“Shoot” is a Betty Draper-centric episode, and one that humanizes her and allows us to sympathize with her perhaps more than at many other points in the series.
A series of incidents lead up to the moment when Don and Betty share a dinner of casserole and red wine. It’s a quiet scene where if you’re not careful you miss a lot, and maybe even everything: each and every line of dialog is imbued with complexity – truths, half-truths, lies told to oneself or to the other. It’s the kind of conversation that happens between people who have had an intimate relationship over some long period of time. There’s a degree of maintaining the status quo, there’s that part where one and perhaps both are selling themselves on what they’re saying as much as they’re selling it to the other, and there’s the part of playing the role you feel you’re “supposed” to play.
Betty tells Don that she’s not going to work anymore, that she’s giving up her renewed interest in the modeling career that she abandoned many years ago when she and Don were first dating. The truth is that she was let go from the Coca-Cola campaign gig because Don turned down the offer to join Coke’s agency, McCann Erickson. Betty was hired by Jim Hobart of McCann as part of the attempt to lure Don over to his firm, which has little to do with the fact that Betty nonetheless seems ideal for what the modeling gig calls for (she being a “dead ringer” for Grace Kelly).
When Betty tells Don that she doesn’t want to work anymore, she’s mourning the opportunity she gave up to marry him, and perhaps more pointedly she’s giving up any attempt for the time being to “escape” the suburban isolation we see her suffering through silently much of the time. Don for his part is relieved that Betty will return to her regular wifely duties but all the same seems genuinely concerned – a rarity for him – about her happiness.
Perhaps that’s because we see a Betty in this episode that is far happier and optimistic than at any point before or since over the course of four seasons. She’s elated at the opportunity to work, to be noticed, to be taken seriously, to matter outside the square footage of the house in Ossining. When that is pulled away from her, it’s a little bit heartbreaking. Further complicating matters is that Don knows he had a hand in ending Betty’s ambitions – he opted instead for a hefty pay raise at Sterling Cooper and the security of the “mom and pop” firm that he can work for with no contract. In essence Don does care about Betty and is happy when she’s happy, but in the end is unwilling to do anything truly significant to ensure that she’s fulfilled. To be fair, he assumes that a big house and two children and the wonderful person that is Don Draper should be more than enough for anyone’s fulfillment. But we know what they say about assumptions.
Meanwhile, it seems likely that Betty believes most of what she tells Don, at least on the surface: she doesn’t want to run around town like a foolish teenager with her “book,” getting around New York City by yourself can be “harsh,” and so on.
But she hasn’t connected all the dots. And so what feels good to her is to head out into the backyard with a BB gun and take out some of the neighbor’s pigeons. Don has booze and mistresses and bohemian drug parties to let off a little steam , after all, so could he really blame her?
As we wait for the arrival of Season Five, currently scheduled to premiere in early 2012, stay tuned to TV Geek Army all summer long to get your Mad Men fix. Here we take a look at a key series moment from Season One, Episode Nine: “Shoot.”