Episode 9 - The Better Half
29 May 2013
This season has clarified for me why I enjoyed Season Four of Mad Men more than any other. With SCDP rebuilding from the ground up the overall season narrative was very clear. Don too as a divorced and single man had a clearer purpose and focus. Season Six has felt a lot more like Seasons One and Two. The overall work narrative is not clear and in many ways the personal dynamics are even less clear. I wouldn't say the quality of everything Mad Men produces has changed dramatically but my emotional engagement is far more varied.
I've never had strong feelings toward Betty or Abe. Abe has always seemed to hang around. When he agreed to sell their apartment building I thought maybe once again he'd done enough to keep himself in Peggy's life. But instead he went out as the slightly comic, left wing caricature that he always appeared to be. A friend of mine began to turn on Mad Men when Pete and Lane had a fist fight. I can only imagine what she is thinking about Peggy accidentally skewering Abe.
As for Betty, she's always been a problem character and in a way the weight gain made her more sympathetic. Without a modern gym membership I thought an exploration of her attempts to get back in shape might be interesting. Instead she snapped back into January Jones and was once more lapping up the attention of men around her. I am glad that she is able to brush Don aside here. She can't help but feel attracted to him but she's now in a happier place and doesn't need to try and make him happy. Don finally has a moment of self reflection and tries to make things right with Meagan but you wonder how long that will last.
Joan had a similar moment to Betty when she pushed Roger away. She knows that his desire to be a good father is fleeting just as his desire to be her partner was. So she too makes a mature decision and pursues the apparently conscientious and caring Bob Benson. You still can't shake the feeling that Bob is up to something. I mean who goes out of their way to be kind to sleazy Pete unless their job depends on it?
I don't have a strong sense of what kind of man would be good for Peggy. Teddy Chaough proves he can be as cold as Don and I do understand her disappointment. However with all the b.s. that goes on in the advertising world it seems like she might be better off with someone she doesn't work with.
Alan Sepinwall (who wasn't especially thrilled with the episode) http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/review-mad-men-the-better-half-climb-every-mountain does a much better job than I do of discussing all the ins and outs and reeling off all the symbolism and themes one can take from each instalment. But I've returned somewhat to my feeling about the show in the first three seasons: it's immensely watchable because it stands out from so many formula-driven shows. But it can be hard to invest in because the characters can end up on emotional merry-go-rounds in ways which don't draw me in.
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