It’s a battle royale this week. No, Pete didn’t get punched in the face (yet).
‘The Better Half’ explored contending relationships, both at home and at work. It was one of the more shocking and gruesome episodes since a man lost his foot to a lawn mower. Thankfully, nobody died.
The match-ups: Don vs. Ted, Betty vs. Megan and Abe vs. civilized society. Nobody was a clear winner, but the definite loser was Peggy. More on the advertising wunderkind in a bit, but first, let’s talk about Don.
This season has elicited a lot of gripes about rehashing the same ol’ story line for Don. Yes, he’s a philander; yes, he’s a lush; yes, he’s unhappy. But we need to see something different to feel engaged.
And the least expected thing from Don Draper? Seeing him act like a father and genuinely enjoying it. The father-son duo singing “Father Abraham” was so adorable and incredibly endearing. No wonder Betty left her cabin door open.
The Don-Betty affair was one I sensed coming when she was moving out of the Draper house in season four. As Don pulled out a hidden liquor bottle (which was hinted at as he and Betty clinked drinks at the cabin in this episode), she confided in Don that everything between her and Henry wasn’t “perfect.”
In Betty’s world, imperfect translates to disastrous. Just like Don, she quells her unhappiness in the arms of someone other than her spouse.
Her sadness, coupled with her drastic weight loss, has catapulted Betty from neurotic to full-blown narcissistic. “What did you think when you first saw me?” Don says what she wants to hear: “That you were as beautiful as the day I first met you.”
But still, words aren’t enough. Even after Don admits that sex doesn’t define closeness, Betty coyly asks, “You sure you just don’t want to hold me?” No, he’ll just settle for sex.
The next day he wakes up to find Betty gone. At the cafeteria he finds her sitting and giggling with Henry. It’s like she planned it. Betty, in her signature Ice Queen blue hue, gives off a cruel and conniving vibe, much like the queen bee in a high school cafeteria.
And much like Lindsay Lohan in ‘Mean Girls’ retreating to the bathroom to eat her lunch, a dejected Don shuffles off to a lonely table in the back. We almost feel sorry for Don. Almost.
We do, however, feel sorry for Megan. As much as she tries, she’s just not getting through to her distant husband.
First, she tries making dinner for him. He’s not hungry. She asks him how his day was. He’s reticent. Police sirens go off in the background. Then she tries opening up about her difficulties with her new part -- twins, no less -- on her soap opera.
“They’re two halves of the same person and they want the same thing, but they’re trying to get it in different ways.” Megan’s analysis could possibly describe two sets of people: The real Don versus the idealist Don, or Megan versus Betty.
Don has always wanted to be the family man who feels fulfilled by his doting wife, darling children and rewarding job. Nevertheless, his deeply rooted fear of abandonment prevents him from connecting with his loved ones.
But more than likely, this is a metaphor for Megan and Betty. They both want to be near Don. Betty has since moved past the idea of being married to Don. Megan, however, is grasping to keep her husband’s attention.
“She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you,” Betty observes.
(Side note: Why is it that Don’s been sleeping with women who have been rooting for Megan this season? First it was Sylvia pointing out that Don once loved Megan and telling him that she prayed for his peace of mind. Now his ex-wife pities her and makes observations as to why his relationships with women don’t work. Why can’t he get sound marital advice from a woman who isn’t banging him before he goes home to his wife?)
As it turns out, sex is the farthest thing to feel close to Don. For Megan, that makes repairing their marriage a tricky task.
“We need you to make these women different,” the soap opera producer says on set, clearly referring to the dueling wives. And how exactly does Megan stop herself from becoming the brunette Betty?
Megan confronts Don, rather than seethe in resentment.
“I don’t know where you’ve gone, but I’m here,” she confides.
Again, we hear sirens going off in the background, alerting us of the couple’s continuing marriage troubles.
“I keep trying to make things the way they used to be, but I don’t know how. Maybe that’s stupid or young to think like that, but something has to change.”
“You’re right,” he admits. “I haven’t been here.” He kisses her and draws her near. And that is the closest thing she’ll get to a confession of adultery from Don Draper.
Peggy, meanwhile, is struggling with her relationship with Don, even though she’d rather be closer to Ted. To raise tensions higher, Ted and Don are duking it out over margarine. Yes, margarine. And both are competing for her approval, and thus, affection.
“You’re both demanding. You’re both the same person,” she points out. Yes, they are. Right down to their feelings for Peggy.
“What an old tune,” Ted sighs, “the boss is in love with his protégé.” Yes, it is. In fact, Don was there first. Peggy touching Ted’s hand during the presentation is a callback to when she touched Don’s hand on her first day at Sterling Cooper.
But the Don-Ted match-up isn’t the only time Peggy is forced to pick sides. The latest is when when Abe is stabbed by a local neighborhood kid. Rather than help the police find the suspect, he remains mum.
A true martyr, that Abe. Peggy, always the smart one, urges him to catch the criminal. “Why would you side with the cops?” Abe indignantly snaps.
From there, their relationship only continues to deteriorate. She becomes increasingly paranoid, carrying around a broom for protection. Then when she upgrades it to a makeshift broom-shiv, she accidentally stabs Abe in the stomach.
In the ambulance, he calls her the “enemy.” Yes, her, not the kid who intentionally stabbed him. It isn’t for stabbing him, but for working in advertising. On top of that, he’s going to include this in his tell-all story. And Abe has the audacity to call the cop a pig.
“Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment,” he professes. Ouch. I find his mustache offensive, but there’s not much I can do about that.
But even more repulsive is the fact that he manipulated his girlfriend into living in a dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhood, much to her repeated resistance, just so that he can tout himself as a pioneer.
I internally rejoiced when they broke up. Not necessarily under those circumstances (less stabbing, more Peggy doing the actual dumping), but Abe’s contempt for advertising was obvious from the beginning. It was clear that they wouldn’t last.
At least this means that she and Ted can finally be together, right? Not so fast.
When Peggy rushes to tell Ted the good news (that she’s single -- nothing's good about Abe getting stabbed), he assures her that she’ll find someone else. That someone else is not him.
This truly shows what a good guy he is. As agonizing as it is to see Peggy get turned down by her boss -- not once, but twice -- Ted and Don respect her enough not to toy with her emotions.
Three doors closed on her: two literal (Ted’s and Don’s office doors) and one figurative (Abe). As the cliché goes, she should look for an opened window for a new opportunity -- preferably hasn’t been smashed with a rock or boarded up.
MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM ‘THE BETTER HALF’:
BEST STERLING ONE-LINER: Roger’s overwhelming immaturity dulled his charm -- odd, since it usually enhances it. But most of his lines sounded toddler childish, not teenage boy childish. So, this week’s honor goes to his daughter: “It’s my fault for letting you talk me into having a four-year-old watch another four-year-old.” Like father, like daughter.
MOST UNLIKELY DUO: Joan helping Pete. After all he put her through (what with the whole prostitution thing), it was rather surprising to see her give him career advice. She did make a good point that he never broke a promise to her.
CREEP OF THE WEEK: Arlene, guilt tripping Megan for not giving in to a Sapphic tryst. That’s pretty tame on the creep scale, as far as "Mad Men" goes, but pushy and manipulative seducers should never get off easy.
WORST EXCUSE FOR BEING A PARENT: When Stu is hitting on Betty, she tells him she has kids. We think that’s a way to ward him off, but no. It’s just another way to stroke her ego: “No, look at me, can you tell I’ve had three children?” Those poor, poor children.
BIGGEST (AND LEAST PC) EXAGGERATION: Abe forgives the mugger who stabbed him, since they were brought on slave ships against their will. Peggy compares that oppressiveness to being coerced to live that s---hole. Uh, might want to dial that comparison back a bit, Pegs.
MOST DERANGED WORKAHOLIC: Abe, ordering Peggy to get him his typewriter so that he can write an article with only one functioning arm.
BIGGEST SUCK-UP: Bobby Benson. I don’t care if he whisks Joan off her feet to the beach or moonlights as a shrink to the whole SCDP-CGC-Whatever (how do they still not have a name?!) staff, I don’t trust him. No one on ‘Mad Men’ is that nice. Is he a mole for Abe’s big story about the enemies on Madison Avenue? Not likely, but still more likely than his supposed genuine altruism. Either that or maybe he truly is the world’s most dedicated ass-kisser.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun