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Freudian Slip: Confronting Hard Truths on "Mad Men"

"And who are you supposed to be?"

Rarely ever has a question been asked that has carried more weight than that one. On this week's stunning episode of Mad Men ("The Gypsy and The Hobo"), written by Marti Noxon & Cathryn Humphris and Matthew Weiner and directed by Jennifer Getzinger, the truth about Don's secret past finally comes tumbling out as he was forced to confess his true identity to Betty.

It was only a matter of time before Matt Weiner decided that Betty ought to know just who she has been married to all of these years. After nearly three seasons, Don has managed to pull the wool over Betty's eyes about his affairs, his indiscretions both romantic and professional, and about his past. But Freud once said that there is no such thing as a mistake. Did Don want to be found out? Is that why, as Betty surmises, he left that key in his bathrobe pocket and kept those photographs, dog tags, and legal documents in their house? Or was it just an oversight?

The scene in which Betty confronted her husband, not about his philandering but about his marriage to Anna Draper and the family photographs hidden inside his desk drawer was one of the most powerful on the series to date as we see a flustered and broken Don Draper for the first time, unable to grasp a cigarette with a shaking hand as it flutters sadly to the floor. It's a glimpse at Don diminished, not only in Betty's eyes but our own, the polished facade of the flannel suited ad man ripped away to reveal a broken man deeply ashamed of the choices he's made in life.

For years, Don has carried the burden of guilt about a fateful choice he made amid the terrors of war. He assumed another man's identity, dressed himself up in the clothes of someone else (how fitting that the episode circled around Halloween and Sally and Bobby's request for costumes), and attempted to navigate a minefield of possible discovery, looking after the widowed Anna Draper, denying any relationship to his mentally unstable brother Adam, lying to Betty about his past and his family. But secrets, even those long buried, have a way of rising to the surface eventually.

Even Betty, instructed by her family lawyer to leave things alone and return to Don rather than divorce him, can't allow things to continue as they have. She deserves the truth, deserves to know who and what she married, though I believe that Don never thought the day would come where he would have to unburden himself to her, to tear away the plastic mask he's been wearing all these years and show his wife his true face. But it's perhaps that moment, of full-blown honesty, that saves their marriage. Betty's tenderness in the scene on their bed, when she places her hand on Don's shoulder, spoke more about love and kindness than any of their bedroom romps. Things might not be perfect between them, but a light has been shown on the truth and revealed a chink in the armor of their marriage. (America itself is about to get a rude awakening; in just a matter of weeks, John F. Kennedy will be assassinated and the nation will be dragged into the harsh light of day.)

Of course, Betty has no idea that while she's confronting her husband, Don's latest inamorata, Suzanne Farrell, is outside in his car, as the two were about to leave for a romantic trip to Mystic, Connecticut. Don is so shaken by Betty's furious confrontation that he forgets about Suzanne completely, perhaps not remembering until the following morning that she must have been outside for hours. That he would have taken to Suzanne to his house shows a complete disregard for any discretion; he's making massive mistakes in this romance. It's almost as though he wants to be caught by his wife, wants to be punished.

Suzanne, of course, wants more of Don than he's willing to give, despite her assurances early on that she knew just what she was getting into when she climbed into bed with him. I'm firmly of the mind now that it was Suzanne who called the Draper residence last week and, in spite of her teary declaration that it was over between them, I don't know that she's going to relinquish Don quite that easily.

But it's not just Don and Betty who have to deal with the harsh glare of the truth in this week's episode. Joan finally sees her husband Greg for what he is: a perennial screw-up who represents the exact opposite of what she dreamed of as a girl. Her act of defiance--smashing him over the head with a flower vase--was a breaking point for Joan, clearly still in denial over the fact that he raped her when they were engaged and that her dreams of marrying a wealthy doctor have resulted in nothing but heartbreak. Greg, as aimless as ever, blows an interview for a psychiatric residency and then, without discussing it with Joan, enlists in the army. He thinks it's the best decision he's made as it will allow him to become a surgeon and he might be sent to Germany or Vietnam, "if that's still going on." I had wondered just how Joan would manage to disentangle herself from Greg and I had an inkling when he wondered what to do next that he would end up in Vietnam eventually...

I was also pleased to see a reunion of sorts between Joan and her former lover Roger Sterling, as she called him for a favor that he was only too happy to comply with (namely to find her a job somewhere). I'm still hopeful that Joan will end up back at Sterling Cooper and I thought it a nice touch that their reconciliation came at a time where Roger himself was confronted by the ghosts of girlfriends past in the form of the woman who broke his heart, Annabelle Mathis (Mary Page Keller), and chose faithfulness to Jane over an affair with Annabelle. Still, if Annabelle wasn't "the one," as he tells her, who was? Is it the youthful Jane, Roger's child bride? Or is it Joan Harris nee Holloway, whom Roger says is "important" to him?

Just who is lying now?

Next week on Mad Men ("The Grown-Ups"), Don meets with an impressive candidate; Peggy second guesses her taste in men; Pete makes big career decisions.


Hadley said…
This was my favorite episode of the season so far. Last week, when Betty found Don's secret box, I wasn't sure if she pieced together the fact that he wasn't Don Draper. So, I was happy to see her confront him and to see that Betty is not just a naive, little girl (even though she acts that way at times).

Equally satisfying was Joan smashing the vase over her husband's head. Neither she nor Betty have a way out of their unhappy marriages. Now that Don's secret is out, there is some hope for him and Betty. But Joan and Greg are utterly doomed as a couple and his announcement that he joined the army was somewhat a relief.

The conversation between Joan and Roger was so bittersweet and I do hope that, somehow, she makes it back to Sterling Cooper. She was the lifeforce of the office and I miss her!
linda said…
an amazing episode. I think there will be a body bag with Greg's name on it eventually. I was happy to see Joan - I miss her on the show. Hopefully she makes her way back to SC.
ewench said…
I almost fell off my chair when Betty was kind to Don while he was upset, It made me slightly like her for the first time.

Poor Joan – when Greg was whining about how she just can’t understand what it’s like to work for something so hard and not get it – obviously she can totally understand as she worked so hard to marry well and have the life of a doctors wife and that is not happening.

I don’t get why Rogers old gf came back and left in one episode (though the glimpse into her marketing troubles was interesting) –and it does seem like she is gone for good? Was it only to tease us about who his “one” really is? Is it Joanie? They didn’t seem so madly in love before but since he is now helping her it seems it might be going there?

I love the little symbolic touches– like last week when Betty opened the secret drawer and light from the window shone in on her or the man asking Don who he was supposed to be when he took the kids trick or treating – it’s the tv difference between literature and pulp fiction.
Erika said…
What a thoughtful and insightful recap. Thank you!

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