Mad Men: “The Better Half”

*spoilers*

First off, great fucking episode, the best of the sixth season thus far. What I liked most was that it juggled multiple storylines instead of focusing on one character, returning the series’ earlier dynamic.

Initially, I thought “The Better Half” was going to be another heavy handed sleeper when Megan just about spelled out the connection between her twin characters on To Have and to Hold and Don/Ted.

Thankfully, the episode went deeper than a yet again another juxtaposition of SCDPCGC’s two creative honchos. “The Better Half” makes a larger point about repetition and difference. We see this with the episode’s many instances of multiplicity: Megan’s twins, Ted and Don, the many shades margarine, father Abraham’s seven sons, and the half-dozen Bobbies at camp, to name just a few.

butter-vs-margarine(The ultimate battle)

However, my favourite case was Betty. Early on, the episode recreates the circumstances under which Betty and Henry met, except this time Henry is off doing business and another suitor has come knocking. The obvious point here is that the old Betty is back, teasing cocks and breaking hearts.

Yet, this Betty is different. Instead of passively encouraging flirtation while feigning offence, which was so frustrating to watch in past episodes, Betty takes ownership of her wandering eyes and puts her admirer on his toes. She is likewise aggressive when she and Don finally consummate the sexual tension that’s been lingering since the end of season four. Unexpectedly, though, it’s she who seduces Don.

After some booze and nostalgia outside a motel near Bobby’s Scouts camp, Betty leaves the door open for Don both metaphorically and literally. It was interesting to watch this new/old Betty seduce Don and control the encounter.

Conversely, Don is now the insecure one, moving from affair to affair, finding less satisfaction in each. Don actually asks Betty what she’s thinking during their pillow talk, to which Betty slays him with this: “Loving you is the worst way to get to you.”

The morning after, Don’s lying in the bed alone, and walks out to find Betty happily enjoying breakfast with Henry. It seems Betty has taken a page out of Don’s book, and is able to relegate her sexual escapades to the periphery. Don then sadly takes an empty table in the corner of the restaurant, giving lie to his claim that sex means nothing to him.

Betty’s role in this episode was satisfying for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was nice to see January Jones do something besides making sour faces at Sally or nagging Don and/or Henry. Secondly, there’s legitimate growth in her character. She’s returned to her old blond bombshell physique, but with a renewed sense of self. She doesn’t hide behind complacency anymore or play the naïve babe lost in the woods.

Betty-Draper(Betty’s back, bitches)

The same, however, can’t be said for Betty, who is now stranded with no one as she has too long tried to walk the vanilla middle path.

“The Better Half” saw the end of the fraught Betty-Abe relationship with homemade spear to Abe’s gut, to the delight of many fans. On top of being funny without being slapstick, the scene felt very primal, especially after Abe suggesting they weren’t cut out to be “pioneers.”

While I’m happy to see this play out the way it did, I wasn’t an Abe hater. I like the way Weiner has handled New York’s 60s hipster scene. It’s fascinating to watch the contrast of 6th Avenue’s cynicism against the (often pseudo-) idealism of Greenwich Village. The mix often best reveals Mad Men’s most central theme: performance and masks.

I’m excited to see what happens next for Peggy. Her two mentors have (again, metaphorically and literally) shut their doors on her. Perhaps she and Pete will set out with Duck, as he once conspired to do many moons ago.

dsc08343(Joan and Roger not sure what to make of Benson’s shorts – source)

Who the actual fuck is Bob Benson. The show reveals just about every inch of his inner thigh with those shorts, but nothing of his ambition of goal. What is his endgame? Does he even have one? Why is he ingratiating himself into the lives of SCDPCGC, particularly Pete Campbell? Is he ladder-climber? A psychopath? Either way, it’s starting to approach Lost territory.

Also, it was so sad to watch Roger try and manoeuvre around him and Joan. He looked so crushed as it is finally starting to set in that Joan, and his son, is now verboten territory for him. Perhaps Roger, too, will meet a sad end.

Cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on May 27, 2013.

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