POSTED BY STUART LEVINE (Cynthia's thoughts below)
In this "Mad Men" episode titled “The Inheritance,” it isn’t so much the money that’s been left from generation to generation, but the mental trauma and screwed up parenting that leaves a lasting legacy.
For the first time, To start we get a very revealing glimpse of Betty’s family as her father, Gene, has suffered a second stroke — though, it turns out, Betty didn’t even know about the earlier one. Upon hearing the news in a latenight phone conversation, Don convinces Betty to be with her when she visits her family, but once they arrive it’s obvious why they would never come to visit on a regular basis.
While Betty’s mother died a while back, her stepmom is a cold, emotionless fish who doesn’t even attempt to have a relationship with her stepkids. Don looks at this family and finds it hard to imagine how someone could’ve grown up in a house so sterile and without feeling, though her mom was probably much more nurturing. It forces Don to have a better sense of who Betty is and how’s she gotten there.
Playing a charade that their still happily married, Betty and Don sleep in the same room but Betty immediately lets it be known that Don will be sleeping on the floor. Then, in the middle of the night, she wakes him up in a desire to have sex.
How should that be interpreted? Was she just “in the mood” or is there a part of her that can’t let Don go, an inner feeling that he should be forgiven and that they can go on with their lives as if he was never caught having several affairs.
But how about the theory that Betty is using him as he has done to all his mistresses. She makes love to him and then tosses him aside the very next morning, not waiting for him to get up and showing no affection when they see each other at the kitchen table. It’s confusing to him and he’s not sure exactly what to make of it.
Gene is clearly suffering from Alzheimer’s, even though nobody wants to use that word — it’s possibly he wasn’t diagnosed with it and doctors are just using the stroke as a reason for his lapses in memory and cognition. Specifically, when he reaches for Betty’s breast, thinking that she was his wife, it was frightfully alarming to Betty, who really sees her father slipping away.
In another instance of unfeeling mothers, Pete’s mom doesn’t even look at her son when he kisses her hello. The temperature of that room, where Pete and his brother are signing papers dealing with their inheritance over their recently deceased father (he died in the American Airlines plane crash), is so cold you could hang meat.
The only time she reacts to what Pete says is when he hints that she’s got no money left, and he leaves it to his brother to tell her the bad news that they’ve sold her real estate holdings for cash. This was right after she’s learned that Pete and Trudy are considering adopting, and that if that happens, he’ll be left without a cent. He despises her for the comment, but smartly doesn’t continue the conversation and tells her it’s not up for discussion.
Her crack that raising an adopted child is “pulling from the discards” might just be the nastiest, but well-written, line I’ve heard in a long time. It goes to show how grotesquely callous Pete’s mother is, even to her own flesh and blood.
Without knowing where Matt Weiner is going, one could make an assumption that Peggy will reveal to Pete that he is the father of her baby, and therefore he would get all family monies due him. The news will kill his marriage, of course, but Pete’s affection for Trudy has often seemed tenuous at best, and this may give him a way out.
The last 15 minutes of the episode focused on Betty’s relationship with Glen (played exceptionally well by Weiner’s son, Marten), and as we watch Betty sit on the couch and focus on the cartoons, it’s obvious the two are on the same emotional level. Betty is much older in years but the two connect in an unspoken way that’s shockingly sincere. She treats him better than she does her own children, and she’s flattered by his affection.
She realizes it’s necessary to call his mom, Helen, and let her know that Glen’s OK, but she feels and understands his rage when he tells her, “I hate you.” Of all the people in Betty’s world, Glen understands her better than anyone, as she acts as his surrogate mom. He’s interested in her in a way that Don never has, and Betty’s so grateful for the attention, even if it comes from an elementary school student.
When Helen comes to Betty to discuss the situation, the often reserved Betty suddenly opens up about her separation from Don, thinking that since Helen is a divorcee she would understand. She does, and now the whole ordeal feels more out in the open to Betty. She’s relieved by not suffering alone anymore.
Other thoughts while wondering if Harry Crane really thought wearing a baby’s bonnet was a good idea:
-- How much work could that secretary have been getting done while a guy was sitting on her lap and groping her after the party?
-- Joan has a real mean streak in her as she loved telling Paul that he wasn’t going to California. The two have a history together and, obviously, it didn’t end well.
-- Paul tries to make himself look good by telling Sheila that he’s going to Mississippi because he wants to be with her, when he’s only going because his trip was canceled.
-- Gene’s comment to Don, “He has no people. You can’t trust a person like that” cut Don to the bone.
-- In reaction to seeing Betty constantly smoke, her stepmom says, “It gives you wrinkles.” Right now and in the future bad skin is the least of Betty’s worries.
As is often the case, it's the little things in "Mad Men" that kill me. In the case of "The Inheritance" it was the use of one of the great surf instrumental hits of all time, "Telstar" by the Tornados, in the closing moments as Don wings his way to L.A.
(For the record, I'm compelled to point out that the bulk of NASA's famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory is not technically in Pasadena but just north of my home town in La Canada Flintridge. La Canada-ers, a snooty bunch by nature, get awfully fussy when Pasadena claims JPL as its own, which it can because JPL uses a Pasadena address, probably for simplicity's sake.)
As is always the case on this show, the music selection informs the scene. There are a lot of surf instrumentals that could have been used to invoke Don's trek across the country to the land of Beach Blanket Bingo. But only the meticulous "Mad Men" would pick a hit from 1962, of course, that invokes the Cold War, the arms race and those cool matching suits and tres skinny ties that were the uniform of surf bands of the day.
Telstar, of course, was the name of the first active communications satellite ever sent up into space, in 1962, natch, and it was the source of much teeth-gnashing in this country because it wasn't sent up by the U.S. of A but rather the Soviet Union (remember them?). It helped instigate the insanity of the arms race between the superpowers, because JFK et al couldn't stand the idea that those godless Communists were ahead of us on anything. After last week's episode I started thinking about how this show might deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and now I'm convinced that nuclear angst is in the offing for these characters.
Anyway, it wasn't until I heard "Telstar" in the scene and looked at Draper's face that I started to think that maybe Don's mulling of a permanent move to L.A. Remember how he wanted to just run away with Rachel Menken? But again, the song selection seems to indicate that nothing's going to come easy to Don. And call me crazy but I still think Don and Betty are heading for a reconciliation, of some kind (and one that's longer than the roll on the floor they had against the backdrop of her Raggedy Ann dolls in this seg).
The scenes in Betty's family home were uniformly terrific. I felt so uncomfortable. And it's interesting to learn of her connection to the longtime family housekeeper Viola. But the lingering shot of Betty and Glen on the couch watching cartoons took squeamishness to new heights on this show. For a few seconds there I had no idea what either character was going to do. That's great television.
BTW, the comic books Glen had would probably be worth a fortune today. Metal Men! The conversation between Betty and Glen's mom Helen was as cutting to both of them as it was revealing to viewers. Betty's line about feeling like she might just "float away" without Don "holding me down" spoke volumes, as did Helen's line about the hardest part being the realization that "you're in charge."
Once again, my heart goes out to Sally Draper. Poor kid. Somehow I suspect she was eavesdropping on her mom and Helen.
Nice work from Vincent Kartheiser in this seg.