Last night’s episode of Mad Men opened with Betty on horseback, charging as if she were in a jousting match. Often she has the empty look of someone who is blocking out reality, or racing from the truth. Here, though, she was focused and sweaty and barreling towards some unseen confrontation. After her ride, Betty loomed over a bleary-eyed Don in their bedroom, blowing out a plume of smoke like a dragon, demanding that he once and for all live up to his earlier promise.
Betty seemed able to distract herself from recent revelations about Don’s exploits by focusing on the preparations for an intimate dinner party. But the goose was cooked long before the guests arrived. With a bottle of Pride furniture polish on the table, she rattled a wonky chair before awkwardly smashing it to pieces. During cocktail hour, Roger and his wife, along with a hotshot from Rogers & Cowan and his wife, pretended to look interested in Sally’s ballet moves. Betty, ensuring that Sally can add body dysmorphia to her growing list of issues, said that the child’s dance class would soon be presenting Winnie the Pooh and “She’s going to be Piglet!” Duck arrived late to the party, stag, and had to endure a drunken Mrs. Colson harrumphing when he passed up a pre-dinner drink.
Betty had the dress, she had Carla, and she had a around-the-world course menu. She even had a tub of iced-down Heinekens, thanks to a Sterling Cooper marketing scheme at her local grocery that was designed to appeal to her easily seduced demographic. When Duck started chortling at the table, innocently marveling how Don had nailed her, Betty froze. When the guests cleared out, she snapped off the television. “You embarrassed me!” she repeated sternly three times, as Don looked at her like she was a commercial for Maxi Pads come horribly to life in his family room. “You knew I would buy that beer because you know me so well,” she sneered. “You know everything about me.” He tried talking her out of her fury, his voice thick with condescension, but this train couldn’t be derailed. Finally, outraged by Don’s attempts to pacify her and put her to bed, she let loose. “I know about you and that woman!” she said to his retreating back. “I know you’re having an affair.”
He turned back and looked as if he were ready to charge himself, flabbergasted that she would accuse. “How could you?” she sputtered, searching for the words that I hoped would really force him to face his actions. “She’s so old.” (You can take a girl like Betty out of the 1950s, but you can’t take the 1950s out of the girl.) Don refused to back down, but Betty artfully dodged the trap of slice-and-dice wordplay he tried to set. He slept alone in their bed, looking like a little boy who knew he threw the ball into the window but just can’t come clean, and Betty crawled into bed with Sally. She spent the next 24 hours in her party dress, drinking and smoking and hunting for evidence of her husband’s transgressions. When Don returned home, she looked broken. “How could you do this to me?” she asked him. “I didn’t do anything,” he insisted cruelly. And later, when her spectral voice woke him up on the sofa, she was a vision of bathed white, trying once again to get him to be honest with her. “Nothing happened,” he said. (It will shock you how much it never happened.) Betty asked him a reasonable question. “Do you hate me?” she said. “Oh, God, no. I love you Bets,” he said. “I do. I love the children. I don’t want to lose all this.” She shrugged off his grasp and practically floated back upstairs alone. (Both actors ought to think about submitting this scene for next year’s Emmy consideration. The show has already won big at this year’s Creative Arts Emmys.)
NEXT: Reading between the lines