Plenty happens in "Mad Men" season 3 episode 7, like Peggy and Duck's secret romance and Don getting mugged by hitchhikers. But there are other, more significant parts of "Seven Twenty Three" that are a turning point for "Mad Men." For one, it marks the beginning of several relationships—most notably Don with the rosy-cheeked Miss Farrell and Betty with Henry, the silver fox who works in the governor's office. It also marks the advent of Don's professional relationship with Conrad "Connie" Hilton, who Don finds in his office one morning—in his chair, no less—ready to wheel and deal. “Now, you’re a married man, so you’ll have to use your imagination, but I have this involvement," Connie tells Don slyly. "I can’t say it’s perfect, and my needs are being met, but I have significant needs, Don.”
Connie is presumably alluding to his working relationships, which is why he wants Don to manage some New York locations. Although the Hilton account would be a huge win, Don isn't satisfied, because it would mean signing a contract (something he's somehow avoided up to this point at Sterling Cooper). And when he's confronted by Cooper, Pryce and Sterling about it, he retorts, “Still, I don’t think anyone told [Hilton] that it matters to me.” Don wants what he wants, no matter how it affects the people around him.
And, much like Hilton, Don has significant needs. We see this full well on Saturday, the day of an eclipse. Sally's class gathers to make camera obscuras out of cardboard boxes with the help of their teacher, Miss Farrell. Their dads are also in attendance and stand off to the side, all watching the pretty, young instructor. The kids put on their cardboard boxes, like ostriches with their heads in the sand, oblivious of what the adults are up to.
“Why can’t you stare into the eclipse?" Don's neighbor Carlton Hanson asks him. "What’s it going to do, really? I stare at the sun every day.”
“You stare at the sun every day?” Don asks.
“Well, you know, look at it.”
Carlton then tells Don that he sees Miss Farrell sometimes when he's out running in the mornings (crucial information that Don uses to his advantage in later episodes). But when Don asks if he ever speaks to her, Carlton responds that there's a code to it—he looks but doesn't touch, in other words.
Miss Farrell, who is no stranger to horny dads, approaches Don, and they coyly talk about their summer plans, until she finally accuses him of flirting with her. “You’re all the same: the drinking, the philandering.”
To which he responds, "Where I come from, schoolteachers especially used to say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.”
“So you’re different, huh?”
“Is that impossible?”
“You’re all wearing the same shirt."
This interaction is so baffling to me because it implies that Don actually believes he's different from the other restless, suburban dads. More successful, yes, and more attractive, certainly. But they all want the same thing, and he seems completely oblivious to that fact, although he's wearing the same exact outfit as them. Miss Farrell's accusation is also bonkers because she is clearly flirting with him, too. She then darts into Sally’s cardboard box to watch the eclipse with her, but Don puts his sunglasses on, turns around and looks directly at it.
At the same time, Betty is having a covert rendezvous with Henry to discuss the reservoir, which the Junior League wants to save from an unsightly water tank. Much has been written about Betty's childlike tendencies—that sexism and '50s domesticity stunted her emotional growth—so I know I'm not treading new territory here. But it's still significant that after exiting the diner, she gazes directly into the sun. "Don't look at it," Henry says, shielding her eyes in a fatherlike gesture. Even Sally knows not to look at the eclipse, but both of her parents can't help but look skyward.
The direct metaphor between looking at the sun and "philandering," to use Miss Farrell's word, is clear. Although Betty has been more faithful than Don (but who's keeping score at this point), she's tempted by an older man who's nice to her, while Don is charmed by a sweet schoolteacher's purity and youth.
Betty is immediately dizzy after looking at the eclipse (life comes at you fast), and when they see a fainting couch in the window of a nearby furniture store, Henry jokingly says that that's what she needs. “Victorian ladies would get overwhelmed from corsets and things," he explains. "They’d need a place to lie down.” And so of course she buys the damn thing in a desperate, thinly veiled attempt to be the centre of attention.
Earlier in the episode, we see Betty redoing their living room with an interior decorator, who explains that the hearth is the soul of the home. Thus, she should leave it empty for people to gather around. But of course Betty puts the fainting couch in that empty space, in doing so establishing herself as the soul of the home.
The real kicker of "Seven Twenty Three," however, happens at the very end. Betty is lounging on her new fainting couch, waiting expectantly for her husband to arrive home. This moment is alluded to throughout the episode, with shots of her wearing a fabulous floral number, her hands placed dramatically at her forehead before moving downward suggestively. She is ready to be attended to. Don did not get the memo, however, and stomps through the door, sunglasses still on, and tells Betty he signed the contract before disappearing upstairs. If Don won't give her the attention she needs, she'll find someone who will.