Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mad Men 6-9: The Better Half

Because I'm coming so late to this week's episode (I was away from home Sunday night, and for some reason my DVR failed to record the original broadcast), I'll just offer ten quick thoughts:

1. In form, less strange than last week's episode-on-speed, but in substance, arguably even stranger. Don and Betty hooking up? Joan and Bob Benson going to the beach together? Peggy stabbing Abe with a bayonet? Way bigger wtf moments than Ken Cosgrove tap-dancing.

2. Didn't really care for the Don and Betty hookup - telegraphed the moment the miraculously hot-again Betty pulled her head out of that car - but their postcoital conversation was worth it. These occasional flashes of insight Betty has are all the more welcome for being so few and far between. But then she knows Don Draper like no one else does, and now that she's no longer in his thrall, he no longer has any power over her.

3. Duck Phillips returns! Gotta give the guy credit, he seems to be professionally indestructible - takes a licking (or, in his case, a shitting) and keeps on ticking. I can't help liking the guy for some reason, despite everything.

4. Poor Peggy. I would say Abe was a huge jerk for the way he dumped her - but then it's hard to blame a guy for being cruel to a girlfriend who just stabbed him in the gut. At least he was honest about what he couldn't stomach (har, har) about her. And truthfully, that writing's been on the wall for a while now.

5. Poor Megan is about to lose her soap opera gig...but possibly regain her husband? Too early to tell, though it would be a nice twist if it was his fling with Betty that made him return to his marriage. This is Don, though: it probably won't last.

6. What is up with Joan and Bob Benson? For that matter, what is up with Bob Benson? I don't get a sinister vibe from him, but he's also coming off as a bit too good to be true. When he met with Pete and mentioned gossip, I thought for a moment he was going to say something about Joan and Roger. Thankfully, he didn't. However, it's worth noting that the actor who plays him, James Wolk, previously played the ultimate con man on the short-lived TV series "Lone Star."

7. As other recappers have pointed out, so I can't really take any credit for this observation, there's a lot of play with doubling and duality - appropriate for an episode titled "The Better Half." Megan playing twins, Roger trying (and failing) to be both father and grandfather, and of course Peggy's resistance to choosing between Don and Ted, culminating in seeing both of their doors shutting on her. And while Ted shows more integrity - in a way - in turning Peggy down, I couldn't help remembering the famous Don Draper line, "It will shock you how much this never happened."

8. Relatedly, a lot of echoes of the past, another favorite MM theme: Don cheating on his current wife with his ex-wife, Henry witnessing another man hitting on Betty just as he did when she was married to Don, Bob Benson brown-nosing like a mini-Pete Campbell.

9. Also a lot of sirens in this episode: sounding the alarm for our characters, or simply signaling the growing unrest in late '60s New York?

10. Line of the week: oh, without a doubt, "I'm Bobby Five!" (Meta joke alert: in case you haven't noticed, there's been a different child actor playing Bobby just about every season of MM.) Runner-up, courtesy of Roger's daughter - "Don Draper, father of the year." It's all about that tone of utter disdain.


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