Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review: Mad Men "The Better Half"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Better Half finds Peggy caught between Don and Ted's creative rivalry, while at home the rising crime in their neighbourhood is causing tensions with Abe. Visiting Bobby at camp, Don and Betty reminisce about the old days. Roger finds his parenting skills are not welcome. Pete decides to seek some career advice.

One of the best of the season, The Better Half fired on all cylinders—every storyline was interesting enough in its own right—Joan, Pete, Roger, Bob, Ted, Peggy, Abe, Betty, Don, Megan—that's been a rarity. Don's arc remains the primary focus, but it didn't overshadow so much of the episode as it's been doing this season. Well overdue is some attention to Betty. While she's a very love her or hate her character, she's lacked a lot of focus this year, but here she plays a critical role in whatever transition Don is undergoing.  

Spoilers Now!
Don and Ted continue to debate the margarine campaign. Pete recommends they direct their creative on the taste alone while Ted is more about the price. Don calls in Peggy to ask her opinion, and admits she would decide based on the price. Peggy wonders whose opinion she's supposed to go with, but Ted acquiesces that they go with Don's. Don replies by telling him to go with what he's most comfortable with. After they leave, Pete notes the exchange. Harry doesn't care. He's still bent on being a partner once the dust settles but that doesn't mean he hasn't been putting out feelers to other agencies, something he recommends Pete do, as well.

Don pops into Peggy's office, subtly hinting she should offer an educated opinion when asked. There is a right and there's a wrong. There's you and there's him, she counters, and she's not in charge of turning the merger into a collaboration. Ted's interested in the idea, while Don is interested in his own idea. Ted never makes her feel that way. Don says Ted doesn't know her like he does.

At a campaign fundraiser, a very fit Betty waits on Henry to make a phone call, but she's propositioned by one of his colleagues, Stu. Henry rejoins them and they leave. In the car Henry is angry that everyone seemed to be watching Betty through the evening, including Stuart flirting with her. Betty claims she didn't notice, but he asks what he said. Betty confesses his proposition. Henry ends up kissing her.

Peggy comes home to find Abe was stabbed on the subway. The police officer tells her his story is lacking detail. He sends the police on his way, leaving Peggy to ask him what happened. Abe is irritated they're looking for an excuse to round up blacks and Hispanics and he wonders why she's siding with the police and the fascists over him. Peggy suggests he might be in shock, but he gets angry. She admits she's sick of living there and wants to sell, and goes off to bed.

On the set, Megan is now playing twins, but is having difficulty making them different. At home, Megan and Don share dinner. While she's worried about her part, Don tells her tomorrow is another day.

Pete meets with Duck about some potential job prospects. He already got Bert Peterson a job. Pete wonders why he didn't get himself a job if he's so successful with others. Duck points out Pete has no place in the management structure, and he wonders what happened with Vicks. Duck admits he was very much like Pete in the past, and was desperate. Duck learned his family is the source of his confidence, so Pete had better manage his, or he won't manage anything.

Don is off to visit Bobby at camp, and at a gas station finds Betty, who is lost. Henry is coming the next day. Don suggests she follow him. Don watches Betty and Bobby, who is elated to have them both together. 

In the evening, Don finds Betty sitting outside her room and shares a beer with her. They discuss Sally, and Henry says she reminds him of Don. Bobby reminds her of her father. All the teenagers are in revolt, Don muses. Betty admits when she saw him she forgot how mad she was with him. She goes inside, but leaves the door open. Don follows. He says he's waiting for her to tell him to stop, but they spend the night together. She's as beautiful as the day he met her, he tells her.

They wake up in the night, and Don admits he missed her. She's happy in her life, and just wants to enjoy the moment. She can see how different he is. She loves how he looks at her when he's like this, but she can only hold his attention for so long. For him sex doesn't mean he's close to someone. He would have felt just as close if they had just lied there together. She asks if it's the same with Megan. "That poor girl," she says. "She doesn't know that loving you is the worst way to get to you." Don wakes up to find Betty gone. He goes in to the dining hall and sees Betty sitting with Henry. Don says hello and leaves them to sit by himself. 

In the Fleischmann's presentation, Peggy touched Ted's hand when she passed him the board in front of the client. He makes an issue of it with her afterwards, and she tells him she thought they had forgotten about the kiss. He admits he hasn't, and she does too. But they can't act on it. She never realized he felt that way. 

Pete talks privately with Joan asking her advice about his mother. He asks if his attention to business has been waning. He confesses his personal life is a mess. He doesn't want to put his mother in a home. 

Megan has her co-star Arlene over for wine and admits that since she's started succeeding, Don's had issues with it. He's gotten used to her not being around. She feels very lonely. Arlene kisses her, but Megan tells her that's not how to make her feel better. Megan suggests she's taking advantage of a private moment. Arlene's husband is her boss and she wonders if she'll be punished for it now. Arlene persists again, calling her a tease, but ultimately decides to leaves. She tells her to just learn the lines and let the wig do the work. No hard feelings. 

Someone threw a rock through Peggy's window. Abe tries to minimize it but she wonders if they saw him talk to the police. She's scared and doesn't think Abe is able to protect her. He admits she's right and tells her to put the place on the market. 

Margaret leaves her son with Roger for the day, but the next morning Roger gets an irate phone call from her, who thinks it's outrageous he took her son to Planet of the Apes. She calls him a child and tells him his grandfather days are done. She'll only let him see him if her mother is there.

Joan is off to the beach—with Bob. They discuss Pete and she admits he's the only one who hasn't broken a promise to her. She tells him about Pete's mother. Roger shows up, creating an awkward moment. Joan tells him they're leaving for the beach, and whatever Roger wants can wait until Monday. He leaves. Bob didn't realize they were friends.

Peggy is woken up by more breaking glass. She gets out of bed and goes to the window with a spear, only to be surprised by Abe, whom she stabs in the stomach. On the ambulance ride Abe is in a fugue, but tells her she's a scared person who hides behind complacency. Despite her apology for the accident, he goes on to say her activities are offensive to his every waking moment. She will always be the enemy. She asks if he's breaking up with her. She gave him a great ending to his article, he says.

Don comes home to find Megan on the balcony and tells her he missed her. She misses him all the time. She doesn't know where he's gone, but she's here. She keeps trying to make things as they were but she doesn't know how. Something has to change. Don admits she's right. He hasn't been there.

Back in the office on Monday Roger gives Joan the present for her son. He can't drop in on her, she says, and it's too confusing for Kevin. His father is Greg—everyday Greg is some hero out there, and she'd rather he be the man in Kevin's life. She thanks him and sends Roger on his way. 

Bob tells Pete he's learned he may be in need of a nurse for his mother, and he gives him a reference for an army trained registered nurse who brought his own father back to full health. Pete takes it. Bob asks him not to blame Joan. He has his well being at heart.

Peggy goes in to explain to Ted that Abe got stabbed, though he'll be fine, but it's over between them. Ted's sorry to hear that and assures her she'll find someone else who will be lucky to have her. Taken aback by his reaction, she thanks him. He asks if she's ready to get to work. It's a brand new morning. He walks out and says good morning to Don, who asks how Fleischmann's went. Full speed ahead, Ted replies. Both shut their doors, leaving Peggy alone.

The Verdict:
I really loved this one, and I wish there were more like it in that so many characters had their moment in the sun. Ted and Don's rivalry has Peggy in the middle, and her struggle to balance everything out between the two men in her life spilled over into her personal life, to a hilarious end of her relationship with Abe. I almost thought she might have killed him, but that would have thrown way too many complications into her storyline for the writers to have to deal with. It was sufficient to have him betray his true thoughts about her as he languished from his wounds. It all ended with a beautiful parting shot of broken Peggy being cast aside by the two important men in her life. At least her options are wide open now (though I just had a horrible thought that Pete's are, as well).

Harry doesn't need any more reasons to add to the list of why we hate him, but throwing out the dumb as Peggy comment didn't help matters at all. I hope one of the surprises at the season's end is him being fired rather than achieving partnership as he seems to think.

Pete had a lovely little moment with Joan, and even his exchange with Duck wasn't that acerbic as it might have been a few years ago. It was interesting to see Duck again and more at peace with himself. Added to the mix was Roger's outreach to Joan that was quickly rebuffed in favor of Bob. On this count I'm on Roger's side as far as his daughter's ridiculous over-reaction to Planet of the Apes. But what is Bob's game with everyone? I still don't know if I trust him now, given how he moved to ingratiate himself with Pete, unless he's trying to get into everyone's good books for job security. But I could be reading far more sinister motives than he warrants.

It was great to see Betty back in a position where she's happy and has regained so much that she lost. She completely held the power in her encounter with Don, and she can certainly be the woman she's been wanting to be with Henry in his campaign, a role she always wanted with Don.

Betty has learned plenty about her failed marriage and expressed how difficult it is to love Don. It was a pleasant, nostalgic moment, particularly the two of them with Bobby. But Betty drew the line with how far it was going to go, which was another reminder that he can't control everything anymore. For the moment it seems it's pushed him back to reality with what he has with Megan. Hopefully that will last, but I remain skeptical if Don has changed these last few episodes.

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