Episodes #6: Mad Men Special, The Grown-Ups (Season 3, Episode 12)

Following on the tails of the extraordinarily confrontational episode The Gypsy and the Hobo, season 3’s The Grown-Ups is the explosive fallout of Betty Draper’s discovery of Don’s true identity as Dick Whitman, and emphasises a crucial turning point in the history of the show. In the previous episode The Gypsy…, Betty challenges Don to explain the circumstances and truth behind his identity theft, and his subsequent display of emotion and vulnerability perhaps takes her aback, and results in them patching up their differences after baring soulful truths to one another. Never mind that Don was planning on running away with his daughter’s teacher and mistress who sits patiently in the car while a row for the ages ensues in the Draper residence, as by the end of the episode it seems that the pair have somewhat rededicated themselves to one another now that the ultimate lie of Don’s has been revealed.

With all this palpable and potentially volatile drama overshadowing Draper-ville, the penultimate episode of the season The Grown-Ups indicates a substantial change in direction for the show, and is definitely one of the more notable for its decisive events and their effects on the characters. Moreover, framed by the Kennedy assassination, The Grown-Ups is clearly destined to be one of the more momentous of episodes, the historical ground-shaking of the real world event being a device for an introspection of characters’ desires, motivations and relationships in what is obviously a pivotal moment in history. Thankfully utilising the assassination ahead of the finale, The Grown-Ups allows us insight into its effects on the characters, and allows the tragedy time to breathe and play upon the scenarios in the season, keeping it as self-contained and efficient as previous seasons.

Playing off the emotional weight of the Kennedy assassination, the revelations of the previous episodes and seasons of complex marital and emotional relations, Betty uses the tragedy to vent all her frustrations on Don, the Lee Harvey Oswald murder of the evening indicating a chaos that Betty fears will aid her drowning in the sea of Don’s lies. Betty is lost in the political commotion that took place in Texas in 1963, but far more lost between the man she thought Don Draper was and the man she now knows Dick Whitman is. Similarly, Don had seemingly gone through a period of transgression over the course of the season, becoming much more affected by the people and events surrounding him, Betty’s discovery unmasking the vulnerable man beneath the swaggering, philandering ad man. In this sense, The Grown-Ups is a compelling culmination of three seasons’ worth of emotional suffering for the characters, and by the time Betty tells Don she doesn’t love him anymore, you are emotionally exhausted in the most effective of ways. Though Don believes her words are inspired by the tragedies of the day, Don is crippled by the crumbling of his marriage and the figure he cuts here anticipates his descent into depression and loneliness that is to follow in season 4.

The other characters are affected too, as the Kennedy assassination mars the wedding day of Roger’s daughter in what turns out to be a massive debacle due to many of the guests not attending the ceremony due to the situation involving the president. The wedding itself raised problems between Roger and his daughter as well as between Roger and his wife Jane, as a result of being caught in the middle between biological daughter and her young step-mother. While the relationship with his daughter is appeased by episode end, the emotional toll of the significant historical event leads Roger to reach out to his long-term love interest Joan instead of his wife, and suggests that the assassination has made both take stock of their relationship and their own personal happiness, again foreshadowing what is to come in season 4.

All in all, the episode is a particularly taxing one which stirs the emotional strings of the audience. The backlash that rains down on Don as a result of Betty’s discovery of the kind of things she always subconsciously avoided combined with her loss of stability in the absurd, chaotic scenes in Texas are cataclysmic for their relationship, and The Grown-Ups signifies the beginning of the end of the first definitive era of Mad Men. Relationships are confused in terms of Roger and Joan and utterly mutilated in the case of Don and Betty in what is ultimately an emotionally draining and morose interrogation of adult relationships in the harrowing moonlight of the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination that would affect a generation permanently. In this sense, on that day on November 22nd 1963, the world was unalterably changed forever, and The Grown-Ups exists as a precursor that the Mad Men universe would also never be the same again.

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~ by jrhett on March 21, 2012.

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