Betty Draper was colder than January (Jones) last night, easily winning the contest of wills over Don's secret drawer. Brutal. Her fainting couch was no where in evidence, replaced instead by the key to Don's secret-of-secrets and an icy laser-beam glare. On one level, Mad Men is the competition between Don and Betty, in the gladiatorial fundament of their marriage, as they jockey for position. It is somewhat sexy to be a voyeur in this intimate marital cosmos of yesteryear, but also to be sure cringe-worthy. Last night, dear reader, was particularly so.
Don Draper exists almost wholly as a self-created ideal. Profoundly American creature, he. Don's position in the office, the meme -- all attest to the fact that Don Draper, the ad man, the seller of dreams, is an almost iconic American character. His rise from unwanted Pennsyltucky hillbilly to upwardly mobile upper-middle class, urbane career man with the glamorous wife and the perfect children parallels perfectly America's rise on the global stage with the photogenic Camelot Presidency. Ironically, Draper's fall also parallels American decline under the heir of Bush and, at present, Camelot's heir.
Last night Don Draper, American icon, took a beating. For weeks there have been hints that the well-crafted veneer was coming unglued. Hippie swindlers knocked him out in a motel room (what were you even doing there, Don?) off a lonely stretch of highway. He had slipped, after months of good behavior, into an affair he promised his then-pregnant wife would never happen again ("penitential monogamy" is how Slate's Patrick Radden Keefe described it). Draper, who always seemed like a sympathetic champion of the minority, blasted both closeted Sal and the ambitious and super-talented Peggy. His invincibility was fading, even as America's does today.
But Don Draper's secret drawer was his Waterloo. The poor bastard; he never stood a chance. Betty -- supposedly visiting family -- laid in waiting, behind the children, enfolded in the chiaroscuro of their home. Entrapped! She didn't even let him get his hat! What a contrast with Don's mistress Suzanne, who is left waiting in the car as the family drama unfolds, who leaves the light on for him when she's not home. There was something spiderlike -- trap door -- about how events unfolded the moment Don entered the house. Keeping all of his secrets in a single location proved to be too much to bear for Betty Draper's bored housewife curiosity. After Don lost the intense stare-eye contest with Betty, he looked wobbly. "You don't get to ask any questions," Betty hisses at Don, all the years of pent-up seething released. As Don stumbled into the kitchen, fumbling for his fallen cigarette, Betty was stalking right behind him, predatory, smelling the blood. When Don fumbled for his cigarette as it fell, he was also simultaneously protecting his exposed vitals. "Are you thinking of what to say," said Betty, hard on his bloody trail, "or are you just looking at that door?" Popwatch noted the use of hands, almost as intense as the eye action:
"Betty stood there, brow furrowed, eyes looking into and through him. His hand holding those dastardly keys fell to the desk with a thud. All the artifice had been shot out of him. Then that same hand — loosening his tie as he wobbled into the kitchen like a man on the brink of a heart attack, palming water into his dry mouth, fumbling for a cigarette. I felt flooded with such enormous feeling for the riveting last 20 minutes. An Emmy for Jon Hamm's hands!"
The stunning siren Annabelle Mathis, Roger Sterling's former lover, prophecied Don's fall. Annabelle, a new client at Sterling Cooper via her Caldecott Farm brand, is newly widowed. From Popwatch: "'lung cancer,' she said, as a cloud of smoke mushroomed around Don's face." The poor bastard never stood a chance.
Sure, there were other interesting storylines going on, like Roger and Annabelle and, of course, Joan braining creepy-rapey-doctormanboy. But the unmasking of Don by Betty was the most unsettling event on the show all season. Watching the formerly invincible Don stumble, unmasked, into the kitchen as Betty trailed him made me feel as if I had seen my dad naked.