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

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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"? 

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