Mad Men Musings: The Better Half

Mad Men is back! If you’re a fan, join us regularly for Mad Men Musings – a space to discuss selected highlights, low points, or just plain water-cooler worthy moments of each episode.

Mad Men Peggy and Don Mad Men Musings: The Better Half

When it comes to thinking about our better halves, and how we choose who to relinquish our hearts to, I always flash back to philosophy class and Plato’s character Aristophanes. His simplified theory was that people were once literally joined together, but the gods split us asunder; we spend the rest of our lives trying to find our missing halves, our soul mates. In the Mad Men universe this week, we saw this search play out in various configurations, none of them particularly successful.

First up is Don, still engaged in a territorial pissing contest with Ted at work. This time, it’s over Fleischmann’s margarine, aka the “Chivas Regal” of the butter substitute world. But it’s also over Peggy, of course – she’s clearly Don’s work soul mate, only he’s too jaded and possessive to foster a healthy working relationship. At home, Don is disengaged as ever; Megan might want to be Don’s missing half, but he doesn’t seem to share the sentiment. Poor Megan just wants comfort after a rough day as soap-opera twin Colette (c’mon, wearing a feathery platinum wig and a crimson crochet bodysuit is HARD, guys) but Don just wants to drink and watch TV.

Next, Don attempts to reconnect with Betty when he goes to visit Bobby during a summer camp weekend. By reconnect, I totally mean cabin sex. What started out as an admittedly sweet family scene in the restaurant devolved into short-shorts, drinking, and an open door policy. (Again, you’ll notice, with the whole door theme).

Betty Mad Men Mad Men Musings: The Better Half

Now, let’s talk about Betty for a second – her transformation back to svelte, sleek, and ice-blonde is complete. Well aware of her newly restored power, Betty enjoys a variety of male attention here, of the tongue-lolling, steam-coming-out of-the-ears, Tex Avery wolf cartoon variety. And although she appears to be happy with Henry and the power and status he represents, it’s clear that her beauty and desirability is what she prizes, above everything else. (Also, can you believe she’s had three children?) Betty’s soul mate is…herself?

At any rate, it was interesting to see the role reversal amidst the cabin sex. Don seems wistful, longing to connect to a distant and confident Betty. He wonders why sex must be the way to get close to someone; he tells her he would have been happy just to hold her in his arms. Somehow, Betty manages to control her laughter at this – instead, she strokes his face and says, referring to Megan, “Poor girl. She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.” Preach, Betty.

When Don returns home, Megan is waiting with a gentle confrontation about the distance in their relationship. Don admits that he hasn’t been there for her, but it rings hollow. He better watch out, though, because Megan’s co-star Arlene is more than willing to fill that void.

Mad Men Peggy Ted Mad Men Musings: The Better Half

While Don continues the search for his better half, Peggy sees the dissolution of her relationship with Abe. There have always been hiccups between the two of them – Abe is a rabble rouser progressive and Peggy not so much – and her latent feelings toward Ted haven’t helped the situation. At work, Ted confesses his inappropriate love for Peggy, after calling her out for touching his hand during a presentation. Ever the gentlemen (or the coward, depending on how you look at it) he makes it clear that nothing can happen between them.

At home, Peggy is confronted with Abe and his [first] stabbing. Abe refuses to ID the race of his attackers and his bullheadedness, in the face of a violent crime, infuriates Peggy. Here, their basic ideological/philosophical differences start to reach the breaking point. The cherry on the break-up sundae, though, pretty much happens when Pegs accidentally STABS Abe with her knife-on-the-end-of-a-broomstick weapon. This whole incident, the surreal and sudden violence, reminded me very much of the lawnmower incident from Season 3 – a stark reminder that scary, crazy things are totally unpredictable. Abe’s break up speech to Peggy was equally wounding: “Your activities are an offense to my every waking moment.”

So, Peggy plus Abe do not equal soul mates, clearly. But neither do Peggy and Ted: when Peggy tells him she and Abe are done, Ted spouts platitudes and practically shoves her out the door with a pat on the head. (Funny how Ted was all Romeo when it was “safe” to do so; now, it’s a different story). Devastated, Peggy starts towards Don’s office, only to have him shut the door. That final shot of her, literally and symbolically in the middle of Ted and Don and yet all alone, was haunting.

Mad Men Pete Mad Men Musings: The Better Half

The last set of broken halves this week consisted of Pete, Roger, and Joan. Pete is fretting about his job – his estranged marriage, coupled with the stress of his mother, is impacting his work performance and he’s worried. So worried, in fact, that he has a meeting with Duck Philips (and so help me God, if Peggy and Duck hook up again I’ll be the one doing some stabbing). Duck tells Pete he needs to get his family stuff in order, which is a very tall order at this point.

Meanwhile, Roger is trying to bond with his grandson. Because Roger is fun and awesome but pretty thoughtless, he takes his grandson to see Planet of the Apes – a bit much for a four year old. His daughter is furious, and even Roger’s silver tongue can’t smooth this one over. Instead, he swings by Joan’s apartment with some Lincoln logs for Kevin, seeking a connection with his secret son and baby mama.

Mad Men Joan Bob Roger Mad Men Musings: The Better Half

But what’s this? Oh, just Joan in a killer nautical ensemble…and Bob Benson, bound for the beach. Awkwardness ensues and Joan gets rid of Roger immediately. Later, at the office, Joan tells Roger that he and Kevin will never have the relationship he wants – it just isn’t possible. Of course, she’s also referring to her own relationship with Roger. She’s right, probably, but I wish they could make it work: Roger and Joan 4 eva.

In the very last scene, Bob tells Pete he needs to speak to him about a “delicate situation.” At last, we’ve come to the point where Bob’s true nefarious self will be revealed! He’s going to insinuate dirt about Joan and Roger. I knew it! Here he goes, he’s giving Pete…the name of an excellent nurse to solve his out-of-control-mother problem? You got me again, Bob Benson.

Readers – Have your feelings about Ted changed at all? Did anyone else notice that right after the margarine office scene, cut to Betty wearing…a margarine-yellow gown? And let’s get philosophical: does Aristophanes’s theory ring true for you?

all photos: via AMC

Amity writes and teaches in Central PA. Her obsessions include: Rodarte (she can’t afford any Rodarte, mind you, but a girl can dream), espresso, books, vintage/thrift fashion and fountain pens. She thinks you should dress like a weirdo once in a while, just to shake things up.

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Written by amity

18 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Stef Andrews
    Stef Andrews

    I loved this episode so much I want to take behind the middle school and get it pregnant!

    Seriously, I need one more watching before I comment. My head was just exploding from awesome last night. I can’t even form thoughts yet.

  2. Profile photo of Krista
    Krista

    We deserved this episode after the pooper we got last week.
    I am not a Betty fan, but damn, I was Team Betty this episode! I loved how she got hit on at the fundraiser and got to brag about looking so good after 3 kids, got ravaged in the car like the good old days by Henry, got hit on at the gas station, then got to be the alpha with Don for some cabin nookie. Never has Betty been more in control of her life and it’s a nice change of pace. She’s usually the plaything, but she’s finally realized that’s where her power lies and she’s going with it and she’s playing back. I especially loved how Don woke up to an empty bed and goes to find Betty at breakfast with her current husband, like nothing happened, while he’s seemingly affected by the whole thing. It’s like he’s finally getting some of his own medicine. WOOT!

    Bob Benson’s shorty shorts. Discuss.

    1. Profile photo of turboterp
      turboterp

      It only took episode after episode of simpering Megan to make me appreciate how interesting Betty is, and I didn’t realize how much I’d missed her twisted charm until this episode. And yeah, how tight were Bob Benson’s shorts? They didn’t have spandex back then, did they? I bet the actor had to unzip between takes just to breathe!

  3. Profile photo of Stef Andrews
    Stef Andrews

    @amity – this is my favorite recap of yours to date; funny and SO spot on! We’re so lucky to have you writing these for us.

    I equally love “The Better Half” – favorite episode of the season. It was so satisfying. Especially after “The Crash” which just made me angry.

    I think perhaps most satisfying was the return of Betty. Now, don’t get me wrong, I hate Betty! But it was hard not to be pleased with her being back in fine form, and KNOWING it. She was so large and in charge. From her demented back seat sexy time with Henry (how twisted are they?!) to basically dominating Don. When she told Don about Megan “Poor girl, she doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you?” – could she have been more right? I think my favorite scene of the whole episode is when Don walks into the diner the next morning to find Betty sitting in the best table in the place, bathed in glowing light from the amazing windows (of course, with Henry.) And Don slinks away to the table for one in the dark, sad corner. Poor Don.

    Random note, was Pete hitting on Joan? I kinda got that vibe in the episode where they’re trying to set up the public stock offering. And I swear I saw him give her the up and down with his eyes. Wow, would I love to see Joan shooting Pete down, and HARD.

    And we now have Bob’s shorts to add to his overall enigma! I loved the juxtaposition of Roger showing up in that Pop Pop of a plaid sports coat with Bob and his OP shorts. I read an interesting comment on Vulture: when Bob sent food to Roger’s Mom’s funeral he said that when someone did that for him, he gave him comfort after his father died. And in this episode, he gives Pete the nurse’s name who he says nursed his father back to health. Bob – WHAT ARE YOU?!

    So glad Abe’s gone. Peggy couldn’t have stabbed him soon enough. It’s only a shame that Ted showed his douche side so quickly. Although, that might leave her ripe for a Stan hook up! And jesus Don, would you just be nice to Peggy already?!

    Final thought, I never knew the 80’s Naked Eyes song “Always Something There to Remind Me” was a cover. Do you love those song closers as much as I do?

    Father Abraham had seven sons (seven sons!) and seven sons had Father Abraham…
    stef andrews recently posted..Nivea Skin Firming Body Lotion Review – Dare to Bare Challenge

    1. Profile photo of amity
      amity

      You are spot on–Pete did seem a little doe-eyed around Joanie. And I hate Betty too, but she was a total player in this episode, and good on her. Lastly, no idea about the Naked Eyes song, either! It was disconcerting to hear it in the original, but it worked so well for the closer.

  4. Profile photo of winnie
    winnie

    OMG!! This episode was amazing!! I knew Don and Betty were going to hook up as soon as the scene at the fundraiser! I immediately thought, she’s back!!! And Don is just searching for anything but Megan. But I never guessed how she was going to put Don in his place. I love Betty! Always have! I think she’s just such a cold twisted bitch I love it!
    Yeah what is up with Bob?! I really like him but like @stef said there’s something else going on here. I guess we shall see! I did think it was awesome that it was the first time said out loud that Roger was the father!! I do agree that I would love to see Joan and Roger together but I don’t think it will ever happen.

  5. Profile photo of turboterp
    turboterp

    Okay, I have spent the week obsessing about this! Google “Sharon Tate” “Mad Men” and you can join me in wondering what all this means. Does Megan’s red star t-shirt really foreshadow that she’s going to be murdered this season? Could we be rid of her at last?

  6. Profile photo of amity
    amity

    I saw the stuff about the star shirt too–so creepy! But maybe it’s just supposed to augur general dark times ahead. Remember when we all thought maybe Pete was gonna off himself? (Although, you never know, Pete’s life is still looking pretty grim!)

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