Mad Men: “The Better Half” Season 6 Episode 9 Review

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“That poor girl, she doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.”

There was a moment tonight where Betty took a lighter to her cigarette, lying in bed next to Don, that just took me right back to the first season of Mad Men.

The pair met for Bobby’s summer camp, accidentally running into each other at a gas station. Betty looks a lot like her old self, having dropped all the weight she gained from all her stress. Earlier in the episode she even has to fend off a man telling her he wants her all night at a fundraiser for Henry.

But even the former Mrs. Draper can’t fend off Don. Or is it the other way around. After sharing an adorable family moment with their son, show the best of both Don and Betty as parents, Don finds her outside. They share a few drinks and then go to bed. Mad Men is constantly reinventing itself for the time period it’s in, but this was oddly nostalgic. Just seeing them being civil together was eerie, but once again in bed was downright shocking.

Of course it doesn’t really mean anything. Betty made that very clear as the pillow talk shifted to Don’s new wife. As she ate breakfast the next morning with Henry, Don stared off in the corner, still a distant part of Betty’s life. I’m not sure how blissful of an experience she’s having with Henry, but she seems pretty happy. In an odd way, this could almost be a nice little bow on the story of Betty Draper/Francis as the show heads towards the inevitable conclusion next year.

Meanwhile, as Betty puts so beautifully into words, Don and Megan’s marriage is anything but blissful. When Megan sets up a special dinner for them after a rough day, Don asks if they can move closer to the TV. Megan later confesses to a friend how lonely she is, but even that goes wrong when the friend tries to kiss her.

When Don returns from his sexcapade, Megan explains on the terrace how things need to change between them. They even mirror the early conversations that led to the end of Don and Betty’s marriage. But the only thing Don agrees to is the fact that he is never home. What the show did here was show us all the ways Don has changed and all the ways he has not.

For us, we are entering the end of our sixth season following Don, and he obviously isn’t the same guy. A lot of shows get retrospective towards the end, but for many of them the golden era is long gone. Not here though, and it is making for some of the best Mad Men we’ve gotten yet.

Peggy’s story this week beautifully mirrored Don’s as a trip down memory lane that only came together in the final seconds. As one of the most dynamic characters throughout the series, the changes Peggy has and hasn’t made since the beginning are harder to track.

First off, she’s back at SCDP, with Don once again as her boss, the very thing she hoped to evolve from when she left last season. It doesn’t help that she also has to answer to Ted. It wasn’t totally clear where this was going when she was pulled in to pick which butter campaign she liked better. It wasn’t even clear when she fought with Abe about their living situation. But by the end, it was clear that Peggy is still doing a lot of the same things as when Joan showed her her desk. And that scares her more than it scares Don.

Peggy has always been a foil to Don, showing what could happen if Don didn’t suddenly get comfortable with his job (shortly after the move from Sterling Cooper to SCDP). Now Ted plays another foil to Don, the man with the same amount of success but totally different methods. Peggy tells Don after the butter confrontation how similar they are.

How telling that was now looking back, after her relationship with Abe shockingly ended and she came looking for love with Ted. But he showed her the door, just as Don did before she got all of her confidence.

Is Roger going through something similar? This week he pissed off his daughter by taking her son to see Planet of the Apes, an experience that was so enlightening for Don and his son. Of course Roger doesn’t know what he’s doing so it doesn’t quite have the same effect. “A four year old watching a four year old,” his daughter says.

He handles his relationship with Joan the same way. As she is on the way out to the beach with her new boyfriend, Kevin, the type of genuinely nice guy she deserves, Roger stops by with gifts. He later corners Joan in the office, saying he wants to be there for their son. “I know you want to but I can’t count on that,” Joan tells him. This is the lesson Roger needs to learn if he’s going to be truly happy. He seems genuine in the moment but will he always be?

Also, if there’s a couple this show is allowed to bring together with cliches and fluff, its Roger and Joan, something there end conversation hopefully leads to. How great would it be if Roger’s story ended with him finally being ready to let someone in and want to keep them? Joan is worth it too.

Based on how much I just wrote about these characters and how they’ve grown, it seems obvious that Weiner wants us to see that the end is coming. The Better Half was an episode that reminded us of all the years we’ve been watching this exceptional show, the terrific challenges our characters have faced, and the love and hate that weave them around each other. Season six is proving to be one of the best. Grade: A

By Matt Dougherty

One Response to Mad Men: “The Better Half” Season 6 Episode 9 Review

  1. James Murphy says:

    Good review. One tip: Kevin is Joan’s son. The boyfriend is Bob Benson.

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