In S2E03 (The Benefactor), Don leaves his children in front of the TV (Betty is out flirting with Arthur Chase at the riding stable), and goes to the study to make a call. He calls Bobbie Barrett (Melinda McGraw), the wife of Jimmy Barrett (Patrick Fischler), who is on her bed with a book: Herman Wouk’s best-selling novel Marjorie Morningstar.
The book’s plot leads us to a comparison with the show: the pursuit of toxicity. The relationship in the series – Don and Bobbie – and the one in the book – Marjorie and Noel – are both toxic, and we yell at the screen and pages with the same refrain: STOP IT!
Don fooled around with Bobbie earlier in S2E03 in his car after Don put up a half-assed attempt to hold her off: “Don’t. I don’t want to do this.” Whatever Don. You’re weak and you know it.
Bobbie and Don’s relationship in the intense and dark category exemplified when Don grabs and sexually assaults Bobbie in the rest room at one point.
“Believe me. I will ruin you.”– Don
Intense, dark, disturbing.
This relationship ends in S2E06 (Maidenform) when Bobbie says: “I want the whole Don Draper treatment. I want it and I got it and it’s better than they said.”
There is no way Don will let this happen.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Don says.
Don cannot deal with his reputation. Don cannot deal with other people talking about him or knowing about him. He’ll sleep with everyone, but is blind to the fact that, surprise, surprise, people might be talking about him.
It’s one of the themes in this season: characters trying desperately to hide what’s inside of them.
“Does it make you feel better to think that I’m like you,” Don says, as he ties Bobbie up and leaves.
It’s interesting to compare this affair to the one he had with Rachel Menken in the first season. Rachel, now married, actually walks in on Don and Bobbie at dinner (S02E05, The New Girl). It’s super awkward.
Don’s first season affairs (Rachel and Midge) are, relatively speaking, lacking in the intense toxicity that oozes through the one with Bobbie Barrett.
Now, the book.
Wouk’s book is heralded as the first Jewish book that was popular in the mainstream as well as within the Jewish community. It was made into a film in 1958 starring Gene Kelly and Natalie Wood.
It’s a bit dated, but I get that it’s very easy to point out nuances in books written over half a century ago with modern skepticism. We’ll leave that there.
Basic summary: Pretty, smart and talented Marjorie Morgenstern dreams of being an actress, pursues men – notably Noel Airman – and never really seems to succeed until the end when she marries a doctor.
It’s about the city, the Jewish experience, the quest for more and advancement and love and all of that.
It’s a long book, and left me wanting mostly because the heroine seems written by the men in the book. She has little agency though in her pursuits of the various men, and there’s the end section that seems tacked on from another novel about Nazis and pre-Second World War freedom fighters.
I will warrant that it’s hard to determine how a contemporary reader would respond to the book much like the other books on the Mad Men reading list.
It’s similar to Marjorie. She pursues what she wants going as far as travelling overseas to chase Noel Airman before denying him in the end.
Marjorie wants to go by “Morningstar;” another book with a character desiring another name than her own.
There are a few moments in Wouk’s book that, in a current context, are dark, intense and disturbing. Noel’s toying with Marjorie is uncomfortable, as is his biting words to her.
How Bobbie would respond to it is interesting. She is the definition of going for what she wants at all costs. She pursues Don, pursues Jimmy’s TV project and does it all without apology.
Bobbie’s story is all about pursuit.
The two wind up in a car accident of course.
The end of Bobbie and Don’s relationship preludes the end of his most important relationship to date in the series: the one with Betty.
When Jimmy calls out the affair, Betty knows it’s true. She pukes (as one does when toxic fumes are in the air), and later calls Don out.
She winds up kicking Don out but inviting him back after the two have had a brief affair and he got her pregnant.
The toxicity in the relationships are something that Don cannot avoid. Bobbie is the first that’s very ugly, but more will come.
It’s one of the themes of the show: chasing toxicity and seeing how long you can last inside its poison.