The virtues of mad men
More Meditations in an Emergency
There is an interview somewhere on the web where Matt Weiner says that Betty was a child in season one and an adolescent in season two. He said that during season two when he presumably thought he could make her mature to a stage something like young adulthood for season 3. Well, we've all seen Season 3 so we don't have to pretend: he failed.
That said I think this season is his finest hour with her. I see myself in her behaviour here. I don't see any part of myself that I am very proud of but I know these responses. Many years ago, in a relationship now long over, I found myself the victim of infidelity. I suppose most people do these days. In any case, Betty's behaviour strikes me as just the sort of adolescent stupidity that we should be willing to forgive in others.
Like a pregnant teen
We learn Betty is pregnant. I think we are also supposed to surmise that she has known this herself for a while. The hard riding session of a few episodes now takes on a different light. Betty is behaving very much like a teen here. Upon first getting into "trouble", she goes into a mixture denial and hoping for some sort of deus ex machina salvation. The hard riding was done in the hope of triggering some sort of miscarriage. And we see that she immediately goes riding again even tough her doctor tells her not to this episode.
But why does she have casual sex with a complete stranger? Well, I my (cynical) guess is there were three semi-conscious desires driving this, only one of which is worth any serious comment.
Let's get the two not worth talking about out of the way;
- She has anonymous sex because everyone including the staff on the show wanted to see Betty get it good for purely prurient reasons.
- She has anonymous sex because the writers were feeling guilty that they couldn't let Sal have the sex scene he would have in any credible story because they know the audience wouldn't accept any actual gay sex so they shot the scene Sal should have had with Betty.
It's definitely got a revenge motive to it but it is a kind of revenge that always fails because it lowers us while not having the desired retributive effect. Of course, if we thought it through ... but, as the toast the guy in the bar offers Betty, "To not thinking about things." I think we do it, as paradoxical as this may seem, to have an excuse to avoid having to seriously confront our moral lives. in different ways, Betty, Pete and Peggy do stupid things to others this episode.
Peggy and Pete
Pete's attempt to hurt carries the richest irony. Mr. Insensitive says something purely to hurt another and she is so wrapped up in herself that she misses it
There must be a name for the literary device wherein someone speaks the literal truth and the person they are speaking to takes the meaning as something else. Something like that happens in this episode. Pete and Trudy are arguing about whether he should accompany her to her parents summer place while the missile crisis plays out. Here are the key lines:
Trudy says: And yes I love my parents and they love me. Do you? If you did, you'd want to be with me.And he, we realize although she does not, means just what he says. He doesn't want to be with her and he doesn't love her. Trudy either doesn't catch it or chooses not to catch it.
Pete says: You're right.
This sets him up on a weird collision course with something going on in Peggy's life. She is also seeking atonement and reconciliation. Father Gill, who has been doing things very well up to now, blows it by telling Peggy that she could go to hell if she doesn't seek reconciliation. Peggy says she doesn't believe God is like that and leaves. But she still needs to tell someone. So she tells Pete.
It's one of the oddest confessions you'll ever hear. For starters, it isn't true. Peggy was in denial about her pregnancy first season and continued to be so even after the child was born. Here she lies and tells Pete she could have used the pregnancy as a way to make him marry her. Besides which, Pete was already married so she could not have used it that way even if she had been rationally capable of doing so, which she wasn't.
So the whole confession is a lie from start to finish. So, why does she say what she says. The only explanation that makes sense to me is that, like Betty, she is acting like an adolescent. She is seeking not reconciliation but to hurt Pete. When she puts her hand on his shoulder at the end of it and says, "Sorry Pete," she is not apologizing for anything at all. She is savouring the pain she has caused.
Don and only Don gets it right
Okay, I realize that many, many people will disagree with me here but I think Don is the only character in the show who shows real virtue consistently (followed by Roger, a point I will return to). No, he isn't perfect and his serial infidelities are a serious character flaw. We also should hold his poor marriage against him. Marriage is a serious thing and we saw last episode that Don's reasons for marrying Betty were not good.
But Don Draper is fully committed to being Don Draper. He is not just playing this part but determined to become it. That is what real virtue is. There is real pathos here. Don does have virtue and he has spent it all on this worthless woman. It's a mistake we all might have made. I came close once but avoided it. I wonder what is like to be Don sitting there at the kitchen table after Betty tells him she is pregnant and having to realize that the only reason she has taken you back is because she needs someone to take care of her again. What is it like to realize you're the only morally mature adult in your marriage? I'm sure glad that's not me.
The painful irony that arose from Pete's comment that he'd follow Don into combat back in Season 1 has now been reversed. At the time it was irony because we were about to discover that Don, back when he was Dick Whitman, was exactly the guy you wouldn't want to follow in a crisis. But he isn't Dick Whitman anymore. He is Don Draper now.
Climbing up on my soapbox, that is how I think we all should live: pick the character you want to be and become him. Forget all this nonsense about being who you truly are inside. Instead we should pick the outside we want to be and then figure out how to fill it.
And, no matter what life does to us, the best revenge is living well. Doing what Don does here—trying to make his marriage work anyway—is always better than the cheap responses that Betty, Pete and Peggy indulge in. Even if we don't get what we want, even if we suffer and our spouse leaves us anyway, we ourselves will be better for making the virtuous choice.
Season 2 blogging begins here.
The next entry on this episode's will be here when there is a next entry.
(Season one begins here if you are interested.)