What’s in a Name?: MAD MEN Episode 311

This is just the tip of the iceberg of Don's sad faces.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of Don's sad faces.

Episode 311, “The Gypsy and the Hobo” Air Date: 10/25/09

This week “Mad Men” had a Halloween episode, which actually (almost) coincided with Halloween. It also coincided with the fact that everyone on this show is hiding behind a facade, which masks all of the Sadness within.

But you’ll notice that the title of this recap focuses on the idea of names, because this episode was chock full of the idea of names and labels. I’ll enumerate some examples later on in the recap.

Betty and the kids headed to Philadelphia to deal with Grandpa Gene’s will, leaving Don to dally with little miss Suzanne Farrell, teacher of children.

In Philly, Betty told her family’s lawyer about what she saw in Don’s Box of Secrets, and it was basically a replay of what happened when Betty tried to get the abortion last season. The lawyer said that in order to get divorced in New York, Betty would have to prove in court that Don had committed adultery. Which… probably not that hard. But the lawyer said that Don could take the kids. (Would he want to?) Conclusion: If Don’s a good provider, you’re stuck with him. Sad face.

At Sterling Cooper, a woman named Annabelle Mathis came to call on Roger Sterling, Cooper, and Don. Her father and husband had died, leaving the family dog food company to her. Unfortunately the company hit a little snafu when the Clark Gable movie THE MISFITS exposed that all of the dog food was made of horse meat.

Now that’s a horse of a different color!

Roger has a pretty good burn on Annabelle. When she laments that the film hit her company the hardest, he says (paraphrase), “Well, you do own a horse farm that makes dog food.” Don mentions in conversation that he’s eaten horse meat, which (I think) is a testament to how poor he was, growing up. Annabelle has (not surprisingly) eaten it, too, and says it taste like venison. How upper-crust of her. So… horse meat is the poor man’s venison.

It’s obvious that Annabelle and Roger have history, and we find out over their French “business dinner” that they were lovers in WWII-era Paris. Annabelle says that their love was just like CASABLANCA, and Roger’s like, Just because you left me for another man doesn’t make it CASABLANCA. Snap! (Isn’t it true, that we always have the best OH SNAPS! for our exes?)

As I suspected based on last week’s slip that Roger is not the original Sterling in Sterling Cooper, turns out that he was totally shiftless in his early twenties. And THAT’S why Annabelle left him. But now she’s a widow, and he’s the new Sterling in Sterling Cooper (name stuff), and she really really wants to DO him. But Roger demurs, and goes home to Jane.

The Sterling Cooper Worker Bees set up a dog food taste test, which Annabelle, Don, Peggy, etc watch through a two-way mirror. (One-way mirror? I don’t know… it’s the thing where you see them but they can’t see you.) The dogs are happy to chow down, but as soon as the owners hear that it’s Caldecott Farms, one dog owner (male) goes, OH GOD, BINGO, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO USSS?!!! I BOYCOTT CALDECOTT!!!

Annabelle asks them to “turn it off,” and Peggy hilariously says, “I can’t turn it off. It’s really happening!” (Don tells her to turn off the SOUND.) “I can’t turn it off. It’s really happening!” is one of my new favorite quotes. Haven’t we all had those moments?

Don tells Annabelle that she needs to change the name or the product (which are the two things she said she would not do). He tries to reason that the name is just what people see on the label. As Fred Armisen-as-Joy Behar would say, “So what? Who cares?”

"So what? Who cares?"
"So what? Who cares?"

But Annabelle refuses to change the name of her horse meat dog food, and that’s that. Don can’t help her, because the Caldecott Farms name is “poisoned.” NAMES. LABELS.

Hilariously, that scene ends with the test-leader in the test-room, screaming, “Are we ready for the next group of subjects?!” Of course, the people on the Annabelle-Don-Peggy side of the glass were completely engrossed in their discussion. (And Peggy had turned the sound off). (You’ll see a bit of a mirror of this later, when Don gets so caught up in a discussion that he forgets about someone.)

In the World of Joan, she helps Greg prepare for some sort of psychiatry interview. She tells him that it’s a talking profession and he needs to be open about his answers, and he reveals that his father had a nervous breakdown. “I can’t believe I never told you that,” Greg says. I see this as a sort of model for how Don COULD have told Betty about his past. Joan actually seemed pleased that Greg confided in her.

Joan calls Roger and asks if he can help her find a job. She used all sorts of insider subterfuge to call him when she knew his secretary would be out. Re: Greg, Joan fibs that he’s decided to pursue his dream of being a psychiatrist. (As opposed to, He’s a failed surgeon.) Roger offers to take her back at Sterling Cooper, but Joan says they can’t afford her. Also… she and Roger still love each other. Awkward. Roger says that he’s really glad she was thinking about him.

Later Roger calls a friend and recommends Joan, and calls her “Joan Holloway” before correcting himself… it’s Joan HARRIS now. NAMES.

Speaking of Harris, Greg blows his interview, and he’s really unhappy because he doesn’t even want to be a psychiatrist. He wants to be a surgeon, and he did everything he needed to do, and now all of his dreams are NOT coming true. Greg snipes at Joan that she doesn’t know what it’s like, to dream of something her whole life and have it NOT come true. Joan gets this WTF look on her face, because she dreamed of an Awesome Husband, and Greg is a Failed-Surgeon Alcoholic-in-the-Making.

So Joan does the most logical thing to do when you realize that your husband is The Worst, and smashes a vase of roses on the back of his neck.

Oh yeah, and back to Annabelle for a minute, she wants to get back with Roger so very very badly because she realizes now… “You were the one.” “You weren’t,” Roger replies. JOAN WAS THE ONE. Not Jane. Screw Jane. (And maybe he loves Jane enough to not cheat on her with Annabelle, but I think Roger’s love for Jane is at best his misplaced love for Joan. I mean, look how similar their names are. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.)

But… that’s shitty, to realize that the person you always loved doesn’t love you back, even with all that history. You always want what you can’t have. And it’s equally shitty to realize that the person you got is… The Worst.

Later Greg goes out and joins the Army without consulting Joan, because the Army needs surgeons, and apparently they don’t care that he is a shitty one. It’s funny because when Greg was lamenting his fate earlier in the episode, I was thinking that he could join the Army. He apologizing for being shitty and gives Joan new roses, and promises to buy her a new vase, and takes her out to dinner, because he’s a Captain now!

Hey, Greg? Maybe not the best idea to buy Joan EXACTLY what she just smashed over your head. She may be feigning happiness now, but… I don’t know, it feels like everything’s back to normal, in a not-good way? (What are the odds of Greg dying in Vietnam, thus freeing Joan from her shitty Greg-related life? Should we start a pool?)

Oh well, at least Dr. Greg is trying. It’s not enough, but he’s trying.

Since Betty’s supposedly out of town all week, Don clears his schedule so that he and Suzanne can take a trip, because she’s very very sad that they can’t go out together, like a real couple. (Suzanne: You are not a real couple. Got it? No? Okay.) Don offers to take Suzanne to Mystic, Connecticut. I have been there twice, and I have also been to Mystic Pizza twice, because of my parents and Julia Roberts and the 1980s.

So much awaits you in Mystic!
So much awaits you in Mystic!

I seem to recall that a married man had an affair with a baby-sitter in that movie, which isn’t too far off from having an affair with an elementary school teacher. If Joan gets a job at a pizza shop, we’re all going to realize that “Mad Men” is loosely based on MYSTIC PIZZA.

Whatever, it’s all moot, because they end up deciding to go to Norwich, Connecticut. (I almost studied abroad in Norwich, England, which is really irrelevant but so is Norwich, Connecticut because–spoiler alert!– THEY NEVER GET THERE.)

Don needs to make a quick stop at his supposedly-vacant house, and he leaves Suzanne waiting in the car. The following still was actually posted on the “Mad Men” website. That’s how significant the quick stop at the house is to the episode:

Bye Bye Donnie.
Bye Bye Donnie.

Is it just me, or is that a near-identical shot to the one in the movie BIG where Tom Hanks goes back to his kid-life as his adult-girlfriend watches from the car? Don’t you expect Don to start shrinking out of his clothes? (And… yet another 1980s movie.) That becomes a fairly apt parallel in 54321…

So Don enters his house, and immediately the kids go, “Daddy! Daddy!” UH OH. Don tries to dash back to his car because he “forgot” his “hat” (is that what he’s calling them now?), but Betty’s like, “Now is not the time to retrieve your hat and/or relieve your mistress from waiting in the car. Now is the time for me to confront you.”

Betty takes Don into his study, and asks him to open his desk drawer. Don reminds her that it’s his WORK desk, which makes me think of all of those radio call-ins (Ryan’s Roses, if you know what I’m talking about) where the man’s like, I’m not cheating, I lock my Blackberry because WORK. It’s an age-old trick.

Betty plops Don’s secret keys down on the desk. It’s ON. Betty gets increasingly fierce and Don gets increasingly vulnerable. Don’s in a No-Spin zone, which is kind of an interesting parallel to his inability to find a good spin for the Caldecott horse-killers.

Don finally admits everything to Betty, starting with the whole name-change thing. I’m still in semi-shock when he admits that his name is Dick Whitman, because… I just figured Betty would never know. We went through all of first and second season knowing that Don is great at secrets, so the whole Dick Whitman thing came out of nowhere. And yet it didn’t. That’s the beauty of “Mad Men.”

Don tries to reason with Betty that it’s not so strange to change one’s name. “You changed your name,” he says. Betty fumes, “I took yours.” (NAMES!) She feels like Don is a stranger, but Don’s like, You know me! I’m the guy you’ve been living with for the past decade or so. It’s a really interesting question– What constitutes KNOWING someone? (See: Greg and Joan, Roger and Annabelle, etc etc.)

Don tells Betty about how he switched places with Don Draper so that he could go home from the Korean War, and about how it was easier to be Don than to start fresh. Tying it in with the advertising story of the week, Dick Whitman was a horse meat dog food of a name to bear. Don Draper is what Caldecott Farms would be if they changed their name and put “real beef” on the label. And beef is cow (as Annabelle points out), and Don is Dick, but whatever! LABELS. (Sorry, I realized that writing that whole analogy out to its conclusion would take too long, so I half-assed it. But you get it.)

Betty points out that Don divorced Anna Draper three months before they got married. Why didn’t Don tell Betty what was going on? “When was I supposed to tell you?” Don asks. “On our wedding night?” It all boils down to: Don was afraid. Deep down, he’s scared little abused little Dick Whitman.

Under Don’s veneer of unflappable self-esteem, he’s so insecure. “What would you do if you were me? Would you love you?” Betty asks Don. “I was surprised that you ever loved me,” he replies. Hmm, methinks that young inner-Don is collecting love from every lady who offers it because… he grew up without any? (And because Betty is generally cold as ice.) (But is she cold because he cheats? It’s a chicken-egg situation, for sure.)

Later they go upstairs, and Don convinces Betty to sit down next to him. (Betty’s reluctance to even sit next to him kind of reminds me of how Elena reacted to Stefan’s vampire-outing on “The Vampire Diaries.”)

At least I'm not a vampire.
At least I'm not a vampire.

Betty knew that Don grew up poor, and figured that he was some football hero who hated his father. But Don finally tells her EVERYTHING– about how his mother was a prostitute, and his father was an ass, etc etc. Don says that they’re all dead now. “What about Adam?” Betty asks. She saw all of the pictures of Dick and Adam.

Throughout the confession Don makes sad and pained faces (give this man an Emmy, I’m serious… and Betty too), but the mention of Adam gets the waterworks going, for Don and for me. As you’ll recall, (in Season 1) Don turned Adam away because he was afraid that Betty might find out about him. And now Betty KNOWS and she seems concerned about Adam, and Adam is dead. From suicide. Because he was all alone in the world. SOB.

“I turned him away,” Don cries. “He just wanted to be part of my life and I couldn’t risk all of this.” Ugh, this Adam situation is the sadness that keeps on sadding. I need a Kleenex.

Don and Betty travel all over the house, and the whole time there’s the added horror-movie anxiety of what Suzanne might do at any moment. Is she going to knock on the door? Sneak into the house? Peer through the windows? But no, she waits for… seemingly hours… and then finally abandons Don’s car and walks home, suitcase in hand.

The forgotten.
The forgotten.

I still think she’s a little crazy, for waiting that long. But… sad.

The weird thing is, Don never has that OMG moment of Suzanne-is-still-in-the-car. Maybe he figured that she got the hint. But… haven’t we all had that OMG-I-forgot! moment? I know I have. The water’s on the stove, there’s an important meeting in Beverly Hills in 30 minutes and you totally forgot, whatever. Don puts on a little-boy pair of pajamas (BIG!) and brushes his teeth and goes to bed, and never seems to think twice about Suzanne.

Don wakes up and sees that Betty’s not in bed. Her suitcases from Philadelphia are still sitting next to the bed. Don finds his family photos on the nightstand, goes to put them back in the Box of Secrets, and realizes… I don’t have to do that. It’s the morning after something terrible, and he’s still processing it. In a way, he’s reborn.

Also– interesting that the fantasy of Don was football hero, and the reality was… the opposite, right? He switched identities to flee the war. Isn’t that the opposite of a hero, in war terms? I think Betty realizes that Don’s a disappointment, but also that Don’s not as perfect– not as strong– as she thought he was. Betty sees that she can sort of fill that space with her own strength. In this episode, Betty seems more forceful with Don than we’ve seen her in a while, if ever. Knowledge is power, or something like that. (The More You Know!) (Shooting star.)

Downstairs, the whole family is eating breakfast. Betty hasn’t left Don. The Earth is still rotating. Betty asks Don if he wants anything to eat. He goes to work. He comes home from work. Betty asks Don if he wants anything to eat. He doesn’t, and so the family heads out to Trick or Treat. (Don tells Betty that she can stay home with the baby, but Betty insists of coming with.) Sally’s dressed as a Gypsy (their words, not mine) and Bobby is dressed as a hobo. Ouch! Too close to Don’s hobo-esque youth.

Give Sally some candy or she will cut you.
Give Sally some candy or she will cut you.

I love Bobby’s hobo-cigar. Nice touch. (As if a hobo could afford a cigar.)

“And who are you supposed to be?” A neighbor asks Don, who is dressed as… himself. DEEP.

The song that plays over the credits is “Where is Love?” from OLIVER. Because Don is a sad orphan looking for love? Because we are all a sad orphan looking for love? More sobs commence NOW.

Oh, and Don had a quick phone conversation with Suzanne, telling her that it’s over (for now, at least). She acted surprisingly not-crazy, and was first and foremost worried that she might lose her teaching job. I’m glad she’s gone, because I was worried that she was going to get “accidentally” pregnant and make Don’s life even more miserable.

So… I’m not sure if this whole “I’m Dick Whitman” thing has brought Don and Betty closer together, but at least she knows the truth. This whole episode speaks to one of life’s Universal Themes (in my opinion), which is that the bulk of our sadnesses (middle class ones, at least) stem from a lack of communication with the people around us, particularly the people we (are supposed to) love.

There are TWO more episodes left this season. Where’s Sal-do? How can the reveals top this week’s REVEALS? Will the finale end on the day that Kennedy is shot? Stay tuned…

PS Was that not funny enough? Wat it supposed to be funny? Should I talk about horse meat dog food some more? Is horse meat dog food funny? When did dog food stopped being made of horse meat? (Or is it STILL horse meat?)

You know what? Whatever. It’s time to go eat lunch. I heard that there are hot dogs on set. If they taste like venison (what does venison taste like?!), I’ll know what’s REALLY in them. And then I’ll eat some pudding and glue some sad faces on my “Mad Men” Sad Face Meter.

Just kidding. I don’t eat gelatin. Or dog food. Or glue. (Or DO I?)

xoxo…

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