Mad Men Season 3, Episode 9: "Wee Small Hours" - Recap

I'm not sure that any other episode of Mad Men has so aptly represented the metaphor that the series' opening credits display each week as well as "Wee Small Hours." In the space of a few frames, Don goes from being Conrad Hilton's angel to being yet another son who has let him down. His perfect campaign is spit on, and the floor opens up right beneath him. Leave it to Roger Sterling to kick a man while he's down, as Don takes the blame when Sterling Cooper's other largest client finds fault with how his business is being managed. And with La Dolce Betty a distant memory (all she can think about is her new pen pal), Don does what he's always done when the chips are stacked against him: He cheats. Guess he really means it when he tells his staff of copywriters that he can't do this all by himself.

The episode divides those who generally get their way from those who are exasperated in the process of trying to deliver what their counterparts want. As already mentioned, Don can't give Connie the moon. Sal's unwillingness to let bully Lee Garner, Jr. have his way with him has serious consequences. And Henry Francis can't be Betty's lover because... well, because Betty can't decide if that's even what she wants. Let's start with Betty, who after last week's powerhouse performance, delivered this episode's least compelling story line.

"But I do have thoughts. I suppose I wonder too much where you are and what you're doing. I wish I had a clearer picture of you in my mind." - Betty Draper

The episode opens with Betty dreaming of being caressed on her fainting couch. The man is faceless, but if there's any doubt of who is on Betty's mind, she erases it when she begins corresponding with Henry Francis. (Of course, she only does so after making sure his secretary wouldn't read his mail anymore. Betty's no dummy.) Henry is, however. He drops by in the middle of the day, sending Betty into a fit of both nervous excitement and panic. Carla catches Betty with a strange man in the house, and despite Henry's lie about wanting to host a fundraiser for the governor's campaign, Carla knows something is going on. Betty is then forced to follow through with the fundraiser, but secretly can't wait to see Henry again.

But on the night of the fundraiser, Henry is nowhere to be found. He sends someone in his place, and the anger/disappointment on Betty's face is unmistakable. She drives to Henry's office to deliver the campaign contributions, and throws the coin box at him in her anger. (Did anyone else think the score behind the car ride to Henry's office was way over the top in melodrama?) Henry says Betty had to come to him -- not out of ego, but because Betty is married. As I suggested last week, Betty is calling the shots in this situation, even if it is Henry who initiates the kisses and shows up at the Draper house. Betty gets the final word, and on this day, that final word is no. She won't act out her dreams on Henry's desk or even in a motel room. (She prefers bar offices and rooms in Rome.) She is just like baby Gene: She wants what she wants when she wants it, and Henry may be just a day too late.

"It would depend on what kind of girl it was and what I knew about her. You people." - Don Draper

Some commenters last week gave the impression that I was being too hard on Betty. Given the other night's episode, I don't think I was, but perhaps I was too easy on Don. He's reminded us a few times this season what a complete bastard he is, mostly in his dealings with Peggy, but tonight in his handling of Sal's delicate situation. When Lucky Strike heir Lee Garner, Jr. wants Sal to be the dessert of his "long, wet lunch," Sal turns him down. Lee pretends to respect Sal's boundaries, but then goes behind his back to ask Harry Crane to fire Sal. Bonehead Harry does nothing.

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