Mad Men "The Better Half" Review: The Grass Is Always Greener...

Mad Men S06E09: "The Better Half"

Pete was stuck between his loyalty to SCDP/CGC and his desire to do better for himself/the fear that there isn't a place for him in the new firm. Megan was stuck between two same-but-different roles on her soap opera. Joan was stuck between the memory of Greg the Hero and the actual Roger the Perpetual Four-Year-Old when it came to picking out a daddy for the wee bastard Kevin. But no one in "The Better Half" was as stuck as Peggy. Peggy had a rough week, caught between Don and Ted's equally valid margarine ideas and her waning attraction to Zappa Abe/growing attraction to Ted. The only two who managed to escape the episode relatively unscathed were Don and Ted—the two poles of Planet SCDP/CGC that, after some initial bumpy adjustments, appear to be complimenting one another quite well after all. 

You know, for now

One of the dominant themes that runs through Mad Men is Don Draper's constant pursuit of the things that he can't—or can no longer—have and as his heir apparent, Peggy's turn at the indecisive wheel was timely. Clearly, her time with Zappa Abe had run its course, but at the same time, Abe was secure—more secure than the apparently happily married Ted Chaough. Maybe Peggy felt that Abe would never leave her because she offered him security of a different sort: a home in the neighborhood of his choice and the financial security that allowed him to fumble around as a freelancer who seemed to only ever work on projects that interested him, as opposed to one who sometimes sucked it up for the sake of making rent. 

We knew that Peggy's affection for Abe was on the outs and his insistence that they shack up in a neighborhood that made Peggy uncomfortable was the final straw. We suspected that Abe's love for Peggy had been gone for much longer, but wow, "Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment," was still pretty harsh-- and hilarious, because everything that comes out of Zappa Abe's mouth, even when it is kind of poignant, is laced with so much pretentiousness that it immediately becomes hilarious. Then again, Peggy did stab him with her makeshift spear (and it was glorious and I laughed, rewound the scene, and laughed again).

Peggy did a pretty terrible job of looking upset about Abe dumping her and I suspect that whatever sadness she felt had more to do with the inherent hurt of rejection than the loss of Abe as a romantic partner. The convenient break-up left Peggy's future wide open to be filled with some quality Ted action and she practically skipped into his office to share the good news... only to be shot down. Regardless of whether his loyalty to his wife is born out of an actual fondness for her, his desire to be decent human being, or a lack of attraction to Peggy outside of that heat-of-the-moment kiss, the fact remains that Ted currently appears to have desire to take advantage of Peggy's newfound single status and flat-out panicked when some touchy-feely crap made its way into a meeting with a client. Not only did Ted openly regret kissing Peggy, but he seemed to want to ignore the fact that it happened altogether. How very Don of him. Left stranded between their friendly greetings to one another and the slamming of their office doors, I think Peggy made that realization as well. 

Poor Peggy. But it's not like sticking it out with Abe when they clearly loathed one another was a much better option. 

The second biggest happening in "The Better Half" (or first biggest, depending on your preference) was the sexytimes of Don and Betty at Bobby's mosquito-infested summer camp. Betty (and Henry Francis, because as was established in the season premiere, those two get off on some pretty messed up shit) were running on a high after some random dude propositioned the newly re-Barbie-fied Betty at a campaign event. Yay! She's conventionally hot again! 

Don arrived at Camp Iwannabangmyex after admittedly appearing to "try" at marriage with Megan—though the constant sirens blaring in the background of (and sometimes overpowering) their every conversation in "The Better Half"  implied otherwis,e and god help us all when Megan inevitably loses her shiny daytime TV role because she A) apparently sucks at it and B) rejected the boss's wife's advances. You know Don will be totally secretly delighted and suck at hiding it and Megan will be sad, then mad, then... I don't know. Having a wealthy husband is super convenient when you're a struggling actress, so I'm not sure that she'd leave him, and given Don's refusal to divorce Betty even when they really, really hated each other, I don't know that he would ever leave Megan either. So chances are, their misery will just reach uncomfortable levels of televised disdain until Megan meets a new wealthy suitor who better understands and accommodates her needs and Betty Francis style. 

Anyway, Betty is back in form and after taking the svelte new bod for a test drive at one of Henry Francis's political shindigs, she busted out the booze and the booty shorts at summer camp, spoke like an human being with Don, and left that door open on purpose because she's winning and she knows it. Her husband isn't a douche and has a career that thrusts her into the spotlight, and she's once again drawing the lustful stares of strangers. During their liason, Don waxed nostalgic for the "good old days" of their marriage, conveniently forgetting that they were both pretty miserable for most of it, while Betty stuck strictly to business. Their hook-up wasn't about pulling one over on Megan, screwing with Don's head, or trying to lure him back in; it was sex. In the morning, Betty went back to her new life, where she finally realized that she's actually happy...


...unlike everyone else on the show these days. It seems that the secret to happiness in the world of Mad Men is to get as far away from the show's mad men (and women) as possible, as illustrated by Abe, Duck Phillips, pre-merger Peggy, and Betty post-Don. 


NOTES


– I really dig the SCDP coffee mugs that keep popping up. 

– It's cute how Harry thinks he'll be a partner at the new firm. 

– WHY IS BOB BENSON SO NICE? It creeps me out, man. 

– I loved that the EMT shrugged when Peggy asked if Abe was going to die. 

– "Maybe we're not cut out to be pioneers." Ladies and gents, the late '60s in one succinct quotation.

– I don't know if it's just the fact that Don is so unlikable this season, but while I wouldn't say that I like Betty any more than usual, I am enjoying her in a way I haven't since she shot at those birds back in Season 1. 

– Do you think Megan is going to be fired? 

– "Waiting for you to tell me to stop." Nope, not sexy, Don. Sorry. 


What did you think of "The Better Half"? 

Comments (47)
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such a good episode!
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Mad Men is a show that can never be boring! This season in particular is so good, previous episode was one of their best and this week's episode was probably one of their funniest! AMC sure knows how to make them
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Douchebag Don. This needs to be made into a meme. Don't fail me internet.
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I don't know when some states started seeing living together as being married, but I'm wondering if Abe will sue Peggy for spousal support, with the stabbing to seal the deal.

I'm betting with Don ignoring all things Megan will drive Mean into her boss's wife's arms.
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Mad in in it
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Mad in it
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Bob Benson is soooo creepy...
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The scene with Megan and the producers wife harkened back to one of the first roles Jessica Pare had on film as the unwilling object of Piper Perabo's obsession in 'Lost and Delirious'. (When Mischa Barton still had a career.) Producers wife just has to keep trying:) This show needs more Megan and Don scenes - he's much better in scenes with a decent actress and not the waste of pages that is January Jones. It seems like they just give Roger stories b/c John Slattery is really good but damn, couldn't the writers do better that this? Give the man a real story. Roger pining for Joan and her/his baby is getting old.

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I've been expecting the development between Megan and the producer. I'm surprised more didn't happen.
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And beware...the producer was married to Ted McGinley. The shark has been sighted.
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Exactly! That's what I thought the minute I saw 'ol Ted. DUM-DUM, DUM-DUM... (cue shark)
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I'm so loving the relationship between Don and Ted (including the friction with Peggy) and I'm hoping Ted will continue to stay on. Let's continue to explore this; it's great.
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I can't believe how different Abe is from last year. He seemed so normal last year; an aspiring young liberal journalist and full of optimism. Now he's a crazy, unhinged bohemian that has gone to the extreme. He seems and looks as if he smells. He took such a bad turn between the two seasons.
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I'm surprised you chose to call Abe "Zappa". I would have called him Meathead Stivic.
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Daaaaaamn Hot Psycho Betty... pretty slick move leaving the door open. I love Betty and Suave Don together, that's a true FTW moment. I don't know why but I'm super happy Peggy lost both Don and Ted this week, I just can't support her. But was it just me or did Ted pull a bipolar move? In their last scene together he was so conflicted that he couldn't stop thinking about the kiss and wanted her and then the next time he saw her he acted oblivious to all of it.Pete is still annoying but I agree with vaportrail85 I think Bob Benson is into him. Joan needs more airtime and Roger needs more things to do. And one more for good luck, FTW Psycho Betty Barbie and Dapper Don Draper!
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I thought Ted seemed really into Peggy last week or so, then he's all La La whatev this week.
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this episode was an improvement from last weeks episode. (though Idk whats better the William Tell scene from last week or Peggy's stabbing this week?)

1st: only thing that bugged me was the description of this episode and how it was for like the C and D story line. like seriously when it said "Roger is plagued by a recurring dream. Joan goes to the beach." I expected a scene at the beach (I knew bob would be there somewhere) and Roger having some sort of nightmare. Sure Joan did eventually go to the beach (like in the last 10 min, and we only saw them prep to go) and Roger was plagued by him losing contact with both his son and grandson (the recurring dream being his grandsons nightmares bout the planet of the apes). Like really they could have said like Don goes to Camp and Peggy has a incident at home.

2nd. I liked the Don and Betty scenes they reminded me of how they interacted in S1 and I kind of miss that aspect of the show

3rd. Peggy finally is rid of Abe!!! my fav scene was her stabbing him. I both laughed and was completely shocked. Also did anyone else think that that was a dream sequence at first? I really didn't think that is was happening but it did. Anyways the whole Ted thing has been kind of weird to me. Mainly the fact that this season they have been making him the "nice guy" when back in like season 2?3? and four he was kind of a jerk. (remember him prank calling pretending to be Bobby Kennedy). Well I hope she gets over Ted hes def not going to be leaving his wife. I am one of those ppl who would prefer her to be with Stan, Hell even Ginsberg or Pete would be better imo.

4th. Speaking of Pete is it just me or has he been like flirting with Joan these last couple of episodes? I think it would be extremely weird if that were the case.

5th Still don't trust Bob Bunson (as Roger put it). And I still wonder why he is so interested in being close to both Pete and Joan, yet no one else knows who he is. Also is it just me or did he say that his father was dead at Roger's mom's funeral? And this episode he gives Pete the name of an army nurse that helped save his father from death recently? What? WHO ARE YOU BOB AND WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE. Judging from the previews for next week I think Joan is going out with him or something (yet being Mad Men that's prob farthest from what is really going on). But I guess my point is that I don't trust him, and I hope there is a point to him or else ill be very disappointed.

"I loved that the EMT shrugged when Peggy asked if Abe was going to die. " -that was also my expression when I watched that.
" I really dig the SCDP coffee mugs that keep popping up. " - I know ive said this b4 here but I want one/ too bad they wont be around when they finally figure out a name for the agency
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prediction: history is going to repeat itself from the last time betty and don impulsively had sex while estranged and betty;s gonna get pregnant again
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Totally had the same thought!
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Interesting but IMO it sounds too similar to Joan and Roger two seasons ago.
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So Mrs Betty Francis got her groove back hitting up that P90X, She has the attention of all the men again. It seemed even her husband seemed turned on about the fact that other men desired her. I don't know who has more ego now Betty or Kayne West.
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Hahah go Betty. I know everyone hates her but I think I'm one of the few who really likes her. Don really screwed her up when she already had little self-esteem, her new-found self-esteem is all because of her new husband. Hope she will become more awesome from now on.
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To my view "The better half" was all about family and how important it is to have some place to turn to. That is what the headhunter tells Pete, what Roger is trying to achieve by bying presents for Joans (and his) son, what Don longs for being (for a brief moment) back together with Betty, what Joan is doing spending a weekend at the beach with Ben, what Peggy hopes for when she realises that Ted is much closer to her in many ways than Abe.. Each of them has to face a choice - has to establish, which peace of the puzzle fits (to them) and which doesn't. And they usually do, they are usually sure of their wants and needs (at least for the moment). And here I agree with the author - all except Don. It seems that he only lives off regrets the last couple of episodes. And since he "only likes the beginnings of things" it makes it easier for him to always be miserable with whatever choice he makes and keep screwing things up, time and time again, never being content with what he has. A pretty shitty attitude, I would say...
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Oh Mad Men has no problem airing on Memorial Day but HBO have to be all politically correct and postpone what will prob be the more badass ep of GoT ever :( FML
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"Waiting for you to tell me to stop." is the most sexy thing I´ve heard in tv in a lot of time! Well, maybe is because Don sais it...he is so damn hot.
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Bob strikes me as being gay...I get the feeling he's into Pete, and Joan is just his hag/beard.
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I guess you were right :-)
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If im not mistaken, Pete is his boss/supervisor and Bob is just a struggling account exec who could easily lose his job after the merge. I think hes just trying (maybe too hard) to be on the right side. I think Bob could actually end up with Joan, he fits the profile as being the nice-young type like the ex-husband doctor.
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I guess I was wrong :-P
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I would like to see him coming on to Pete. It could be like Megan and her costar this week but 1000x worse. It would prob be hilarious with Pete flipping out and prob getting injured in some way (like walking into a door or something as he would try to get away).
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i'm feeling that vibe too! he just seems waaaay too interested in Pete..
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No don't give Peggy a relationship with a married guy again give her Stan. And somebody do something with Joan she's underutilized.
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I thought Peggy and Stan had great chemistry, when they were still phoning each other and stuff :) Too bad he did the other girl in front of Peggy's eyes.. Dunno if she'll be ok with that.
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You know how when she saw that she got upset. was it cuz she saw him with her or was it cuz he didn't take her advise? (or was it cuz she was upset with don)
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Don and Betty's camp reunion is *definitely* the first biggest event of the episode and it was awesome. In a lot of ways, it could have been the final scenes in Betty's Mad Men arc. They may not have bothered to show much of her transformation back to skinny blonde, but her quiet confidence and self-awareness was a complete reversal from her post-divorce anger.

Admitting she had found happiness in her life and clearly articulating to Don what closeness meant to her, if not to him, made me root for her for the first time in ages. She finally understands Don Draper and I don't think he saw it coming. Don's long stare towards Betty and Henry Francis from across the cabin was just as heartbreaking as his guilt at the end of season 1's "The Wheel."

If we see much less of Betty going forward, she made a great exit.
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Kind of bugs me that the transition didnt go smoother though. Suddenly she dyes here hair black, then shes blonde again, then shes skinny... and SCDP and CGC are still talking about margarine and havent found a new name for the agency.
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Definitely agree... they showed her attending a Weight Watchers meeting last season, but it apparently didn't stick at the time. That led me to believe that they would make sure to highlight the eventual weight loss method. Diet soda was introduced in the late 60s?

I guess we're to believe Betty re-discovered happiness via Henry's campaign and a return to having a reason for being. Just enough to keep her away from the couch with a bag of bugles.
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Great review, Maryann! My jaw dropped at Betty leaving the cabin door open for Don to follow her in. Truly did not see that coming. But you're right, THIS is the Betty that I like to watch on my screen. It's amazing how unattractive her insecurity and unhappiness was. Sure, externally, she's thin and pretty again, but her attractiveness has way more to do with the confidence and happiness that she projects outwardly. Good for her.

Peggy's homemade knife-spear FTW! Abe got what he deserved (well, not to that extent, but yeah, maybe...). I kept thinking that the ambulance would swerve or hit a bump and Peggy would fall over on that knife in his gut, or maybe that was wishful thinking on my part, but alas, no such luck. Felt so bad for Peggy at the end, stuck between two men she no longer feels comfortable working for. Dang.... :(

I like Bob Benson and I think he's great for Joan. Awesome awkward tension when Roger showed up, btw. And really great gesture on Bob's part to help Pete out with a caregiver.

Megan is absolutely getting fired for rejecting the boss's wife, another great awkward tension moment.

Good episode, much more enjoyable than last week's train wreck.
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I'm glad I'm not the only one who liked Bob Benson. I hope he doesn't turn out shady like everyone thinks. I think he's a good friend for Joan; I don't necessarily need to see romance between them, but it's nice that they're friends, at least.
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Yes, definitely agree! Although I hope Megan won't end up fired...even though a lot of people don't seem to like her, I'm rooting for her to succeed in her dream. Maybe she doesn't fit in the Mad Men world, but just as her own character, I like her.

Poor Abe...stabbed twice in one episode. Once by his own girlfriend (though an accident)...is it bad that I found it kinda hilarious? (While simultaneously hoping he didn't end up dying--I didn't want THAT)

I'm not sure what to think about Bob Benson...he seems like a nice guy, and I don't think he's secretly evil or anything...this kind of reminds me of how I felt about Megan in her early appearances in season 4...I noticed she seemed to be there for important moments (like Sally running away and falling) and wondered why such a minor character was a part of it. I wonder where the writers are going with Bob.


I was so excited about Don and Betty hooking up. I recently began hoping they'd get back together...mainly just because I liked their happy moments together as a family in the early seasons...but also because they're both such horrible people, they don't deserve anyone but each other.

I loved all their scenes together. I was hoping throughout it all that something would happen between them, but I wasn't absolutely sure. After all, in season...4, I think, there was a moment, I think when Don came to Betty's house for Gene's birthday, where she watched him playing with Gene and it seemed like something might happen from there...but it never did.

I was also crossing my fingers throughout, hoping that Betty wouldn't say something stupid and ruin the moment. But it didn't happen, thankfully--in fact, she was like a completely different character than she has been the last several seasons. I could definitely see how Don would find her incredibly attractive. Her self-confidence was way more attractive than her looks (not that they were bad, of course). Her voice seemed different, too...she didn't sound whiny and selfish, her voice seemed a bit deeper and she seemed more cynical, which made her seem more mature, in my opinion.

And I loved the scene with her, Don, and Bobby singing together. It was so sweet. And kinda weird to see her being interested in her children's lives for one...I wonder why she was so different? Must be the heat...or the mosquitos.
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Great points and couldn't agree more on expecting / hoping for the worst for Abe. That ambulance ride was a very satisfying scene as it allowed Abe to say all the things he's kept just beneath a frustrated surface for the last season plus.

And Bob Benson! I used to root for Roger + Joan more than any other romantic pairing, but as Roger has drifted away from Joan at her request, it's hard to see them coming together in the end. So Roger's loss might as well be Bob's gain, though I'm worried that Bob's more concerned with climbing the ladder at the agency via Joan's inside info than he is romantically inclined.
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