Two Guys, a Girl and a TV Set

Three college friends out in the world, filling the void with television…and loving it.

The Gypsy and the Hobo (Mad Men S3:E11)

Posted by Christopher Moltisanti on October 28, 2009

What is love? It’s a simple, yet virtually unanswerable question. Is it signaled by romantic euphoria, the kind felt on, say, a trip to Rome or a dalliance in Paris? Is it the willingness to go to any lengths to prove devotion? Is it the ability to withstand societal criticism? Or is it rooted in honesty and complete understanding of another? These are the questions posed by one of the most tension-filled and powerful Mad Men episodes yet, though, in classic Mad Men fashion, none of those questions are as simple as they seem.

don-betty-IMG_1977500x338

Betty, meet Dick Whitman

Roger and Annabelle’s fling wasn’t as Casablanca-esque as she wants to remember it. Greg joins the Army ostensibly to make Joan happy, but he’s beaming more because of his satisfaction with himself than anything else. And though Don and Betty are closer than ever before after his massive revelations, lies remain. The Army didn’t “make a mistake.” Dick stole the real Don’s identity in an act of cowardice that he can’t bear to face. And his daughter’s teacher is waiting in the car for him. So, in many ways, this episode about the many faces of love is about the immense difficulty of actually realizing it.

And that’s where the title comes in. Don, the hobo, and Suzanne, the gypsy, represent the fleeting nature of love, and, in a way, serve as a larger statement about how we all live — in search of moments of satisfaction, happiness, contentment and even euphoria. The sustainability of those emotions is what eludes us.

Dramatically, the episode was pitch perfect. The extended Don and Betty confrontation echoes the infamous Tony and Carmela “White Caps” battle in season four of The Sopranos. Though less visceral than the latter, this is the most raw and open Don and Betty have been with each other — and, for that matter, as they’ll probably ever be with each other. Jon Hamm may have finally won his Emmy with this performance. He shows the doe-eyed fear of Dick Whitman (which contrasts sharply with the cool, calm and collected self-assuredness he projects each day as Don Draper) the moment Betty pulls out the box. And when he talks about Adam, it’s heartbreaking.

But, it’s interesting to note that Don/Dick’s revelations turned into more of a therapy session for him than vindication for Betty. Similarly, Roger didn’t turn Annabelle down just because he’s in love with Jane. He also wanted the satisfaction of refusing the woman who broke his heart. And we’ve already mentioned Greg. Still, that’s not to say that none of these characters were driven by love and affection. They were. Motives are complex and confused things–for Mad Men characters and for real people.

In short, this was one of the landmark episodes of the series.

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