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VIDEO ESSAY – MAD MEN Moments: The Sad Clown Dress

VIDEO ESSAY - MAD MEN Moments: The Sad Clown Dress

Part of the Mad Men Moments Video Essay Series

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In selecting an iconic moment for Season Two of Mad Men, we wanted to shift the focus away from the storied office shenanigans of Sterling Cooper and spend time unpacking the domestic storyline that, while less sexy, imbues the world of Mad Men with added dimension and depth. By focusing on the idyllic domestic world of Betty Draper and how it all falls apart within a 24-hour span, this video serves as a complement to the Season One video portrait of Don Draper in “The Carousel.” 

The script for this video essay is written by Deborah Lipp, narrated by Roberta Lipp, and edited by Kevin B. Lee.


Mad Men’s Betty Draper is a master of surfaces.

A former model who is happiest when praised for her beauty.

She lives the life expected of her, but the suburbs bore her and she has no real interest in motherhood.

Her husband is a mystery…and a philanderer.

In episode 2.08, A Night to Remember, it all comes apart.

Betty intends to prove herself the perfect hostess and wife, throwing the perfect party.

She then discovers she’s a pawn.

She spirals into a rage. Don has broken the pact to maintain a perfect surface. Now there is nothing for Betty to hide, and so much to expose. 

Betty spends the night with her daughter instead of Don, as if to seek solace in a childlike state.

Over the course of the next day , her flawless party look–which costume designer Janie Bryant calls her “Sad Clown Dress”– falls to ruin.

She no longer bothers putting on a show of perfection. It no longer exists.

And she won’t move beyond this moment, until she finds the proof she seeks: that this man, and the idyllic life they’ve created are built on a lie.

But she’s unable to expose Don. She can only hurt herself.

And yet, she knows what she knows. She can no longer trust appearances, since that’s all her husband has to offer. Don stays in the shadows, denying everything.

Betty’s hair is held back in a band so that we see the full effect of emotion on her face.

The surface of perfection is gone. She’s exposed and looks broken. But underneath is a new found conviction about herself.

Finally, she faces Don without makeup, without a hairdo, without even a color. The white robe accentuates the starkness of this moment.

Now it is Don who’s afraid of losing everything. And it’s his expression of fear that brings her back.

The next day, the house is filled with warm, renewing light. Betty is back to being an immaculate housewife, as if nothing happened.

But a TV commercial brings it all back.

It has all crumbled. Her perfect home, her handsome husband, they are empty surfaces that have all been sold to her.

Betty is no longer buying.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is “smart discussion about smart television.” She is the author of six books, including “The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book.”

Roberta Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses and is or has been a voiceover artist, improvisor, actor, singer/songwriter, blogger and Mad Men aficionado. She plans to produce a one-woman show.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog and contributor to Roger Follow him on Twitter.

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