Clearly, I’ve grown up in a post-feminist world. I write a lot about alternative empowerment on this blog, in relation to this show in particular and spend a lot of time looking at Joan as such a figure, pinning my hopes for the advancement of the sex on Peggy (just as her secretary once did) and often being completely horrified by Betty.
Last night, I was completely horrified by the depiction of birth in the 1960s. I live in a world where pregnancy and maternity is celebrated as a holistic and spiritual experience. I am aware that there are those who don’t see midwives and doulas and who choose to give birth under the cold hard glare of hospital lights, but even those hospital lights are a lot more friendly now than they used to be. Betty’s birth experience, even on her third child, is so clouded by “pain-reducing” drugs that she is not even mentally present in the experience. There’s a part of me that can only see the nurse in these scenes as a torturer, drugging Betty and instructing her to think “of the beauty salon,” only to wake hours later from her delusions, swearing at her philandering husband and then, finally, to wake, seemingly unphased, with a tiny boy in her arms, as though none of that unpleasantness had ever occurred.
Her drug-induced fantasies seem to be connected to an earlier event in the episode in which Sally’s teacher, Miss Farrell, by whom Don was so entranced as she danced around the maypole, calls the Drapers in to discuss Sally’s recent behavior. Ever the charmer, little Sally pushed a fat girl into a water fountain, and then got into a supremely violent girl fight. She’s also been very distressed about the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evars. When Betty informs Miss Farrell of Grandpa Gene’s death, the teacher shows her sympathies a little too forwardly and, later that day before Don and Betty head to the hospital, calls to apologize for projecting her feelings about the loss of her father when she was eight onto the Drapers, which is also too forward for Don’s liking.
Betty’s first delusion lowers a caterpillar on a string into her hand, the colors of spring popping fresh around her and off her blouse. But even though she admires the caterpillar, she can’t help but close her hand around it. I’m choosing to read the caterpillar as an analogy for change and growth, as caterpillars eventually become butterflies, and though Betty is curious about this caterpillar, her gut instinct is to squash it, removing the possibility as music that reminds me very much of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg swirls around her. I’m sure there are dozens of other ways to read that scene, and I’d love you to share yours with me in the comments, but I like this “resistance to change” notion because it maps well onto Betty’s emotional distance and insistence on putting her father’s death behind her.
In her second delusion, she sees her father mopping up blood in the hospital, dressed as a janitor. She calls out to him, but can’t get his attention until her third delusion, in which she wanders into her kitchen and sees him there with her mother, who is soaking up the blood of Medgar Evars’ wound. (I should note here that in the description of Sally’s schoolyard fight, there is a brief insert of the child smearing blood across her face.) Just as Betty childishly squashes the caterpillar, she announces to her parents that she left her lunch pail on the school bus and she’s having a baby. Her mother coolly tends to the wound and says, “Do you see what happens to people who speak up?” If that’s not a way to ask someone to stay in the domestic prison of their own making, I don’t know what is. Her father then reasserts this fact as he encapsulates Betty’s own vision of herself. “You’re a housecat,” he says. “You’re very important and have little to do.”
What these scenes reveal to me is just how much Betty is like her daughter. Though she is a mother, she never really stopped being a child, squashing that caterpillar before it could make its metamorphosis, if you will. The death of Medgar Evars weighs heavy on both of their minds, and the presence of blood (from schoolyard fights, Evars or birth) in both Betty and Sally’s fantasy sequences speaks to both girls need for visceral experiences (which are being denied to Betty as she’s hopped up on whatever pharmaceuticals they’re giving her at the hospital), as well as the imminence of real changes taking place on the cultural landscape — changes which Sally seems willing to acknowledge, but Betty will continue to deny. When they arrive home with new baby Eugene, Francine (Hi, Cutthroat Bitch!) asks Betty what her birth was like and she replies, “It was all a fog.”
Not only is Betty’s birthing experience a fog, but so is her entire life. Some bloggers have noted that when she wakes from her slumber, she’s brought back to reality by the cries of baby Eugene. I think that’s a very generous reading to Betty, because I can’t ignore the fact that, over those cries, we hear the Umbrellas of Cherbourg music of her drug-induced labor fantasies as she floats down the hallway to the nursery, almost as if Spike Lee were directing her.
Those changes on the cultural landscape that affect the Draper ladies so are also affecting things at Sterling-Cooper. Medgar Evars fought for integration in schools and lost his life for it. It is so odd to me that, of all the folks at Sterling-Cooper, the one to take up the cause of integration would be Pete Campbell. But, always the opportunist, Pete is determined to make good on the accounts he’s been given, even though Kenny Cosgrove allegedly got all the good ones. He attempts to do some impromptu market research with elevator operate Hollis to find out why Hollis chose to buy the television he has, but Hollis is suspicious of the man and shuts down the conversation. (Interestingly, Hollis does not own a color TV . . . how do I read this?)
Pete presents his client, Admiral, with the intriguing thought that they should actually create an integrated ad campaign, with specific ads for black magazines like Ebony and Jet, and another set for white magazines. As Admiral currently has the worst TV sales amongst white people, but the highest sales in predominately black cities such as Detroit and Oakland, they could double their sales in those areas simply by actually advertising. Admiral, however, is deeply offended by Pete’s suggestion and he takes some heat from the S-C brass for it. To quote Roger Sterling, “Let me put it in account terms: Do you know how many handjobs I’m going to have to give?” That is, until Mr. Pryce realizes that integration in advertising would actually make the company more money, and money is always his bottom line.
I think, very soon, that money will also become Peggy’s bottom line, as it seems she’s seriously considering Duck’s offer to join him at Grey. Pete is less interested, as he won’t be wooed for a job at a lunch with someone else. I’m not sure he appreciated Duck’s acknowledgement of the relationship Pete and Peggy once had, either, but it clearly got Peggy thinking. The scene in which Peggy brings Don a baby gift and professes that she wants everything Don has was played beautifully. Fondling those tiny leather booties, it’s clear Peggy longs for both a successful career and a family, but that as long as she’s at Sterling-Cooper that might not be possible as Pryce has put the kibosh on salary increases, in violation with the recently enacted equal pay legislation.
- The nurse that speaks to Sing-Sing Dennis and Don in the solarium is Yeardly Smith. For those of you who’ve never seen her face before, that’s the voice of Lisa Simpson. And seeing her weirds me out a little bit.
- Why, no, Dennis, I don’t have nightmares about finding my way into Sing-Sing because it is remarkably easy to stay out of jail. But I can see why Don would have this nightmare, as, you know, he’s an identity thief.
- Really, Don? Just let Betty name that kid after her father. Stop being a dick.
- Peggy’s drink of choice is a Bloody Mary.
- Duck is back, and he’s into turtlenecks now. How modern!
- But what I really want to know, Duck, is where the hell is Chauncey?
- Two great callbacks in this episode. One: Don quoting Sal quoting Balzac to Dennis in the solarium: “Our worst fears lie in anticipation.” Two: Don quoting Peggy to Pryce when questioned about movie receipts. “I’ve seen everything. You have my ticket stubs.” Everything, of course, except Bye Bye, Birdie, which surprised Peggy so much the other week.