Episodes #5: Mad Men Special, The Inheritance (Season 2, Episode 10)

The second season representative in this set of Mad Men special editions of Episodes is the tenth instalment titled The Inheritance. The episode is fundamentally crucial to the on-going narrative of the drama series, and bears several key moments that have severe and significant ramifications that remain pertinent through the end of season 3 and beyond. At its position in the season, The Inheritance proves inherently vital for setting the stage ahead of the climax of season 2, and the chain of events that follow justifies its role as one of the more effective and impressive foundation-laying episodes in modern television.

The general theme of the episode surrounds the discovered infidelity of Don with a famous New York comedian’s wife and Betty’s reaction to it. Having suffered through the first season’s catalogues of affairs and presumably prior to that, Betty has finally reached a point where she has had enough of Don’s philandering ways and is keen to remove him from her life in search of a more happier existence. Kicking Don out of the family home in an earlier episode being sparked by a particularly fraught argument in A Night to Remember, it is obvious that Betty is determined to rid from her life the one source that makes her most miserable with the separation seeming to hit Don much harder than his spouse. However, the timing couldn’t be much worse, as a cruel twist of fate sees Betty’s father suffer a heart attack, forcing Betty and Don having to play happy families for the sake of the former’s relatives.

The tip of the iceberg arrives as despite Don’s intention to sleep on the floor in the bedroom, Betty uses the emotional opportunity to seduce Don for her own sexual needs in her hour of vulnerability, before promptly shutting down his optimistic hopes that the couple were back together again in the morning. In this episode, Betty has come out fighting and is lashing out at her surroundings in any way she sees fit, underlined by her telling Don how their relationship is and shouting over an indignant Helen over Betty’s interaction with the former’s son Glenn later in the episode. Here, Betty is in control for the first time, yet again her momentary selfish assurances towards reaching her own desires are sabotaged by her rendezvous with Don, as the script forces them back together through the conception of a new child on this night, a plot twist we see unravel through the rest of the season and is key to the drama during the course of the next season.

Elsewhere, efforts are made to make Pete Campbell a likeable secondary character and neatly balances the heavy drama of Betty’s unfortunate family reunion and the ill-advised moment with Don as Pete morosely comes to terms with the prospect of flying out to California for business purposes in the face of his own father’s death earlier in the season. Long-time Pete sympathiser Peggy is on call to help him through the sombre circumstances and is a call-back to their first season relationship which for the most part is background noise this season in place of Peggy dealing with her and Pete’s child. Also the trip is indicative of an interesting side-story with some fun scenes such as Pete’s discussion with his brother at his mother’s house and a way to feed into the main story, with Don barging in on the California trip to symbolically end the bond between him and Betty by episode end in what is truly effective and efficient story-telling.

Overall, the episode has a distinct focus on the central story of the impending demise of Betty and Don’s relationship while also being important for the seeds it sows in the foreshadowing field with the twist of Betty’s conception doing much to propel the drama of the series for the following season and beyond. Also, the episode is fascinating in a manner that Mad Men excels at in that the coding of The Inheritance makes it mean so much more from a thematic aspect. While a large amount of focus lies on Betty taking control of her life and her marriage with Don, a substantial portion of the episode says a lot about what family means in a society with shifting ideologies. A lot of what makes the 60s such a compelling period for this generation to tell stories about is that it says a great deal about ourselves and our history due to notable winds of change in the formation of the modern family and attitudes towards the taboo subject of divorce. Today the term divorce means almost literally nothing in its growth in the modern day, so a time when divorce is so dangerous is appealing in that is makes us re-examine our own perceptions of concepts of the family and attempts to understand the previous generation. There is a disconnect between Pete and his father, Betty and her father and also Betty’s father and Don for the former’s lack of trust over Don’s absence of ‘people’ or family. What makes this such an impactful and compelling piece of TV to dissect is that it essentially underlines the father issues of the characters as a metaphor for the discord between generations, with the understanding of divorce and separation from Betty’s father’s era to Don’s generation to the audience’s representation in the current generation acting as a cross-sectional evaluation of the evolution of society. In this sense, The Inheritance is a prime example of what Mad Men does best, in that it utilises its incredibly well-drawn characters to say far more about its audience than any of its peers on television today and does so with such an unforgiving and blunt honesty.

 

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~ by jrhett on March 19, 2012.

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