and will rage on for more than a decade claiming 55,000 US personnel. Will he be one of the early “advisers” sent to stave off the red tide?
Don calls Ms. Ferrell from his office the next morning to say that he can’t see her anymore—well, at least not right now. “Are you okay?” she asks. “Only you would ask about me right now,” he says and hangs up.
That evening Don and Betty take the kids trick-or-treating. “Look at this,” says a neighbor to Sally and Bobby. “We’ve got a gypsy and a hobo.” Glancing up at Don, he asks, “And who are you supposed to be?” Does anyone even know?
*Animated gif via NYMag.com