This season of Mad Men has been almost uniformly excellent so far, but it has suffered slightly from the enforced absence of January Jones as Betty Francis, due to the actress’s pregnancy. However, this week saw her back, without the ludicrous fat suit, and already in sparklingly malevolent form. But of course, this isn’t a ‘goodies and baddies’ kind of show, so no matter how antagonistic her actions, there’s more to it than simply being evil.
We see her at the start, arriving with her bland husband to collect her children from the Draper apartment. She gets there flustered and her mood isn’t improved by how darned swanky and trendy everything is there, compared to her rustic old country mansion. Didn’t she used to be cool? Then she catches sight of lithe Megan putting a shirt on. Didn’t she used to be slim and sexy? More importantly, didn’t she used to be happy? We also then see why Jones doesn’t need the fat suit anymore, Betty’s going to Weight Watchers, where there’s discussion about how losing weight needs more than just willpower and what constitutes a ‘good week’.
Back home, over the breakfast table, she sees Sally drawing an elaborate family tree diagram and finds a sickly love note from Don to Megan on the back of Bobby’s drawing of a happy, though harpooned, whale. Snapping, she plants a proverbial bomb to send back to Chez Draper, telling Sally to ask her new friend Megan about Anna Draper, Don’s first ‘wife’ and symbol of the great lie at the heart of his life. This episode is called Dark Shadows (because one of Megan’s acting friends is going for a part in the show), and the slogan to the current film adaptation of that series is ‘Every family has its demons’; for the Drapers, there’s no bigger demon than Don/Dick’s back story, other than perhaps Betty when she’s in such a Machiavellian mood.
Angry and bewildered about this deception, Sally confronts Megan on her next visit, and the new Mrs Draper copes with it remarkably well, even managing to calm Don down to prevent him giving Betty the satisfaction of an angry phonecall. Instead, they resolve things much more smartly with Don telling a version of the truth to Sally, who shows her increasing maturity by seemingly realising what her mother has done. So when Betty asks her about it, she delivers her own interpretation of what really happened, painting an even rosier picture of the happy Drapers and leaving her mother thwarted, fuming and without any weight loss for the week. Intriguing.
Elsewhere, Don also had to be at his best to try and head off the threat from a younger rival at work, managing it much more effectively than Betty. Noticing that Ginsberg is thriving at SCDP, he digs deep into his reserves of creativity to come up with a pitch for Sno Ball drinks that is better than the one the younger man has come up with. He doesn’t actually succeed, but gets polite responses from his team, so takes both pitches along to the meeting. Realising that it’s easier to win games when you cheat, he then leaves Ginsberg’s pitch in the taxi. Luckily, he pulls it off and gets the deal, but makes himself an enemy at the same time. But at least he’s creating something, which is more than can be said for Peggy, who needs something good to happen soon.
Also involved in a Cold War are Pete and Roger, who ropes Ginsberg and his soon-to-be-ex wife into a pitch for Jewish wine (because they’re Jewish) and ends up sleeping with one of them (luckily his soon-to-be-ex wife), amidst much regret and recrimination. By getting Ginsberg to help him, he also annoys Peggy, while Pete won’t be pleased to see the old man getting back in the ring. Not that he’s doing well either, with the ghost of his brief fling still lingering on train journeys with the unknowingly-cuckolded husband, and at the office where he spends his time fantasising about tawdry semi-naked visits. A disastrous brag about featuring in an article also backfires when he (and SCDP) are left out entirely. He’s floundering and it’s every man for himself, as Roger tells Peggy.