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.