You would think that slowly watching Megan Draper turn into Season 1 Betty Draper would teach us all to sympathize with poor Betts.
When we first met Megan, she was a bubbly, sunny font of positivity and creative ambition. She had an active, buzzing social life, a good job, a carefree relationship to her own sexuality, and an active, curious, creative mind. She wanted to act. She told Don she loved to paint, and sing. Failing that, she wanted to work in an applied creative field, like advertising. She was model beautiful, stylish, vibrant and independent.
Before she met Don, Betty was an independent, Seven Sisters educated model living and working in the city. She shared a tiny apartment with several other girls, lived modestly, and hopped from modeling job to modeling job. She had a creatively and emotionally charged relationship with a designer in Italy, to whom she served as muse. She traveled. She spoke, as she loves to remind us, Italian.
Betty met Don while shooting an advertisement for the furrier where Don worked. “Why wait for a man to buy you a fur?” was the ad copy, written by Don. Yet it was Don who bought Betty a fur, shortly after the shoot, to woo her. Betty quit modeling almost immediately thereafter. Five years down the line and she was a sniping, bored, emotionally and psychologically unstable housewife.
We have seen Megan follow the same sad trajectory. We have watched her career fall at Don’s feet, only to be propped up by his industry connections. We have seen her dive, dance, drink, and flail for his attention and affection in every conceivable way. We have seen Don withdraw from her, shut down, disappear, cheat, ridicule, and abuse her. The exact same way he treated Betty.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that Megan is slowly turning into Betty. Early in their marriage, Megan was a nonsmoker; she opened up the car windows and coughed when Don lit up. A season later, she was a devoted, impulsive smoker, puffing almost as constantly as Betty, and always reaching for a cigarette at the drop of any emotional hat. Don calls her on the phone with bad news,and the first thing Megan does is reach for her pack.
Megan has also shifted from an ebullient, child-loving step mom into the same kind of brittle, detached parental figure Betty was (and is). When they met, Megan was a Maria von Trapp-level angel, singing to the children in French (like Betty, Megan is a polyglot) and cleaning up spilled milkshakes with a reassuring smile. Since last season, though, she has been cold and removed from the children, and even disparaged Sally for being “screwed up”. Now she has zero interest in them at all.
Megan’s career has torpedoed. Where once she was ambitious and tenacious, she is now desperate, hungry for any role, begging and fuming in parking lots. She’s getting haplessly drunk and sexually desperate. She’s telling Don he should just stay away. She’s becoming unhinged by her own insecurity.
Sound familiar? If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice this is the same pattern of desperate, lonely behavior that defined season 1 Betty. Betty whose hands went numb and crashed her car, Betty who held her emotions in until they caused her to puke, Betty who sauntered around the house in a bikini, vying for Don’s eye, Betty who accepted any affection she could get, whether it was from a 9-year-old who wanted a lock of her hair, or a pilot in a random bar who just wanted to screw in the back room.
Now look at this week’s Megan, standing coolly in the doorway, facing Stephanie. Megan who used to be all smile and hugs and open, friendly encouragement. She looks Stephanie up and down and icily pronounces her “beautiful”, her insecurities poking out like shards of glass beneath her skin. She forces herself to hug this woman, this relic from Don’s past, but it’s stifled and perfunctory. She tries desperately to be warm and welcoming, like when Betty used to host Don’s colleagues, but her face winces with sadness. When Don calls, she observes again that Stephanie is beautiful, egging Don on. She makes the pregnant, famished young women a steak. In season 1, when Roger dropped by the house unannounced, Betty gave him her steak. She went hungry. She sulked the whole night and next day.
It’s no coincidence that the scene between Megan and Stephanie immediately follows Betty setting up for a dinner party at Henry’s. Betty used to force herself to entertain for Don’s sake, dressed herself up in bright, flouncy dresses, made pleasant chit chat, and then descended into a despairing, drunken mess the next day. Megan, too, is on the verge of collapse. She makes underhanded, hurt comments. Don didn’t tell Stephanie that Megan is an actress. Betty used to remind everyone that she used to be a model, you know.
Finally, at the first sign of threat (Stephanie’s comment that she “knows everything” about Don), Megan lashes out in pain. She launches a conniving little ploy to get the girl out of the house and away from her wandering husband. She makes herself out to be innocent. When Don asks her where Stephanie went, she plays the fool. Megan is hurting, and lost, and she’ll take whatever small, pathetic, petty wins she can get. Remember that Megan used to be unflinchingly direct about her emotions. If she was pissed, she’d throw a plate at the wall and force Don to talk about it. But now she’s been drained and embittered. Just like season 1 Betty, Megan is taking passive aggressive pot shots at innocent pigeons.
We are watching Megan dissolve — in sanity, in independence, in her sense of self — the exact same way that Betty dissolved ten years ago. The culprit in both cases is the same. If that doesn’t give you massive pangs of sympathy for 1959 Betty (and even 1969 Betty), I don’t know what will.
Hey Erika. I just realized that your name is probably Erika D. Price and not Erika Ad Price, which is what I thought this whole time. I recently read your book Corpus Collusum, and it was very interesting. However, I got really confused at the ending. It sort of reminded me of the ending of the movie Her, though, where all the AIs left into some other plain of existence, beyond human comprehension. But, mainly, I ask, does Synapse pick up with Collosum left off? Or is it a new story?
Thank you so much for reading! I’m flattered that the ending left you thinking and perhaps hoping for more. And Her reminded me of my book, too — at least I beat them to it!
Synapse picks up at the exact moment Corpus Callosum left off — earlier than the Epilogue, actually! It will be out as an ebook in a month or so!
don’t answer hateful anonymous asks, block harassers, install comment blocker, defriend the people you’ve been itching to defriend, you don’t need an excuse, don’t waste your time anymore
People who post hateful screeds are impotent cowards in search of a platform to express themselves, too lazy and ignorant to actually form their own platforms, write their own essays, record their own videos, or form their own cogent arguments. Do not waste time consuming what they dribble onto the internet’s sidewalks and alleyways.
It saddens me how many wise, influential writers and etc waste their time engaging with and ministering to hate messages. Your greatest power is your capacity to ignore. These people are ignored all the time, that’s what makes them furious, that’s what makes them desperate and acid-spitting and belligerent. Their way of life is dying and they’re lashing out for the last scraps of power they can get. Their desperation is a sign of how badly they are losing.
Your time and peace of mind are worth more than that, so act like it.
Allie was my first kiss. It was first or second grade and we were inseparable; she lived down the street and we spent long summer days biking around the neighborhood pretending we were riding horses. We ran and tumbled on the grassy, tree-lined medians that split our neighborhood roads in two. We had sleepovers, alternating houses; I was always vying for a few moments with her dad’s Sega Dreamcast. She wanted to watch movies, give me a makeover, and talk.
We talked. We stood side by side and looked in the mirror, analyzing eachother. We pressed lips against lips but no more than that, and just once. She probably doesn’t even count it or remember it.
We made up games in the pool, on the grass, in the yard — muskateers, pirates, cowboys, Ghosts in the Graveyard; at my suggestion, we pretended to get possessed by demons. We roped a few other neighborhood girls and boys into the games, but Allie was the only one who cared about my exacting, overly complex plots. No one else remembered where we’d left off the day before, on the “last episode”.
But one summer evening Allie sullenly led me to her garage and asked me to take a seat in a folding chair, beside her two sisters. A few other neighbor kids were there. It was like a tiny town hall meeting.
"The thing is," Allie said, her words precise and practiced, "we’re Catholics, and Diana’s a Baptist, and Erika— what are you again?"
"Christian?" I said, searching. "Methodist. Methodist."
"Yeah," Allie said. "So we’re all Christian and so it’s not right for us to keep doing this possessed-by-demons stuff. It’s not moral. We can play other games, okay?"
I knew I was the one really being addressed. I said “Okay” and hung back, let the other girls name the game. Diana wanted to stop playing pretend. She hated how I directed everything, made it all about talk. She wanted to play sports.
It was Allie’s parents who initiated the demon talk, I know. They dislike me, chided me for being messy and loud and for picking out my wedgies in public. Their daughters were pretty, with sparkly lotion on their faces and ponytailed hair with ribbons. They took dance and enjoyed makeup. I loped around aimlessly and called Allie’s father “you bastard, you” because I had seen it in a movie. I wore lots of t-shirts with bats on them and talked endlessly about things no one cared about. They didn’t know what to make of me.
A year or so after the demon talk, Allie’s family moved a town over and she started at a new school. I remember taking her new phone number down in a bright Keropi notebook. I got my own phone and cleaned out half my closet so I could climb inside it and use it as a telephone booth. We promised to call and visit eachother often. I was sad but also percolating with excitement.
I only saw Allie’s new house once. We played in the basement until Allie’s sister saw a mouse, and her dad ran to get a BB gun to shoot at it. While we waited upstairs, their mother smoked in the kitchen and sneered at me. Their daughters were growing up, becoming lovely, and my weirdness was not being outgrown. I tried to engage her in conversation about her work and how she liked the new house and somewhere, somehow, I blew it.
We never hung out again after that. Allie neglected my AIM messages and calls. I tried roping a few younger neighborhood kids into my imaginary games — this treelawn is an island, how will we survive — but they didn’t like it. Without Allie’s cool approval, all the other girls in my class lost all interest in me as well. Slumber party and movie and mall invitations dried up. I was too weird.
I drew inward for years, reading alone in the back yard, writing strange stories about space and robots and fairies in notebooks I buried at the bottom of my closet. The “telephone booth” became littered with plastic toys that I made talk and enact complex serialized plots in secret — I was getting too old to play pretend, way too old. I stopped calling girls and asking them to hang out with me. I got no calls. It took a few years before things got better.
In college I worked as a research assistant, collecting survey and experimental data for graduate students and psychology professors. I set up the labs, I called the participants’ names from my clipboard, I recorded their data and gave them credit.
A year into the gig, one of the names on my roster was Allie N. She was a sophmore taking Intro Psych.
I stood in the lobby and called her name, the same as I did with all the participants. I led her and two others into a small lab and set them up for the experiment. There was a mirror propped against each station, and a survey packet that asked sensitive questions. The experimenter wanted to see if facing your own reflection while you answered questions made you more or less honest.
Fifteen minutes passed and Allie came out of the lab holding her packet. “Am I done?” she asked.
"Yes, you should already have credit on your BuckeyeLink account," I told her, chipper with a hint of fake boredom.
She looked the same. The same splash of freckles, the dark hair, the mathematically perfect application of makeup. I looked different, maybe. She didn’t get my name, how was she supposed to know? Years after this she added me on Facebook, and messaged me, but still I never told her.
stronghours said: a good time to mention the self-described ‘lit fic’ we get is pretty much just as bad as the werewolf stuff, just even more forgettable
Yeah. We just need a disparaging genre title for it. ”Literary Fan Fiction”? “Dick fic”?
stronghours said: you leave that tiny opening like mine does tho, and you get about a dozen werewolf-soldier-cop-detective screenplays
I know that’s true, and I know the slush pile is enormous enough already…
..But at the same time I am so sick of the “literary” publishing world looking down its nose at any prose labeled sci-fi or fantasy, while welcoming and wetting their dicks over stories from the likes of Jennifer Egan, Karen Russell, Gary Shteyngart, and George Saunders, who are obviously writing genre but for some reason they don’t count as writing genre because what they write is good and challenging.
As if “depressed middle aged man contemplates life, his shitty wife, and his job” isn’t a genre, just because it’s in lit mags. As if “aborted coming of age story with slightly heavy-handed symbolism” isn’t a genre, just because it’s in lit mags.
As if there aren’t a bajillion sci-fi writers who have been writing probing social observation and literary criticism for decades. And, to a lesser extent, that’s true of horror and fantasy too. Hell, it’s probably true of like romance and “chick lit” and I just don’t know it, because I’ve swallowed the publishing industry’s disdain for those genres without thinking. Ohhh it makes me so sad.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche writes about American culture and human nature with such laserlike precision it’s truly astounding; I find myself underlining 50% of the text and writing “YESS YASS YESS” in all of the margins. Every observation is perfectly made, witty and explosive yet without any bitterness. What was I thinking, not reading Americanah till now??
I’ve only ever been called demure once.
The woman who said it had just started fucking the guy I was dating. He kept wanting the two of us to meet. He said she was a secret hottie, that she only looked good outside of her clothes. He said she was trashy: she texted him things like, “Drinking a rolling rock and doing my nails, hbu?”. She drove to his apartment from way out in the suburbs and hung around all day while he worked and ignored her in the library a few feet from my office. She drove him around. She went to pick up cleaning supplies and tidied up his bathroom while she was waiting for his attention.
He always talked shit about the women he was fucking to the other women he was fucking. For example, he told me his ex-girlfriend was “super hairy” and “incredibly self-conscious about it”. He said she was “above average intelligence, but just barely, and wanted desperately to be smarter than that.”
He told each one of us that he was going to stop fucking the others. Sometimes he told us that he’d already stopped fucking them. Then he’d talk shit about them.
I don’t know what he said to other women about me. Except that I was smart. “Erika might even be smarter than me,” he said once. I am smarter than him. Maybe not about physics and baseball. But certainly about people and life.
He told other women that I was intimidating, or something. I don’t know what exactly. Something he said gave other girls the impression I was to be feared. He kept wanting me to meet this girl from the suburbs. He wanted my approval. She was newly dating him, and still cared about his happiness, so she wanted to meet me too.
I dragged my feet to a cafe below his apartment. I was about to break up with him for the fourth and last time, hallelujah hallelujah amen. He didn’t know that. The other woman was drinking coffee and smoking nervously. She was tall, effortlessly gorgeous and stylish, intelligent, and breezily funny. When we hugged, my head only came up to her chest.
"You’re not what I expected," she told me. "You’re so little. So…demure."
He thought I was too big. He told me once I was the fattest person he’d ever date. He told me to put less sugar in my grape nuts and try running. She was tall and athletic, so he admonished her for not reading enough books.
It was him, not me, that she was really afraid of. I broke up with him a day or two after that. I planned the dumping strategically, right before he went on a big trip. I was afraid of him too.
It took a few months, but then the girl from the suburbs dumped him too; she was faster on the uptake than I was.
everything I write is in the same universe and I feel like the weirdly reverent, cultish leader of a religion that I created and only I believe in
but really I guess it’s the other way around…i’m the overbearing fake god of a fake world who can’t stop creating stuff
I guess a writer is always both. In their own little fictional universe, the writer is both the all-powerful creator and the long-suffering devout. Hm.