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Mad Men: "The Better Half" OAD 5/26/13 ***SPOILERS***


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#1 OFFLINE   phrelin

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Posted 27 May 2013 - 02:19 PM

It is tempting to say things slowed down in this episode because it lacked the frenetic quality of last week's episode. Except in this week's episode a lot of things happened.

 

This week's episode was titled "The Better Half" and, indeed, there was more focus on the women and on their relationships past and present. It's worth noting that Weiner was again joined by Erin Levy as co-writer - is she his better half when it comes to writing episodes giving more air time to the women of "Mad Men"?

 

The term seems to come into focus with Megan when she explains her role on the soap as twins: “They’re like two halves of the same person. They want the same thing, but they’re trying to get it in different ways.”

 

By then we have seen a newly thin Betty, well admired by a service station attendant, as well as by a peer of husband Henry Francis. (What, you think we wouldn't have noticed that January Jones is no longer in a fat suit?) Except that Betty seemed to be using Don, letting him know what a real woman is - how's that for a twist?

 

About Megan. "That poor girl. She doesn't know that loving you is the worst way to get to you," Betty says to Don in a pillow talk exchange. Did gaining, then losing, weight give Betty some new insight into her life? Or at least into Don?

 

Betty and Don are thrown together because, particularly if the show was a sitcom, the episode could have been called "Bobby Goes to Camp." We see Don playing the role of a good parent. This is consistent, perhaps, with the change that may have begun in the last episode. Don never went to camp, of course. But there he is playing with Bobby.

 

Oh, and Bobby sees another kid named Bobby and explains that he, himself, is Bobby 5:  “I’m Bobby 5—it’s sad. There’s no Bobby 1 any more.” Actually Mason Dale Cotton is the fourth young actor we've seen as Bobby, but the first Bobby we saw was a toddler, three years old - we never saw an infant Bobby 1.

 

Weiner and/or Levy seems to be poking fun at how TV frequently replaces a kid actor while the kid grows from toddler to teenager.

 

A number of story lines continue in this episode. Roger screws up with his grandson by taking him to see Planet of the Apes. Why not, Don took Bobby? But his grandkid is younger and a wimp. His daughter Margaret tells him he can't see his grandson again unless Roger is there with his ex-wife, Margaret's mother.

 

In a weird line Margaret tells him: "We'll probably have to get rid of the dog, he's afraid of the fur."

 

Roger then tries to recover by taking a gift to his young son no one else knows about. But Joan is the mother and she makes it clear Roger is to stay out of the picture. Besides, she, the kid and Bob Benson are headed to the beach.

 

Bob Benson is.... What is this guy? Joan tells him about Pete's mother which she only knows because she may be the only person Pete can talk to about his work-life balance issues. Bob then just happens to be able to give Pete a lead on a really qualified nurse to help with mom.

 

And speaking of Pete, Harry turns him on to a headhunter because things aren't that solid here at SCDPetc. Except that Duck Phillips is the headhunter. Duck warns Pete about the situation at at SCDPetc. saying: "I've been you. I went on interviews and realized I filled the room with desperation." He tells him: "There's a head of marketing job in Wichita you'd be perfect for." He describes SCDPetc. as like the "27 Yankees" which generally refers to the power found in the first six hitters in the team lineup. Pete is in danger of not being seen in the lineup. And Duck warns Pete to get his family life in order.

 

Then there is the historical context that we always have in "Mad Men". On July 3, 1968, a Bulgarian immigrant and Neo-Nazi, 42-year old Angel Angelof, opens fire from a lavatory roof in Central Park, killing a 24-year old woman and an 80-year old man before being gunned down by the police. The shooting took place across from where Jacqueline Kennedy's 5th Avenue apartment in case you were wondering why you kept hearing all those sirens. According to Time Magazine

 

Within three hours after the Central Park shootings, and referring directly to them, President Johnson again pleaded with Congress to "pass the gun-control measures which are needed to protect the American people against insane and reckless murder by gunfire." Congressional reaction was muted. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, under heavy pressure from Montana hunters to oppose gun-control legislation, compromised by repeating his support for a moderate law sponsored by Maryland's Joseph Tydings while rejecting Johnson's measure requiring the registration of all firearms in the U.S. Congressional mail, which had overwhelmingly supported tough gun controls after Senator Kennedy's death, once again responded to the gun lobby's orchestration. Letters opposing gun controls began rising in volume as mail favoring new laws diminished.

 

Which brings us to Peggy. The most interesting, and sad, storyline was how Peggy got to here:

 

MM609.gif

 

What is it they say about guns? Something about accidentally shooting a household member? Apparently knives taped to the end of a mop handle aren't exactly a great idea for error-free self-protection either. (I'm not quite sure whether Weiner and/or Levy is making fun of pro-gun control people or NRA types, but the context of the sirens and paranoid Peggy stabbing Abe tells us we certainly haven't made any progress on this subject.)

 

Anyway, Peggy has inadvertently cut her ties to Abe. Along with the clueless ambulance attendant we hear this exchange:

 

Abe: I thought you'd be braver. You're in advertising.

Peggy: Don't do this right now. I said I was sorry.

Abe: Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment. I'm sorry, but you'll always be the enemy.

Peggy: Are you breaking up with me?

 

Yep!

 

Then to add insult to injury in her romantic prospects, Ted tells her he couldn't even feel the brush of her hand without reacting and, by the way, I'm sorry about you and Abe but I'm not interested, now let's go to work.

 

Earlier in the episode she found herself caught between Ted and Don over how to market margarine.

 

Margarine in 1968 is a you-have-to-have-been-there thing. Today I have to look carefully in the grocery stores to find margarine for a few recipes. For the most part people buy it because it's substantially cheaper than butter. It was originally created in the 1880's, it's artificial and I can believe it's not butter. Between 1940 and the mid-1960s in the U.S., butter consumption reduced by half, while margarine consumption tripled. The argument between Ted and Don is whether there is any noticeable difference between the "more expensive" margarine or the cheap margarine. Ted thinks price is an issue. Don doesn't see that as a marketing point.

 

The hint here, Peggy, is that there is a difference - neither Ted nor Abe are butter like Don. Peggy is the one woman Don actually has mentored, encouraging her ambition in a backhanded way. And we know Don has already warned her about Ted: "Don't let him fool you."

 

Peggy refuses to take a side against Ted or Don in the margarine debate. Afterwards Don chastises her saying he wanted her to make a decision: “You should try it sometime. It’s what professionals do.”

 

Peggy argues defensively, ending up complaining about how Don marginalizes her: “Well, he never makes me feel this way.”

 

Don replies, “He doesn’t know you."

 

Yep, Don knows you Peggy, and you know him. In fact, you both know more about each other than anyone else in your professional lives since you first met.

 

It's time to cue the closing music...

 

 

...which is Lou Johnson's 1964 version "Always Something There to Remind Me" by composer Burt Bacharach with lyricist Hal David who provided these lyrics:

 

I walk along the city streets you used to walk along with me,
and every step I take reminds me of just how we used to be.
Well, how can I forget you, girl?
When there is always something there to remind me.
always something there to remind me.
As shadows fall, I pass a small cafe where we would dance at night.
And I can't help recalling how it how it felt to kiss and hold you tight
Well, how can I forget you, girl?
When there is always something there to remind me.
always something there to remind me.
I was born to love her, and I'll never be free.
You'll always be a part of me.

If you should find you miss the sweet and tender love we used to share.
Just go back to the places where we used to go, and I'll be there
Well, how can I forget you, girl?
When there is always something there to remind me.
always something there to remind me.
I was born to love her, and I'll never be free
You'll always be a part of me.
'cause there is always something there to remind me.
always something there to remind me.
always something there to remind me.

 

Yeah, sure, "how we used to be." Some seem to remember the disappointment. Not everyone wants it to be like it used to be.

  • Don thinks he does but Betty does not.
  • Megan thinks she does but Don does not.
  • Roger thinks he does but Joan does not (nor does Margaret).
  • Pete thinks he does but no one in his life does.

And Peggy didn't even want the firms to merge because she's didn't want it back the way it used to be with Don. Because, Don notwithstanding, for her there's always something there to remind her - Pete.


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#2 OFFLINE   trainman

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Posted 27 May 2013 - 02:35 PM

Today I have to look carefully in the grocery stores to find margarine for a few recipes.


Not that hard at my local supermarket -- it's right there with the butter. I was just there, and meant to make note of the price of Fleischmann's (to compare it with the price quoted in this episode), but forgot.

I didn't get enough of a good look at the New York state road map Peggy was perusing at the Esso station, presumably given to her by the attendant, but from what I saw of the cover, it didn't appear to be a 1968 Esso map, which had a cover like this:

ryqBHra.jpg

(Although a small Esso dealer in the middle of nowhere might have old stock of maps for some states, I wouldn't expect it for the state in which they're located, which would obviously be the map they'd give away most often.)
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#3 OFFLINE   yosoyellobo

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 12:35 PM

Great work Phrelin. Love the episode , love the new/old Betty and now that you mention it have to wonder where Bob Benson is heading.

#4 OFFLINE   Nick

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 03:24 PM

Oh, geez! I am starting to get more out of Phrelin's excellent analyses than (not then) I do out of the program itself.

 

About the butter/margarine controversy, to me, the differences are, ahem, marginal.

 

Sorry.

 

FYI, Kerry's Irish Butter is the very best, tastewise, especially when spread on just-toasted chedder-jalepeno bread. (LaBrea Bakeries, in better grocers)


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#5 OFFLINE   phrelin

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 12:01 AM

Oh, geez! I am starting to get more out of Phrelin's excellent analyses than (not then) I do out of the program itself.

 

About the butter/margarine controversy, to me, the differences are, ahem, marginal.

 

Thank you for the compliment (not complement) and for the (groan) pun. Both are appreciated.

 

...at the Esso station, presumably given to her by the attendant, but from what I saw of the cover, it didn't appear to be a 1968 Esso map, which had a cover like this:

ryqBHra.jpg

(Although a small Esso dealer in the middle of nowhere might have old stock of maps for some states, I wouldn't expect it for the state in which they're located, which would obviously be the map they'd give away most often.)

 

Good observation. Apparently Betty had that map with her, maybe in the car glove compartment. It was an American Oil Company map:

 

Betty_map.jpg

 

It is consistent with the company's maps at the time, for example this one from 1965:

 

AmMap.jpg

 

 

 

You know I just had to check it out. :sure:


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#6 OFFLINE   Stuart Sweet

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 08:45 AM

The thing about this show is that it's almost the anti-network drama. They keep bringing us things that would, in other shows, be blockbuster news, promoted endlessly, and then they just bury them. It's refreshing not to have seen "The return of Don and Betty!" plastered all over AMC's promos all last week. 

 

So yes, there was a lot of clockwork this week. Don, still lost, hooks up with Betty one last time. Betty's become as much of a predator as Don now; I wonder if she's hooking up with others as well. No real answers yet as to how she went from frumpy and brunette back to the trophy wife model, one wonders if we'll ever know.

 

Peggy stabs Abe physically, the Abe stabs Peggy metaphorically. Another "SHOCKER" moment that really gets glossed over along with Megan's "college dorm" experience and her sudden revelation to Don that she's missed him. Joan has a day at the beach and Roger a day at the movies. 

 

And someone has noticed that the new firm still doesn't have a name.

 

Yes, there was a lot of plot, but really, this episode for me was all about one thing: the persistent siren wail. While there was a lot of movement in this episode, it seemed to me very much like that part of the disaster movie where everyone is going about their mundane lives and you just get hints that something awful is about to happen. The siren portends a really serious disaster for the SCDP(HC)CGC crowd, doesn't it? Or is it just the siren wail of fate, as we head into the late summer of 1968? 

 

I'm beginning to get a bit curious about Bob Benson. Who is he and why is he getting more and more airtime? In this world no one really is who they say they are. There's a curious article here: http://www.hollywood...s-wolk?page=all but I'm not sure I agree with any of those theories. I do wonder if he's about to snap and kill off half the office, or something else really huge. Maybe he'll help the agency win the Democratic Party account, provided they're willing to fly to Chicago for the convention: http://en.wikipedia....onal_Convention. I don't know why but his ascendency and the ever-increasing siren wails seem to be tied together in my mind.


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#7 OFFLINE   trainman

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 05:41 PM

Apparently Betty had that map with her, maybe in the car glove compartment.


Seems reasonable -- I guess the attendant was too busy staring to offer her a brand-new Esso map. :)

If I recall correctly, maps for Esso (Standard Oil Company of New Jersey) were produced by General Drafting (of New Jersey), and the maps for American (Standard Oil Company of Indiana) were produced by Rand McNally (of Illinois), so it's not just the covers that would be different.
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