Mad Men: "The Gypsy And The Hobo"
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Mad Men: "The Gypsy And The Hobo"

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Mad Men

"The Gypsy And The Hobo"

Season 3, Episode 11

Sorry, I would have posted this sooner if I hadn’t gotten distracted reading about horse meat, which is a more interesting subject than you might guess. Taboo here—we don’t even slaughter horses for export anymore—it’s still quite common in countries like Japan and Belgium. It’s never, however, been a staple of English-speaking countries, which helps explain why there’s not a euphemistic word for horse meat in English along the lines of “pork” or “beef.” Annabel Mathis—proprietor of Caldecott Farms, proud makers of horse meat for dog food no matter what the squeamish public thinks—laments that very fact in this week’s episode. And while her plot this week would seem only tangentially connected to the sequence of scenes with Don and Betty—more on that below, obviously—the travails of Caldecott Farms aren’t that far apart from Don’s defining anxiety: Call it something other than horse meat, but it’s still horse. Look and dress the part of Don Draper, one of the most successful ad men of his time, and deep down inside he’ll still be poor, broken Dick Whitman.

First, back to the horse meat portion of the episode: Nice to see Roger getting some time this week. Apart from his blackface showcase, he’s mostly been used as a dramatic foil for Don and a comic foil for whoever irks him in any given week. Nice too, to get a bit more backstory for Roger and Sterling Cooper, even the whole subplot left me searching for a point. I could be proved wrong by subsequent episodes, but “The Gypsy And The Hobo” uses Annabelle Mathis (Mary Page Keller) a bit like Battlestar Galactica used Carl Lumbly in his single episode as a guest star: as someone who sweeps in from nowhere to fill out a major character’s past then disappears politely. That said, she was well-played by Keller, who potently mixed seductiveness and neediness as she recalled the Roger of yore: a romantic ex-pat aspiring to find the life he’d read about in Hemingway as he boxed his way through pre-war Paris. It’s a period to which Annabelle wants desperately to return but she can’t stir the same interest in her former paramour. I particularly loved the contrast between her Casablanca-informed memories and Roger’s more clear-eyed take: “That woman got on a plane with a man who was going to end World War II, not run her father’s dog food company.”

We also learned something about the Roger of today: He’s not going to cheat on his young wife even if he’s unlikely to get caught. Funny thing about Roger: For all his horndog posturing, I’m not sure he’s simply a philanderer. He cheated on Mona with Joan, of course, prior to leaving her for Jane, the current Mrs. Sterling. But Roger also obviously has real affection for Joan, as their scene together this week again confirms. Is he still a romantic at heart? What does Roger want from women?

For that matter, what does Don want? He’s not a simple philanderer either. Or, more accurately, simply cheating with a stewardess who happens to fall in his path leaves him cold. With Suzanne, as with his previous affairs, he has to have a romance of some kind, even if it’s one that he knows can’t go anywhere, as Suzanne laments this week. Or maybe it’s especially if he knows it can’t go anywhere. Just as he created “Don Draper,” Don creates these little doomed love narratives and sees them through to the end with a look of regret on his face, just like the time before. His time with Midge, Rachel, Bobbie, and now Suzanne all had their ends written before they began, even if Suzanne the first to actively note the expiration date. If I were to put Don on the couch, I’d say each woman offered a challenge where Betty, the accommodating homemaker, defined herself by making his life easier. But that story’s started to end as well.

Where the Drapers’ marriage has entered an identity crisis, another young marriage is still defining itself. Joan and Greg both seem to want the same thing out of their union: He wants to be a successful surgeon. She wants to be a comfortable trophy wife. Only they can’t seem to get there and as Greg’s ill-advised scheme to become a psychiatrist falls apart and he bottoms out in a fit of self-pity, Joan advises him to change his ways via a vase to his head. When he returns with the news that he’s enlisted in the army, which needs surgeons, there’s a moment when he looks like he might attack Joan again. The show keeps the threat that their marriage will find a terrible bottom someday, but we’re not there yet. (And if Greg gets set off to Vietnam, if that’s still going on, maybe we never will.)

And on to the main event: I suspected it would be a long time before Betty would act on her new information on Don’s past in any way. I was wrong. After getting some advice from the family lawyer in the middle of a tiff with her brother over their father’s estate, she learns that her options are limited. She could divorce Don, but that would be hard. (And, besides, he is a good provider.) So, while Suzanne waits in the car, Betty instead confronts him and learns almost everything about his past. It’s a remarkable set of scenes in which Don lays out his true confessions one by one, looking more vulnerable by the minute, interrupted only by the occasional question from Betty. (Her, “Isn’t that against the law?” provides one of the sequence’s few laughs.)

She knows. Now what? Is she less of a delicate creature in need of protection—as Don’s so often treated her in the past—and more an equal partner? (Albeit a partner in crime, I suppose.) Will his marriage become an arrangement founded on the threat of blackmail and exposure? Or does “Don Draper” become a little more real now that his wife knows the true story? “And who are you supposed to be?” a neighbor asks a trick-or-treating Don at episode’s end. It’s the question that drives the series, both for Don, a man without a true identity, and everyone around him, trying to figure out how they fit into the time and place into which they’ve been born.

Stray observations:

- Or, another possibility: Will Betty’s discovery give Don yet another chance to start over that he’ll subsequently squander with the first woman who’s at least half as interesting as she is desirable?

- I would love to find an excuse to hold a dog focus group in the A.V. Club office.

- “Look at you figuring things out for yourself.” Surely Joan misses the banter of office life. Even if Greg were to get his shit together, as unlikely as that looks, I don’t think she’d do well at home.

- United Fruit: Now there’s a company that will never have an image problem. Of course, sometimes changing your name is enough...

-  It’s been said before, but let’s say it again: Jon Hamm is a hell of an actor as he proved again this week.