Feeling Trapped

A very memorable scene from the earlier part of the series was the birthday party scene from the third episode entitled "The Marriage of Figaro." In this scene we really got to see the dynamics of suburban life. Rather than experiencing a sense of community, like one would expect from a birthday party scene, the viewer feels trapped like the characters in the scene. Most of this is can be attested to the crowded, claustrophobic sense created by the way the scene was filmed. In contrast the characters that are the most trapped are the ones we see by themselves. We can see, from the way the scene is framed, that Betty, Don, and Helen feel trapped by suburban life.

The viewer only sees Betty Draper alone for about thirty seconds in the beginning of the scene. We see her making a punch for the adults. Instead of pouring a moderate amount of alcohol in to the cocktail, she dumps an extreme amount in to the pitcher. She then sighs and picks up the drink. We next see her in a sea of neighbors and friends with a happy smiling face serving drinks to the guests. It then becomes obvious throughout the remainder of the scene that her main concern is being a proper housewife and making sure everything is perfect.

After a few minutes, Helen Bishop enters the scene with her son Glen. Up to this point we know that Helen had recently hit a rough patch and gone through a divorce. The scene becomes interesting when the women are talking about their honeymoons and marriages in the kitchen. Helen displays herself as a strong woman as tensions rise within the conversation. The camera begins to switch between three extremely tight shots at lightning speed. Unlike the other characters, Helen Bishop has found her escape. She is asked about walking an she explains that she does it just to clear her mind. She shows strength through her ability to cope with stress and difficult situations. The other women don’t accept this and they put it off as her being divorced and deranged.

Finally, there is Don. We see Don taking home movies. There are three shots that we see from the first person perspective. We first see the kids running around. Then, we are taken to a shot of Helen and one of the men having a very intense and semi argumentative conversation. We end by seeing a couple sharing a kiss. These three shots represent three different aspect of Don’s life. There are the kids, who is will always make him happy no matter what. Then the other two shots represent the two options he has with his wife. He can either be bicker-some and put on the facade of being happy, or he can be loving and caring towards her. Pressured by this Don attempts to escape to the backyard where the children are playing house and bickering like their parents, a subtle reminder of the life he doesn’t want to lead.

Helen then joins Don outside, and they mention how the crowd of adults inside the house is the same as the crowd of children outside the house. Inside the kitchen the women are still discussing how they don’t approve of Helen’s lifestyle. It is brought to Betty’s attention that Don is outside conversing with Helen. Immediately, Betty goes and removes Don by telling him to go get the cake. Don does so and the scene ends with Don finally finding his escape by driving off, disappearing. Where he goes we don’t exactly know.

By the end of the scene that two of the characters have found a way of dealing with their sense of entrapment. Don has his escape of getting away and leaving the house for extended periods of time. Helen has her walking. Betty doesn’t have something like this. As the series progresses it is almost a sure thing that she will try to find an escape. This will likely be one of her greatest struggles. When she succeeds, it will be one of her greatest accomplishments. For now, we leave that in the hands of the writers.


  1. I definitely felt suffocated when I watched this scene from "The Marriage of Figaro". Both Don and Helen do seem to have different ways of coping their stress: Helen simply walking around to clear her mind and Don driving off and not returning. Though I can agree that "Betty doesn't have something like this" as a source of escape, particular to this scene, her escape seems to be keeping herself busy as a housewife. Although she is not completely satisfied and happy with her own life, she's still able to cope with her own stress at this moment in life by acting as a true housewife. Even when she found out that Helen was conversing with her husband, she did what was right as a wife to send her husband away to get the cake. If you think about it, yes you can call that jealousy, but I thought about myself in her shoes. If I did not fully trust Helen myself, especially with my friends and neighbor saying something unfaithful about Helen, I probably would believe my friends and neighbors more than someone who had just moved into the neighborhood. Because of that feeling of anxiety, I wouldn't really want Helen to be with my husband alone anytime, anywhere. It would be a different situation and different story if I gotten to know Helen as a person. In that case, I probably wouldn't care as much if Helen was talking to my husband. I'm not really defensing for Betty, but I definitely do see Betty trying to cope with her stress and escape different situations with different methods each time. Even when she found out about Don's affair, she did not show her weakness like Francine, but instead tried to play cool and acted like she didn't know about Don's behavior and actions. However, I can't fully say that Betty does escape her sense of entrapment each time because I haven't seen the seasons onward. But from what I heard, she still has not changed (even up to season four), so I do agree with you and hope she will succeed in finding a permanent escape and overcome her struggles.

  2. I always thought of Don's affairs are his way of escaping being Don Draper. He only seems to step out of his marriage when life is hectic for him. I'm sure if he wasn't lying to betty, he also wouldn't be cheating on her because I noticed that he really does love her and does his best to try and make her happy.