Ah, ex sex. To quote Samantha Jones, “Sex with an ex can be depressing. If it’s good you can’t get it anymore. If it’s bad you just had sex with an ex.” And that about sums up Don and Betty’s woodland escapade on last night’s Mad Men. It was hot, they had fun, and in the morning, a freshly prim Betty was happily eating breakfast with Henry in the motel restaurant, Don was relegated to a solitary table, and both parties were following the Draper mantra: “This never happened.” The former Mr. and Mrs. Draper were somewhere (presumably) in upstate New York visiting Bobby at summer camp, and between Betty’s renewed svelte physique and an endearing lunch between mother, father and son that brought back long-dormant memories of family harmony, suddenly what was old was new again. This enticing, self-confident Betty had no trouble luring her ex-husband into her room, and for one night, it was 1954. A world with no Sylvia, no Megan and no Henry.
The theme of revisiting ex-relationships permeated “The Better Half,” whether it was Betty’s analysis of Don’s warped existence, Peggy’s inner tug-of-war between Don, Ted and Abe or even Roger’s continued feeble attempts to maintain a presence in baby Kevin’s – and Joan’s – lives. As the closing song, a 1964 version of “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” by Lou Johnson, suggested, none of these connections can ever permanently be severed. So maybe it’s not about letting go of certain people, but instead figuring out how they best fit into their lives.
This was a depressing episode, if anything because everyone was whining about how damn lonely they were all the time. And the one who wound up the most alone of all was Peggy. After spending the episode desperately trying to remain neutral whenever Don or Ted would ask her opinion, petrified of offending either partner, Peggy had both men close their office doors on her, oblivious to her situation or her feelings. The lone shot of her facing an empty conference room signified how this merger has caused her to relapse, not only in her personal life, but her professional one as well. She doesn’t hold the power she once did at CGC, and whatever hope she had for a burgeoning romance with Ted has vanished along with her relationship with Abe.
Their long-simmering implosion finally came to a head after too many dangerous run-ins with local UWS hooligans – whom Abe refused to rat out to the police. Ironically, the violence that ultimately tore the radical journalist and the idealistic advertising copy chief apart wasn’t Abe getting stabbed on the subway, but Peggy accidentally plunging a homemade spear (a knife attached to a broom handle – ostensibly for self-defense) into his belly when he startles her from behind. As they ride to the hospital in the ambulance together, the knife still sticking out of his abdomen, Abe, in his delirium, effectively breaks up with Peggy for remaining part of the Establishment he so loathes: “Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment. You’ll always be the enemy.” Ouch. But this West Side Story was hardly a tragedy compared to the broken heart a disheveled Peggy received from Ted the next morning when she breaks the news that she and Abe are done: He pats her on the back, assures her she’ll find someone else and tells her to get back to work.
The only person who might have Peggy beaten in the loneliness department is Megan, but at least she had a shot at a little physical comfort when her co-star (and swinging aficionado) Arlene tried making out with her. If Megan had any inkling what her husband was up to with Betty out there in the woods I’d like to think she would’ve let Arlene have her way with her, but alas, those stories will have to be consigned to Mad Men erotic fan fiction writers. Megan may not be into girls, but there’s no reason why Corinne’s platinum-blond identical twin Colette (yes, Megan is now playing the cliché identical twins on a soap opera) can’t be, right? I call dibs on a Tumblr named “Blond Ambition.”
But back upstate in the Bates Motel of Regression, Betty is busy outsmarting Don at his predictable patterns of delusion. During their pillow talk, she tells him to chill out when he says how much he missed her, reminding him that she’s happy in her life and she’d rather just enjoy this fleeting moment of nostalgia. Her continued selfishness and abhorrent behavior toward her children notwithstanding, she demonstrates that it is possible to emerge from a Don Draper marriage with wisdom and clarity: She knows that even if she spent all day dressed in a red satin robe and wore a beauty mark, Don has the attention span of a 21st-century tween. In other words, Megan is doomed to the same fate as Betty in late 1963. “That poor girl,” says Betty to Don. “She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.” By the time Don returns to Manhattan, Megan is waiting for him on the balcony in a tight T-shirt and panties – no kerchief, red robe or beauty mark in sight. He feeds her the same line he gave Betty (“I missed you”), and despite Megan’s speech about how she wants things to go back to the way they were and how she’s sick of Don never being around, there is nothing in Don’s boilerplate reponse (“You’re right, I haven’t been here”) that gives us any hope things are going to be different.
Take Joan Harris to the hospital in an emergency and win a date to the beach with her and her son? Yeah, I’m still suspicious of Bob Benson. He’s ingratiated himself into Joan’s life, so much so that she let it slip about Pete’s mother’s need for a full-time nurse. And look who just happened to have an Army-trained R.N. in his Rolodex, putting Pete in his debt. Now that Duck Phillips is back and offering career advice to an at-the-crossroads Pete, perhaps Bob is positioning himself to become the still-unnamed firm’s newest junior partner.
Previously: Monday Morning Coming Down