Lip Service vs. A Whole Lotta Lip

 Posted by on January 21, 2009 at 10:51 am  Characters, Season 2
Jan 212009

I was just reading Don’s Other Affairs and building on Roberta’s brilliant insights, I began to think about Bobbie and Jimmy Barrett and their function in Season 2. They’re the agents of truth. And the truth differs from the polished, unruffled, seemingly perfect surface that Don and Betty present to the world.

From the very first, Jimmy distinguishes himself as the guy who says what everyone sees but doesn’t dare point out. Mrs. Utz is fat. He is unnecessarily cruel to the point of humiliation. You really feel for Mrs. Utz. And yet, Jimmy will endanger his own livelihood for the sake of stating something plainly. To paraphrase Bobbie, That’s who he is.

Why? Maybe precisely because it’s taboo. Words have a talismanic quality; there’s still a primitive part of us that believes that if we say something aloud, we might make it happen. So we shush our friends when they talk about certain subjects, even if”or especially if”there’s a high probability that they will come to pass. This superstitious fears lurks within even the most educated. The truth is, we’re not Yahweh. We really don’t have that kind of power; we can’t just make things happen by saying the word. We’re just too weak to face the truth.

The interesting thing is that Betty and Don’s marriage was being hijacked by that very same fear of openly talking about the ugly truth. As Roberta astutely points out, Don’s denial was predicated on his refusal to see the implications of his own behavior. Interestingly enough, we see this most clearly in Long Weekend, when Don clearly holds himself above Roger’s disreputable behavior with the twins. Here’s the thing, though: When you don’t want to see just how ugly your behavior is, what need is there to change it? It is only shock and shame that bring you back to life. Jimmy did the same for Betty with his humiliating uncovering of Don’s affair. He was incredibly cruel but really terrifically salutary. Bobbie’s comment to Don was also humiliating. She put him at the level of a slut, really. A good-looking man who gets passed around from bored female to bored female and who is known primarily for his prowess in bed. But again, Bobbie did Don a favor. Because here’s the thing: on some level everyone has been sheltering Don from the consequences of his bad behavior. Betty knew that he was unfaithful but never confronted him. The men around the office don’t need to tell him anything since they’re all in it themselves. Don, in short, could’ve gone on averting his eyes about one key aspect of his life because, simply put, he could. No one was going to punish him. Betty was not going to confront him. A tiny angel was not going to appear at his shoulder to call upon his better self.

Shame gets a bad rap when, really, it can be a gift. It’s your conscience telling you to be a mensch even when no one’s looking. Even when you don’t get brownie points. And in that sense the Barretts are some kind of angels. Promiscuous, vulgar, bullying angels but agents of good nevertheless…

And the Barretts are also a prelude of the upheaval that’s on the horizon. All kinds of rude things will be said. Everyone’s dirty laundry will be exposed. And since there won’t be any place left to hide, change will be the only option.


  44 Responses to “Lip Service vs. A Whole Lotta Lip”

  1. Love this; what an insight.

    And it is…

    …wait for it…

    Lipp Service.


  2. Marly is having connectivity problems and asked me to post this for her. I almost changed that spelling but restrained myself.

  3. Great insights. I believe “truth telling” is a major theme of this series and advertising provides a lens into many aspects of this theme.

    Bobbie also performed the delusion-shattering role for Peggy in “The New Girl.” It was as if Don (in suit and hat) and Bobbie (with her clothes at the cleaners) were each on one shoulder whispering advice to Peggy: different versions of “find someone you want to be and be that person.”

  4. I agree with Deborah. Weiner has cut off wonderful characters that we miss/he misses in order to maintain the show's integrity. Four seasons from now (from my keyboard to God's ears) there could easily be a random encounter, but don't count on seeing much of them.

    How much do I love that Elliott came back for one scene, said Hello to Salvatore, and there was no follow-up?

    Only on Mad Men.

  5. And of course, in Meditations on an Emergency, it was honesty on both Don and Betty’s parts, albeit not totally complete honesty as they are both holding some information back, that brings them literally back to the table to presumably save their marriage.

  6. One of my favorite quotes is from Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer”–“Salvation comes from the unlikeliest places.” It’s a sentiment I’ve taken to heart and become one of my main credos for living. As #3 Phil points out, we first see Bobbie-as-unlikely-savior with Peggy in “The New Girl.” Love how in one episode, Bobbie shows two entirely different personnas–on one hand vulgar and whoring, and on the other a savior in disguise, who offers incredible insight to a young woman, who God knows, desperately needs it. So to me, it’s entirely appropriate she and Jimmy, vulgar (or as Betty would say “crude”) are the ones who offer salvation, in MM or at the very least, let Betty “see the light.” The truth DOES ultimately set you free, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to come delivered on a pretty platter. In fact, it’s probably inevitable that it won’t be.

  7. Great work Marly! It is funny how a lot has been made about how some people love the pre-pc frankness of the characters on the show and yet when the Barrett’s show up we all get a lesson in how their codes were equally dishonest.

    Okay, informally a poll. Would you like a reappearance of the Barretts in a future season.

    I would. A lot because of the truth telling aspect of their relationship. They may not be the most pleasant people to be around but their attacks are more even handed. I prefer gossip with Bobbie to it with Francine. And besides after Maidenform I would like to meet Bobbie’s children.

  8. Love this post. The Barretts served a dual purpose: the more truthful Bobbie became, the more Don was repelled by her, and by extension, himself. It started with her trip to the office, followed by her disclosure that she was a mother, and finally her comment to him about his reputation.

    Likewise, the more Betty saw the truth in what Jimmy was saying, the more she saw the truth about herself. Initially, she liked her reflection (when he said she looked like a movie star, when he phoned her himself to invite her to the party.) But then his words became too truthful, and it literally made her sick to her stomach.

  9. portias, good question. I don’t see a return of the Barretts because I don’t see a natural way for them to meet the Drapers again. After Jimmy confronted Don, they’re done with each other. Jimmy will certainly no longer flirt with Betty. Don and Bobbie were already done. So why would it happen? How would it happen in a way that didn’t seem forced?

  10. I just loved Betty’s reaction, “She’s so old!”

  11. This is an excellent article. It perfectly expressed one of the opinions I have always harbored about the Barretts. If they don't return as recurring characters, I wonder who will become the future agents of truth?

  12. They seem to get new ones every year. I guess that's going to be the pattern.

    • Truth-tellers are a vital part of television and storytelling on the whole. And they are often extreme characters; often dislikable, but occasionally saintly ("magical").

  13. Interview with Jon and Tina about 30 Rock…Jon talks about auditioning for the role of Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock.

  14. You bring up a good point. And it makes me wonder why I don't like the Barretts more, since many of my favorite TV characters have been the truth-tellers. (Spike on Buffy, Methos on Highlander, etc.) I guess it's because Jimmy and Bobbi were written with the intention of causing strife for Our Hero (TM). They are trying to reveal the truth for fairly selfish reasons, I think, rather than simply saying things because they are true.

  15. They were hard to like, but not exclusively. Bobbie's dealings with Peggy was pretty endearing. She had some qualities.

  16. I loved Buffy, good show. I have the first few seasons on dvd, after season 4 I kind of flaked out on it.

  17. I'd rather have cocktails with Bobbie than with Betty. I can't say I "like" either of them, although I care about them as characters. Bobbie would definitely be more amusing.

    After ensuring that any man I cared about was many miles away, of course.

  18. Okay, informally a poll. Would you like a reappearance of the Barretts in a future season.

    I would. A lot because of the truth telling aspect of their relationship.

    I, as a viewer enjoyed the Barretts, because even though they were "crude", they at least knew the truth about each other and their own relationship. I think, they were the most "honest" couple on the show for season two.

  19. I think I'd like an episode where "Grin and Barrett" is playing on a TV set, and either Don or Betty notices it.

    This would address the reapparance of the Barretts neatly, in a context that doesn't seem forced — and the Drapers' reactions would be genuine.

  20. I'd love to have Roger say, "Did you hear Grin and Barrett was canceled?"

  21. LOL, Brenda.

    That'd be sweet. And then we could wait a nice beat, or two, before Don says, "Who?"


  22. THANK YOU.

    This was a while coming, but at least with Bobbie's accumulation of sins, one could never fault her for lying and pretending everything's OK *when she does not have to lie*. The Drapers have that down to a science, and their marriage is still on unsteady ground, because of it.

  23. Take my word for it, the Fifties was so "Let's Not Talk About It."

    The sin was not in the sin, but admitting that there was a sin, in the first place.

    Whatever the problem, if it could be shameful (nd so much was considered shameful, from homosexuality to domestic abuse — which would be shamefull for the wife to admit, believe it or not!)

    Burying the problem was good form, pretend you didn't hear the neighbors ongoing drunken brawls, pregnant teen girls sent to their aunt in Arizona "for their asthma," you name it — if a problem might be managed by talking it out, it couldn't be.

  24. I disagree, Robin.

    Jimmy really didn't want to see Betty hurt. He thought she was a real hot number, and couldn't for the life of him understand why Don would bang his wife when he's married to Grace Kelly. Now, that's very surface, but surface is how we get to know most people we come across, depth and intimacy come after long times. And for Jimmy, Don's choice of affair is genuinely puzzling.

    And his point played into Betty's other insecurity, which is still being pretty and glamorous (hence her modeling try in S1 and her response to Don about bobby, "But she's so old!"). If anything, Jimmy's playing to that aspect of the thing broke her out of the shell she had put around herself more than any other aspect.

    • Tom, Jimmy's feeling of hatred and inferiority about "perfect" people like Don extends to Betty. He wants her attention and loves to flirt with her, but the hatred is underneath. You don't say what he said to someone you have genuine regard for. You don't grab them by the arm and drag them back.

  25. I just finished up re-watching season 1 yesterday morning from my dvd box set, and it may sound a little pathetic, but I could totally relate with the way Betty dealt with Don's infidelity in this season. When Francine came over and was pouring her heart out to Betty about how she felt about discovering that Carlton was cheating on her, Betty kept her own fears about Don to herself. My own husband has never cheated on me, but he had other indescretions that were nonetheless just as hurtful years ago. I never wanted to tell my closest friends, because I didn't want their pity or for them to look at *me* differently….as a somehow flawed person.

    I also got the impression that when Betty went back on the couch to the doctor's office the next time, she was telling things to him that she knew he would then turn around and tell Don what she told him(she had also peeked at the phone bill by then, remember?).

    I came back to BoK, thinking I would have to dig back quite a few pages to address these thoughts on here, and voila…here was this post! Thanks Marly for reading my mind 😉 So many great insights on here.

  26. I'd buy him hating Don. He had too much pure lust for Betty to hate her.

    Which is why he rips Don a new one. He looks at his life, as a Jew, as someone who's struggled (in life, career, etc.) because of his personality, as someone who wishes he could have a wife like Betty instead of the one he's maried too and realizing because he is who he is he can't, and then sees someone like Don, whom he wishes he could be, stepping out on the woman he wishes he could have and is dumbfounded, and then angry, especially because he sees Don as stepping down to cheat, not up.

    Every action, even anger at Betty, is really there to hurt Don. Much like Betty taking things out on her son isn't directed at her son, but at "Mini-Don."

    • If you don't believe that someone can lust and yet hate, you really should look up "misogyny." 😉

      • If you don’t believe that someone can lust and yet hate, you really should look up “misogyny.”

        Thank you.

        I just watched the episode (the Gold Violin) yesterday. There is no love for Betty on the part of Jimmy Barrett. He is not telling her this as some kindness or assistance. And when she makes her 'subtle' antisemitic remark to him, he seems unfazed; I think he expected it.

  27. magenta,

    Betty was repressing Don's infidelity, which is whay she ended up with the shaky hands. Francine inadvertently helped her surface those thoughts, because it suddenly dawns on Betty that Francine (and who knows who else) is already thinking Don may be cheating on her. She confronts her fear by opening the bill and makes the call. When it turns out to be her shrink, the realization of Don's infidelity doesn't go away, but she does indeed realize that she can now speak to Don through the shrink and avoid a direct confrontation… until S2, anyway.

  28. Do you think the shrink told Don, though, Karl?

    I'm torn on that one. I think Betty starts talking to the shrink because she realizes she can, period. She's at a loss for who to turn to that entire episode, even seeking Glenn, then it dawns that she can talk to the shrink and through him talk to Don, or talk to the shrink and the guy'll lie and continue to feed Don a line about her mother and whatnot–it doesn't really matter and she'll still be able to air grievances. S2 is coy enough, we don't know whether Don's good-boy behavior in the beginning is a result of the shrink telling him things, or guilt after his Carousel pitch, having convinced himself, being the great salesman he is.

    Though, seeing Don's reaction to Bobbie after she basically calls him a slut, I don't think he'd take it too well from the shrink, either.

    • I wonder about the shrink. It's possible that after that session with Betty, on his next call with Don he proclaimed her cured.

      And don't forget that in the New Girl, we learned that Betty had laid down new rules. It wasn't all Don's guilt working on its own.

  29. One thing I loved about re-watching S1 after S2 being still fresh in my memory was seeing the transformation of Betty . I had forgotten the extent of how truly passive (other than the ending of Shoot, of course. Hilarious!!) and yes, childlike, she was in S1. It was almost like she was living in a fog, but a different fog than the one she experiences in S2. At least in this past season you can see her starting to wake up out of it. Can't wait to see what S3 brings for all of them.

    Karl, I do realize that Betty was repressing her worries of Don's infidelity, but she's not one to share with her girlfriends, either. I had not even considered the possibility of whether the shrink told Don everything from Betty's sessions after her discovery….now that opens up a ton of speculation for me that I hadn't even considered til now.

    The fact that the only person Betty feels like she can truly confide in is Glenn is heartbreaking in itself.

    • magenta, (RHPS much?), Betty's hands aren't numb anymore. That came with her denial break at the end of S1.

  30. Oh yeah I knew that Roberta….sorry if my post was confusing in that way. It is very interesting to see her slow transformation into a more empowered woman. Knowing what the coming years bring in historical context, well…it could get even more interesting.

    Yep, RHPS fan here 😀

  31. magenta,

    Imho, a big reason why Don starts trying to clean up his act in "The Wheel" and talks about coming home on time at the outset of S2 is precisely because the shrink tells Don what Betty said about his infidelity. And that the therapy got dropped once Don started behaving himself.

  32. ….and that's what I love so much about this show. We, as an audience, are allowed to fill in so many blanks ourselves. Isn't it fun? I am so thankful that Lionsgate worked it out with MW and that we get to have a "real" S3.

    Speaking of Jimmy Barrett, I had no idea til the other day that Utz was an actual potato chip brand. Must be regional or something?

    • magenta, yes. regional. We have it in NY, but it's out of Baltimore, which is where Weiner lived as a kid, which is why he chose it.

  33. I saw a container the other day that had held some kind of holiday pretzel or something, and it was Utz. The graphics were very retro looking…could have almost been a prop from the Sterling Cooper break room.

  34. Actually, I recently saw Utz pop up in a Wal-Mart outside Chicago, which means they might be going national.

    I hope MW gets a royalty!

  35. “There is no love for Betty on the part of Jimmy Barrett. He is not telling her this as some kindness or assistance.”

    “Every action, even anger at Betty, is really there to hurt Don. Much like Betty taking things out on her son isn’t directed at her son, but at “Mini-Don.”

    I don’t see how thse are at cross purposes.

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