Episode 10: 'The Inheritance.' Or: The Motherlode

Talk about a Freudian gift: this episode demands all kinds of psychological analysis of Betty's father/husband/father/husband. (This is where John Huston comes in and slaps me on the cheek.) And Dr. Parker is in de houze!

  Certainly, the visit home to Betty's dad (a ringer for John McCain, btw!) goes a long way to explaining the young Mrs. Draper's seriously manipulative and schizoid nature -- how she can so easily turn on and off the switch, and keep Don jumping like a circus monkey.

A few weeks back, we had a commenter's thread about whether Betty could have ever been a call girl. I'm not sure she ever went that far, but I can certainly see how she developed her trademark shut-down monotone and facial mask. Am I the only one who got the sense that Betty was perhaps sexually molested as a child by her father? And even if dear old Gene never actually groped his golden daughter in her tender years, as he did right there in his own dining room, sitting next to his new wife, under cover of his growing dementia, it would seem at the very least that his "princess'' was the constant object of his affection, the one he increasingly turned to for admiration, as his wife "Ruthie" was "always with her brow in a knit." In turn, that sexual tension created a very sick triangle among the three of them. And Betty has already mentioned that her mother was critical of her weight, which would, in turn, make her do anything to keep being daddy's "princess."

After all, the episode shows that there is much truth-telling in dementia. (I think they tended to call the disease "hardening of the arteries" in the days before Dr. Alzheimer renamed it.)

During the visit, Don could not have played dutiful husband more patiently or gracefully, but the old man saw through it and the jig (saw puzzle) was up: "Who knows what he does or why he does it!'' Gene raged at Don. "I know more about the kid who fixes my car! ... Nobody has what you have, and you act like it's nothing!"

All very telling stuff for a demented guy, leading up to his most excruciating statement about his sometime son-in-law: "He has no people!" he cried, before being led into the next meal. "You can't trust a person like that!"

At first, I thought facing the horrors at the House of Denial, where Betty's dad and stepmom Gloria live in the semi-darkness, would be just the thing to bring Betty and Don back together, like two kid conspirators against a joint enemy. (What could be more brutal, banality or denial-wise, than Gloria's asking Don, "Did you take the turnpike?")

Mad Men Season 2/Episode 10 But it was not to be. I smell Emmy for January Jones after this tour de force performance in which Betty has more cycles than a Maytag. Lit up by her father's hello cry -- "It's an angel!" -- it's hard for her to let go. Thus, among the many poignant scenes was the one in which Betty, after being publicly groped by her father, excuses herself to the kitchen, and comes back after a few seconds the picture of serenity and control. In high spirits, she asks her "Daddy" if he'd like to finish the puzzle. He then suggests going into town to get a milkshake, and wifey responds, "That's a grand idea!" The amount of denial here was approaching Tennessee Williams territory.

Similarly, the scene in which she and Don wordlessly undress in her girlhood bedroom was genius. They're on parallel tracks, never even glancing at each other, and the sound of the aggressive unzipping and slipping out of clothing was like brilliant dialogue.

Betty seems to be recreating her own childhood by having the black maid Carla raise the kids. It would seem that the only reliable sounding board she had in her life growing up was the family maid, Viola. And Viola was the only one who acknowledges that her father is a sick man. In that whole crying interchange, I wasn't sure whether Betty was talking about her father or her husband.

We also got introduced to Betty's brother William, and it seems Betts' mom was not the only resentful person in the house. Shorter, not as good-looking, not as smart as his older sister (and by the way, the Drapers also have an older girl and a younger boy), brother William, a grown-up man in a suit, actually climbs out the window of his childhood home to go sit in the tree house and avoid being in the "tomb."

(So he hid in the treehouse, while Glenn hid in the Drapers' playhouse, and Pete Campbell went unhappily to his ancestral home, complaining how he hates the smell of the place. The episode was about playing house and what gets passed down, both literally and figuratively. Everyone wants to fly the coop, it seems -- or, as Glenn Bishop did, pack a flight bag and run away from home.)

Glenn is played amazingly by Matthew Weiner's son, Marten. And the parallel husband and wife relationship thatMad Men Season 2/Episode 10 Betty plays out with lovesick Glenn (in stark contrast to her sending Don home without a shower), including happily chowing down with the kid, and sitting on the couch, companionably drinking soda while they watch cartoons, was another tour de force, in both writing and acting.

I give Betty credit, though, for knowing that while nobody saved her from a sick relationship with an adult, she decided to save Glenn from a similar fate, and called his mom.

That led to the ultimate truth-telling scene: After lecturing Glenn's mother on abandoning him, Betty lets her guard down and tells Mrs. Bishop that Don no longer lives there. Bishop says the hardest part about being divorced is "realizing that you're in charge." That's a brilliant line, for a generation of women who were always taught to defer -- both their power and their feelings --to those of men.

Not surprisingly, the episode was also about hating your Mother -- in fact, Pete Campbell comes right out and tells Peggy that he hates his.

We've had quite a vibrant thread from commenters about Pete's caddish personality (I believe one guy called him a "scum bag weasel.") But given another visit with his Ice Queen Mother, we have more of an understanding of how he developed that way, even though the whole adoption scene ("You're picking up the discards") was similar to something that played out on "Sex in the City," when Charlotte's richey-rich WASP royalty mother-in-law said she would not allow a "Mandarin baby" in the house.

What is it with these people and using their money as a weapon? Anyway, with a mother like that, at least Pete comes to his social jerkiness honestly. The only way he knows how to get attention is to rat out other people or become a narcissistic martyr -- as he attempts to do with Peggy. And between them, of course, the whole unspoken backdrop of a "discard" baby weighs heavily.

Mad Men Season 2/Epsidode 10 There's way too much to mention in this episode: An office baby shower, in which Kinsey gets his comeuppance from Joan.

And then Kinsey goes on a Freedom Rider trip and babbles pretentiously (and wrongly) on the bus that advertising is color-blind.

And the overall excitement about a trip to LA was as palpable as it was in "I Love Lucy."

I loved the ending with Don shown on the plane, with the light moving over his face. "Sometimes I feel like I'll float away if Don isn't holding me down," Betty had confided in her divorced friend earlier. But just as she (who now worries about being an "orphan" like her husband) lit up from a backward-moving trip to see her father, and won't give up on him while throwing Don out once again, Don, by flying out to the jet propulsion show, seems to want to rocket himself into a whole new world. I fear for them both.

Tags: tv
Recommend (3) Print RSS
1 comment about "Episode 10: 'The Inheritance.' Or: The Motherlode".
  1. Randy Beck from Campbell Soup , February 19, 2009 at 8:53 a.m.

    OK, so obviously I'm lagging on this discussion because it's February and I'm just now watching my DVR'd episodes. That being the case, maybe no one will read this. However, I can't resist saying that no one is discussing what I think is another way of looking at the theme of this episode - DISAPPOINTMENTS.

    Think about it - the episode opens with DD being disappointed in Campbell and Kinsey for not reading Peggy's work on the rocket convention. From there, it's just one unexpected disappointment after another (not to mention the fact that the episode talks much about "orphans", which I believe are often inappropriately referred to as disappointments): Kinsey's girl is disappointed that he's going to Cali instead of with her, DD is disappointed in thinking that he gets to come home only to get kicked back out, Campbell's mom disappointed that her nest egg is gone, Bets disappointed that the vase is gone, Bets disappointed (yet again) by her father's actions and condition, Glenn disappointed that Bets turned him in, the list goes on....

    I'd be interested if anyone has any comments back. Thanks! Can't wait for next season!