Monday, October 12, 2009

Mad Men - the Drapers

Mad Men has been a little harder to watch than usual. Neither Don nor Betty are very sympathetic characters, and this season has put their characters and their marriage to a stress test that they are so far not passing.

First, Don. Don has been an extremely sympathetic hero, even though he has done a lot of unlikable things. Don has often stood as a mute witness to the everyday cruelties of the office and family. Plus, our glimpses into his past as a discarded son of a prostitute raised by a man who hated him, have led to a lot of sympathy on our part. But this season has been especially hard on Don and our feelings about him. Don found a new father figure in Conrad "Connie" Hilton, who seeks Don out to discuss communism and the meaning of life. But Connie's response to Don's latest ad campaign for Hilton was like a condemning, disappointed dad, somewhat similar to what Don grew up with. Connie's demands on Don's time has bled into his career and his home. Connie demanded that Don sign a three-year contract, something which Don had avoided for years. Don has less tolerance of his staff, including Peggy and Sal. I was heartbroken last night as Don looked at Sal with contempt, saying, "You people."

After Connie's rejection of Don's work (to which Don protested petulantly, "It's a great campaign"), Don completed his pursuit of his daughter's former teacher, a pretty young thing who lives only two miles from Don's home. She is clearly attracted to Don, but recognizes that the affair will only be harmful to both of them. Don doesn't care - he needs the release, and sleeps soundly afterward, something he hadn't done in weeks.

Meanwhile, Betty continues to simmer in discontent in the suburbs. I actually found myself liking her better upon learning that she never wanted to move to the suburbs to begin with. Otherwise, Betty did everything expected of her in 1950s and 1960s America. She was beautiful and thin and attracted a man as gorgeous as she. She then moved to the suburbs and had children. And then what?

Well, ask Betty Friedan. Betty spends the first season seeking psychoanalysis, which ended upon her discovery that the analyst was updating Don on her progress. In the second season, she was unable to ignore Don's infidelity, and kicked him out of the home. She only let him back when he admitted that he treated her "disrespectfully".

This season Betty has confronted the death of her father and the birth of her third child. She chose to name the child "Eugene" after her father, even knowing that Don and her father detested each other. She did not support her daughter who honestly grieved over her grandfather's death and who feared his reincarnation in her new baby brother.

One thing that confuses me sometimes is her relationship with men. She has been the object of many an unrequited crush, only having a tawdry affair before letting Don return home. This season, she has been attracted to an advisor to Governor Rockefeller. She engaged in a correspondence with him, but then he made the mistake of showing up at her home. Within a week, the advisor learned that Betty is not really interested in love, but in being pursued.

That Don is having an affair so close to home will only increase the likelihood of his getting caught, and the further deterioration of his marriage.

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