Last night's "The Better Half" was this year's official ladies episode of Mad Men. It was also in my mind the first truly great episode of Season 6, due in no small part to Bob Benson's shorts.
In a season that's managed to be both eventful and meandering, last night had lots of tension, momentum, and consequences for characters.
This episode had a lot to say about duality, about different sides of ourselves, but more importantly, DON AND BETTY HOOKED UP. One of my secret hopes has been for the series to end with their reconciliation. Don and Betty make sense together because they're both selfish, childish, and the worst people in the world. Post-divorce they both ended up with people way to nice for them. Their tryst last night however was not about rejuvenating their marriage. For Don it was about feeling close to his family, to anyone really. For Betty it was about reclaiming her self-esteem. Blonde, thin, and dolled up, Betty is once again the fuck fantasy of everyone from gas station attendants to her husband's donors. But who better to validate her rediscovered mojo than her wayward ex?
Don came off more than a little befuddled. Out for a camp visit with "take-it-down-a-notch-Bobby-number-5," Don ends up in a tryst with a woman who knows how to work him. It was sweet to see the two of them like that and interesting to see Betty in a position of power.
Peggy spent a difficult hour trying to find a way forward with compromise, both at work and at home. As usual for Peggy, when she's not assertive she ends up screwing things up royally. This time she accidentally stabbed Abe with a bayonet, after he had already been stabbed by some ruffians. Abe's break up in the ambulance was one of the most irrevocable I've ever heard. "Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment. I'm sorry, but you'll always be the enemy." Peggy is left with no one to turn to. Not Ted and not Don. She ends the episode staring into an empty room.
There was also a circuitous b-story involving Pete, Joan, Roger, and Bob Benson. Duck showed up briefly to give Pete some career advice. Roger keeps trying to open old doors, grasping at connections with his grandson, his daughter, and Joan, but failing at every turn. Roger represents where Don is potentially heading, alone and surrounded by the wreckage of his life's decisions. Trying to be something to the people he has left other than the incredible fuck up he's always been.
How about Bob and Joan! What is going on there? Casual ease and man legs aside, their companionship didn't really telegraph "affair" to me. Is it possible that maybe Bob is gay? He does seem very interested in Pete, and he apparently associates with male Spanish nurses. Either way he is not to be trusted. The internet has reminded me this morning that Bob told Ken his father was dead. Last night he told Pete his father was "in full health." Whatever Bob's game is, he is gathering a lot of delicate information on the partners.
Finally there's Megan, constant object of pity. Attempting to find some acting advice her costar goes in for a kiss, THREE TIMES. That was funny. But when she tells Don he's been absent, she let's her sadness show. After predicting a split for most of the season, I'm curious to see how my expectations will be confounded, as they usually are.
-Did I mention I loved Bob's shorts?