Things aren’t perfect.
So you’ll move again.
– Betty Francis and Don Draper, Tomorrowland
It’s a poignant scene, just before the close of the fourth season of Mad Men: Don Draper and Betty Francis (formerly Draper), talking quietly over a mug of whiskey in what used to be their kitchen. They are discussing houses … or are they?
For so long, we wondered how she could have stayed with him, or he with her. We wondered what they ever saw in each other. It turns out that Don and Betty may only want what they wanted when they met each other — which, it turns out, is still a lot.
The fresh start. Both Don and Betty are in love with this, as much as they are with love itself; romance, falling. Each of them thrills to the idea of being caught, just before a crash landing, by someone new and perfect. Or is it the concept of getting caught that delights them? Both Don and Betty do love secrets.
Certainly, the idea of rescue (from either end: being the rescued or the rescuer) captivates them both.
The impulse. All intuitive warnings aside, Don and Betty love a thunderbolt from a clear sky. For Betty, it may be a handsome man who steps from the crowd at a Derby Day party and singles her out. Or a message from her TV (“Am I crazy? I don’t think so”). For Don, the world is no less rife with signs and wonders: the message in the painting, in the face of the fresh young girl smiling at him across the desk. Forget the sick feeling in your stomach, Don. When he sees the sign, he feels better; he knows what he must do.
Other people might wait, listen to others, question the impulse to take a secretary to California or move because of the neighbor boy. Not Don, not Betty. Not ever.
The renovation. These two love to make things over, don’t they? Redecorate the living room with the best accessories and Glow Decorations around. Tear out the kitchen in the new house. Ransack the old firm and build a new one. Say No to Tobacco (in The New York Times). Move on up, make it over, make it more about me. And when it can’t be about them anymore, then what?
The move. Of course. “You’ll move again.” Yes: both Betty and Don will. Each of them will move again, over and over, to other places, to what they will always be sure are new and better lives, with new and better people. The new companion maids cleaning service is the same as the old: Deliver the walking papers to those who knew them best, and get to work on forgetting. It will shock you how much this never happened.
Out with the old. Never mind how well the old friends and allies (Carla? Who is that?) served both Betty and Don, or how long they traveled alongside the couple formerly known as the Drapers. Never mind how long those friendships lasted, or what they shared: confidences, baby clothes, grown-up party dresses, last-minute babysitting those friends never minded. When either Don or Betty moves on, most of the old friends become part of the past. Into the box they go!
The new love, Don or Betty’s new choice: This person is in love, and to his or her eyes much better and more beautiful than the old. He or she has one great advantage the old choices can not offer: that of not knowing Don or Betty at all. Not yet. This is a magical time, the moment of the new being still new. It’s so brief and perfect, like the five minutes before sunset. How well they both know.
As Henry Francis seems to have learned, darkness falls fast.