28 May 2013

Mad Men Recap: "The Better Half" [Or, The One Mosquitos Ignore]

Why is it that 75% of my Mad Men emotional energy is spent worrying that Roger Sterling is about to die? Even after Lane's suicide, I'm still constantly worried that another shoe is ready to drop. ROGER, STAY ALIVE. PLEASE! And Joan, DO WHAT YOU CAN TO KEEP HIM ALIVE! PLEASE!!! IF THIS MEANS MARRYING HIM AND HAVING HIM CO-RAISE KEVIN, SO BE IT!! I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU WANT! JUST DO IT!

The notion of a "better half" generally allows husbands to feign modesty and to praise their wives' charm/beauty in one fell swoop. The autopilot vocabulary phrase keeps men from thinking too deeply about how to phrase the sentiment they know society expects from them. (Has a woman ever used the term to describe her husband? Maybe once or twice, but it was probably dripping with sarcasm.) Yet in this week's case, several Mad women consider their own inner halves, trying to figure out which one is "better." It's a far more active exercise for Peggy, Megan, and Betty (women in flux) than it is for Don, Pete, or Roger (men who were, are, and always will be one solid chunk of existence).

At the top of the hour, Peggy's brain can't choose between Ted's and Don's margarine pitches. Her heart can't choose between hairy hippie Abe and straight-laced bossman Chaoueeger. Her hair can't choose between matronly bouffant and sadsack oil slick. Peggy is split down the middle on so many options, it's no wonder she accidentally harpoons her boyfriend in the gut. Sometimes the only way out of indecision is action, violent though it may be. PS, Abe dumps her as he lays dying in the ambulance. He's that convinced of his own moral fortitude. And PPS, that rock through Peggy's window? That's Ted. Chucking himself into her parlor without offering to clean up the glass it smashed into a million pieces. Somebody cut this lady a break.

While Don's off visiting Bobby at summer camp, Megan contends with her evil twin soap opera roles. Her trouble differentiating the Good Maid from the Sassy Blonde makes her nervous that she'll get fired, so her costar Arlene comes over to go over some scenework. To Megan's surprise, Arlene comes onto her around 20 times. The half of Megan that belongs to Don is incredibly lonely, and the half that belongs to herself is suddenly being co-opted by a lesbian soap actress. Which side does Megan's well-being occupy?

And now for the Betty Francis Timeline, where she's back to thin and blonde, and every man wants her to be his "better half." Everyone flirts with her (even the mosquitos, finally), and Don casts her in the role we never thought we'd see her in: his mistress. Their sex empowers her while depleting him. The next morning, when he sees her at breakfast with the late-arriving Henry, his heart looks genuinely broken. How is it that Betty has found her best possible half now that she's out from under Don's thumb? Is he just a woman-ruiner? Maybe Don's influence shrivels up better halves until they figure out how to escape (see: Sylvia Rosen). Maybe he's the worst half there is.

Let's talk Bobby Draper. What an amazing kid. He orders lunch for his parents, shows them off to a fellow camper, and teaches them his favorite new song. It's like Sally's teenage melancholy has allowed Bobby the space to become a jumping bean of optimism. I can't wait to see more of him. I know it's unlikely, and I know I'm asking for even more, but maybe can next week JUST be a Bobby episode? Or "Bobby" A story, "Sally" B story (needs Glen), and "Roger" C story?

Roger playing with his grandson on the stairs gave me a hugely painful Godfather feeling, and I'm glad we were spared the orange-in-the-mouth. Or as you Americans call it, a sausage-in-the-mouth!

Damn it, Roger, please just don't kill yourself.

photos courtesy AMC (no photo link to be found this week)

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