Lost in the Movies: Mad Men - "The Gypsy and the Hobo" (season 3, episode 11)

Mad Men - "The Gypsy and the Hobo" (season 3, episode 11)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review another episode of season three. Later seasons will be covered at another time. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on October 25, 2009/written by Marti Noxon, Cathryn Humphris, Matthew Weiner; directed by Jennifer Getzinger): While Betty attends to her father's estate she detains his lawyer for a private consultation. She explains what she's found out about Don (she gleaned more than I initially realized) and asks if they can divorce; but in New York state in 1963 she has to prove infidelity in a court of law and if she doesn't, he'll get everything: the money and the kids. When Betty confronts Don later, she doesn't know that he's planning a romantic getaway with Suzanne - indeed, thinking no one was home and that Don has just returned to pick something up, the schoolteacher is waiting patiently, crouched down in the passenger seat of his Cadillac across the street. She'll stay there into nightfall at which point she'll glumly sneak away, realizing that not only their vacation but probably their affair has suddenly ended. Inside the house, Betty firmly and pointedly extracts all the information she's seeking from her husband: how he took the Draper name, who Anna is and why he bought her a house, his parents and stepparents' fates, and finally the suicide of Adam. Don weeps - maybe the first time she's ever seen him so broken - and she comforts him, but neither one can say what all of this means going forward.

Other histories haunt characters in "The Gypsy and the Hobo"; Roger reunites with his old flame Annabelle Mathis (Mary Page Keller), now a widow running her father's dogfood business and trying to redeem the brand after its use of horsemeat garnered a scandal in the press. Sterling Cooper insists that she can't restore the company's good name at this point, and she eventually takes her business elsewhere - but not before a couple rendezvous with Roger. Over dinner, she recalls a whirlwind Casablanca-esque romance conducted during the interwar years while he remembers heartbreak and old drama not worth digging up again. Finally, at the office the next day they get to the point. "You were the one," she coos wistfully. Matter-of-fact, but not without sympathy, Roger simply reports, "You weren't." Was Joan? She also comes back into contact with Roger while looking for a job, and their repartee is warm if (mostly) professional. Turns out Joan won't need that job after all; when she smashes a vase into the head of the insufferably self-pitying, dismissive Greg she apparently knocks some sense into him. When he comes home the next day he apologizes. He also reveals an epiphany: he's joined the Army, where he can still be a surgeon and rely on a steady income. It's unlikely he'll have to go overseas to, say, West Germany or Vietnam "if that's still going on." Maybe she didn't knock enough sense into him after all.

My Response:
The gypsy and hobo turn out to be the Draper kids' Halloween costumes but impoverished Whitmans are on the menu nonetheless. Don's big revelation to Betty is handled well, particularly because it emphasizes how such long-feared, long-awaited ruptures are often not so momentous as the anticipation would make you think. Don looks drained and Betty is pensive once all is said and done (or rather said, but not yet done). There's no catharsis to be found here, and if there's relief it's in the sense of losing a burden only to find out you've been crippled by all the time spent carrying it. As I know a little too much about the broad trajectory of the show at this point (I'd already glimpsed a few later episodes before I watched the premiere and just recently I gleaned some more specific information about upcoming events) I'll avoid speculating on how Don and Betty handle this particular crossroads they have reached. If anything, this particular scenario - Don confronted with hidden, past traumas even as he conceals another secret from his wife...just across the street in his car! - reminds us that the Dick Whitman origin story doesn't actually explain, resolve, or contain all the troubles of the Draper marriage. If anything, the loss of this convenient excuse for Don (even as it becomes a central crucible for Betty) renders their relationship even more complicated. My guess, without getting into where it may lead them, is that Betty decides to sleep with Henry...and Don finds out before she ever learns about Suzanne. Then again, Mad Men doesn't particularly like to let story points drift off into the ether. I don't think the Suzanne situation has been resolved.

As for the other couples, Roger's story does feel like a one-off, a fun opportunity to explore - if only secondhand - the Roaring Twenties and Depression era from the standpoint of the young golden boy that Roger must have been. Joan and Greg are probably going to continue for longer than I once expected especially if his enlistment offers the show a window into the upcoming Vietnam War; I imagine Joan, meanwhile, will return to her old job to maintain her presence in the ensemble. This is, by the way, the fifth reference to Vietnam this season, if I'm not mistaken, after Sally watched the monk's self-immolation on TV, a minor Sterling Cooper employee fretted about being drafted, the teenage hitchhikers wondered if the conflict would expand, and Pete told Don he was trying to transition his Californian clients from NASA to the Pentagon as the war ramps up. And speaking of historical touchstones, with just two episodes to go, the season is almost certainly going to end with the assassination ("The Grown-Ups," unlike "Meditations in an Emergency" or "Kennedy vs. Nixon" doesn't sound much like a historical tie-in). Will anyone (or anything) else die with Kennedy?

Next: "The Grown Ups"Previous: "The Color Blue"

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