"Open this drawer." -BettyDamn.
Damn damn damn damn damn damn damn.
Back in the days before comic book fanboys got a little too obsessed with their favorite titles maintaining a uniform continuity, comic writers were fond of doing fantasy issues where Lois Lane would finally prove that Clark Kent and Superman were the same guy, or where Batman would get married and have seven Bat-sons, or Green Lantern's vulnerability to the color yellow was replaced with a vulnerability to the color fuschia. Eventually, these "imaginary stories" (because the others were, of course, very real in the minds of their readers) became so commonplace that, whenever a title experienced a genuine seismic change to the status quo, the cover would often have to be accompanied by a blurb declaring this, Not a hoax! Not a dream! Not an imaginary story!
You need to slap a blurb like that on "The Gypsy and the Hobo," in which Betty finally confronts Don (who could sure pass for Clark Kent if you gave him some spectacles) about his own secret identity, and in such a way where there's no room for him to run, or hide, or dissemble. He fudges one detail (that the Army "made a mistake" only because he switched the dog tags around) and leaves out the adultery, but beyond that, he tells Betty everything: Archie. The prostitute. Abigail. Uncle Mac. The switch in Korea. Anna. Even, much as it pained him to do so, Adam.
And Betty - who impressively backs her lying husband into a corner and makes it abundantly clear that he has no choice but full transparency - hears all of this. Early in his story, she sarcastically asks if she's supposed to feel sorry for Don because he doesn't feel capable of being loved, but by the time he finishes explaining how he drove his own brother to suicide, she does feel pity for him.
More importantly, it seems, she feels some relief - and, so, amazingly, does he. This has always been Don's nightmare scenario. The day Betty found out the truth about Dick Whitman was going to be the worst day of his life, as far as he was concerned, so he held himself apart from her, kept secrets, slept with other women, even treated her like a child. But Betty finds out, and Don's world doesn't end. She doesn't order him out of the house, doesn't call the cops, or a divorce lawyer. She offers him breakfast the next morning and, when he gives her an excuse to not have to go trick-or-treating with him, she declines the offer. She doesn't want to run, and doesn't want him to run, not yet. She actually wants to be with him.
And as they stand on Francine and Carlton's porch, and Carlton jokingly asks the grown-up Drapers, "And who are you supposed to be?," Don looks... happy? At peace? Or simply surprised that his wife hasn't thrown him out yet in spite of knowing the truth about Dick Whitman?
After watching this one, I may need to retract my Hugh Laurie is a lock to win next year's Emmy column, because if Jon Hamm submits this one(*)... well, we have a horse race then, folks.
(*) Bryan Cranston would be tough to beat in any year - and lord knows what the "Breaking Bad" writers are going to give him to play in season three - but Hamm didn't help himself this past year by submitting "The Mountain King," which isn't an ideal awards showcase, in that he's playing Dick Whitman for virtually the whole hour, as opposed to shifting back and forth between the two personas, or else largely playing the more magnetic Don Draper personality.
By now, Hamm's made the switch from arrogant Don to cowardly Dick so often that the trick should feel less special, but it doesn't. He goes from defiant (when he thinks Betty hasn't been inside the drawer yet) to defeated (when she tells him she has) so perfectly. You can almost see all the air leave his body - not to mention all awareness that Miss Farrell is waiting outside in the Caddy (more on that in a bit) - once he learns that the jig is up. And while Betty suspects that Don will try to run again (and why wouldn't he, given what she knows?) or come up with a story, we can instead see Don not trying to manufacture a pitch, but Dick bracing himself to tell his wife as much of the truth as he can handle. And you can see that he was not in any way prepared to be hit with the thunderclap of Adam's name, even though he's precisely aware of what's in the box. Sending his brother away is, as far as Don's concerned, the worst thing he's ever done - worse than stealing the real Don Draper's name, worse than cheating on Betty - and so he's tried to bottle it down even further than Archie and Abigail and the rest. But as Betty tells him the name, his confession becomes the opposite of the advice he gave Peggy in "The New Girl" - "I guess when you try to forget something, you have to forget everything." - and so even though he doesn't want to tell her everything, he has to. And Hamm... has Hamm ever been better than he is throughout this whole sequence, playing a Don/Dick who's totally exposed, who can't run or hide, who has to confess all of his greatest shames to the woman who represents his dream life? And that look on his face in the end - there's just so much there, right? So many possibilities for what he's feeling, and for what his life might be now.
And I don't want to slight January Jones in here. This is twice now that she's had to play Betty trying to cope with a devastating truth about her husband (first Bobbie Barrett, now this), and Jones was just as good at playing Betty's steely resolve here as she was at the broken doll quality of "A Night to Remember." Betty nibbles around the edges of the problem at the start of the show (asking Don if he has any cash handy, well aware of how much he has in that drawer), then gets frank but depressing advice from her father's lawyer Milton(**), then heads home early so she can have the element of surprise to aid her against her very slippery husband. And she does not give him an inch of breathing room, does she? I loved seeing the role reversal in the kitchen, with Don reduced to a child who's been caught doing something bad, and Betty as the maternal figure who's going to administer discipline but has to calm the little brat down first by getting him something to drink.
(**) I'm sure Betty would be screwed-over to an extent if she wanted a divorce and couldn't prove adultery - though wouldn't Jimmy Barrett be happy to offer supporting testimony? - or the identity theft, but would she really be at risk of losing the kids? I thought it wasn't until after the "Kramer vs. Kramer" era that courts stopped routinely assigning primary custody to the mother in divorce cases.
And the genius part of the script, by Marti Noxon, Cathryn Humphris and Matthew Weiner, is the way that Miss Farrell's presence hangs over the proceedings like a ticking time bomb. Betty doesn't know she's out there, and Don may forget quickly, but we are acutely aware that she's still out there, and that she might be impulsive (if not outright cuckoo bananas) enough to knock on the door to find out what's taking so long, and then this delicate situation between husband and wife could just explode. I've watched the second half of the episode several times already, and each time I'm on edge, even though I know that Suzanne just waits for hours, then slinks off with her suitcase in the middle of the night, suspecting, but not knowing, what's to come.
Now, Weiner and Hamm have talked in the past about how one of the fundamental problems of the Draper marriage is that Betty doesn't know who Don really is, and Don therefore keeps her at a distance so she won't find out. Those walls are gone now, and in theory, their relationship could get healthier as a result. But there's another problem, perhaps an even bigger one, and it's that Betty still doesn't seem like Don's type. She's his idealized woman, but not the ideal woman for him. And maybe she could become his woman (as in their Italian role-playing), but for now it's clear that he's still drawn to the more independent, more in touch with their own emotions women like Midge or Rachel or Suzanne, and when he tells Suzanne he won't be seeing her again, he adds a "not right now" caveat. That could be just him trying to soften the blow, or it could mean that, for all that was exposed and potentially healed tonight, Don's wandering eye will still be an issue.
Even if it isn't, there's the fact that he never concretely told Suzanne that Betty doesn't know about the two of them, which could lead to something very awkward down the road should their paths cross again. Because whether Suzanne's crazy or just ahead of her time (and this episode lends more evidence to the latter theory), she seems exactly the type of person who would feel compelled to apologize to Betty should they ever come face to face, and that would be very, very bad for all involved.
Whether Miss Farrell surfaces again or not, whether Don and Betty manage to be more open with each other or not, this is a radical dynamic shift in their marriage. Don has always been not only the bread-winner, but the decision-maker. Not anymore. Betty knows too much about him now, can do too much damage to him now, can absolutely take away the kids and the money by getting him sent to jail as a deserter and an identity thief. So either he learns to share power with her, or she takes it from him. And we all know how little this man, whether he's calling himself Don or Dick, likes to be told what to do. If this isn't a solid partnership, then entirely new problems are going to arise.
And I see that I've now written over 1600 words about something that took up maybe a third of the running time of "The Gypsy and the Hobo," if that. I don't want to slight the rest of the episode, particularly since so much of it tied in thematically to the Don/Betty conflict.
In both Roger's story and Joan's, we see them dealing with romantic partners, past or present, discovering the truth about who they really are trying like hell to fight that, just as Don has for so long before potentially accepting his true identity at the end of this one.
Roger's old flame Annabelle has a crisis on her hands because her dog food company's name is poison in the marketplace, and she refuses to let Don (who knows a thing or twelve about the power of rebranding yourself) or anyone else change that name. And recently widowed, she's convinced herself that she was the love of Roger's life and can easily get him back, and is hurt and mystified to be both rejected in the present and dismissed about the past.
Dr. Greg, meanwhile, struggles with his psychiatric interview - and the man would be the world's least insightful shrink, based on his whining to Joan, "You don't know what it's like to want something your whole life, and to plan for it and count on it and not get it," which exactly sums up the story of Joan's life now that she's married to this loser - and is so fixated on keeping his surgical career going that he (as a bunch of you speculated on the last time we saw the jerk) enlists in the Army. The military is desperate enough for cutters that they'll even sign up his brain-less fingers, and I suspect (as so many of you did) that he's going to end up in Vietnam, either dead or gone for so long that Joan will wind up back at Sterling Cooper, under whomever the new ownership turns out to be. Now that Roger knows she's looking for work, so long as he has any kind of influence under the new structure, whom else would he call first?
Cathartic as it may have been to see Joan bash her clueless rapist husband in the head with a vase - and irrationally excited as I am by the thought of Greg getting blown up in Vietnam - I found Roger's story the more interesting of the two subplots this week. John Slattery, as always, gets the best lines and knows how to deliver them - when Annabelle compares their relationship to Rick and Ilsa in "Casablanca," Roger replies, "That woman got on a plane with a man who was going to end World War II, not run her father's dog food company." - but there was something oddly tender and mature about how Roger carried himself in this one. Or, if not mature, then secure - as in, maybe he really does think Jane is The One, does love her enough to not cheat on her (as opposed to just being afraid of getting caught), and has genuinely been looking all his life for someone just as carefree as himself. Now, it's entirely possible that Roger is full of crap and just trying to hurt Annabelle the way she hurt him, and it's more than probable that should Jane start to feel the ticking of a biological clock and start talking about settling down and having kids, Roger would toss her aside like he did Mona and start looking for his next young thing. But if young Roger was really the man Annabelle described - "hoping to be a character in someone else's novel," boxing, not wanting to work at his father's ad agency - then maybe this is for real.
Or maybe I'm feeling more kindly disposed towards Roger this week because of how charming he was during the phone conversation with Joan (who, even she no longer works at Sterling Cooper, knows the company's operations better than he does).
I spent some time with Slattery and his wife Talia Balsam (who plays Mona) at AMC's press tour party in late July, and we got to talking about whether Roger had settled - that he wanted Joan and wound up with Jane. And Slattery, who thinks about the character a lot more than I do, said he didn't believe so. He felt that when Roger, after his season one heart attack, told Joan, "You are the finest piece of ass I have ever had, and I don't care who knows it," that wasn't just Roger being crude, but Roger expressing the depth of his feelings for her. Joan was a great time for Roger, but she was also strong-willed and tough and more serious than Roger ever wanted to be, and despite his promises to leave Mona for her, perhaps he always knew this wouldn't work in the long-term.
But whatever's happening with Roger's marriage, with Joan's career, with the Draper marriage, the ownership of Sterling Cooper, things are going to happen soon and they're going to be tumultuous. We end this episode on Halloween. Margaret's wedding is 23 days away, which means JFK's assassination is only 22 days away. Again and again, I go back to Grampa Gene's line to Sally about their Roman Empire book: "Just wait. All hell's gonna break loose."
Some other thoughts:
• Great as so much of this episode was, "The Gypsy and the Hobo" also suffered from that occasional "Mad Men" tendency to be a little too on-the-nose, to spell things out too blatantly. So we get Bobby dressing up as the hobo his father truly is, and we got Greg's vase-inducing line so perfectly summing up Joan's life story, and Roger's line about the dog food company name ("Let it go! The name is done! It's unfair, but it's over!") so neatly echoing his feelings about Annabelle, and, of course, Carlton's closing line to Don.
• I had gotten the impression from Don's conversation with Adam back in "5G" that Mac was just as much of a sonuvabitch to Dick as Archie had been, and it seems to pain him to say Mac's name to Betty, yet he also tells her, "He was nice to me." Am I misremembering?
• For a half-second, I thought the episode's title might be an allusion to Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" (tramp is another word for hobo, and Don's an identity thief), but the song came out 8 years after the episode, so... ?
• The vanity mirror in the Draper master bathroom led to a memorable closing shot in "Maidenform," and here we see it used to show just how much Don hates himself for all the things he confessed to Betty. Guy can't stand to look a himself, from three different angles.
• It's been a good season for "Mad Men" cigarette humor, from Pete's coughing fit in "Wee Small Hours" to Don unabashedly lighting up a half-second after Annabelle explains that her husband died of lung cancer.
• A lot of people were intrigued last week by Roger's comment to Bert Cooper about having discovered Don at a fur company and want some gaps filled in. I don't think there's a lot left to fill in. Don has said before - most memorably in his Kodak pitch in "The Wheel" - that he began his advertising career as an in-house copywriter for a fur company in the city. (This is also how he met Betty, as she was a model at the time.) I imagine Roger tried to acquire the company's business, was told they were very happy with their in-house whiz kid, and proceeded to poach the whiz kid. But check out the look on Roger's face when Don says he's eaten horse meat, which I'm guessing was an allusion to his dirt-poor upbringing. Everyone at that office has always speculated about Don's past (except Cooper and Pete, who know), and Roger tried to probe Don about it going back as far as the series' second episode, on a double date with Mona and Betty. Given how much he's grown to dislike Don, any chance he tries to probe further?
• Annabelle, by the way, was played by Mary Page Keller, who's had a long career in television but is probably still best-remembered for playing one of the leads in "Duet," one of the first sitcoms on the Fox network.
• Loved William banging on the door to Gene's office, assuming Betty and Milton were conspiring against him. So cheap and petty, as always.
• Is this the first time we've seen Sterling Cooper's focus-testing suite since the secretaries tried out the Belle Jolie lipstick (and Joan obligingly gave the chipmunks a show through the two-way mirror) back in season one? That scene was funny, particularly Peggy's confusion about how to turn off something that's actually happening, but I thought the line, "When people are protesting, I'm on board!" was another instance of the episode aiming too directly at its target.
• Still trying to figure out how to equate 1963 travel times to 2009 ones. Google Maps puts Ossining to Norwich at only two hours, when Miss Farrell says they'll need four, where last week Don made what today would be a six-hour round trip from Ossining to Framingham well before dawn.
• The song playing over the end credits is "Where Is Love?" from "Oliver!" - which, don't forget, is the musical Joan got St. John and Harold Ford tickets for on the trip that led to the end of Guy's golfing career.
Once again, we're going to stick with the slightly modified version of the commenting rules for these posts, so let me repeat how it works. Until we get to 200 comments (i.e., until the comments are split into separate pages), the original rules apply (skim everything before posting to avoid annoying duplication). After 200, if you're going to ask a question, or if you're going to suggest a theory or observation that you don't think has come up yet (i.e., "I think that guy Connie from the country club bar might be Conrad Hilton" or "Do you think Joan's bloody dress was supposed to be a Jackie Kennedy analogue?"), or if you want to answer or correct something from a previous comment, I want you to do a word search (every web browser has one, usually listed as Find in the Edit menu) for some possible keywords you might be using. (In those cases, try "Hilton" or "Jackie" or "bloody.") If you don't see any of your keywords - and again remember that Blogger splits the comments into multiple pages once you get past 200, so check 'em both - then ask/opine away.
It may seem annoying or laborious for you to do this, but I want everybody to show respect for - and not waste - everyone else's time and effort, and this seems the best way to do that.
And given how close we are to the end of the season, let me again remind you of an even more important commenting rule: No Spoilers, which includes absolutely no reference to the previews for the next episode. Period.
What did everybody else think?