Every week, Aaron Cohen (@UnlikelyWords) writes a recap of Mad Men for his blog Unlikely Words, and I illustrate something from the episode to go with it. Here’s Aaron’s recap for season 6 episode 9: (Still working on a different recap structure with David Jacobs. Some thoughts then a discussion.)
-This episode had two “OH MAN!” scenes, Betty leaving the door open for Don, and Peggy stabbing Abe, which was reminiscent of the British executive getting his foot runover with a lawnmower. I’m not sure if we’ve ever had two “OH MAN!” scenes in a single episode before.
-Harry Crane is a master of ambiguity. “I feel strongly both ways.”
-There was a Don vs Ted battle to start the show. They got to a stalemate, and then Ted acquiesced and then Don did. It was definitely a biggest dick competition and no one really wanted to get in the middle of it. Later on, Don challenged Peggy and wouldn’t accept they could both be right, “There’s a right and there’s a wrong.” Peggy might be a little biased, “He’s interested in the idea and you’re interested in your idea.” But Don knows what’s going on. “He’s interested in his idea, don’t let him fool you.”
-”Who is that man?” Yes, Don, who?
-”The Better Half” is the title of the episode. Henry and Betty, Don and Megan, Don and Betty, Abe and Peggy, Roger and everyone, Pete Campbell and the firm, Pete Campbell and his family.
-While I got the sense, Don was just out on a conquest with Betty, he also got (gets) pretty sentimental immediately after sex. “Thinking about how different you are before and after.” “I can only hold your attention so long.” And Don asks, “Why is sex the definition of being close to someone.” But isn’t that pretty clearly how he gets close to people? “She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.”
-”Don Draper: Father of the Year.”
-Apparently Pete Campbell is the only one at SCDP who hasn’t broken a promise to Joan? “Only person there who hasn’t broken a promise to me.”
Aaron: Abe says Peggy is not a brave person, reinforcing an idea Don had brought up earlier in the episode. This is shocking because Peggy has always done a good job going after what she wants, and more importantly, getting it. She forced her way into copywriting, off the secretary desk, and got a job as copy chief at a new agency. That’s not brave? Do you think she isn’t brave? Do you think she’s changed? Has Peggy gotten complacent? Or is it possible that Don has heightened expectations for her and she hasn’t (yet) stepped up to the level he expects?
David: She’s definitely brave – she’s the pioneer of the show, not just moving to the UWS – but all of the things you said. Has she changed? Yes, because there’s only so much further she can move up, and so she’s more aware of Ted & Don as flawed peers than idols. Don is not the Carousel Don anymore. He’s not even contributing to the creative. He was writing product spots without the product, and he ended up giving half his company away to his biggest rival. And he is now butter, trying to sell margarine. It viscerally disgusts him to sell an imitation of himself. Someone said “Butter is fresh, Margarine is indestructible” – and that’s what Don is up against.
And I think Peggy sees that, and that’s why she’s pushing him. You still don’t buy the product spots with product thing, do you? Let’s get to when Peggy stabbed Abe. I did not see that coming, but she certainly was looking to jettison him.
Aaron: I don’t look at the merger as Don giving away half his company. He wanted one of the major auto-makers and this was the way to get it. Theoretically the billings from Chevy would be worth way more than half the business before.
Both Peggy and Abe were on something of an adventure, dating the other side. Abe trying to convert Peggy to the counter culture, and Peggy trying to turn Abe into something she can bring home to her mother. She also hasn’t historically made the best decisions when it comes to guys. From Pete to Duck (DUCK IS BACK!) to married Ted… I actually thought Peggy and Abe would make it a couple weeks ago when he was talking about their kids.
That last scene was great when she goes in to speak with Ted and he’s in rah rah creative mode. He went from the one still thinking about their kiss on Friday, to having moved on completely on Monday. He gets cultish when he’s excited. Then she goes out to the hallway and is caught in the middle between two men who have shut their doors on her.
David: Right, every door closes to her, and a brick is thrown through her window!
Aaron: There have been foreshadows to Don and Betty sleeping together again for about two seasons (the last meeting in the kitchen of their old house after it’s sold). One episode she hates him and says so, and the next minute she’s leaving her door open to him. I think it shows the shallowness of both of them. I think it shows that Betty is just feeling frisky and I think it shows Don just out on a conquest. It just had the extra charge of their previous experiences.
David: Yes, she was so intoxicated by being in a family situation with Bobby — the only child they both truly love (she doesn’t love Sally, he doesn’t love Gene). It’s Don’s last hurrah as a god, father Abraham, himself!
Aaron: You see so much more in the show. I don’t think it had anything to do with Bobby. I think it had more to do with their ‘strangers meeting in Rome’ game. Betty liked that she could do it and not get caught “No, I mean do I look like I’ve had three children?” Betty liked that she had Don’s attention.
David: I agree, that was there as well. Since now Francis is as absent as Don was (it appears). All the way down the make-out session in the back of the car. This show often returns to cars and masculinity. “Every time there’s a car here the company turns into a whorehouse…” Francis appeared to be faking it in the back seat of that black car (to me). But Don was driving his own car (of course). And was even able to cut through the BS Catskills directions and just say “follow me.”
Aaron: I have no idea what you’re talking about. Henry was passionately pawing at Betty because he got off on another man hitting on her. Betty just got off on the extra attention. I know you love Bob Benson, so you got some good screentime with him today. He’s escorting Joan to the beach. Is it a date? Or does Bob friendzone himself?
David:: …. I think the beach is lover’s territory. Bob wants to be her husband, and he must have a whiff of the fact that she saved his job.
Aaron:: WAIT, no one gives a shit about bob. this is about Roger. Roger coming over was hilarious. “Who are you?” Roger’s trying to be a father to the kid he had with Joan, so he spoils his grandson. I got the sense he bought the Lincoln Logs for his grandson, but his daughter wouldn’t let him in so he thought he’d bring them over to Joan. In any case, what’s going on with Roger?
David: Well, he is also beginning to feel a longing for family. His mother died, obviously, he knows about Pete and Don’s troubles, it sounds like he’s been sort of a deadbeat grandfather, so Joan’s so is his last option. And I do love it when Roger dresses up, but it also makes me think, “Uh-oh, what does he want this time?” Roger also probably wants to spend more time with his kids since Gleason passed away. I like the Lincoln Logs theory, too.
Can we talk about the scene were Abe broke up with Peggy was an all-time great IMHO? Was he stabbed with a broom handle attached to a kitchen knife?
Aaron: Yes. You don’t have one of those? I guess we can talk about it. I thought the stabbing scene was better. He just got brutally honest in the ambulance because he thought he was going to die. It was interesting to me that he projected all of the issues on to Peggy, though. He said she was the problem, she was the antithesis of his beliefs. Basically, “It’s not me, it’s you.” And that’s bullshit because if he was with her and believed that, then he’s the coward for staying with her. Wasn’t he then staying with her because she was safe?
David: Well, he might have been angry? She did stab him! Reading that New York Magazine article, though, I wonder if Abe would have been against living on the Upper West Side. It’s from 1969, but people in 1968 were certainly aware of gentrification as a social problem. And obviously her income made his lifestyle possible.
Aaron: ‘Now I have a great ending for my story.’
David: Great line, great line! I do NOT want to see Peggy and Pete get back together, but my spidey-sense is tingling. Which brings us to Duck. Shouldn’t it be obvious what happened to Vick’s? I think he was playing circumspect, and I don’t trust him. They wouldn’t bring him back for a tiny role.
Aaron: Well, what happened to Vick’s is his father in law saw Pete in a brothel. I don’t think that would be obvious.
David: Ah, I meant that it was family troubles. Because the relation would be known. You don’t fire your son-in-law’s firm when all is well. So Duck, I think, knows something.
Aaron: Duck reminds me of someone I used to work with. I did not like him at all. He also reminds me of one of the shallow characters… Basically all the account guys, and Harry Crane… I’ve talked about this before, I think, but how can Pete possibly be any good as an account guy? In the first couple seasons, we’d see great pitches to see Don has advertising chops. The closest we’ve ever seen of that is Roger bedding a stewardess so she could spy on traveling executives for him. Why?
David: OK, I think there are three questions here. Harry Crane, as far as I can tell, was simply early on understanding TV, and accidentally became good at it (with some earlier cues by Joan). Roger is not obviously great, but he’s incredibly charismatic, and I love his little tricks (like “water with an onion in it”). I am guessing that Pete is a miniature Roger, learning (and stealing) some of those tricks, but also getting people drunk and high, introducing them to prostitutes, etc. And since it was all on the company account, it’s washing away. But Duck is thin gruel, weak sauce, no moleste. There’s nothing there, which is why I am worried by his return. He’s like the grim reaper of plot. I did love it when he locked the dog outside, that was a moment of theatre that really illustrated what a terrible human he was.
Aaron: “Early on understanding TV.” but we don’t ever get to see him doing anything special. “Let’s do a musical special!” He’s early on understanding it because the writers tell us he is. Pete Campbell and Roger are superior account guys because the writers tell us he is. They actually show us Ted and Don being good at advertising (well, more accurately selling their ideas). It’s one of my biggest pet peeves of the show. It feels like cheap and lazy writing up against the good stuff.
David: This is the Top Chef vs. Top Model/Project Runway dilemma. You can see the dresses, or the models, but you can never taste the food. It’s the same way with Pete & Roger, they never woo US, only minor characters. And your opinion about the account guys is fair, and I think ultimately Weiner thinks they and their kind are worthless, and that’s reflected in the treatment they get on the show.
Aaron: It’s giving the show a lot of credit, but I guess I’d buy that.
David: I loved this episode, and the last couple (on rewatch). I do feel like we are moving forward in time, which is ultimately what people want to feel from Mad Men (cue “Carousel YouTube clip”). Should we discuss the Megan/mentor scene? The writers are playing with the “mentor’s crush” dynamic between Ted & Peggy as well, but it felt flat to me.
Aaron: Yes, please do discuss this. Megan is another one who we were told how great she was at advertising, but it never really felt real.
David: I always got the idea she was NOT good at advertising, but Don flattered her and everyone was afraid to tell her the truth. And of course the same thing is happening in the acting world too, since he got her her first commercial gig. But ultimately Megan wanted advice from her mentor and her advice was “Here it is, make out with me and I’ll put in a good word with my husband!”
Aaron: Nah. We were supposed to believe she was actually good at it. “You’re a good actress on your way to becoming, well, at least a successful one.”
David: Could be, I don’t remember. But I was pleasantly surprised that she stayed loyal to Don. I guess part of the point is that she’s still naive, but I also can’t shake the feeling something bad is going to happen to her.
Aaron: Maybe she’s going to fall out of a window like Pete.