“Mad Men” thoughts, Season Six, Episode Nine: “The Better Half”

* “It tastes better because it’s more expensive. It’s the premium brand, and it’s priced accordingly.” Those two sentences could be unpacked endlessly. Thanks, Ted.

* “Don–I agree with you!” Pete’s on the pay-no-mind list.

* It’s funny to me with the benefit of the entire episode in hindsight, but I actually wrote “Peggy has to choose between Ted and Don” as a note on this scene, as if this wouldn’t be the explicit subject matter of the hour.

* Mad Men‘s soap within the show is in the grand tradition of such things, most notably Invitation to Love on Twin Peaks, the show of which this show becomes more redolent with each passing season.

* Peggy on her two bosses: “You’re the same person sometimes.” But she’s convinced Ted values things other than himself. Perhaps he just has a more palatable way of presenting his self-interest to those close to him. “He never makes me feel this way.” “He doesn’t know you.”

* Abe gets stabbed, part 1 of 2. Taking his muggers’ side in the argument — that’s marvelous, because he’s both totally right and infuriatingly wrong in terms of understanding the role he plays in the life of the person who cares about him: “Fuck those unfortunate teenagers, I love you and you’re supposed to love me!” How can Peggy trust someone who’s on board with his own potential annihilation?

* “They’re two halves of the same person and they want the same thing but they’re trying to get it in different ways.” Mel-via-Megan delivers us another doozy. In a way, Mad Men Season Six has become sort of like All Star Superman, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s superhero-comic masterpiece. That comic primarily pitted a dying Superman against thinly veiled analogues of himself: Bizarro’s the one that would be most famous to non-superhero people, but he also faced the mythical strongmen Samson and Atlas; Zibarro, the one smart person on Bizarro World; superpowered Lois Lane; superpowered Lex Luthor; a small group of fellow Kryptonian survivors, and so on. The drama came from seeing Superman juxtaposed against these non-Superman supermen, discovering what they had to offer that he didn’t and vice versa. Superman always came out on top, because that is his essential superpower. That of course has been Don Draper’s superpower up to this point as well, as drawn out by Don Doppelgangers like Henry Francis and Ted Chaough and Pete Campbell, but mostly those men exist to show us how someone else goes about doing the kinds of things Don does without being Don, and where that gets them relative to where it gets him.

* Case in point: Henry getting revved up by other men’s desire for Betty. His demands that she tell him exactly how his creepy colleague hit on her were very Dom Draper, but remember that Don was always mortified when Betty made her attractiveness evident for the enjoyment of others (or herself).

* Roger Sterling’s a grandpa! Ha, you knew that wouldn’t end well, though I figure the kid really does love his Grandpa Roger, nightmares notwithstanding.

* I am inordinately pleased to see Duck Phillips again. Always am. I love seeing characters continue to live on in the tapestry of a show they’ve departed, for one thing, but I also simply enjoy seeing how Duck’s career marches on in the face of his repeated flameouts. And hey, he landed poor Burt Peterson a plum gig! And hey, he’s doling out life advice! Pete’s in a bad enough place that he might well take it.

* Betty’s a knockout again. When I saw where things were headed with her and Don, I simply typed “Uh-oh.”

* “Is this all me? Because that’ll help.” “…I think about it.” That’s an intense little exchange from Ted and Peggy. I’ll admit I was surprised to see him lay it all on the line like that.

* Bobby Draper gets a scene!

* So both the Drapers have a “let the right one in” situation going on. Arlene sweats her way into Megan’s apartment, while Don is the vampire being allowed into Betty’s motel room. “Close the door. You’ll let the bugs in.” Oh, Betty, there are all different kinds of bloodsuckers.

* “What did you think when you saw me?” “That you are as beautiful as the day I met you.” Good answer, apparently!

* “Fine….No, I’m ‘fine’ with being a tease.” Arlene’s advances and Megan’s rebuffs were endearingly clumsy, if only because I still tend to believe Arlene that she and Mel won’t take it out on Megan.

* “Status quo antebellum: Everything as it was.” Cut to Don and Betty, post-coital. Nice.

* “I can only hold your attention for so long.” Jeez, that whole bit about the look in his eyes was so good, especially because Jon Hamm’s eyes are unusually communicative in a sexual context. I’ve written before that he never looks more human or more vulnerable than when he makes a move, his eyes all hazy and cloudy with lust and hope just like anyone.

* I typed this out as fast as I could: “Why is sex the definition of being close to someone?” “I don’t know, but it is for me. It is for most people.” “Just because you climb a mountain doesn’t mean you love it….If we lied here together with you in my arms I’d have felt just as close. But the rest of it, I don’t know, I don’t know, it doesn’t mean that much to me.” That’s a huge piece of the Don Draper puzzle, right there.

* Roger follows Don to the movies, then uses Don as an explicit reason why it was okay to do so. Adorable! I guess that vision in the mirror during his LSD trip wasn’t a one-off.

* The transformation of sleepy morning-after Don into PERFECT DON was just tremendous.

* Joan and Bob! The reveal of his shorts — we see them only after Roger does — was too fucking funny.

* Abe gets stabbed, part 2 of 2. He can forgive random dudes from the neighborhood, but not his girlfriend of several years. And he just annihilates her with resentment. I’m semi-surprised she didn’t grab the knife and finish the job.

* Megan on the balcony in a t-shirt and underwear. Ohhhhh, alright.

* Joan’s got poor Roger’s number like you wouldn’t believe. Worse than Betty had Don’s by telling him loving him is the worst way to get to him, worse than Abe had Peggy’s by telling her she’ll always be the enemy. Roger really can’t be relied upon by anyone except the agency.

* Final note of the night: “Who ARE you, Bob Benson???”

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One Response to “Mad Men” thoughts, Season Six, Episode Nine: “The Better Half”

  1. john r says:

    i was wondering what your thoughts were on the use of sirens in the episode. don returns home to a prepared dinner from megan and she is drowned out by the siren. don tunes out and they are isolated. later when she is on the balcony once again she is drowned out but this time a once again trying don looks annoyed at the siren for interrupting and he refocuses on megan. he is able to ignore the distractions of the outside world, at least for now.

    there were also the sirens of the ambulance when abe was ditching peggy. i’d have to rewatch but it seemed the soundtrack to this particular episode contains lots of sirens and bells. come to think of it a bell also drowned out megan in the studio during the recording of the soap.

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