Mad Men: The Benefactor (S02E03)

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I’m reviewing all the episodes of Mad Men before the last seven episodes premiere in the Spring of 2015. If you want to see an overview of the episodes I’ve written about so far, click HERE

Oh, those crazy Drapers. They will never learn. The first season of Mad Men ended by leaving the Draper marriage on a very particular note. The last image of the season was Don sitting on the stairs of his empty home, wrapped in shadows, having missed the opportunity of spending Thanksgiving with his family. This last scene suggested that, no matter how bad he wanted it, or much he tried, Don’s inner nature would not let him connect with his family. But at the same time, it wasn’t a completely gloomy ending. The fact that Don was trying to change was a hopeful sign that the marriage wasn’t completely poisonous. So, when the second season starts, we see that, if nothing else, the Drapers are really trying to make their marriage work.

For much of the first season it was pretty clear that, despite the fact that Betty is an unbearably childish person, the person responsible for the problematic state of the Draper marriage was Don. He was the one who wasn’t willing to connect, to let his wife know about his past. It’s almost as if he didn’t have faith in the strength of the marriage, looking for mistresses and other passions in order to forget his problems. A particularly hard blow to Betty came in the last episodes of the first season, when she discovered that her husband had been phoning her analyst to hear whatever it was that she had talked about in therapy. And yet, when we see the Drapers together for the first time in season two, it’s on Valentine’s Day, as they are having a romantic evening in a fancy hotel. Said evening is lovely to a point, but it ends with Don suddenly being unable of having sex with his wife. A sour note that will hang over the Drapers for the rest of this season, and one that looms at the edges of their minds during “The Benefactor”.

This episode introduces us to another marriage that will be a very important part of season two: the Barretts. Jimmy Barrett (Patrick Fischler) is a comedian, who has been hired by Utz nuts to appear in a commercial. Jimmy sports a very tricky personality, and is incredibly hard to control. That is why, while filming the commercial, he makes an disastrously high number of fat jokes at the expense of the wife of Mr. Schilling, the owner of Utz. Sterling Cooper desperately wants Jimmy to apologize to the Schillings, so they send Don to clean up the mess. Don goes to the studio where the commercial is being filmed to talk to Jimmy, but finds Jimmy’s wife Bobbie (Melinda McGraw) instead. Bobbie is not only Jimmy’s wife, but also his manager. She is the only person who can control Jimmy. She is one strong woman, and she knows it. If she wants something, she reaches out and grabs it, which means that their first encounter ends with her making out with Don.

The most interesting question regarding Bobbie, is wondering how does Don feel about her. It is clear that he is trying to stay faithful to Betty, with that first encounter ending with Don pulling away from Bobbie, and pointing out that he is a married man. He calls Bobbie the next morning. Supposedly to arrange a dinner date so Jimmy can apologize to the Schillings, but we know he sees something in her. Don makes sure to point out that he is calling from his house, where he lives with his wife and children. Bobbie responds agrees, saying she too likes “being bad, going home, and being good”. The thing that intrigues him about Bobbie is most certainly how powerful she is, but I’m not entirely sure how he feels about it. Probably, because said feelings might be very conflicting.

Power attracts Don -let’s remember Rachel Menken from season one- and knowing what I do about him from later seasons, it seems like sexual relationships, to him, are a game of power. One of Don’s darkest moments come midway through the arranged dinner. Bobbie excuses herself to go to the bathroom, and Don follows her to confront her about the fact that Jimmy hasn’t apologized. Bobbie is not worried. She has looked at Jimmy’s contract with Utz, and they would have to pay him even if they fire him. He doesn’t have to apologize. Hearing this, Don grabs her hair, pushes her against the wall, and with a hand on her crotch, says he will end Jimmy’s career if he doesn’t apologize. Bobbie might have been a little turned on by this moment, but she is mostly frightened. And with good reason. It’s a very unsettling moment in which Don’s darkest, survivalist self comes out against her.

Meanwhile, the other half of the Draper marriage isn’t doing that much better. We know that Betty likes nothing more than being the object of men’s desires. She has captured the eye of a handsome novice rider at the country club, and despite the man coming out and revealing his feelings for her, Betty rejects him, going back to his family. We know that this moment rocks Betty’s world one way or another because we see her hands shaking as she walks away from the country club. It might not be easy for her, but she too is trying to keep her marriage going. Or at least that’s what it seems like at first. By the end of the episode, she has gone to the arranged dinner with Don, where she’s spent the whole night being flirted at by Jimmy Barrett. On the way home she starts crying, saying she is “so happy”. “When I said I wanted to be a pat of our life, this is what I meant”.

But what is the reason behind Betty’s overwhelming sobbing? What, about this dinner, has made her so happy? Could it be that she is so happy because she has just been flirted at by Jimmy Barrett in front of her husband? It wouldn’t be out of character for Betty to feel that way, but if that’s the case, the idea of cheating on her husband might turn out to not be enough for Betty, especially is Don is going to keep having affairs outside of their marriage.

Also in this Episode:
Harry Crane gets a subplot! And pretty good one too. He gets Ken Cosgrove’s check by mistake, and finds out he makes far less than Ken’s 300-a-week. Harry phones CBS and finds out about an episode of The Defenders that is having a hard time finding sponsors because the word “abortion” is said 30 times in 50 minutes. Harry thinks Belle Jolie lipstick would be a perfect sponsor for an episode of television that will surely be watched by young women. Belle Jolie doesn’t really bite the bait, but Harry’s gamble is impressive enough that it wins him a meeting in Roger Sterling’s office, where he gets a little raise, and becomes head of the television department, which consists of only him. It’s small, but a victory without a doubt, coming at a time when Harry was still a largely sympathetic character. So far his story-lines have revolved around him feeling terrible for cheating on his wife, and now trying to use his smarts to gain a raise to support his family.

Random Thoughts:

  • “So horrible to put girls that fat in leotard…” “She’ll outgrow it” “She did” There is quite a bit of fat humor in this episode. Including this conversation between Betty and her country club friend.
  • I would like to study the implications of the way Sal sharpens his pencil when Harry tells him how much he is paid.
  • “Of course not. I was mortified. You know my mom is heavyset” See? More fat humor, this time coming from Ken Cosgrove reacting to Jimmy Barrett’s horrible insults.
  • Don calls Ken and Freddy Rumsen “Leopold and Loeb“, but I don’t really know what he means by it. Leopold and Loeb, after all, are most famous for trying to commit the perfect crime.
  • That was Academy Award winner Nat Faxon playing the CBS executive Harry talks to on the phone.
  • “You’re so profoundly sad” “No, it’s just my people are nordic”. Betty is getting some of the best lines this season.
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