“I want to run. I want to hide. I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside. I want to reach out and touch the flame where the streets have no name.”—Bono
Family may be the “wellspring” of Duck’s confidence but, in that sentiment, he’s as alone as Don faking pleasantries with Henry and Betty before walking woefully to an empty table. Everyone else on Mad Men is tormented by the endless directions that their families are pulling them in. Pete Campbell has a dementia stricken mother, a separated wife who cares for his child, and works in a company where no one is in charge. He seeks solace in Joan but, as she tells him, she essentially has the same problems as he does. Meanwhile, Betty is trying to retain directions about how to get to get to Bobby’s camp and evidently the streets have no names. Entropy is everywhere I tell you! What are we to do?
We are all slaves to complacency, afraid to move “full speed ahead” like the firm’s progress on Fleischmann's margarine. Earlier, there was a dispute over whether to singularly stress the taste of margarine (Don) vs. the relationship between price and taste (Ted), but somehow they muddled through this issue. This is no thanks to Harry who just wants to avoid the fray. “I feel strongly both ways,” he says. Even the trailblazing Peggy Olson, who once had the temerity to leave SCDP, will not pick a side and by the end of the episode is left transfixed between Don Draper’s office and Ted Chaough’s office. Pete is the only person to commit to a position but alas, no one cares.
Megan Draper: “I keep trying to make things the way they used to be but I don’t know how to…something has to change.”
We speculated last week how Don would change after confronting his past in “The Crash” and while Don agrees with Megan about change, he too is battling intermediacy: He is stuck between wives. Don and Betty have an affair while visiting Bobby at camp. Betty mostly seems concerned with feeling validated for losing weight. Just as she takes pleasure in being hit on at Henry’s fundraiser, she likes hearing Don say that she looks as pretty as the first day he saw her.
I’m not sure what Don’s intentions are here, but I don’t see them getting back together. The notion of Betty leaving Henry is inconceivable to me right now. Don tells Betty that sex isn’t a big deal to him. You’re really good at putting a gloss on bullshit Don, but even you can’t sell that one. Maybe it's just sex or maybe he truly misses Birdie and just wants to be intimate with his foxy ex wife. Or perhaps he’s just paralyzed to change. Moving forward terrifies him so much that he walks through another doorway of his past. Whatever the case is, it’s Betty who understands him the best. Here’s Betty on Megan: “That poor girl, she doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.”
As Don fornicates with Betty, things are heating up between Megan and Arlene. In a subtle callback to the meeting with Fleischmann's where we are told that Peggy unprofessionally puts her hand on Ted’s, Megan puts her hand on Arlene’s and Arlene takes this opportunity to make out with Megan. Megan pulls back. And then after further confusion she ends up pulling back—again! But Arlene isn’t offended. All is forgiven.
Peggy Olson's one-liner of the night: “I uh—Abe got stabbed.”
All is not forgiven as Abe breaks up with Peggy in an ambulance because, working in advertising, she will always be “the enemy.” When Megan is trying to make sense of the twin roles she has to play on her soap opera she says the following: “They’re two halves of the same person and they want the same things but they’re trying to get it in different ways.” As I look back on Abe and Peggy’s relationship, I think that is an accurate postmortem. They've always been progressives who place a significant importance on the value of art. They are twins of the intellectual kind. However, she is the kind of person who sides with the cops over sensitivity to minorities; he is the kind of person who is purposefully opaque in giving information to the cop in spite of his own safety.
So what are we to do in the midst of all these insidious pressures? We forget about it. We don’t talk about our terrible day at work where we suspect we will be fired. Nor do we talk about that awkward kiss we had with our boss and how we are both secretly in love with each other. We believe in status quo ante bellum. We dream of that mystical place where the streets have no name, where you can have sex with your ex-wife and return to your respective spouses as if nothing ever happened.
I’m pretty sure that’s what Bono was talking about.
This episode is suffused with twin pairings. In addition to the ones previously mentioned and the obvious pairing of Don and Ted, we have Roger and his four year old grandson who jump up stairs in unison and are charmingly immature, and the umpteen Bobbys that are enrolled in camp. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a hankering for some Doublemint gum.
Similar to the twins are a series of dichotomies that permeate “The Better Half.” Arlene is either wonderful or a cockup and her old soap opera character was either a mother or a girlfriend. Sally is either Don or Betty. Megan doesn’t know if it’s her fault or Don’s fault. Finally, great acting from Christopher Stanley (Henry Francis) who is either jealous that Betty is being hit on or he is turned on.
Joan on Roger: “Some people never stop working.” You may want to take another look at Bob Benson, Joan.
Pete is the only person who hasn’t broken a promise to Joan!
 The doorway count is ever increasing! Other doorways in this episode include Don holding the door for Peggy—as he figuratively opened the door for Peggy to get a job as a copywriter—during the margarine discussion, and Peggy closing the bedroom door on Abe.
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