Monday, May 14, 2012

Mad Men second thoughts

The callow youth* over at Slate are a favourite spot for me after writing my own thoughts about a Mad Men episode. They are reliably trite and shallow. And they sure do like piling it on the characters they hate.

Anyway, this time Patrick Radden Keefe and Julia Turner have it in for Don. Keefe says he's lost his respect for Don. And Don does smack down Ginsberg but good this episode. The problem is that Ginsberg richly deserves it. He describes Don to Roger as a tall guy with a  short temper and then is obnoxious towards Don and belittles his ideas. That's asking for it: pure hubris and it got what hubris always gets.

Turner, however, goes on to a limited defense of Betty that also deserves some comment.
But I do want to take a moment to defend Betty in this episode—or at least to marvel at a scene that perhaps demonstrated some growth. There was remarkable tenderness over that overdone steak in the Francis kitchen. And though Betty does, perhaps, wonder if she’s “bet on the wrong horse” with Henry, she also offers an uncommonly supportive little speech ...
But here is the thing, that "supportive little speech" is not unusual for Betty or someone like her are all.
This is a setback. You’re always thinking about other people, and then you’re angry because no one’s thinking about you. But I am. It’s so easy to blame our problems on others, but really we’re in charge of ourselves. And I’m here to help you, as you’re here to help me. We’ll figure out what’s next.
First, note that it is a lie. Betty doesn't think of Henry. She is a selfish and self-centred jerk.  No, this is exactly the speech that passive-aggressive exploiter like Betty would trot out in a situation like this. Her own interest is what drives her: Henry has to perform because she needs to feel competitive with Don. If you asked someone who hadn't yet seen this episode for an example of a person that Henry is always thinking of but who never thinks of him, Betty is the first example they'd come up with. If Betty had really changed and really cared, she would have started with an apology.

* Update, just in case it isn't obvious, all these insults are a joke of sorts—I am using the same sort of summary condemnation of Keefe and Turner that they use in describing characters on the show.

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