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The Perils of Pretending on "Mad Men"

"We were just pretending."

With one simple line, Betty Draper not only broke Don's heart into a million pieces last night on Mad Men ("The Inheritance") but she also completely summed up his entire character in less than five words.

For Don Draper, pretending has always been the key word, whether it was pretending that his cheating--whether with Midge, Rachel, or Bobbi--wouldn't impact his marriage to Betty, that by compartmentalizing, he could keep the two aspects of his life separate from one another. Or that by taking the identity of someone else, he could magically become this new person, that by pretending to be Don Draper for long enough, he could escape his past altogether.

Don truly hoped that by joining Betty at her father's house and by having sex with her (during, one should note, a particularly vulnerable time in her life) that they could reconcile in some way and he could return home. Not so. Betty doesn't want him there nor has she forgiven him for betraying her, despite "pretending" to be the happily married couple in front of her ailing father and his new wife.

Betty does some pretending of her own as well. Whether it's pretending that she is all right on her own (notice how quickly she nervously locked the door after hearing that noise) or that she is in some way helping Glenn by feeding into his fantasies that he is rescuing her. I'm not sure why Betty held his hand or offered to make him macaroni and cheese (after learning he doesn't like ham) but she feels some level of comfort and safety with ten-year-old Glenn. Perhaps it's because she hasn't progressed past the emotional maturity of a teenager and we saw her regress even further when she threw a tantrum with Viola, her father's maid and her mother replacement. (Though how upsetting was the scene with Betty and her father when he groped her and came on to her, thinking she was her mother?)

Will Betty grow up and become the mature, responsible, and intelligent woman we know she can be? She took the first step by coming clean about her marital situation to Helen Bishop, the one woman she knew could actually understand her predicament. In that moment of laying herself bare, Betty stopped pretending that everything was all right with the world and tore the glittering veil from her own eyes. Betty's house might be a prison (after all, she's kept herself locked up and alone in there for a while now) but by confessing to Helen she may have made herself the jailer rather than a prisoner in her gilded cage.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the conversation between Pete and Peggy at the office, as he confesses that he's nervous to fly after his father's death on Flight 1 and implies that he might be adopting a child. As Peggy searches for meaning in his disjointed words, I couldn't help but feel satisfied that Pete doesn't know that he does have an heir out there in the world... and sort of hope that he never finds out. Like Betty, Pete finally puts himself onto solid footing, telling his mother the truth about her financial situation, unable to pretend that everything is fine after she tells him that she disapproves of his decision to adopt. We've always seen Pete as ambitious, vulnerable, and largely clueless, but he grew up somewhat last night, even if his actions were rooted more in spite than in a need to tell the Truth.

Also unwilling to tell the Truth is Paul Kinsey, who was using his convention trip to California as an excuse not to join his girlfriend Sheila down in the South attempting to get blacks to sign up to vote. I'm very worried about where this storyline is headed and can't shake the feeling that Paul is going to end up getting himself killed on this crusade that he clearly doesn't want to be a part of. Could Don have sent Paul to his death by forcing his way onto the California trip? Only time will tell.

Next week on Mad Men ("The Jet Set"),Don meets some exciting new friends in Los Angeles; Peggy looks for romance at work; Duck starts thinking about the future of Sterling Cooper.


I loved last night's episode. Betty's struggle to become an independent woman, while still living in the world of a little girl, is fascinating to watch. You feel horrified by her actions but sorry for her at the same time. It will be very interesting to see what happens now that she told Helen that Don isn't living at home and her secret is out.
ewench said…
I think Betty has been trying to live this perfect Wind Up Doll life women had to live back then when careers were barely an option and marriage/family was the only choice really and if you got a divorce you were practically a pariah.

But underneath the perfect exterior is a real person who realizes how much it sucks to be home, starching your husbands shirts and raising the kids practically alone and realizing he is cheating on you and possibly does not even love you. She wants him to make some real sincere extreme declaration of his love and he is not doing that, he just keeps asking things like “what do you want me to say?" in a snarky way.

I think she wants to scream but a lifetime of conditioning to be ladylike and demure and fit into the herd is preventing her. She can’t decide if living in a loveless marriage is worth “keeping up appearances” or if she is strong enough to go it on her own. She's not so much stupid or immature, she is a product of the times. If this was 2008 she ’d have hired a shark of a divorce lawyer by now.
The Rush Blog said…
I think I'm finding it increasingly frustrating and annoying at how Betty is described as a little girl or adolescent by many fans and Weiner, yet at the same time, many refuse to describe Don as equally immature.

"I'm very worried about where this storyline is headed and can't shake the feeling that Paul is going to end up getting himself killed on this crusade that he clearly doesn't want to be a part of. Could Don have sent Paul to his death by forcing his way onto the California trip? Only time will tell."

Something even worse happened. Weiner ended the relationship by telling the audience with one sentence from Paul's lips . . . instead of showing the audience what happened between them. Shoddy writing.

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