Don Becomes Betty

 Posted by on May 9, 2011 at 9:00 am  Characters
May 092011

Guest post by Sarah M.
Sarah M is a grad student in Children’s and Young Adult literature, at work on a rock opera retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.”

We all know Don rushed into his engagement; propelled by an idea of who Megan is. We also know Don has a clear grasp of how Megan sees him—successful, composed, ‘a good man’—and perpetuating this idea of himself is as appealing to him as his idea of her.

I’m starting to think Megan understands how Don sees her as well. Just as Don is not the sum of his sincere (if unanchored) desire to change, Megan is not the sum of her nurturing nature. But I don’t think Megan is another Betty. I think the tables are turning, and Don is about to wake up in Betty’s former place. Has he ever had reason to get jealous? No. Possessive, sure, that comes with his assumed cultural entitlement, but he’s never been truly threatened by Betty’s attraction to another man, thanks to his iconic stance. He represents the incarnated ideal of a male in 1950s America. Megan, however, is not American, and she is not a product of the era as Don understands it.

When a beautiful woman tells Don Draper, “I just want you right now,” it’s easy to assume that she was simply overcome by his allure. I contend, though, that this is not the first time Megan has been so forthright with a sought-after man. She wasn’t raised in America, and she’s not confined by the same limiting notions of femininity that hold Betty down. She’s ambitious, an art student who’s made it clear that career matters to her. And unlike Betty, or, arguably, any Mad Woman we’ve encountered so far, she’s not afraid to show she’s well-aware of her own beauty. In Tomorrowland, she doesn’t stop by Don’s hotel room to “see if he needs anything.” She’s going out, and she wants to make sure she has a second to stun him with that sleek black dress, which draws attention to her cleavage in a way that no woman of Betty’s generation would dare.

Age will only become more relevant. Throughout the series, Don has been the young foil to Roger’s steadily rusting notions of business. But, as Don attends dinners and functions with Megan on his arm, she’s going to notice other men. Peggy once asked, “What if this is my time?” and, with a few more weeks of thought, I don’t think she would’ve phrased it as a question. Ambitious women who refuse to fear their own sexuality are claiming their time at this point, as are the men who respect such qualities. Alongside Megan, Peggy, and other women’s understanding that we are entering an era with fewer confinements, other men will begin to understand this too, and not have to act in accordance with the pressures that created the Don Draper/Dick Whitman split. These men will be more cosmopolitan than Don, more readily open to new ideas. They will have traveled far more extensively; they’ll speak French. This is important, in part because Megan and her mother are close. How susceptible will a French Canadian matriarch be to the charms of an aging American ad man who doesn’t speak her language? I wouldn’t be surprised if Don’s unsatisfied in-law offers up a few local contenders, eventually imploring her to change her mind about the engagement. Don has never had to prove himself to a woman. When he did, all he needed was to be more honest; that’s how he won Rachel and Faye.

I think we’ll meet Megan’s mother, and when we do, we’ll encounter the first sure-of-herself women Don’s ever met who’s completely immune to even his saddest stories. We’ve already seen Don surrender some of his power because he can’t speak French. Megan and her mother can talk about anything without his knowing it, an unprecedented position of power for a woman in Don’s life. Megan will start to keep her own secrets, and, when it becomes clear that there are elements of her that he can’t understand, expectations of her that are out of line with who she is and how she lives, she will have an affair. She may have several. At one point, Don, wrecked with feelings of sexual inferiority that he’s never experienced before, might call Betty with a drunken outpouring of apologies.

Upon hanging up, she’ll twist to this song:


  25 Responses to “Don Becomes Betty”

  1. This piece still underestimates the defining Don trait; running when things get tough. I see nothing about Megan that would stop this tendency. Betty stays in one place, and when things get bad, she rails about the evil of the world. Don, has, and will dumped everything and everybody to escape. This is not a good trait, of course, and Don will pay for it in the end. But if he’s willing to lie to Anna to her face about her illness, Megan will have no hold over him. He’ll let her walk.

  2. It’s interesting that you called Don an “aging” ad man. How old is Don when he gets engaged to Megan? 36? 38? ( I guess he was in his 20’s when he enlisted for the Korean War) Of course, that isn’t “old” by today’s standards, but with the Vietnam War and the Summer of Love, that’s about to change. “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

    I can see a siezeable generation gap between Don and Megan as she experiences that latter 60’s culteral changes with excitement and Don with disdain and longing for the “normalcy” of the early decade (and the 50’s). I can see a lot of tension develop in that relationship over time if Don is unwilling/unable to change. The escalation of the Vietnam War could be one point of friction; men like my father thought Nixon was going to “save” the country from the hipies.

    Will Don cling to his wool fedora as my WWII veteran father did until about 1970 or his staw one (post- Easter to Labor Day) until about 1975. Or will he eventually grow his hair and sideburns longer, ditch the hat, wear wide ties and wide lapel polyester suits, even with a white belt and shoes?

    It will be interesting to see — if they ever start filming again.

  3. any Mad Woman we’ve encountered so far, she’s not afraid to show she’s well-aware of her own beauty. Joan has shown on more than one occasion she is aware of her own beauty.

    draws attention to her cleavage in a way that no woman of Betty’s generation would dare. Really? Doesn’t Megan point towards the Twiggy type (while not quite being there yet) as opposed to the Monroe type? And how about Monroe, Jane Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren, Diana Dors, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida being of Betty’s generation? Movies not enough? How about Dagmar? You can even go back slightly further and note that Howard Hughes did not pick the late Jane Russell for her acting chops in “The Outlaw.” There was plenty of daring in Betty’s generation, sorry.

  4. @2 Ron-I’ll give you Joan, but none of the actresses. What actresses wear on screen is very different from what normal people would wear to work, or what they would wear when they get dressed up for a special occasion. Also, most actresses have very little say in what they wear in movies.

  5. Retrogirl, my point with actresses is not to compare it to what normal people wear, but what imagery is stressed in the culture. MM is about to enter a period where very thin body types will predominate, not the Monroesque figures of Betty’s era.

  6. @2 mike-When it comes to the generation gap I could see Megan falling on either side of it. I don’t think it’s a given that she’s going to be a member of counter-culture based on age. It’s possible I misunderstood what you meant. If what you meant is that Megan is going to have a better understanding of the culture counter (although not necessarily be a part of it) than Don due to age, I agree with you.

  7. MW has stated that he sees DD as someone who will continue to wear a hat all through the 70’s. I think we are going to see the generation gap play out in the relationship between Don and Megan. For many men, the emotional growth of women though the 60’s and 70’s lead to a significant loss of confidence. Especially if the men in question were emotionally insecure to begin with. With Megan we have someone who is wordly, independent, emotionally secure (from what we have seen so far), sexually confident and has already shown her disdain for conventional mores. Megan is the anti-Betty. While this could mean that Megan may be an equal or eventually have the upper hand in their marriage, I don’t think that Don will “become” Betty. He is too self aware for that. But, with the general growth of the women in his life, Don will find it increasingly difficult to escape from the consequences of his actions. His inability to escape will be his undoing. This is too bad, because for all his faults, he can still muster the Draper brilliance on occasion. As he continues to fall from grace, his legendary abilities will be seen less frequently. Without his magic touch, he becomes less valuable.

    What happens when the only cynical man in the room enters another room where everyone is cynical ? The cynical man ceases to be unique. Much of Don’s brilliance came from his cynicism and ability to peel back the genteel layers of c1950’s society. One legacy of the ’60’s is that an entire society became cynical and began to question everything. What worked in the Ad world of 1960, will not work in 1970. Unless Don can adapt and grow he will risk becoming a “has been”. MW statement that Don is someone who will continue to wear a hat implies that he will be unable to change with the times.

  8. Don has a few old-fart attitudes, as illuminated in the Suitcase episode. Don is pushing 40,while Megan is 25. But he has been there before. He had that fling with Joy in the Jet Set episode; he was 36 and Joy was 21 (she said). It wasn’t Joy’s youth that was the problem there, but the jet set she was a part of, and its ultimately meaningless hedonism.

    I don’t see Megan’s closeness with her mother as something that will work against Don and Megan’s relationship. A close-knit and loving family is something Dick Whitman could only have in his dreams, growing up. He would respect and admire it, having felt the lack so deeply.

    Also, speaking French is not such an unbreakable code to someone like Don, who knows how to read people and has seen a lot of foreign films. He could pretty much figure out the guys from Rome and Naples at the next table in the Souvenir episode with Betty, remember?

    One could indulge the notion of Megan screwing around on Don, as sort of a comeuppance for the way he treated Betty and all, but I don’t think that’s likely. They haven’t shown Jane doing that to Roger, though she was 20 to his 50, and quite the scamp in the office, when they wed. Instead, it was Roger who strayed.

    I also don’t see Megan’s behavior in the Chinese Wall episode as evidence of a pattern of behavior, but as a reaction to an unusual circumstance. As Stan said earlier in the episode, when a company is going down, there’s a crazy atmosphere, and “the energy is, very good.”

  9. @8 Tom B-I agree that French is not an unbreakable code. Also, if he wanted to learn French, is there something stopping him from doing so?

  10. I give 5 to 1 against Megan making it to the altar— that look my boyo gave out the window in the last shot of Tomorrowland said it all. If they do make it, I wonder if Megan could have Don so smitten that she can convince him to at least tolerate parts of the youth culture and not wear earplugs to a Doors concert at the Whiskey a Go-Go.? Don needs to stay constant and relevant irregardless of his “Young people don’t know anything” old fart mentality. But DD smitten to the point of letting anyone but him drive the bus in ANY facet of a relationship? Hard to imagine. Wonder if Megan will still be by his side ss he’s dragged off to jail.

  11. I’d take those odds in a NY minute, Mr Katz. That wakeful stare Don had at the end doesn’t mean what you think, I’ll wager.

    How long the marriage lasts is anybody’s guess. It shouldn’t be a big shock to anyone if Don catted around sooner or later, knowing his history, and that anyone includes Megan.

  12. @10 tilden katz-It is possible that the Doors concert wasn’t Megan’s idea. I know I’ve gone to concerts for bands I’m not into and would never have gone to on my own, but I went because a friend invited me.

    My issue is that I’m not convinced that Megan is any more involved in youth culture that Margaret Sterling, Penelope Franics, or Trudy Campbell.

  13. #2 mike:

    “I can see a siezeable generation gap between Don and Megan as she experiences that latter 60′s culteral changes with excitement and Don with disdain and longing for the “normalcy” of the early decade (and the 50′s).”

    #6 retrogirl:

    “When it comes to the generation gap I could see Megan falling on either side of it.”

    I see Megan observing the counterculture, liking what she likes, rejecting the rest, and dipping a toe into it here and there.

    In other words, she will Tune In (a little), Turn On (a little), but not Drop Out.

    I was born in 1958, grew up somewhat isolated in Anchorage, AK, and was isolated even that that small town of 80-100k – so the 60s were over before I became aware of them (that’s what books, magazines, and newspapers are for).

    Some have said that newspapers and magazines of the time spotlighted the more extreme aspects of the 60s – which is my primary reason for saying that Megan will watch and read more and participate less.

    She’ll be 27 at the Vietnam peak deployment in 1967 – she’s not in college anymore, so will not be steeped in the counterculture so much as those 5-7 years younger.

    As for those a full ten years younger, I once saw a workmate’s 1969 high school yearbook – crew cuts were the norm for the boys. In my 1977 yearbook you can hardly see any of the boys’ ears.

    Still, I wonder if she’ll go to some of those loft parties with Peggy. All depends on Master Weiner of course.

  14. Regarding a comment above:

    I do think Don makes it to the altar with Megan — after all, he’s really “doing it for the kids,” as they say, his kids, based on how good Megan is with them (in stark contrast to Betty). But not only for the kids, for Don himself, who actually really wants the “warmth” of family life … of course, the problem is that’s not all he wants.

  15. @13 Jahn Ghalt-You said exactly what I was trying to say, but I think you may have said it better. What so many people forget, is the counterculture was a very small group, but they had a very large impact.

  16. Don was said to be 36 at the time of For Those Who Think Young (February 1962), and his acknowledged birthday is in April. So yeah, he’s rapidly sneaking up on 40.

    “Never trust anyone over 30” may have originated in the ’60s, but it didn’t start to become a prevailing attitude in Middle American culture until maybe the mid 1970s or early 1980s. Still, “young people” did start to become a marketing segment right around then, and I don’t think it’s an accident that Don chose a much younger woman, and not just for her looks, either. Unlike Roger Sterling, he actually thinks of himself as someone who keeps up with the times, or at least tries to. (Would Roger even know how to hold a joint?)

    OTOH, he doesn’t really show signs of giving up the double standard, and I think this is where Megan will throw him. He probably thought of her as being docile and eager to please him, because that’s how she is as an employee. But he can’t fire his wife, and he might find out she’s not as easy to manipulate as Betty, because she knows what he’s doing when he’s “working late.” So she may well feel entitled to do her own screwing around, if he’s going to. (And he will — eventually. He’s always going to be attracted to the Fayes and the Rachels who challenge him and have their own lives.)

  17. @16 Meowser-This brings up an interesting question. I think Jane knows about Roger and Joan’s past history together. We have never suspected Jane of infedility, but should we?

    For much of his adult life Don had always had Betty at home, and the women he fooled around with in the city. Megan does not seem to fit in either category. I can see him letting her continue to work at SCDP as an artist (which would make her Peggy’s equal, not superior). He would have to lecture Megan about not letting what’s going on at home interfere with work. It would be interesting to see how Don would react to be married to a Faye/Rachel. Megan may be the type to challenge him.

    Something I want to see in season 5: Don and Megan having dinner with Roger and Jane.

  18. I think Jane is exactly the kind of person who’d have an affair with her shrink. She wouldn’t set out to find a lover, but I can just see her having twice-weekly sessions with a man who reassures her that she’s still beautiful and interesting and that her husband doesn’t know what he’s missing, and then seduces her. Jane is not completely clueless; she knows Roger still has a thing for Joan. They just don’t talk about it because…what’s to discuss?

  19. @18 Meowser-Good point. For that era, Jane has what matters-the name and security. When he dies, she will be entitled to a share, while Joan is entitled to nothing. Although I don’t think Jane would need reassuring that she’s beautiful, she knows she looks good. If Jane was going to have an affair, it would probably be with a tennis or golf instructor from the club.

  20. Peggy will not tolerate Megan in the office; not one bit. Don, if he is going to turn the agency around will need Peggy at work pulling in the same direction. Pete will also not want Megan around the office. Don will understand this of course, and will keep Megan away.Don can NOT afford to lose Peggy or Pete. They are smart enough and experienced enough to make it on their own.
    I also feel that Henry will tire of Betty and leave her. This will cause Don to maybe help her (and the kids) out. Betty and Don may still have some chemistry between them; and Don does love his kids. It will be both symbiotic and comfortable just like their marriage.
    Megan should realize that she may end up discarded. Call Eastern Airlines and get on the next plane for Montreal.

  21. At the risk of over-speculating, I wouldn’t assume that Megan is incapable of making contributions to the office. I suppose we can’t yet confirm one way or the other whether her ambitions “to do what you do someday, or what Miss Olsen does,” are sincere or part of her Move — but I feel like she made it clear that there was more to her capabilties/talents/desires than Don had seen up to that moment.

    Don and Betty’s marriage, “comfortable and symbiotic”? I don’t think we’ve seen those moments, though it’s been implied that they were once there, back when Don was still enamored of the way Elizabeth laughs (which I don’t remember ever seeing in real-time).

    Don and Megan both have solid images of what kind of life the other one will offer them. I don’t think she’s in any more danger of being “discarded” than Don is, for reasons eloquently described in the posts above.

  22. To #20, why would Pete care if Megan is around the office? She’s there already. He has had to get used to the fact that both she and Joan in heels stand taller than he does.

    Peggy was miffed that the engagement announcement stole her thunder, but she will ultimately be happy that Don’s happy, and has someone to go home to (or with), so he doesn’t have to call on her after hours to keep him company, like he did in the Suitcase ep.

    And Don does seem happy, but he hasn’t lost his mind. He’ll want to keep Peggy happy, too, whatever he and Megan decide to do.

  23. @22 Tom B-Now you’ve got me thinking. Aside from Peggy, is there anyone shorter than Pete in the office? I think Peggy was also upset that she worked hard to get where she was, but that Megan slept/married her way into the position.

  24. Tom, why are we discussing Pete’s height? Vincent Kartheiser is around 5’9 or 5’10 — not short at all. Hamm, Harris, and Somer are all towering well over six feet, but Kartheiser is taller than Slattery.

  25. Just was trying to figure out Bob K’s post #20.

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