Sep 272008

Part 1–The section from the recent Fresh Air interview where MW discusses the opening credits

(In response to Terry Gross saying it reminds her of September 11th)

I did the opening credits almost two and a half years years ago. And I had this image of this man falling out the window because if the show was on the air in 1960, they’d be talking about the stock market crash. When businessmen jump out of the window, it means something is wrong. I did not want it to be part of September 11th, other than the way that is part of our consciousness that something’s wrong, and that this man is metaphorically in freefall, and that canyon of buildings which are covered with images from his life in advertising–that’s the world that he’s falling through.

And then you just see him; that this is going on in his mind in the end, and that he’s sitting there in the pose of perfect confidence. And that’s what I was interested in, was a psychological state. It’s funny that no matter how much you abstract that image… it’s so powerful, and he’s a modern man he’s got a suit on and it’s computer animation and there’s a lot about it that should technically distance you from it, but it doesn’t. And the music is falling also… so for me I wanted to introduce people to this character and I only was allowed thirty seconds; the Sopranos opening titles are a minute and a half, and you can tell a whole story . So I had to go to the graphic punch of that.  And AMC is in New York, I lived in New York; I understand what this image means to people. This is part of the message of the show; it’s unpleasant and it reminds you of something.

Part 2–Betty falling through a canyon of buildings

A Night to Remember… Betty’s storyline in this episode, though it would have proven frustrating for the viewers, would have made for a perfectly respectable season closer. I know it wasn’t planned this way, but I’m glad it wound up that there was breathing room afterwards, via a week off to watch the Emmys.

First, she rides. Hard. Trying to shake it off; all the horrid feelings. And hugs that horse, gives it love for helping her, and being willing to connect with her the way no one else is willing. She turns to the horse the way she turned to Glen.

Then she starts in on Don. Not nearly as sweet as when she gave him her ‘honeydo’ list in Marriage of Figaro.

Later she uhh… beats on that poor, innocent chair.

For the dinner party, she is poised perfection. Her smile never breaks, even as she and Carla are cleaning up. And the second that she is alone with Don, she goes to the ledge.

You embarrassed me. And Don won’t budge. He is the cruelest opponent; denying, condescending, dismissing. But she doesn’t back away. And finally, she leaps.

I know about you and that woman.

There. She’s said it. And Don–Deny, deny, deny. Leaving Betty to spin through the troposphere.

She crawls into bed with Sally, though I doubt she slept. The next morning her hair is unkempt and she is still in the dress. We have never seen her like this (looking, IMO, prettier than I’ve ever seen her). We have seen Betty in a nightgown, we have seen Betty in the morning, and she is never, never less than perfect.

And now the tumbling. Glass of wine in tow, she tears through his clothes, smelling them, looking for evidence because her bastard husband won’t ‘fess up. And then it’s onto his office; his desk drawers. What she finds are, to quote a friend, “images from his life in advertising–that’s the world that he’s falling through. What do women want? Any excuse to get closer. Scribbled-on napkins; you just know I love smoking is in there.

And for Don, but also for us, for the viewers, each of these finds is a memento. And isn’t it heartbreaking that we know what each of them means and that Don’s wife does not.

(I just want to say that this was it for me. This was the moment I am writing about; the moment where the opening credits are echoed and we could just call it a season.)

Then she is drunk, collapsed on the bed, surrounded by Don’s useless clothes. She steps on her glass, and now she is on her knees, surrounded by broken glass, utterly weakened, and bleeding.

 Photo from

And when Don comes home, she is raw. There is no pretense left in this woman. Every aspect is visible; her sorrow, her resignation, her sense of betrayal, her anger. It’s all out there. Yes I’ve been looking all day for validation, and you wouldn’t even give that to me. And here, in front of me, you still won’t.

And tonight it’s Don on the couch (in his white t-shirt; damn his perfection!) and Betty comes to him. Finally showered, but again, as we have never seen her. Her wet hair is flat, not an ounce of makeup, no poofy skirt, just a slim fitting white robe… she comes to him vulnerable…

Do you hate me?

…but will not accept his comfort unless it is on her terms–truthful.

I don’t want to lose all this.

EHNHHHH. Wrong answer. Again. Jesus, Don, do you even hear yourself?

Photo from

And finally, she is forced to pull it back together. I mean, you only have two choices, really. Fall the whole way or get back up. And the human instinct for survival pulls you up, unless mental illness insists that you see it through. But Betty hasn’t crossed over, so she gets dressed and puts on her face.

And then the Utz commercial is Jimmy Barrett’s intrusion all over again. And she is sickened.

I don’t care if you don’t like Betty. I don’t care if she is privileged, if ‘you wish you had her problems’, if she deserves the life she has based on choices she has made. You have to admire her. Through all the falling apart, she never, ever, wavers from insisting on the truth, even when she can’t find evidence, even when the man who has been her main source of… everything tells her that it never happened. I love more than anything about this episode that she doesn’t find anything tangible, and yet it never deters her.

Betty calling up Don at the office and telling him that he is not to come home, that she doens’t want to see him–that is the strongest woman I have ever seen.

Betty will sleep tonight. It’s Don who won’t, for a change.

Interesting side note; last season Helen Bishop struck the Fear of God into Betty’s heart. This season we have Duck Phillips as a constant presence, and yet Don is so confident in his ability to land, if you will, on his feet, that Don doesn’t appear to notice that Duck is where Don could potentially be.

And really, I’m writing about Betty’s fall, but ultimately she seems to be rising, and it is Don who has fallen.


  32 Responses to “Weiner on the opening titles; Lipp on Betty's night to remember”

  1. Initially, I didn't see any connection between Mad Men's opening and September 11th! It wasn't until perhaps the second eppy that I thought,"Oh my Gosh!!"

    The imagery and that haunting theme song just drew me in as a viewer….Superb! The writing and acting on Mad Men always gets well-deserved praise. It was great to see that the opening, which is the stuff of legend to me, was also rewarded! Kudos!

  2. I'm a champion for the underdog! And I want Don to rise again! He came from a humble background to be a junior partner at SC. He stole another man's dog tags, true, but he also worked hard to get where he is in the ad game! The notion that some unfunny, joke-cracking, Short Man Complex-having schmuck like Jimmy Barrett was in Don the Doll's face, branding him "garbage," doesn't compute!! As vindicative as he can be, Teflon Don will get his revenge on the least humorous fake comic I've ever watched on TV!

    Don's a survivor! This is just a bump in the road of his life! He shall overcome…and remain sexy while doing so! 😀

    Viva Don Draper!

  3. Roberta, thank you for your understanding of Betty. Like Russen, I've been quietly waiting for someone to really see Betty and her pain.

    Anyone who has been betrayed and humiliated by the person who promised to love and care for them always, will see themselves in Betty.

    The worst thing is the lie. The denial, the lie will eat away at a lifetime of trust until it all crumbles. It's like that little spot of rust under the carpet in the car. One day your foot falls through the floorboard.

    That Don seems blindsided by Betty's actions is not surprising. What does he notice about her anyway? For Don, Betty and the children turn into statues when he's not looking at them.

    He doesn't want to lose "all this". What is "all this"? His whole life is a fantasy. No wonder we see him sitting alone in movie theaters in the middle of the day.

    Unfortunately, he has filled his fantasy with real people who don't happen to have the script.

  4. On a lighter note:

    Every time I see the opening credits, and we see the lady's stockinged leg begin to rise just as the falling man gets to her toes – I'm waiting for her to flip him back up in the air like a hacky-sack.

  5. ^ha I know!!!

    I heart Betty.

  6. Agreed, Kay. The opening credits establish the tone of the show in an unexpected way. And of course, unexpected is a tone of the show.

  7. I wonder if Betty's dad was a philanderer? Do you remember how upset Betty was about the woman he replaced her mother with and how quickly he replaced her mother?

  8. the credits suggest to me a man falling out of this world he created for himself. Hence Don. With all his lying, manipulating, greed, the perfect world he created for himself is slowing turning on him, and he is falling out of it when he is trying to hold on to it.

    Lipp I love your Betty analyisis. I truly love her, and I dont understand why she gets so much hate! She is the victim not Don. Don is making her like that. Notice when Don is not home she is perfectly fine, almost normal, but when he gets home he brings so much bad, negative energy that it is impossible for somebody like her not to snap! I am glad she is rising from the ashes and is becoming stronger while Don is becoming weaker. I bet if he had confessed to the affair with Bobbie Barrett sure Betty would have been pissed, but I think she would have it as power to control him. Either way, I think the power in the Draper household has gone to her, and honestly I hope it stays there. Don needs to be taught a lesson!

  9. “Don doesn’t appear to notice that Duck is where Don could potentially be.”

    Potentially — if Don were 10 years older. But Don is still in his prime, confident that he can attract women with a look or a gesture. He also has been invited into the club by Bert and Roger, while Duck is seen by them as close to being washed up. There’s a little buffer zone, in years and stature, between Don and Duck.

    Betty’s strength has an expiration date. She has no resources of her own, unless her father can provide a lifeline. She doesn’t want her children to end up with divorced parents. She remains attracted to Don even as she is repulsed by his behavior, and she knows if she kicks him out for good that he’ll find someone else in a heartbeat.

  10. The first time I saw the opening credits, my reaction was, oh, they’re referencing “Veritgo.” I think the opening credits are perfect-they set time, place, and mood.

  11. Susan, I either just wrote that recently in a comment here, or actually what I think is that I called my sister and left her an omigod-guess-what-I-think voicemail.

    The omigod was, what if her father always cheated. And this was all triggering that for her.

    Right before the season premiere, Deborah and I both sent predictions (some that we believed in, and some was just shit we were making up) to Clayton Neuman at the AMC blog, a few of which he published.

    From the predictions he left behind, here was one of mine:

    Betty will not have an affair, but she will be tempted. Her daddy issues will become more apparent when her father remarries (a possible history of incest will be hinted at). She will be pregnant by the end of Season 2.

    We'll see, won't we. It all still seems plausible.

  12. Betty's father's name is inconsistent.

    In Season 1 he's "Gene Driscoll" ("Long Weekend" AMD and IMDb site info). But Betty in Season 2 has a maiden last name of Hofstadt. Is the man who Betty has been interacting with her genetic father or not?

    Is Mr. Discoll/Hofstadt a Whitman/Draper?

    Did he do a name/identity change?

    Is Betty's emotional INHERITANCE from her Father explain her attraction to Don.

  13. We know it's inconsistent, but in credits only; not spoken aloud in a script.

    We don't really think it's anything more than, Weiner changed his mind with very little damage control needed. They have a bible too, after all ; )

  14. I, too, am glad to see someone sympathize with Betty. As I said before, I didn't watch all of Season 1, so I never saw the Betty-as-harpie that some other people see. Even if I had watched the show since the very beginning, I think I'd still feel for Betty now–she doesn't deserve to be treated like that by Don. She clearly loves him and wants the perfect little life. I think she'd treat the children better if SHE were treated better. I was really afraid that she would fall for Don's lies this last episode and I was all ready to scream at the TV, but thankfully, she didn't fall for it. It'll be interesting to see where they are tonight.

  15. I have never seen Betty as a harpie, maybe because I watched all of Season One in about 3 weekends via On Demand. I've said before that I think January Jones (and all the lead women, really) has been sadly overlooked. Betty is a character we think we've all seen before – the smothering 50s housewife – but Jones makes her fascinating, at least to me. And if she does not use "A Night to Remember" as her Emmy reel next year, she is a fool. She was fantastic, particularly at Don's side in the living room, with all the armor and pretense removed. Betty just breaks your heart there.

  16. I've felt for Betty from the beginning (check out some older posts); I just have had a terrible time watching her be so angry, bordering on hateful, to Bobby this season. del, make sure you watch S1, it offers insight I would hate for you to miss.

    And CPT, I re-watched all those scenes to write this post, and again this morning because the episode was on (and now I'm working on the recap for our episodes guide) and I couldn't agree more. She breaks my heart when she goes to him. You think she's going to cave, and maybe even she thinks she's going to cave. Maybe there were a thousand things he might have said to make it better, maybe there was nothing he could have said at that point, but man, he sure didn't come close. But she came to him open. God. Even coming to him in the middle of the night… to choose to disturb him was very bold.

    I am reminded of the 'how to be a good wife' guidelines, provided by dansj a long while back.

  17. I just saw this while randomly surfing:

    Betty is definitely changing.

  18. Roberta, this is brilliant. Thanks. I have a hard time understanding those who see Betty only in terms of how she fits into the fantasy life Don is building, and that she is a bitch or worse if she doesn't stay in that place and play along. She's human, she deserves some damn respect from her husband. Too bad he has no idea what that word means.

  19. I've also felt Betty's pain from the beginning. Betty was only partly a victim of Don's behavior, though. She was also someone who was acting in her own worst interest. Eventually she was forced to see the light about Don, but perhaps more importantly about herself. The silver lining for Betty is that in 'waking up', she will avoid sleepwalking through the rest of her life, as she may have done had this awful situation with Don not occurred.

    I also feel for Don. I think Don is similarly participating in his DEMISE, but has a more treacherous hill to climb than Betty to get back on track. He's made a bigger mess of things than she did and he's not interested in his inner feelings as she is. This may be partly due to his early decision to 'not think about it', born out of a need for emotional survival. Also it may be that more men lack access to inner feelings than women, whether by wiring or socialization.

    By drawing a line in the sand, Betty's helped him in some small way. He may not see how much power he's lost yet, though. He's not motivated to change in the way she is. Her happiness depends on coming out from under her rock. Don has more distractions that will keep him from noticing how miserable he really is. These include a somewhat rewarding career, attention from woman, freedom to chase them, financial success, etc. It's true that these distractions are losing some sparkle as he ages (i.e. his health beginning to decline slightly, his realization that he has a reputation among his sexual conquests, perhaps less career satisfaction). Still, I conjecture that there's quite enough pleasure to soothe his demons that it's less difficult for him to ignore his inner voice.

    In the end, I'm an optimist when it comes to Don. He's come a long way and shown signs of integrity, so I'm in his corner. And I'm a romantic, so I'd love to see he and Betty repair or at least improve their relationship. The question is: Will Betty still be interested by the time he 'finds himself'.

  20. I'm with you Roberta. It was torture to watch Betty be unkind to her children (evocative acting on JJ's part). But I also thought it was the right thing for Weiner to show because when Mother's are at the end of their rope, sometimes the unfortunate result is that their innocent children pay a price. I hope Betty will stabilize and be there for her children in the future.

  21. Brilliant, brilliant essay, Roberta. I have to digest it so I won't say more, but Betty's struggle has always resonated with me (not in a circumstantial sense but just on a figurative level). It's good to see her finally digging at the deep truths.

  22. He’s not motivated to change in the way she is. Her happiness depends on coming out from under her rock. Don has more distractions that will keep him from noticing how miserable he really is.

    Reading that, I had a new thought… I think Don knows pretty well how miserable he is. What I think is he doesn't have a clue that it can be any other way. And of course, his misery is two-fold. On the one hand, he is struggling with a secret identity, and all those secrets. (And actually, a sub-fold, he is also struggling with a miserable background, secret or not). And he is dealing with the plain old, Is That All There Is that comes with, well, life. (And the sub-fold of that is; he went on to meet Rachel. He sure as shit has no clue that, had she not dumped him, he'd have eventually alienated her the way he has Betty. But for now, he thinks that she was the key to his happiness.)

    Betty knew that her life with Don is the source of her misery. She's right. It doesn't mean that her pain ends; that there aren't other issues, but she is in a big fat bad marriage.

    For Don it's a lot more complicated. The problem is him; his behavior. He really needs to do some rewiring to ever be happy. Being honest with people. Occasionally admitting he is wrong. Don will always feel alone in the world unless he genuinely includes the people he loves.

  23. What we saw in the final bar scene in Six Month Leave was Don wondering if it's possible for there to be any more, any better. He believes there is, he has the intense optimism of always moving forward, but he has no idea what form it could possibly take.

    He is waiting for the catastrophe of his personality to seem beautiful again.

  24. With Six Month Leave it just made me feel even more sorry for Betty. When Don tells Roger, I am quite relieved to be kicked out of the house, my heart broke, and I couldnt believe he said that. I mean that was a slap in the face to Betty and their children. He was clearly stating he doesnt want to be there anymore, when Betty and the children want him to be. Don is an asshole, and like Joan told Roger, one day your going to lose something and regret it for the rest of you life. Could Joan also be forshadowing Don's future. My guess is that if Don wants a divorce from Betty, it will ruin him and he will sink lower and lower, and finally come to realize that he had it so good with Betty and the children. I am glad Betty is still holding her ground. She wants the truth! Like people say the truth shall set you free, maybe if Don tells her the truth everyone would be happy again like the pictures they showed in THE WHEEL episode. But if Don continues his streak of lying and deception, he will sink lower and lower to actually getting better, and Betty will come out strong and healthy.

  25. Brilliant analysis. Like I said in the open thread, I wonder if it won't be Don but Betty who will finally break free; she may very well become one of those women who redefined herself in the 1960s, left her husband (and maybe even the kids — how sad) and not want the marriage anymore, while Don realizes what he wants is a family, what he never had as a child. But he ruined it and maybe it's too late and Betty moves on.

  26. I'm not sure if the truth always sets people free. I think you have to be careful with it — and, as in a lot of other situations, know your audience.

    I used the truth about my life to free myself from a bad relationship; that worked well. But my husband told the truth to his ex more than ten years ago, and now, years after the divorce, she is still angry.

    All I can conclude is that some people like being angry. It suits them. In the case of these people, the truth doesn't set them free — it takes them from one place and puts them in another. It may be that this is where Betty is now: she's gone from not knowing what she was feeling, to being in a state that my shrink friend likes to call "flooded".

    That's her term for feeling so overwhelmed by a stream of negative feelings that a person lashes out, gets defensive or abusive, or just withdraws. She or he is so overwhelmed by the number of negative feelings that she or he can't separate them from each other, and stops trying. All she or he can do is respond to the feelings: cry, shut down, stay in bed, push people away, drink, etc. This is where I see Betty right now.

    The Draper marriage has not been strong for some time, and I think the show is doing a good job of showing the toll that takes on Don and Betty. Don isn't happy staying at the Roosevelt; he misses his kids and he wants Betty to take him back. But he doesn't want to open up to her, either. He still wants to be the guy he thinks she believes he's been, all these years. He doesn't know that she wants something different, and she's sure not talking.

    But Betty isn't strong. She's kind of lost. She's still looking for evidence of Don's indiscretions — evidence she won't find. The longer she looks, the worse she will feel, as time passes and she hasn't found anything. Meanwhile, Betty is ignoring advice that can help her (get up, get out of the house, do something for yourself). She is acting less like a woman ready to stand on her own than a woman standing on her own last nerve. Even her kids are worried about her.

    Will either of these people move on? Not quickly. Moving out and moving on is a very, very recent thing. I only remember the decade after the one this show depicts. What went on when real couples like this broke up was agonizing for both people and all their children. Agonizing, terribly slow, and somehow more painful for taking so much time.

    Call them whatever else you want … but they weren't the good old days.

  27. I alway felt that the man in the opening credits is Don Draper. The episodes are leading up to his fall or collapse from his job and marriage. I get the feeling from the relax poise of Don sitting in the chair, that he needs this fall in order to rid himself of the demons has has accumlated, such as his identity, through his years since the war. Maybe the fall brings him back to his wife and family.

  28. Thanks for this insightful essay on Betty for whom I have so much sympathy.

    What really got me was a moment from the scene in Six Month Leave when Betty is in her bedroom with Sara Beth. I recognized how angry she was when S.B. declared, "Don's perfect." But I also noticed that when Sara Beth described how easy-to-please her own husband was, Betty choked up, saying "How sweet." All she wants is for her husband to love her!

  29. And you really see the difference in their marriage when you compare it to Marriage of Figaro. Francine admired Don ('that man!) and Betty smiled and fully accepted the praise.

  30. Absolutely! It is surprising to me how she welcomed such comments. I found it kinda creepy how the women ogled Don, even though he was such a hunk as he put together Sally's playhouse juggling beer and handtools, all sweaty and disheveled, cig dangling from his mouth!

  31. I found it kinda creepy how the women ogled Don, even though he was such a hunk as he put together Sally’s playhouse juggling beer and handtools, all sweaty and disheveled, cig dangling from his mouth!

    ::excuses self while heading for some 'alone time'::

  32. I found it kinda creepy how the women ogled Don, even though he was such a hunk as he put together Sally’s playhouse juggling beer and handtools, all sweaty and disheveled, cig dangling from his mouth!

    Really? I didn't find that scene appealing one bit.

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