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Worldly Distractions: Mad Men 6.9 - The Better Half





So we can all agree last week was a total mindfuck, right? Hopefully the entire office won't get high again. Nonetheless, I'm sure that Matthew Weiner and his Merry Band will find a way to leave us totally flummoxed. Spoilers abound, naturally. Let's see what Don does wrong this week.

Previously on: Ted and Peggy kiss, Megan has a love scene on her show, Abe and Peggy find an apartment and talk about kids, Roger and Joan discuss Kevin, Peggy chides Don for not being more like Ted.

Opening credits. Duck Phillips is on this week! Written by Levy and Weiner (yay!), directed by Phil Abraham.

Ted, Pete and Don bicker about Fleischmann margarine. How do you market something a whole bunch of people think it's gross. Don argues it's "Budweiser", Pete points out it has a huge market share. Don yells for Peggy. Ah, just like old times. He asks her what she thinks about when she's buying margarine. They establish that no one in the history of ever has ever bought margarine for its taste. Don and Ted are both pissed, Pete is a suckup, Harry gorfs down food. Peggy is flummoxed. Ted goes with Don's idea, Don acts like he's all above them. How'd he get that sand in his vagina?

After they leave, Pete and Harry bitch about the way they're getting pushed around. Harry brings up the idea of a headhunter, and also that he expects to be a partner soon. Looks like discontent all around. Side note: those two should get their own sitcom. Pete and Harry, Pete and Harry...I can hear the theme song now.

Megan acts on her soap opera, where she plays her character's twin sister with a ridiculous French accent. She has a terrifying blonde wig and a red jumpsuit. After they cut, Megan gets bitched out by the director, who says she needs to differentiate between the two characters. Madame Draper is crushed.

Don comes in and asks Peggy what she really meant, saying "I'm not paying you to be a diplomat." He then bitches her out. To her credit, she bitches him out right back, saying she's tired of being perpetually dragged between artistic egos. "He doesn't know you," says Don. Huh, wonder what that could mean?

At a political party, Betty, looking resplendent in a yellow dress that reminds one of her Rome episode, gets hit on by a politico who looks a bit like a balding John Travolta. Uh-oh, isn't this how she met Henry? Fortunately, he comes back from his phone call just then, but not without giving Betty a black look.

Peggy comes home to find Abe bandaged up and a policeman in the room. Her boyfriend got stabbed on the way back from work. The policeman keeps insisting that he add more detail. Abe keeps refusing until the policeman gives up and leaves. Abe goes on about fascist pigs, and points out (correctly) that the cop is totally racist. Peggy berates him for protecting criminals. Abe tells her he's writing a story about it, and why does Peggy side with the cops to boot. They get into a giant fight and Peggy says she's selling the apartment and going somewhere better. He asks her to type it up, she slams the door and goes off to bed. I guess he really is on his way out. Ten bucks she fucks Ted before the end credits.

Don comes back to a freshly cooked dinner and a lovely wife. They discuss their day. Megan tells him what a hard time she had at work. Don doesn't take the bait, and instead asks what's for dinner. Charming. He then assures her that they totally love her and Megan is great at acting and the criticism is not a big deal. The Drapers have a microwave! Cool. Anyway, Don says he's "tired", so dinner comes to an end before it even begins. Their married life looks really...fulfilling.

In the back of a limo, Henry orders the screen put up and they have an animated discussion, mostly about Betty's extreme hotness. Henry doesn't like having a hot wife who gets stared at and flirted with. Wow, he sounds like Season 2 Don! That's too bad, they were building him up to be a nice guy. He demands to know what exactly happened and acts all possessive. It almost looks like some weird sex thing - aaand I'm proven right as they start making out in the back.

Margaret Sterling brings her boy Ellery (you know, the four-year-old we didn't know existed until this season) to the office to "spend a day with Pop-pop". Oh, Matt Weiner, you KNOW Arrested Development came back today. I must say that Roger and George Bluth probably have a lot in common. The kid meets Joan, which is one of the more awkward encounters of the series. They joke about him getting to know the secretaries. Roger gets to be Grandpa for a day. This should be fun.

Duck Phillips (yes!) has been working as a headhunter, having finally found his calling, and he now meets with Pete to find him a new advertising home. I say take him to the pound to be put down, but no one listens to me. Duck correctly points out that there are way too many leaders at CGC and the whole situation's a mess. He suggests a job in Wichita, which Pete thinks is the sticks. Duck tells him of how he acted desperate and ruined his own career. He says spend more time at home and less at the Man-Whore Apartment, and regrets losing his family. Pete calls his family "a constant distraction". A classy man, that one. But he is still dealing with Crazy Mom, so I'll cut him some slack.

Don pulls up at a filling station, where the Esso guy is distracted by a hot lady with a Marilyn Monroe ass who turns out to be - Betty. Oh, no way this is going to end well. Betty's lost, Don needs fuel, they strike up a conversation. They're both getting out of town for the weekend, but Henry's coming late and Megan is, I don't know, somewhere. Something to do with Bobby going to camp? Whatever. If they don't end up screwing in the bushes I'll eat my hat.

Ted and his epic blue suit arrive to a phone call from Fleischman's. He hands it over to Pete and takes Peggy off to talk. She thinks he's talking about the pitch, but no, she touched his hand during the pitch. He's mad at her for supposedly messing up the pitch. Her real crime is pretty much bruising his ego, though, and Peggy tells him she assumed they were putting the kiss behind them. He confesses that he still has feelings for her, and she says she does too. He says they can't, he's married, she has a boyfriend. Peggy is just amazed that he has a thing for her. She walks out.

We catch up with Betty and Don attending Parents' Visiting Day at Bobby's summer camp. Kid is pretty much having the cliched summer camp experience, and they're thrilled to see him happy. For a moment they look like the old family they used to be. Bobby tells them he's "Bobby 5". Trendy kid names, they've existed forever. He then tries to teach Don a camp song. Betty joins in, and after a moment they're all singing together. It appears they're at peace for the first time in years. Awwww.

Pete asks to walk Joan out, and of course he wants something. No, not that. Though he does light her cigarette, ooh la la. No, he's run ragged by being a separated career man with a crazy demented mom. She says she pretty much has the same problems. Pete insists. His mom has worn out every nurse in town, but he doesn't want to put her in a home. Joan says it's not her problem. Pete asks her to dinner, she declines. On the way out he thanks her - but he's not sure why. There's the 4.5 seconds this season that Pete was human. Tune in next year.

Arlene the actress/writer/swinger shows up at the Draper apartment, where Megan happily greets her. They talk about some shootings in the Park, then get down to business. Arlene confesses that she's worried about her. Megan asks if this is a firing. Arlene changes the subject. Oh, shit. She goes on about all the criticism she had as a young actress. Ah, the mentor. Such a good resource.

Don greets Betty on a motel porch near the camp, where they exchange some banter. My God, they were a good-looking couple while they lasted. Betty brings out a flask, Don a bottle, and they exchange a toast. You can't throw away eleven years of marriage just like that, I guess. They talk about camping in the past, and how they "went in the woods and made Sally". This leads to complaints about Sally's behavior (Betty, of course), and an assurance that teenagers suck in general (Don). They talk about how Sally is like each of them - and how they were in their youth. My God, their chemistry has not diminished an iota. Excellent acting from January Jones, who can be uneven to say the least. They are downright playful, but then it turns sexual and Betty goes into her room. He follows her in and for a second it looks like she'll shoo him away, but then she asks him to close the door. Cause you know, bugs. Riiight. He switches off the lights, she half-heartedly asks him what he's doing. They wind up kissing. And then the clothes come out. Wow - what's been predicted ever since they split up in Season Three has finally come to pass.

So the fans have been predicting this for a while, and I give them credit for holding out until now, but I really really hate when shows do this. Every single couple ever that breaks up on TV has this happen at some point, and well - can't one broken-up couple stay unshagged for the duration of the show? It's not that fucking hard, people! As well, the whole Bobby's camp incident felt contrived and poorly developed. Leaving it at the singing scene would have been fine. Sex was too far. Ridiculous.

Megan and Arlene discuss their marriages and the support (or lack thereof) they get from their husbands. Arlene tells Megan that it's just because she's successful and he's old-fashioned. She says that since she started acting, they've developed a distance. Arlene's response is to kiss her. She says she wants to make Megan feel better, but Megan turns her down. She yells at her for taking advantage of her vulnerability, and messing up all their work relationships. Arlene calls her a tease. That's...really, really horrible. Rape culture can extend to woman-on-woman, guys! Megan says they're not going to shag, Arlene leaves - but says "no hard feelings" before she goes. I don't know, I feel that Megan's job is messed up on a deep basis now. The kiss felt oddly out of nowhere and though there was groundwork in previous episodes, I think it wasn't adequately built up. I'm just glad Megan didn't go for it, that would be too big a stretch. We shall see.

Don and Betty have a post-coital cigarette. January Jones, you are a gorgeous human being. Don tells her he missed her. Mostly the camera just lingers on them, two beautiful people. Don broaches the topic of what might have happened had they stayed together. Betty insist she's happy, though she totally just cheated on her husband. She wants to enjoy it. He asks what she's thinking. She says she's considering him before and after sex., the difference in him and how their post-coital mood decays. Why, Don wonders, is sex considered the definition of being close? Betty's answer - it is for her. Don compares it to climbing a mountain, which hey, probably sums up his sexual philosophy pretty well. It's very well-lit and an extraordinarily intimate moment. Betty brings up Megan - and concludes that the woman doesn't know that "loving you is the worst way to get to you." Bingo, Bets. They make love again. I'm still ehhh on this development.

Abe continues to work on the place, complete with bandaged hand. Someone threw a rock through the window. Peggy comes in totally freaked out and tells him how scared she is to be there. He concedes that they should probably put it on the market - but you can tell he's not happy to do it. "Maybe we're not cut out to be pioneers," he says. He suggests that she sleep in the parlour. Wow, bye Abe, you have one more episode tops.

Don awakens alone, then goes to the diner to find Henry and Betty eating together. Henry greets him pleasantly. He turns away without answering and sits alone, watching his ex-wife with the new man in her life. The Impassive Look returns.

Roger wakes up to an angry phone call from his daughter, who is mad that he took Ellery to see Planet of the Apes. The kid has nightmares and is scared of all things with fur. Roger protests that Don took Bobby, which of course totally convinces Margaret - "Yeah, Don Draper, father of the year." She lays down the law - Roger can never be solo Grandpa again. Instead, he can only see Ellery when Mona's around. Wow, what an ice cold bitch. Sure, he made a mistake and took the kid to something way beyond his age, but that's what Grandpas are for. And Grandpa Roger? Awesome.

At Joan's apartment, we see Bob Benson - wait, are they dating now? Yeah, apparently they're going to the beach, which is not exactly a work thing, and he seems to be on good terms with Kevin. They discuss Pete. Bob sticks up for him, being a nice guy - he's going through a rough time, yada yada. The doorbell rings. Roger shows up, and is surprised to see Bob there, especially since he doesn't know who he is. Bob is a total suck-up as usual. Joan tells him it can wait until Monday, whatever it is, and Roger leaves - toting a large shopping bag with him. Bob asks about their friendship, and Joan just brushes it off as Roger being a workaholic. The fact that his genetic extension is in the next room doesn't come up, surprise surprise.

Peggy is awakened by a fight outside, which gets super violent fast. She gets up with her weapon, a knife tied to a stick, and waves it at the window. Abe walks into the room, she turns around - and stabs him in the stomach. Yes, that happens. He screams at her not to take the knife out (someone learned his first aid), they both panic. Cut to the ambulance, where Peggy asks if he's going to die and the paramedic shrugs. Abe has his say. See, they had a good time and she's nice and all, but she's a scaredy-cat and her whole Madison Avenue Scene is offensive to him, so see you later. That's right, he breaks up with her in the ambulance.  "You gave me a great ending to my article" he says, the knife still sticking out of him. Wait, what just happened?

I can see Peggy drunkenly telling this to her girlfriends twenty years down the line as her weirdest breakup story ever, let's put it that way.

Megan stands out on the balcony in a T-shirt and underwear, and Don returns with his most innocent expression on. He tells her he missed her. Megan says she doesn't know where he went - but she's here, and she wants to make things as good as they were. Something has to change. Aww, poor innocent Megan. Marriage to Don Draper is waaayy over your head. Don says he's been a sucky husband and he'll totally be good now - for better, for worse, until the next episode, I guess.

Back at work, Roger brings Joan the shopping bag - which has Lincoln Logs for little Kevin. Aww, he's atoning for his mistakes, or just demanding attention, it's hard to tell. She tells him not to drop in on her like that, not to act like a father. She insists that Kevin will be confused, and would prefer to have Greg (you know, the rapist) as his dad. Roger asks if "Bob Bunson" will take over as father figure, somewhat dismissively. Joan firmly tells him to stop butting in, thanks him for the gift and sends him out. It's one of the more pleasant surprises this season.

Bob knocks on Pete's door, saying that he has to talk about something delicate. Pete looks like he's about to be accused of the worst sexual indiscretions, but nope, it's just about the Mom situation. Pete's still outraged, of course, since Joan shouldn't have discussed it. Bob suggests a former Army nurse with a Hispanic-sounding name, which Pete insists has to be from Spain or else Mom won't stand for it. So Pete's problem is solved for now, by Bob of all people. Suck-up - but essentially good at heart. I must admit, Benson is growing on me. He's just over-eager, that's all.

Peggy asks Ted's secretary if he's there, then ignores her and barges in anyway. She tells him about the stabbing (Ted's concerned) and then the split (Ted's sorry, but insistent on staying away). He tells her that the next guy will be lucky to find her, and let's get to work, it's Monday. Wow, Ted might be the only man in the firm with any kind of restraint. They run into Don, and Ted asks how his weekend was. They get back to work on Fleischmann's. Business as usual. Peggy gives Don a lingering look - hmm, I wonder where this could lead. Hopefully he doesn't shag her too.

This episode feels really disjointed. Hated hated hated the Betty-Don shagadelic reunion, which was utter bullshit, though it was nice to see January Jones and Jon Hamm share their chemistry again. Hopefully it won't become any sort of ongoing thing. The Megan-Arlene thing could have been good, but was poorly built up. I do think this episode was interesting in what it omitted. We really had to fill in the blanks, like with Benson and Joan, to know what was happening. Say what you will, though, but I've decided on the Peggy-Abe breakup - and I love it. Mad Men always has these weird detours, and it's one of the most enjoyable parts of the show. Stabbing your boyfriend and then having him dump you in the ambulance - what a life.  Definite thumbs down by Mad Men standards, though its quality by television standards is still high. But seriously, Weiner - can we please name that damned agency?


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