Mad Women: Unhappy Thanksgiving

The title of Sunday night's Mad Men was "Dark Shadows," but let's call it by its more colloquial name. This episode was about that darkest of dysfunctional family holidays, the one with the turkey.

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The title of Sunday night's Mad Men was "Dark Shadows," but let's call it by its more colloquial name. It was about that darkest of dysfunctional family holidays, the one with the turkey: Thanksgiving. Our episode begins with the sad suburban sight of Fat Betty, who's slightly less fat now (she's going to Weight Watchers, we find out), weighing her sad suburban breakfast in her sad suburban kitchen. She sits down with her grapefruit, her burned-looking toast, and her cubes of cheese, and starts to chew, deliberately, possibly counting. God, it's depressing...but is anyone really happy in this episode? Even Roger was bummed out in the end, and maybe not just for the sake of appearances! Dark shadows, yes, but also, it's Thanksgiving.

Pete Campbell starts off the agency morning on a high note, with the promise of a New York Times Sunday magazine profile. It's to be a profile on "hip agencies," which would really boost all of them, wouldn't it? Bert Cooper interrupts Roger in his lair to tell him that a new business pitch to Manischewitz requires his "finesse" (and his "Semitic wife," aka Jane, regardless of the fact the couple are divorcing). Roger turns to Ginsberg to give him some ideas for Manischewitz, explaining they want to make wine for "normal people" too, now; Ginsberg tells Roger "You wipe your ass with this much cash" to get more out of him for the secret work that he doesn't really keep secret. And old Don feels like he's been out of the world of ad-writing for too long and wants to step back in. He stumbles upon some of Ginsberg's work for Sno Ball (kept in a folder called "Shit I Gotta Do") and decides to craft his own, which he pitches at the next meeting. Ginsberg, not all that impressed, responds, "It's just damn impressive you could not write so long and come up with this."

At the Draper's apartment, Megan is teaching Sally to fake-cry: "Just keep ‘em [your eyes] wide open and think about stuff that makes you sad," she tells the girl. After the crying lesson, Sally prepares to put together her family tree for a class project. Betty comes to the apartment to pick up the kids, but you know (and Megan knows) she really just wants to snoop around the apartment, and as she looks around, she sees Megan, physically perfect, not having to weigh her food or go to Weight Watchers meetings, in her bra. The kids are handed over, Betty returns home to her refrigerator, takes a can of Reddi-wip from the fridge, and, like a teenage boy, squirts it right into her mouth. Then she runs to the counter and spits it out. Oh, Betty. Later at Weight Watchers we're reminded that thin people have bad weeks too, and Betty admits a "trying experience" in an unfamiliar place, but she managed to lose half a pound regardless. Pats on the back all around.

Back at the apartment Megan runs lines with an auditioning friend, and we learn that the Drapers live at 73rd and Park. The friend is pissed that Megan has it so easy up there in her throne, while the rest of them have to work and wait tables between auditions. Megan, while she doesn't say it, clearly doesn't feel like she has it so easy, necessarily.

Then we're in the kitchen with Betty and Henry, who is making steak and concerned about his job, which he says is dead end: Lindsay won't run, he's bet on the wrong horse. Betty reassures Henry that she's thinking about him, she's there to take care of him, and they'll figure it out. He feeds her a bite of steak; she sighs. In other couplings, Jane agrees to go to dinner with Roger and Manischewitz as long as he gets her a new apartment. The one she lives in now has too many painful memories, she says. Plus, Roger's mom is her landlord.

In a flash, back at the office, there's Beth Dawes, Pete's onetime fling, the train-buddy's wife. She's wearing a fur coat and little else, and says, “I missed you... I forgot about you, and then I saw you in the New York Times Sunday magazine.” (Happens all the time!) This is a daydream, though; poor Pete is getting desperate. It also means it's not the last we've seen of the femme fatale-esque Beth character, I'm willing to bet. 

Betty's checking homework at the kitchen table with Sally and the boys and stumbles upon a note from Don to Megan: "Lovely Megan, I went to buy a lightbulb, when I get back, I’ll see you better”—and she is incensed, jealous beyond belief, and so does what Betty does: She tells Sally about Anna Draper, Don's first wife, saying she's surprised that Don and Megan hadn't told Sally already. Sally is shocked, and later at Don's apartment, confronts Megan, telling her she's a phony. Sally Draper is tough as nails! Megan, who Betty doesn't know already knows about Anna, explains that Anna and Don "got married to help each other, and never had babies." Sally asks, with venom, as Megan gets up to go to the other room, "Are you going to make yourself cry?"

Then there's the showdown between Betty, Megan, and Don, even though Betty is back at a Weight Watchers meeting, unable to lose more weight. Megan tells Don what Sally asked; Don picks up the phone to call Betty, and Megan says, "If you call her you’re giving her exactly what she wanted, the thrill of having poisoned us from 50 miles away." Don sets down the phone, because Megan's right, looking, actually, rather tearful. Sunday comes and Pete calls to tell Don that the agency isn't mentioned in the Times piece; Don tells him not to wake him up to throw Pete's own failures in his face. Then Don explains to Sally that her mother doesn't care about her, and just wants to hurt Megan and Don (ouch). Sally apologizes to Megan. This tension, however, is not over.

Peggy's pissed at Roger for giving Manischewitz work to Ginsberg instead of her, and tells him she's sick of people thinking that copywriters have to "be" their client in order to do good work. Roger doesn't get it and asks if they're married. But maybe he does sort of get it, because he points out that Peggy's not exactly selfless, either, and "It’s every man for himself!" 

The bitchiness quotient goes sky high, with Sally out-Bettying her own mother, telling her calmly that of course she asked Don and Megan about Anna Draper and they explained everything, no big deal, "they spoke very fondly of her." Betty is internally ever so burned up about this, though she tries not to show it until Sally leaves the room. Jane shows up at the Manischewitz dinner where she flirts with the client's son. Peggy asks the guys at the agency if she's the only one "who can work and drink at the same time." Don leaves Ginsberg's Sno Ball pitch in the cab so he can pitch his own. And Pete tells Howard, who's planning to spend as much time as possible with his "girl" before he's trapped with the family for Thanksgiving, that he'll just go to Howard's house and screw his wife instead. Howard laughs and says "Good luck with that."

More confrontations ensue: Ginsberg, learning that Don left his pitch in the cab, tells him that he feels bad for him, and that he has a million ideas (Don, it would seem, has fewer). Don squashes the upstart, saying "I don't think about you at all." Meanwhile, Roger has insisted on coming up to Jane's new apartment, where the two spend the night together. The next day, though, Jane is pissed: Roger's ruined everything again. "You get everything you want," she says, "and you still had to do this." Roger says, "I don't know why I did that, I feel terrible." Does he? He almost seems to mean it.

It's finally Thanksgiving, and Megan is cooking. Her friend got the part she'd auditioned for, but the air outside is toxic: There's a smog emergency (this is a true story, with smog blamed for some 168 deaths in New York City over Thanksgiving in 1966). At the Francis dinner table, the family is gathered and giving thanks. Betty says, "I’m thankful that I have everything I want and that no one else has anything better," as she starts the slow, deliberate process of chewing every bite on her plate. Dark times.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.