TV Club

Mad Men “The Better Half” review: Peggy and Abe and Ted and Don.

Peggy & Abe & Ted & Don.

Courtesy of AMC

Paul, Seth:

I experienced this episode as more of a desultory placeholder designed to ease us off the manic high of last week. Maybe the drag for me was the recurring theme of indecision, which makes for a kind of constipated drama. The admen couldn’t decide between luxury margarine or cheap; Megan was caught between the maid (brunette) and her classy sister Colette (blond); Peggy between Don and Ted, and then Ted and Abe; Don between Betty and Megan; Mel between making Arlene his girlfriend or his mother; the sons of Abraham between not laughing and not crying. Arlene had the best riff on what it’s like to be caught between two poles, when she described to Megan how she felt after landing her first job. “Every day I would vacillate between, Arlene you’re wonderful and Arlene you’re caca.”

“Which was it?”

“Honestly, I was wonderful.”

In that willful self-hug you see into a future of Erica Jong and Marianne Williamson and eventually, Oprah. One broad theme of the late ‘60s was a nation moving from prescribed roles (husband, wife, father, mother, soldier) to chosen identities (hippie, activist, lesbian, reactionary), and the latter mode requires constant reinvention and self-affirmation. Don Draper once spectacularly erased his old identity as Dick Whitman and chose a new one for himself. In this episode, several major characters were faced with a choice between something and its opposite. The losers were the ones who wavered, or became paralyzed, or land “somewhere in the middle,” as Peggy says—or, in Pete’s case, filled the room with their desperation. The winners were the ones who just chose to make a choice, and that act alone would imbue them with confidence and wonderfulness.

Paul, you saw the silver lining for Peggy in this episode, but I thought she was brutally treated, by both Abe and Ted. Both men make a decisive choice, and they choose against poor Peggy. Abe, that self-righteous little pecker, decides in an instant that Peggy is not “brave” after all but “a scared person who hides behind complacency.” His change of heart has nothing to do with anything Peggy has said or done differently; he’s just willed himself to see the people who attack him and throw rocks through his windows as the victims of the fascist pigs, and anyone who sees them differently as the enemy. And Ted, the creepy little tease, tells Peggy he’s just another cliché, in love with his protégée, and the next day pretends that confession never happened, merely because he’s decided that being in love with her might get in the way of his productivity. The scene in his office is chilling. He doesn’t explain himself to Peggy, or brood, or show any signs of longing. He just bullies an alternate reality into being. “Ready to get to work? It’s Monday morning, Peggy, it’s a brand new work week,” he shouts, opening his office door as if he’s starring in an ad about a nifty new typewriter. “Round up the team.”

As Ted is perpetually starting fresh, Don is moving backward. I didn’t entirely buy the reunion of Don and Betty. Or maybe it’s that whenever Don goes on the road, it feels like a dream sequence. For starters, where did this Varga girl version of Betty come from? Didn’t we see her looking a little bloated on the couch just last week? How did her perpetual efforts at “reducing” finally take hold? How is this new old Betty so full of wisdom, self-awareness, tenderness, mellowness, and easy laughter? And how did Don so quickly forget about Sylvia? Also, I couldn’t really follow those mountain metaphors. “Just because you climb a mountain, doesn’t mean you love it”?? That sounds like something Andy on Parks and Rec would say.

Seth, I’m curious what you make of Roger’s predicament. I thought his daughter was a little hard on him about taking her son to the movie. Also, I’ve gotten used to watching Don stumble around blindly, but a broken Roger toting around a bag of Lincoln Logs and looking for a place to land is too much for me. I need someone to be the anchor.

There is no Bobby one,