Fat Betty Was Mad Men’s Most Genius Idea

And five other takeaways from season five.

Just when I was getting used to having that dreamy, complex bastard, Don Draper, back in my life, he’s gone again. I confess that when Mad Men finally returned, I was underwhelmed. It seemed slow; we had to put so many pieces back together after so long. It was like seeing your very best friends from high school 20 years later, then realizing that, once you got through the “Oh. My. God.” hello’s and hugfest, you didn’t have much to say to each other anymore because too much time had passed. Reworking the connections is taxing, and who needs that with a TV show?

Right out of the gate, the “Zou Bisou Bisou” debacle concerned me. I was worried that Megan and Don would turn into a cliched plot, another standard midlife-crisis-relationship-gone-wrong story with a predictable outcome. It turns out that their dysfunction transcends cliche. Thank god. I should know better than to expect cliche from the man who also helped birth Tony Soprano.

So, let’s discuss. I’ll tell you what I think, and then you clog up the comments section with what you think. Feel free to disagree. This is only one woman’s opinion.

1. I can’t be the only one who sees Tony Soprano in Don Draper. Though Don exists in a different walk of life, he’s a white-collar gangster. Are they not two of the most malignantly immoral protagonists in the history of protagonists? Sometimes they go into remission, but most of the time they’re terminally depraved. A very Sopranoesque sequence was when Don dismissively threw money in Peggy’s face and told her to go to Paris, even though she was the one who saved the account and deserved to go to Paris. An episode later she resigns, and he takes her hand and kisses it. Can anyone describe the kiss? My take: not exactly paternal, not exactly romantic, perhaps remorseful because he’s losing one of the few people who grounds him.

2. Cool Joan is a hot mess. There isn’t a bra with enough hooks to contain all of her new foibles. Awkward Moment of the Season Award is her staying in the partners’ meeting as a partner, not a secretary. Even the extraneous characters are impeccably played against her, like Herb, the hairy Jaguar douche. Couldn’t you feel his wormy fingers when he put the emerald necklace on her? Joan’s mother, also a peripheral character, is perfectly and superbly annoying and dumb. The placement of her in this season subtly reveals more about Joan; her mother is who Joan doesn’t want to become, a woman who depends on the attention of men for her survival.

3. Fat Betty was genius. She could have easily been written in as pregnant, since January Jones really was. Betty’s bossy husband, Henry, would be all for having her barefoot and tied down, but wasn’t it better to see her cheat on her cigarette diet and binge her way right under her covers?

4. Roger is supposed to be the cliche, and isn’t he the best? Only a man-hack like Roger could trip on acid and manipulate his wife at the same time. His interlude with Megan’s mother at the advertising awards dinner (as seen by Sally) is classic man whore. Can you think of a better-played player than Roger?

5. Sally under the settee. The best example yet of why the self-absorbed Drapers should’ve remained childless is their daughter snowed on sleeping pills and passed out under a piece of furniture. Poor Sally became a woman, just as she was learning that most of the adults in her life are crackpots.

6. Peter is a prick. This isn’t a revelation. He’s been an arrogant, condescending, frat boy since season one, but this season he’s outdone himself. It’s not just the pimping, the hookers, and his general failure to take responsibility for his my-life-isn’t-what-I-thought-it-would-be crisis, but the true declaration of his cowardice was when he left Lane’s body in the noose. Peter is best at making everything about him.

Sort of like the premiere, the finale was vague and loose, and I think this was intentional. Mad Men doesn’t subscribe to a formula plot that’s always leaving us on the edge of our seats. Instead, the story is told through finely nuanced characters and how they constantly grapple with their insecurities and disappointments with themselves and others.

What now on Sunday nights? Definitely not summer TV. I’d rather play Bananagrams with my dog.