"Mad Men" #11: I'm Looking Through You

The Draper kids, all gussied up in their dime store finery for Halloween, get to the heart of the matter without knowing it: Bobby is a hobo. Sally is a gypsy. Just like dad and mom? Metaphors are in the eye of he beholder, I guess. Right until the cheery neighbor (love that v-neck mohair sweater, btw) gives a cheery hello to the parents and zooms right into the narrative ether:

“And who are you supposed to be?

Dude.

With the end of season 3 a scant two episodes away, “Mad Men” knows exactly what it is – a show about honestly, identity and the American desperation to revise the meaning of both.

So to be as brief as possible (busy morning coming up here at pac central): Betty finally busts Don for his drawer full of secrets; while Sterling, Cooper attempts to create a new identity for the dog food company whose second-gen owner (a former serious flame of Roger’s) desperately does not want re-identified. Meanwhile Joan’s wonderfully blond, handsome loser husband Dr. Greg realizes he can’t be a psychiatrist after all, given his own father’s nervous breakdown back in the day. Given a flower vase wake-up call from his wife (always works best when delivered by surprise, to the back of the head) he makes lemonade by impulsively signing up with the U.S. Army, which will not only give him the surgical training he yearns for, but barely ask anything in return (Oh, maybe a brief visit to some off-shore region, e.g. West Germany or that Vietnam place. . . ). Roger makes a serious statement about the New Him by resisting the affections of his ex, the dog food heir, and experimenting with fidelity.

Follow the jump to unlock the desk. . .

Everyone’s gotta be something, but only some people seem to know what that is. And what seems increasingly true is that the people who know themselves the best, in these days before the JFK assassination, will inherit the earth. So to speak.

Notice that astonishing sequence in the Drapers’ bedroom, when Don is finally made to confess his past to Betty. Or actually, think back to the scene’s start in the kitchen, as Betty finally makes clear she knows exactly what’s what and who’s not whom: The complete collapse of Don’s authority (he drops his cigarette, for god’s sake, and slurps his drink). It’s a beautifully understated sequence (and grist for Jon Hamm’s next Emmy, I’d reckon), all silence and shadows. But there he is, the luxury dog food revealed as horse flesh, the completely unbranded product. Betty wonders how she can love him when she doesn’t know who he is.

“I don’t know who you are,” Betty says, coolly.

“Yes, you do,” Don whispers, absolutely sure this is true, but still with more than a note of desperation in his voice. And finally the ad man is made to admit the real truth: that labels run exactly that deep, that the headwaters of identity always run true; that beneath all the flash and sizzle, it’s only the contents of the can that matters.

Betty isn’t convinced. And Don knows this. And in that moment everything between them changes. The keys to their shared life – to his desk, to his soul – have just changed hands.

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