The eighth episode of this Mad Men season is really the Betty Draper show, We learn some key things here. Not the least of which is that Don Draper is not as suave as we, and he, think. And that it is Betty who may have made the mistake in marrying Don, and not the other way around, as is usually supposed.
We also learn that the episode's title, thankfully, does not refer to Pete Campbell getting the clap.
As always with these reviews, spoilers abound, so you have been warned.
This episode was a big showcase for January Jones, a stunning beauty who is also a very good actress. It's also one of the (seemingly) simpler episodes of Mad Men, in large part because a number of the major characters made no appearance in it.
Let's go to Ken Cosgrove for that update. "Cooper's in Montana, Sterling's in Jane, and Draper's on vacation." Notice that there's no mention of Lane Pryce, the ongoing British overseer from Putnam, Powell, and Loeb, who's nowhere to be seen. Or Duck Phillips, Peggy Olsen's recent seducer, also MIA. Or of Peggy herself, who's always in these episodes. But not this one, as it happens.
Jane, of course, is a person and not a place. To be specific, she's Don's former neo-Mod secretary, who married Sterling Cooper partner Roger Sterling, thus triggering the sale of the firm to London's PPL in order to finance Roger's divorce. (Incidentally, we're not seeing mych of Jane, played by Peyton List, this season because the actress is a regular in the new ABC series Flash Forward.) And Don is not on vacation, he's been touring the hotel properties of his surprise pal "Connie" Hilton, including such godawful places, in Paul Kinsey's point of view, as "Dallas and Denver." But he is about to go somewhere even that snobby liberal would like.
Ken is weighing in with the guys gathered around Pete Campbell's office. It's August 1963, and August in New York can be quite godawful. But dyed-in-the-wool Manhattanite Pete Campbell is hanging in there in the Big Apple, even though his pert wife Trudy is off vacationing with her rich parents. Nothing good can come of this, as we will see.
But let's get back to Betty Draper, as this is really her show.
Betty has been, not to put too fine a point on it, a drag in Mad Men for some time. For me, she's largely gone from being a sympathetic victim sort of figure -- stuck in the suburbs, married to an inattentive, thoroughly dishonest, constantly cheating husband (that would be our protagonist, Mr. Don Draper) -- to a mopey bore. She can't even be nice to her kids.
Now we're seeing why.
It's been clear from the beginning that Betty is bright, if child-like. Now we're seeing she's much more than that. Far from being a rather blank mannequin, she's better educated and in some ways more sophisticated than Don. She's a graduate of Bryn Mawr, one of the finest liberal arts colleges in America, and is something of an internationalist. No wonder she's unhappy making casseroles and separating brawling kids.
Realizing that her third child, much as she dotes on the baby she's named after her late father, won't solve the problem of her life, she becomes involved in politics. Specifically, she uses the power of her beauty to get Governor Nelson Rockefeller's senior advisor Henry Francis, whom we first met caressing her pregnant belly at the Sterlings' preposterous "Derby Day" party on Long Island, to intervene on behalf of her Junior League group to block the construction of an unsightly (to their bourgeois eyes) water tower. Betty has become an early conservationist/environmentalist.
Henry, not surprisingly, shows up in person at the local government meeting to intervene in Rockefeller's name on behalf of Betty's group. Distributing a letter from the governor, he succeeds in having the project stalled in favor of more study.
Later, with Betty's knowing friend Francine having driven off with a knowing look, he presses his advantage with Betty and wins a snogging session with her. Which she accedes to. Well, actually, she doesn't merely accede, she participates enthusiastically. And then that's it, and she drives off. Betty is a WASP princess, however, and were this later in the '60s, and this show not on basic cable, she would likely have had sex with Henry in the back seat of her Lincoln Continental. Which happens to be her late father's car, which she drove to the meeting for, as she puts it, luck. But it's actually a way of identifying with the powerful man in her life who always adored her.
Note to Don.
Which brings us to Don, who is tired from running around checking out hotels in Connie's empire. He's finding that it's not always fun being friends with the great, especially when you work for them.
Now Don's been summoned to Rome. Which I don't think is all that much greater than Denver, but that's another matter. Betty, so gleeful after her excursion into politics and snog with Henry that she does a little "Twist" for Don, finally decides she'd like to go, too, which Don is actually quite happy about.
When they arrive in the lobby of Hilton's hotel in Rome -- which for once is not LA's Biltmore Hotel as a stand-in, looking more like the LA Music Center -- it quickly becomes apparent that Betty is quite fluent in Italian. After surprising Connie by answering their room phone in Italian, Betty naps and is then off to the hairdressers. It's Betty, not Don, who is conversant in La Dolce Vita.
When next we see her, the Westchester County housewife looks like an Italian film goddess. Gone is the suburban Grace Kelly; this is a Virna Lisi -- stacked blonde hairdo (with an obvious fall added for effect), bright flesh-colored make-up and lipstick, and a sexy black frock.
She's waiting by the pool for Don. Not surprisingly, two Italian gallants try to pick her up. After complimenting her on her Italian and lighting her cigarette, one says that if he were the cigarette in her mouth, he would die happy.
After noting, in Italian, that he is no gentleman, Betty finds that another admirer has pulled to the table on the other side of hers. It's Don, of course, who proceeds to play the pick-up game with her while her Italian admirers denounce him -- in Italian -- as "old" and "ugly."
Truth be told, Don is looking quite '50s here. Kind of like Cary Grant after a hard day's night.
But his charm wins out and the Italians depart just before Connie Hilton arrives. His eyes don't quite pop out of their sockets at the realization that Betty is Don's wife, but it's a close call and he's even more admiring of Don in that way that men are with regard to beautiful consorts.
After their dinner with Hilton, which evidently goes smashingly well, with Betty telling Don that Connie "obviously adores" him, and we can assume that Hilton was even more wowed by Betty's intelligence and sophistication, the now happy couple repairs to their hotel room for a few bouts of lovemaking.
But Rome comes to an end all too soon, and soon enough, Betty is back in Scarsdale, er, Ossining, to referee her kids. Which she is actually better at, even though Carla, their longtime black housekeeper who is back to look after things in her absence, tells her that Sally beat up her brother after he caught her kissing a neighbor boy in the bathtub. (They weren't taking a bath.)
Betty has a warm and motherly chat with Sally about the etiquette and meaning of kissing, a chat which may not be as freighted as the writers seem to suggest.
Meanwhile, Sally's not the only one back home who's been engaged in some unwise kissing.
By chance, an on the loose Pete Campbell, with wife Trudy off capsizing sailboats with her parents, after alternately boozing it up and eating cereal like a kid, literally bumps into an attractive young German woman trying to stuff a fancy dress down their building's garbage chute. She's the au pair of a neighbor, and she's gotten a bad stain on her client's dress, which she should not have been wearing in the first place. Pete, correctly sizing up the situation, tells her that dumping the dress will only tell her employers that she stole it, and gallantly offers to solve the problem for her.
He takes the dress to Bonwit Teller -- now defunct, then equivalent to Saks Fifth Avenue -- and attempts to get it replaced.
Amusingly, and this still actually happens some today in womens' dress departments, he is taken for a guy looking for the men's room. Once that's cleared up, Pete tries his trademark bullshit technique of getting it replaced. Getting nowhere, he demands to talk to the manager in charge of "the republic of dresses."
This turns out to be ... one Joan Holloway. Yikes. The new Mrs. Harris obviously hasn't told her former colleagues that her dreamboat doctor isn't the head poobah she'd thought. In fact, embarrassed, she tells Pete that he's looking into another field other than surgery. Asked what that might be, she replies, pulling this from her ass, "Psychiatry."
Obviously, he has no idea what he's going to do, nor does she.
Nevertheless, she sees through Pete's subterfuge that he's returning the dress for Trudy, noting that she hadn't seemed to be a size 10. Still, since she is Joan, she solves Pete's problem expeditiously and at no cost, with secrets safe. Yet looks quite defeated after he leaves, knowing that her own secret is now about to be out.
Pete, of course, having done the decent thing, can't play the nice guy who charms the au pair. After an initial polite rebuff, in which the girl lets on that she has a boyfriend, and more than a few drinks, Pete shows up to claim his reward for being a nice guy. Which he gets. It's creepy, but it doesn't look like a rape. More like an immigrant girl not wanting to make waves.
But she does end up making waves. In an excellent scene, Pete's neighbor comes to by to discuss the matter. Cutting through Pete's lame attempts to deflect, he tells him the girl is very upset and he should stay away from her as she's a nice girl and good nannies are hard to come by. "Man, at least look outside the building!" he exclaims in some amazement about Pete's stupidity.
When Trudy at last returns from her parents', Pete actually acts quite guilty. (And not because he's caught a venereal disease, which is what I thought at first.) He doesn't tell her why, and she doesn't figure it out, but these two crazy kids vow to spend vacations together from now on.
This happy ending, as it were, is not replicated in Chez Draper.
Betty, after being a good mom for a change, finds the glow of Rome fading. She learns that those nefarious local officials might be trying to slip the water tower project past even with the opposition from Governor Rockefeller. And casting a baleful glance at the awful fainting couch she bought for the living room, she wonders if she's through with Henry Francis. (I think not.)
All of which is to be expected. Betty is the sort of person who is never happy for long, and is constantly questioning her good fortune even as she enjoys it.
What's not to be expected is Don's romantic incompetence. Sensing that Betty is a bit down in the dumps after their Roman holiday, he presents her with a present. He'd seen it in the hotel gift shop but hadn't had a chance to pick it up before they left, so he had Connie ship it to them, he tells her.
Well, my friend, after that build-up, this had better be good.
And it's decidedly not. It's not a pair of earrings, it's not a necklace. It's a ... charm. You know, for her charm bracelet.
When it came on screen, I at first didn't know what it was, never having considered a charm to be much of a gift. When I realized what it was, I couldn't believe that Don would be so stupid.
Betty, naturally, is underwowed. She says, sourly, that she'll put it on her charm bracelet so she can look at it "when I talk about the time we went to Rome."
This episode flips the perception of their relationship. The reality is that Betty is suited to be the partner of a much more powerful, or at least more sophisticated, man than Don. And his gift shows that he doesn't realize this.