It took us a season and change, but ladies and gents, it’s time to dig into some Fitzgerald.
Feels like Gatzby should have made its way into the plot by now, but I’ll take a short story. Let’s do it.
In S2E03 (The Benefactors) Arthur Chase (the hunky young horse rider Betty flirts with played by Gabriel Mann) says to Betty after a day of riding:
“You know the Scott Fitzgerald story “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz?” Her house is a slightly smaller version of my high school, and I realized why she was so happy all the time and she was so angry when she didn’t get what she wanted.”
(Arthur’s talking about his fiancee).
“All girls are like that,” Betty responds.
Arthur is sure, as all men are in these situations, he knows what Betty is thinking, and that Better must want him. Betty, Arthur “knows,” is not like that.
Betty snaps back, “You don’t know me.”
Arthur says she’s “so profoundly sad.”
“You’re wrong. I’m grateful.”
It’s a classic Betty rebuff. She may want Arthur, but she’s strong and loyal and will sacrifice herself for her image, for her family, for what others will think of her.
She also hates when people tell her who she is and what she wants. You know, like real people do. Arthur is gross.
Speaking of gross.
Compare Betty’s rebuff to Don’s pathetic “don’t” a couple scenes earlier in his car with Bobbie Barrett. One is in control, one cannot control himself. Don sleeps with Bobbie. Betty doesn’t even kiss Arthur.
An episode later (S2E04, Three Sundays) Betty is reading Fitzgerald’s Babylon Revisited and Other Stories. “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz” is in this collection. She is intrigued by Arthur’s reading tastes at least.
Let’s look at the book.
It’s a very fun, strange, interesting fantasy story centred on themes Fitzgerald loves: immoral uber-wealthy Americans, narcissism, strange and complicated love affairs and a dramatic and tragic denouement.
Here’s a basic summary: John T. Unger moves from “Hades” (a small town on the Mississippi River) to go to a Massachusetts prep school where he meets Percy Washington who brags about his amazing wealth. Unger goes to the Washington’s diamond-studded palace in the Montana mountains where the slave-owning patriarch – Braddock T. Washington – violently protects the residence and its diamond mountain from being discovered. (an ancestor convinced the slaves he brought west that the South won the Civil War). John falls in love with the daughter Kismine, and, well, I’ll let you read it.
You can find the story pretty easily online for free, and can be read in a couple hours.
Mad Men is perfect for Fitzgerald. Its slew of immoral, wealthy characters are constantly doing everything in their power to keep the world from seeing the true cost of their wealth.
No one in the show shies away from showing their wealth, but almost all of them hide with every effort the cost of that wealth. It’s about exterior shine and interior rot. Much like the Washingtons, the diamonds mask the ugly and pain within.
Joan is constantly telling the girls to present pretty and poised, while they cry in the bathroom. Peggy hid her pregnancy and ignored her child’s birth. Don hides his true self from everyone. Roger hides his fear of aging, and a slew of other issues. Pete, Duck, Joan… The list is long for those hiding who they are but presenting diamonds on the outside.
Back to Betty, as she’s the one reading the book.
Remember S1E13 (The Wheel), and the crushing scene when Betty spots Glenn in a parking lot and she breaks down crying. She tells Glenn he’s the only person she can talk to and that she is so sad, and grown ups don’t know anything. She spent a good deal of season one on a therapist’s couch, and her pain and sadness is so obvious.
Props to the diamond that could cloak that.
Interesting how about three episodes after telling Glenn she was sad, Arthur Chase is tells her the same thing. Arthur is seeing past the diamonds, and it is not pretty.
The thing is, Arthur is a threat. He is a grown up (even if he is young). He is not permitted past Betty’s exterior. She can talk to a child about her pain, but not an adult.
Betty, much like the Washingtons in Fitzgerald’s story, must defend her visage. She must not let some pretty horse rider see how lonely and in pain she is inside. She pushes him away, eventually stops riding, and escapes with her image intact. Be warned, Betty will shoot if needs be. Remember the neighbours’ birds. Classic.
She even gives Arthur a “let’s be friends” in S2E06 (Maidenform). Ouch.
Even physically, Betty’s inside fails her when she’s diagnosed with terminal cancer in the final season. She said is the first season she would “just like to disappear” rather than grow old when discussing The Best of Everything (another on the reading list).
Of course Betty can never disappear. She’s stunning and in the second season she glitters even more. There are several episodes where she’s at events, dinners, and other areas glitzed to the max. She is super proud of a bikini she bought in S2E06 (Maidenform) only to have Don nastily tell her he disapproves. She glows in her dresses and lets gross Jimmy Barrett schmooze and drool over her with his compliments (at dinner in S2E03, at a fundraiser in S2E07), but she will not let Arthur (or anyone who isn’t a child) see her sadness inside.
Mad Men shows us this all the time. In S2E07 (The Gold Violin), Jimmy tells both Don and Betty that he knows Don has been sleeping with his wife Bobbie. Don and Betty are driving home in horrible silence in the new Cadillac that shows what a success he is, and Betty pukes.
Don guards his past and interior as well though he gradually and selectively lets characters in (Rachel Menken got a glimpse last season). Don will continue to let characters in on who he is and what he’s running from, but only because he winds up being broken by other characters and circumstances. He is, in the end, weaker than Betty, and is forced into it.
Betty is more in control, more confident and ultimately more tragic. Though sad, she will not let others dictate her course.
Betty is a tougher.
She is a true, tragic diamond.