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Relationships are complicated: A 'Mad Men' recap

Posted by Swati Gauri Sharma  May 27, 2013 12:04 AM

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AMC's behind the scenes look at the episode titled "The Better Half."

So, in this episode:

Henry and Betty hook up. Then Betty gets with Don, while his wife gets kissed by her costar. Ted tells Peggy he’s into her, and soon after her relationship with Abe falls apart in one of the best relationship endings ever. Joan is hanging with Bob, while Roger still tries to get with her.


This episode was reminiscent of the earlier “Mad Men” seasons, when the dark days hadn’t quite set in yet. (Well, let's not forget that Lane Pryce hanged himself. And the guy whose foot got cut off. Yeah. Remember that?) We saw Don playing the happy family man that was a far cry from the bleak, depressing childhood we've been seeing many flashbacks of (like, too many). Would that Dick ever think he would one day turn into this Don? And does Don even believe it?

Speaking of earlier seasons, Betty’s encounter with a man who was hitting on her was so remarkably similar to her first fliration with Henry. It was at a party. Don was there. She was married, and he secretly hit on her. Henry loved that she is wanted, and didn’t act in a jealous rage that Don would have.

One of my favorite scenes of this episode had to be the one between Don and Betty. (it’s not my favorite-- that has to go to Peggy stabbing her boyfriend, of course.) It’s funny how location can change everything-- I don’t think they would have gotten together in either of their homes. But somehow, all that tension between them was almost forgotten. Almost. She knows who Don is in a way Megan doesn’t, even though Don has willingly told her all about his past. When Betty tells her ex-husband that she watches him pull back, she tells him, “I can only hold your attention for so long.” It’s true. What can hold Don’s attention? We still haven’t figured it out.

When Don says, “why is sex the definition of being close to someone?", it's one of the more real things we've heard from Mr. Draper. He craves finding that intimacy that extends beyond sex with someone, and he does, but then distances himself from it when it doesn’t fit an idealistic (and demented) vision of what he wants. The problem is, he doesn’t know what he wants. Other than his way.

Peggy. Poor Peggy. First of all, it’s strange Ted called Peggy his protege. She’s clearly Don’s. And the relationship between Ted and Don continues to be one that’s extremely engaging to watch. I don’t completely buy Ted’s “love” for Peggy. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. But he definitely loves the company more. I think she’s exactly where he wants her to be. Even though Don’s conversation with Peggy about Ted ended with a well-delivered zinger: “He [Ted] doesn’t know you.” Maybe he does know her more than Don thinks.

And finally, Peggy and Abe break up. We saw it coming. And it was awesome. She literally stabbed him. And he told her, “your activities are an offense to my every waking moment.” It was such a perfect example of the times, of Abe wanting to be a pioneer and of Peggy wanting to, well, keep things going as they were. It’s funny he doesn’t see her as somewhat of a pioneer-- she’s one of the strongest female characters on the show. It’s the difference between Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, (but not McCarthy and, say, the "silent majority" of Nixon).

Additional thoughts:

Crime. Every single episode this season has had some sort of a crime or violent incident or mention in it. As I said in a previous post, creator Matthew Weiner said this was one of the darkest years in American history, and we’re definitely reminded.

Megan and Don. Their dinner conversation in the beginning of the episode was painfully awkward. Don had no desire to talk to her. At the end of the hour, both parties acknowledged their crumbling relationship. Was that a breakthrough for them? Will they try? Did Betty’s insight on Megan’s “poor” state hit home? Or did he want what Betty seemed to have with Henry?

Abe. Yes, he’s crazy, but I kind of love his passion. And his refusal to describe his perpetrators. And his desire to live in the “unsafe” part of Manhattan (which is now super posh). He’s crazy, but Abes are needed in our world, aren’t they?

Bob Benson. WHO ARE YOU. Why is he obsessed with Pete? Is he a secret KGB agent? OK maybe not, but something’s up. Also, still waiting for Joan to meet a decent guy.

Joan and Roger. Roger and Joan. Joan seeing Roger with a young boy. Roger seeing Joan with a young man. Ahhh.

Bobby Five. So many Bobbys. Betty: “Is that because of Bobby Kennedy?” Bobby Draper: “No, he went home." Bobby Draper is cool.

Someone’s got a crush on Megan. And it’s not her husband. It's her coworker, and boss's wife. Arlene won’t stop trying with Megan. It’s hilarious.

"All the teenagers of the world are in revolt." Yup. More Sally in revolt, please.

Confession: I spent most of the day watching season four of “Arrested Development.” So, a break from the trippy, druggy, uncomfortable, creepy, dark episodes of “Mad Men” we’re seeing was welcome. But, can we please go back to the real non-fluff stuff next week? Thanks.

What did you think of the episode? Which couple do you think will make it, and which will fail? A little survey for you, for fun:

Leave your thoughts in the comments, and feel free to tweet at me: @swatigauri. Happy three day weekend!

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