“They’re two halves of the same person and they want the same thing, but their trying to get it in different ways…”
No joking, huh! A look at fumbling relationships of all kinds continues to make for a strange, yet intriguing sixth season of Mad Men. Well, this one kind of came out of nowhere. Like most unexpected hookups that mean something even as we tell ourselves it doesn’t. There are two halves of a good whole, but some always say that one half is the better. So which one is it? Right or wrong, good or bad? I’m not sure that one half is better than the other, but it is a surprising push watching two old halves reunite and others split, converse and spar. As our characters continue to fall into their own personal hells, things get more complicated, especially concerning these interwoven dynamics that muster up emotions of all kinds. These poor people…it would be mildly humorous if it weren’t so tragic and very much a reflection of how the children in these failed relationships are left in the middle. Another eye-opening exploration of the child-parent relationship as well as romantic ones.
Peggy is torn. Torn between two men, both of whom are her boss and both of whom have her ear and her trust. Professionally, things shouldn’t be this hard, yet at this merged office environment, everything has become a hellish mess full of egos and personal vendettas. Don and Ted are no dream team to work with and Peggy does her best at walking a thin line between both of these men and their egos and ideas, but it does nothing to help the situation. Don is the half Peggy started out with and then outgrew and now Ted is an exciting new half that Peggy is trying on to see if he fits her needs, whatever they may be. Out of these two men, the better half isn’t clear and yet Peggy is ready to be a regulating diplomat in order to keep the peace in what is already hell. Peggy says it herself, these two men are basically the same at their core, but they are certainly different people.
Peggy likes Ted because he is a “good guy”. Meanwhile, Don prods her, attempting to force an answer out. Both men want the same thing; for Peggy to comply with them. However, both go about it in different ways. Ted pulls Peggy to the side in order to express his affections for her in maybe a slightly neurotic fashion. It seems to fix Peggy on Ted’s side for the time being at least. Meanwhile, Peggy is fed up with Donald Draper’s incessant pushing, his inability to “move forward” and stop treating her the same way he’s been treating her for quite some time now. Ted is almost easy in how he approaches and deals with Peggy. He’s definitely more delicate. Peggy’s infatuation is another hindrance from actual work. This nameless advertising agency has been up to more tomfoolery than anything that can be considered work. Ever since the merger, things have moved along in a tumultuous manner that focuses not on what it should.
Betty is back. She’s lost all of that weight with her new husband by her side and she’s gained a lovely new sense of confidence. Everyone has their eyes on her and it is frankly lovely to see her again. Meeting up at Bobby’s camp, the two divorcees, Don and Betty, get along spectacularly. Reminiscing and drinking together. It’s not long before they end up in bed together, enjoying one another’s flesh. This revelation pushes Don’s season journey into a new direction that is both wildly odd yet full of possibility. Don’s idea of sex is rather compelling and surprisingly honest. He views sex as more of an activity (like “climbing a mountain”) that he enjoys, but ultimately Don doesn’t link sex to love or “making love”. The definition of intimacy for both Don and Betty are different, which is why they could never really work. And unfortunately for Megan, she is falling into the same trap. Or more so she seems totally clueless, although she realizes something is not quite right. I guess in a different sense, Peggy is making the same mistake with Don as well. But Betty now understands him, possibly like no one else does and she finds closure in finally realizing who the man she married is and has become. It’s a shame that both Don and Betty had to figure each other out–become honest with one another–after their relationship became broken.
A lot of the developments with Don and Betty seem to come out of nowhere. They can’t stand each other. They’re always bickering and seem to adamantly insult one another in truly fantastic fashion. However, that is usually when Don and Betty are accompanied by their new better (or worse) halves, Megan and Henry, as if they have to show each other up all the time, still not having had much closure. Is this odd hookup that closure? It seems to be. At least it is for Betty. But for Don, his affections seem to linger a bit. As if he’s found a replacement for Sylvia. Imagine; Don Draper and Betty Francis shacking up together in their own hell! But wait, no–is this a rare moment of heaven that gives Don a bit of a conscious? Betty opens Don up as she returns home to a perplexed and lonely Megan and takes full responsibility of his empty company as a husband. Is this stolen moment an eye-opener for Don–is he on his way to climbing out of hell?
Joan spots the real father of her son, Roger Sterling enjoying his time with his grandson. It’s kind of amazing, realizing Roger and Joan’s past relations with one another and now watching them push each other away for their own good, of course. It seems to me that Joan would love for Roger to be in her son’s life, but only under ideal circumstances, which their’s is not. Still seeing Roger being a grandfather moves something in Joan that is both heartfelt and tragic. The image of what can never be. Good thing, Joan has a lovely new friend in Bob Benson, who she’s apparently been spending some time with. A fact that Roger is not happy about. In Roger’s mind, Bob is an interloper and it makes it seem as though Joan would have any other man around their son rather than his real father. Joan’s family (much like Pete’s) is in shambles. And good old Bob Benson is there to help them both pick up the pieces.
Bob Benson is like this benevolent angel in a crowd of fumbling demons, stuck in their own personal hells. But who the hell is this guy, for real? He can’t be that good. I’ve heard so many theories on who Bob could be: An undercover agent, someone from Don’s past, Joan’s new gay friend who likes Pete, etc. All interesting possibilities, but what if Bob Benson is just a general do-gooder? Unlikely maybe, but it is still a possibility. Helping Pete and Joan in times of need. Bob is exactly what they both need right now, but it would be smart to be at least mildly apprehensive about him. As we move forward into the final handful of episodes, the question grows larger…
There seem to be constant episodes of mayhem going on. Police sirens in the background almost constantly, the ominous rustling of thugs causing a ruckus in the streets and a continuous amount of death and violence, both symbolically and literally. It’s tiresome and it shows no signs of stopping, as evident as Peggy and Abe continue their attempt to be pioneers of the shifty streets in New York. You can’t blame Peggy for her frightened and abrasive behavior. Abe has this idealistic mythology that he and his lovely girlfriend are able to live amongst the supposed vermin of the streets and survive, cultured and self-efficient. All ideas that sound great, but the reality of it all does not live up to the expectations.
Peggy tries to adapt to her little boyfriend’s ideals, but in the end it is hell for her and it doesn’t take long before her frightened behavior ends in an accidental stabbing. That’s got to be the oddest breakup I’ve ever witnessed on television. You’d think it’d be the other way around, but it seems Abe’s hell with Peggy outweighs Peggy’s struggle to maintain some semblance of content nature, even in the face of what seems to be constant chaos that surrounds them. “Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment.” Ouch! Abe has clearly moved in a much different direction that Peggy cannot follow, no matter how she may try or insist. His ideals of society and the very nature of Peggy’s job disgusts him. Abe’s hell is Peggy and that stab in the stomach is just the catalyst he needed to end it, as well as his manifesto of a story.
However, this experience does leave Peggy free to actually choose the better half, which in the ideal case would be Ted. But as Peggy comes into work, visibly sweaty and tired from last night’s hellish situation, she gets pulled into a new kind of hell. As it would seem, Ted is no different than Don. It seems that lust for someone is not as exciting enough to continue when that someone else is no longer pent up against another partner. Leaving Peggy out in an empty hallway to her own graces. Which at the moment, she seems to be dwindling out of rather quickly.
In all honesty, this episode of Mad Men has me a bit taken aback and I can’t decide if I mean that in a good way or a bad way. I almost don’t know what kind of grade to give it. Don and Betty hooking up? Peggy stuck between Don and Ted? Peggy stabs Abe? Megan gets kissed by her boss’s wife? Duck is back and conversing with Pete? Joan is asked out by a desperate Pete? WTF is going on? I dare say, it’s more off-putting than last week’s installment, which is arguably one of the most bizarre (but excellent) episodes of the entire series. So what is actually the better half? It’s hard to say, at the end of the day (and the episode) it seems rather clear that they’re all alone in one way or another. Alone, in hell–a hell that they themselves ultimately created with their own sins. But could this be a turn in recent events? Maybe our Mad Men will be in store for the better half of themselves and their situations. I think this installment proves that the grass is not always greener on the other side. “The Better Half” is full of excellent writing, but in the end it doesn’t ring entirely true to me, and gets 3 out of 5 stars!
Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a comment!
© Patrick Broadnax 2013