Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mad Men Episode 6-9: The Better Half

Recap: The episode begins with Pete, Don, and Ted in the conference room debating what ad campaign to use for Fleischman’s margarine. Harry is in the room but mostly as an observer. Ted insists that Fleischman’s will taste better to consumers because it’s more expensive than other margarines, but Don says price is irrelevant because all margarine is cheap compared to butter, and therefore the ad should be about taste. Pete says to go on taste alone. They pull Peggy into the room and ask her opinion. She says she buys according to price, but when she realizes she may not be in agreement with Ted, she hedges and refuses to give a further opinion, claiming she doesn’t want to take sides. At the end of the meeting, Ted caves in to Don’s idea, and then Don says it doesn’t matter to him because he won’t even be there. After Ted and Don walk out, Harry says to Pete: “I wasn’t going to get in the middle of that. Are you suddenly dumber than Peggy?” He also gives Pete advice to see a headhunter, and tells Pete of his own career plans to become a partner, although for now he’s keeping his options open by looking around.

Soon thereafter, Don confronts Peggy with: “I’m not paying you to be a diplomat.” Don wants Peggy’s opinion about the margarine commercial, but instead she gives him her opinion of working with him and Ted: “You’re both demanding and pigheaded…You’re the same person sometimes.” But she says Ted is more interested in the commercial and Don is more interested in having things his way. Don denies this. She also says about Ted: “He never makes me feel this way,” to which Don replies: “He doesn’t know you.”

When Peggy gets home that night, Abe has his arm in a sling and was stabbed. A cop is in their living room asking him questions, and Abe is uncooperative and claims he can’t remember the details, especially when asked the race of his attacker. Peggy confronts him after the cop leaves, and Abe says in frustration: “Everything you say is going in my story. Why would you side with the cops?”Peggy thinks the people in their neighborhood are not their friends, but Abe feels he’s on the side of “the people,” even though one of them attacked him, and that the country is basically a police state. Peggy wants to sell their apartment and move out of the area. She sympathizes with Abe and thinks his weird behavior is due to a trauma, but Abe feels she’s patronizing him by sympathizing. Then, unable to type because his arm is in a sling, he tells Peggy to go get his typewriter and help him get some of his story down. She says she has to work in the morning, and tells him she’s going to bed.

Later in the episode, Pete, Peggy, and Ted walk down the hallway of the agency toward Ted’s secretary. She stands up and announces to them that Fleischman’s has called. Pete sees it as a good sign, but Ted’s secretary says they just called to get some data about market share, which makes them all continue worrying. Ted then calls Peggy into his office for a personal conversation and yells at her for touching his hand during the presentation and for smiling at him. Unaware that she’d done these things, Peggy tries to calm him down. Ted says he’s been thinking about their kiss ever since it happened. Peggy says she thought the plan was to forget about the kiss, but Ted says he can’t, and she says she thinks about it too.

The next time we see Peggy, she’s arriving home to find Abe trying with his one free arm to fix a broken window, where somebody has thrown a rock through their window and broken the glass. Abe agrees with Peggy that it’s time to put their apartment on the market. Surprised, Peggy says, “You’d really do that for me?” Abe responds: “Maybe we’re not cut out to be pioneers.” Then he kisses her, but the kiss lacks passion.

Some time later, late at night, Peggy’s at home holding a homemade weapon – a knife attached to a long pole. She uses it to open the blinds to see what’s going on outside their building, where there’s a lot of loud yelling and fighting going on. She’s very frightened. Just then Abe walks into the room, and she turns with the weapon in front of her and accidentally stabs him in the abdomen. It’s serious and they call an ambulance. On their ride to the hospital, Abe tells Peggy what he really thinks of her: “You’re a scared person who hides behind complacency…I don’t know why I thought you’d be braver…Your activities [as an ad agency employee] are offensive to my every waking moment. I’m sorry but you’ll always be the enemy.” Peggy replies: “Are you breaking up with me?” Abe continues ironically: “I’ve got to hand it to you. You gave me a great ending to my article.”

Back at the agency the next day, Peggy enters Ted’s office for a private conversation. She tells him that Abe has been stabbed, but that he’s going to be all right. Ted shows sympathy and concern. Then Peggy says that her relationship with Abe is over. Ted flips into professional mode and tells her: “I’m sorry to hear that” in an impersonal way. He also tells her she’ll find someone else. Then he acts like an upbeat manager and says: “It’s Monday morning – are you ready to work!?” He says Fleischman’s has just called, and “It’s full speed ahead. Round up the team!” Peggy is stunned and looks very lonely.

Megan’s story begins onset as she enacts a scene from her soap opera with Arlene, the wife of her boss. After the director says “cut,” Megan is criticized over a loud speaker for not making “the twins” (her dual roles) different enough. Arlene tells her not to worry about it. Next we see Megan at home, greeting Don as he comes home. She’s prepared a fancy dinner for him. Surprised, since it’s just a Thursday night, Don tries to act happy about it and cooperate but refuses to talk about his day. When he hears Megan discuss her day (“I think they hate me” at work), and analyze her twin roles (they represent two halves of the same person who want the same thing but go about trying to get it in different ways), he tells her he’s too tired for dinner and wants to watch TV instead. Megan goes along.

Don leaves town to visit his son Bobby’s summer camp, and Megan invites Arlene to her apartment for a lovely dinner with plenty of wine. Arlene enters the apartment in a fancy dress and Megan wears a casual pants outfit. Megan wants to talk about her script, but Arlene says: “Megan darling, you’re a good actress on your way to becoming a successful one. There’s nothing I can help you with.” Then Arlene tells Megan her experience at the start of her own acting career and talks about how she handled some harsh criticism she received then. Megan compliments Arlene on her career security given that she’s married to the boss, and Arlene compliments Megan on her strong relationship with Don. Megan confides that her marital relationship has become distant and says she feels lonely. Arlene leans in and kisses her on the lips. Megan is shocked and backs away, telling her that’s not what she wants. Megan then gets angry and accuses Arlene of misusing the personal information she’s been telling her, but Megan’s smiles confuse Arlene and she moves in on Megan a couple more times before realizing she’s being shut down. Arlene tells Megan that her concerns about acting are foolish and that she feels Megan led her on. Megan worries that she’ll be punished at work for rejecting Arlene, but Arlene ends the evening telling her: “No hard feelings. Status quo ante bellum.”

By the end of the show, Don returns from his visit to Bobby’s summer camp and comes home to find Megan out on the balcony at night, dressed in a Macy’s tee shirt and her underwear. Don tells her he missed her, and Megan replies that she misses him all the time. She then launches into a fairly gentle confrontation about the decline of their relationship and tells him: “Something has to change.” Don says: “You’re right. I haven’t been here.” He then kisses her, and she leans in and rests her head on his shoulder while he holds her.

However, earlier in the show during his travels to Bobby’s summer camp, Don had run into Betty (looking trim and blond again) at a rural gas station. In that scene, Betty asks the attendant for directions, but when the attendant (who is dazzled by her looks) fails to offer street names in his landmark-based directions, Don tells Betty: “Follow me” and they caravan their way to the camp. On arrival, Betty connects with Bobby first, and Betty and Bobby sing “Father Abraham,” a camp song with hand gestures, while sitting at a table in the camp’s canteen. Don walks in and joins them at the table, and they all sing the song together and have some family fun. Bobby says hi to another camper sitting with his parents at the next table, and explains that the boy is Bobby #2, while he is Bobby #5.

That night, Don walks by the row of adult cabins and sees Betty sitting on the step in front of her cabin. He brings over some liquor to share, they reminisce about summer camp experiences and the conception of Sally, and they both enter Betty’s cabin. When Don embraces her, she says: “What are you doing?” He replies: “I’m waiting for you to tell me to stop.” Instead she smiles and gives him the green light, and they have sex. In bed, Don tells Betty: “I missed you” but Betty says she’s happy in her life and just wants to enjoy the moment with him. She also talks about the way Don is before and after having sex, and says she loves the way he is afterwards until she begins to see the decay. Meanwhile, Don wonders why sex defines being close to someone. “If you climb a mountain, it doesn’t mean you love it” he muses. Betty remarks about Megan: “That poor girl. She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.” With that, Don kisses her and they move into passionate sex.

The following morning Don finds himself alone in bed. He dresses and walks to the canteen, only to see Betty and Henry sitting at a table enjoying breakfast together. He walks over to say good morning, and Betty and Henry greet him politely but then ignore him. Don walks to a small table at the other side of the canteen and has breakfast alone, looking out of sorts. Finally, when he returns home and greets Megan out on the balcony of their apartment with the same “I missed you” line that he’d given Betty a day earlier, he looks weary rather than excited.

Betty’s contentment with Henry at the breakfast table contrasts sharply with earlier scenes she has with Henry. First we see Betty dressed in an expensive gown at a dinner function she attends with Henry. Henry makes a couple of phone calls from a phone booth while Betty waits in the hallway and is approached by a man named Stuart. Stuart tells her he wants to be with her all night. Betty replies indignantly that she has three children, but then she repeats the statement in a flirtatious way, saying, “No, look at me. Do you believe I’ve had three children?” This takes Stu by surprise, but the conversation ends because Henry comes over to claim his wife. Then Betty and Henry take a limo home. After asking the driver for privacy, he initiates a conversation with Betty about what Stu said to her. She says she doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble, but then she tells him everything Stu said. Henry, after seeming to blame her for being the center of other men’s attention, is turned on and starts making out with her.

Pete’s story begins at the meeting in the first scene of the episode when, after siding with Don about the Fleischman’s ad campaign, he’s influenced by Harry to see a headhunter. Later in the episode, the headhunter he sees at his Manhattan apartment is none other than Duck Phillips, who is still up to his old tricks of trying to convince people that he’s way ahead of them. Duck puts the onus on Pete to do better at work so that Duck can help him. Duck tells Pete that, since the agency’s merger, his position is not strong. Pete says he doesn’t know what he can do in that regard. Duck ends the meeting by offering some advice: spend more time at home and learn to manage your family life or you’re not going to manage anything. However, Pete feels his family is a constant distraction, and he doesn’t even admit to Duck that he’s separated from Trudy.

Back at the agency, Pete enters Joan’s office and asks her whether she thinks his attention at work is “too dilute.” He feels he’s being pulled in multiple directions personally, but when he begins to talk about his situation with his mother, Joan says she can’t help him with his problems because she has the same types of problems. Pete then asks her if she wants to get supper with him, but she says she has other plans. Pete ends the conversation by thanking her, but Joan says: “For what?” Pete says he doesn’t know, and he seems confused as he exits her office.

Later in the episode, Joan is at home on the weekend packing things to go to the beach with baby Kevin and her friend Bob Benson. Bob is wearing short shorts and looking as friendly and polite as ever. Bob offers to get baby Kevin, but Joan asks him to wait. The doorbell rings and it’s Roger, wearing his suit and carrying a shopping bag that looks like it’s from an expensive store. Roger and Bob are surprised to see each other and they each quickly realize that Joan has a relationship to the other one. Roger then pretends he came to Joan’s place to get some work papers, and Joan plays into the ruse by saying to Bob: “Some people never stop working.” Bob offers to get the car so that Joan and Roger can speak privately, but Joan says: “Mr. Sterling was just leaving” and sends Roger away.

Back at the agency on Monday, Roger visits Joan’s office and brings the same shopping bag, which contains a gift of Lincoln Logs for baby Kevin. Joan tries to refuse the gift, saying it’s too confusing for the child to get gifts from Roger. She prefers that Kevin believe his father is Greg, a man far away that she can tell heroic stories about. She then thanks Roger for the gift and accepts it, but tells him he’s too unreliable to be in Kevin’s life.

Also, Bob visits Pete’s office and brings up the delicate matter of his need for a nurse for his mother. Pete immediately assumes Joan told him about the situation, but Bob tries hard to take Joan off the hook (“She was concerned about you and was well-aware that your well-being is also an interest of mine”) while providing a unique referral of a male army nurse who is “well-bred.”

Unfortunately, Roger has already had a bad experience with his daughter, Margaret, and his four-year-old grandson. Early in the episode, Margaret brings the boy to the agency to spend an afternoon with “Pop-pop” and Roger says he plans to take him to the zoo and then a movie. Later in the program, Margaret calls him on the phone and screams at him for taking the boy to see Planet of the Apes, a movie that frightened him so much that he’s been having recurring nightmares ever since. Roger defends the choice, saying the boy wanted to see that movie, and Margaret says it’s her fault for allowing a four-year-old to watch another four-year-old. She tells him he will not be allowed to take care of the boy anymore unless her mother (Roger’s ex, Mona) is there to supervise him.

The final song of the episode, Always Something There to Remind Me, is about a man who feels lonely and haunted by the memory of a past relationship that he hasn’t gotten over. This sentiment seems to apply to multiple characters this week. Ted tells Peggy he still thinks about their kiss (although he later acts as if he’s not interested in her); Roger can’t seem to get over Joan, who is always there at work to remind him of his feelings for her; Don hasn’t completely gotten over Betty, whose children bring them together and remind him of his feelings for her based on her beauty; Arlene may be constantly reminded of her crush on Megan since they work together; and Joan has her son, Kevin, who is always there to remind her of Greg, and possibly of Roger.

As the title suggests, a major theme in this episode is two halves of an individual, as well as couple dynamics (where a woman is traditionally considered a man’s better half).

·         Peggy tells Don that he and Ted are like the same person, but she implies that Ted is the better half.

·         When Abe breaks up with Peggy, his reasons for breaking up all have to do with her failings; not only is he resentful that she doesn’t seem to be his better half, but he implies that he’s the better half and that’s why he’s dumping her.

·         Don has long seen Peggy as a mirror image of himself, which may be why he’s so hard on her. He, too, is scolding and resentful of her because he finds his self-image (Peggy) to be so much less than he believes he is.

·         Megan plays two characters at work that are identical twin characters. Colette is supposed to be the better twin because she’s blond and self-confident, whereas the other twin is more subservient.

·         Megan is clearly Don’s better half; she is honest with him overall, confronts him and tries to drive his personal growth, and keeps trying to make their marriage work. However, it’s hard to know whether Don realizes her value as his better half.

·         Arlene shows two sides of herself, first as a coach and confidant to Megan at work, and second as a sexual vixen ready to swing with her husband and other couples or go AC/DC on the side.

·         Betty sees two sides of Don, the before-sex Don who’s aggressive and ready to “climb the next mountain” and the after-sex Don who’s attractive but shows signs of decay.

·         We’ve already seen two sides of Betty: the insecure fat Betty, and the self-absorbed snobbish thin Betty. We’ve also seen blond Betty vs. dark-haired Betty. The question about Betty and Henry is: which of them is truly the better half of that relationship? To me it looks like Henry, overall.

·         Roger and Greg may be two halves of the same person, each trying to serve as the absentee father of baby Kevin. Joan seems to believe Greg is the better half in that pairing.


A related theme of this episode is relationship triangles and the problems inherent in them.

·         The first triangle we see is Don, Ted, and Pete at the Fleischman’s ad meeting. Don and Ted square off about the focus of the ad, and Pete sides with Don.

·         Next, Pete is ignored when Peggy is pulled into the meeting, and the triangle becomes Don, Ted, and Peggy. Peggy expresses her own view but then refuses to say more because she realizes she’ll be siding with either Don or Ted and knows that either way is problematic.

·         After Don and Ted leave the room, Harry speaks of his relationship with a headhunter as well as his plans for becoming a partner at the agency, thus theoretically creating a triangle between himself and two agencies, one of which he’ll eventually side with.

·         After Peggy sits with Abe at home while he talks to a cop in their living room, creating a visual triangle, Abe accuses her of siding with the cop.

·         A visual triangle is shown when Pete, Peggy, and Ted walk together down the agency hallway toward Ted’s secretary.

·         When Ted pulls Peggy into his office to talk personally about his feelings about her, he reignites her feelings for him and thus sets up two triangles: one between the two of them and Abe, and the other between the two of them and Ted’s wife. After Abe rejects Peggy, Peggy chooses Ted, but meanwhile Ted chooses his wife, at least for the moment, making Peggy feel very alone.

·         The dynamics of Abe and Peggy’s relationship are strained by two triangles: Peggy’s love for Abe vs. her love for her career at the ad agency, and Abe’s love for Peggy vs. his love for “the people” and his radical belief system. They both ultimately choose their careers/beliefs over each other.

·         Arlene’s advances toward Megan create a triangle for Megan between Arlene and Don. This is not a hard choice for Megan to make, but it’s a funny twist to the triangle theme.

·         Betty drives to Bobby’s summer camp and encounters a service station attendant. When Don shows up, a relationship triangle is created (in the imagination of the attendant) and Betty chooses Don over the attendant.

·         At the summer camp, Betty, Bobby, and Don create a family triangle that seems stable, and nobody has to side with anybody else at that time.

·         Betty sets up a triangle between herself, Don, and Henry by having drinks with Don, leaving her cabin door open, and being available for sex with Don during their summer camp weekend visit. The following morning, however, she has no problem siding with Henry in this triangle.

·         Likewise, when Don accepts Betty’s come-on and sleeps with her, he’s in a relationship triangle with Betty and Megan. He seems to enjoy the adventure of conquering Betty once again, and he’s had so many affairs that he may be comfortable with triangular relationships. However, when Betty shuts him down the next day, he returns to Megan and “sides” with her.

·         When Henry and Betty emerge from the formal dinner they attended and Henry goes to a phone booth to place some calls, Stu comes along and creates a relationship triangle. Betty rejects him, then flirts with him until Henry comes along and Betty sides with Henry.

·         Wanting to create a relationship option with another agency so that he can side with either his current agency or a new one, Pete has a meeting with headhunter Duck Phillips. Unfortunately, Duck is unable to help him make a new connection at that time.

·         When Duck talks to Pete about finding him a job with another agency, Duck’s advice is to manage his family or he won’t be able to manage his career. This sets up a triangle between the individual, the career, and the family, suggesting that these three aspects of life need to be in triangular balance for success.

·         Following Pete’s conversation with Joan when he asks for her advice and tells her he needs to find a caretaker for his mother, Joan passes this information onto Bob Benson. This sets up a triangle (Joan, Bob, and Pete) in which Bob later gets back to Pete and tries to help him by suggesting a nurse, and Pete knows it was Joan who mentioned it. Bob does a pretty good job of siding with Joan while convincing Pete he’s on his side, too.

·          When Bob and Joan pack to take Kevin to the beach, they look something like a family triangle that could potentially be stable if they all play their roles well.

·         When Roger rings the doorbell and enters Joan’s apartment only to see Bob Benson there, the relationship triangle is tense because Joan has quite clearly taken sides with Bob and Roger feels strongly rejected.

·         Earlier in the episode when Margaret brought her son to spend the afternoon with “Pop Pop” Roger, a nice family-like triangle is created among the three of them. Later, Margaret sides with her mother (Mona) against her father (Roger), showing another family triangle that is disastrous for Roger.

A recurring motif of this episode that’s hard to miss is people giving mixed signals.

·         Peggy gets mixed signals from Ted, who wants her to keep her opinions to herself but also say what she really thinks about the Fleischman’s ad ideas. She also gets mixed signals from Don, who makes her feel like two cents while telling her that her opinions matter to him. Abe gives her mixed signals when he agrees to move out of the neighborhood because he loves her, and then breaks up with her shortly thereafter. Finally, Ted gives Peggy mixed signals about his feelings for her – first personal attraction, then a professional cold shoulder.

·         Don and Ted give each other mixed signals when they spend the meeting arguing about the Fleischman’s ad, and then both cave in to each other’s ideas at the end.

·         Megan gives Arlene mixed signals by inviting her over and acting excited to see her, serving her dinner and wine and telling her how lonely she is, and then blaming Arlene for putting her in jeopardy at work when Arlene kisses her. Even when Megan rejects Arlene’s kiss, her signals are so mixed that Arlene mistakenly tries a couple more times before realizing she’s being rejected. On the other hand, Megan has been getting mixed signals from Don for a long time, acting as though he loves her but also acting distant.

·         Betty gives Don mixed signals when she seduces him but tells him she’s happy in her life with Henry. When they have sex, she talks about his decay and expresses sympathy for Megan, who doesn’t realize that having sex isn’t a good way to get to Don. Surprisingly, Don is turned on by this talk and they make love. Also, Betty gives Stu mixed signals, brushing off his advances and then flirting with him.

·         Henry gives Betty mixed signals in the back seat of the limo. Henry seems to be scolding Betty for being the center of attention at the fancy dinner event, but when she tells him what Stu said, he starts kissing her passionately.

·         Pete gives Joan mixed signals when he enters her office to ask for advice, and then suddenly asks her out for supper. Roger has given Joan mixed signals for years, wanting her in his life but also wanting to sleep around and just drop in on Joan when he feels like it.

·         When Bob Benson approaches Pete with a recommendation of a nurse for Pete’s mother, Pete gives him mixed signals – first blaming Joan behind her back for talking about his private issue, then challenging Bob every step of the way, and finally seeming interested in Bob’s recommendation.

·         Joan gives Roger mixed signals when she first refuses to take the Lincoln Logs he bought for Kevin, and then later accepts them with thanks. Her actions give Roger the message that his gift giving is acceptable to her, even though her words say otherwise.

Possibly the biggest theme of all is relationship illusions vs. realities.

·         Don’s relationship illusion is that he’s the stud, always ready to climb the next mountain. However, his reality, at least in this season, is that he’s recently been rejected by Sylvia and he isn’t Betty’s first pick, either. Megan is his reality, and he doesn’t seem overwhelmingly happy about her.

·         Peggy’s relationship illusion is that Ted may get a divorce and marry her. Her reality, however, is that she is Ted’s protégé, making Ted feel powerful around her at work, but right now he is keeping their relationship strictly professional.

·         Abe’s relationship illusion was that Peggy would be a strong woman who would become radicalized and fight the police state side-by-side with him. His reality, which he suddenly realizes in this episode, is that Peggy is scared of “the revolution” that he’s dedicated to fighting, and she’s part of the capitalist establishment that he sees as the enemy. Meanwhile, Peggy’s illusion of a happy life with Abe has already become a nightmare for her, and even though she hadn’t planned on breaking up with him, his rejection makes her feel free to pursue a relationship with Ted, a creative ad person like herself. Unfortunately, that turns out to be an illusion too, at least as far as we can tell right now.

·         Arlene has illusions of forming a sexual relationship with Megan. Reality sinks in when Megan rejects her advances multiple times within a few minutes.

·         Henry’s relationship illusion is that he’s enough for Betty. The reality is that Betty plays around with Don when Henry’s not there, and she flirts with other men too. Of course, Henry doesn’t know about Betty’s night with Don, so his illusion remains intact for now.

·         Pete’s relationship illusion is more of a mask he wears around others. When talking to Duck, he creates the illusion that he still has a family life, although the reality is that he doesn’t. Pete also fancies himself a match for Joan, an illusion that she immediately shoots down.

·         Like Pete, Roger has illusions of being a good match for Joan. She’s rejected him before, but he now sees that she’s moved on to Bob Benson, a harsh reality for him. Equally harsh is his daughter’s screaming phone call, destroying his illusions of having a good relationship with his daughter and grandson.

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