A lot happened in the world of women on Mad Men this week. I’d equate this episode with an episode in season 4 which I thought was called “The Women” but seems to have been retitled “The Beautiful Girls”.
Peggy Olson: Stuck in the Middle Again
‘Stuck’ has multiple meanings for Peggy this week. Not only is she still stuck between Don and Ted at work, but she’s stuck in both her relationship with Ted and literally ‘sticks’ Abe. (But that comes later.)
Don, Ted, and Pete are meeting about the Fleischman’s account. Don calls Peggy in for her opinion, but poses her with a rather old-fashioned question. Don assumes Peggy is the one doing the grocery shopping and asks why she would buy margarine: purely for the taste or would she base he decision on taste and price.
Don may not think of Peggy, per se, in a typical housewife role, but it does reveal Don’s thinking as rather old-fashioned. He’s accustomed to Betty, in her housewife role, or Sylvia, also a homemaker, as opposed to the woman he’s married to: a working, successful woman, Megan. But we’ll save the Betty vs. Megan debate for later.
When Don comes by Peggy’s office to check on the boards for the presentation, it’s clearly just an excuse to give her a hard time about not picking a side when he called her in earlier. Peggy calls him out on it, saying there’s not a right or wrong answer, there’s simply Don’s approach and Ted’s approach.
“I don’t know how I became in charge of turning this into a collaboration,” she tells him. “Isn’t that your job?”
Other than being stuck in the middle at work, Peggy also has to contend with her two romantic entanglements in this episode.
Her primary being with her boyfriend, Abe, with whom she recently moved to the Upper West Side. The neighborhood is still a little rough and Peggy comes home to find Abe was attacked outside the subway by two punks. Abe won’t comment on his attackers’ race, however, claiming they live in a police state.
Abe is viewing their neighborhood as a new social experience he can write about, but Peggy is more practical, simply worrying about their safety. When he asks her to help him type, after his arm is injured, she tells him she plans to sell this ‘shithole’ of an apartment and refuses to help him, going to bed.
Peggy and Abe have held rather different worldviews since they first met and just a few episodes ago, seemed accepting of each other’s viewpoints, but the Upper West Side apartment seems to be the boiling point for Peggy.
However, she did state she hates change, and Peggy’s life is going through a lot of upheaval. Not only did things at work change when SCDP and CGC merged, but things at home changed, too, when she and Abe decided to move.
Not to mention her rather newfound feelings for her boss at CGC, Ted. Ted complimented her work and they shared a kiss. This week, Peggy and Ted finally discuss their encounter. When Ted brings it up, Peggy says she assumed they were forgetting about that. She says she did. “Well, I haven’t,” Ted confesses. Ted asks if that’s all him. Peggy says she thinks about it. Ted says they can’t and besides, they both have someone.
“I didn’t know you felt this way,” Peggy says.
“I don’t want to, that’s the point. Now I realize I never should have brought it up.” Peggy asks if he would rather she work somewhere else. He says no.
Despite her feelings for Ted, they aren’t the reason things fall apart with Abe. In fact, Abe is the one who breaks up with her. After Peggy accidentally stabs Abe in their apartment, which in and of itself might be an event of note. Peggy treated drugged Stan’s stab wound last week, before drunkenly sharing a kiss with him. This week, she stabs her boyfriend. Perhaps just a coincidence both injuries were stab wounds, but perhaps not.
In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Abe claims Peggy is too careful and worries too much and he never knew that until they moved. Peggy, in shock from what she’s just done and what Abe is saying, asks, “Are you breaking up with me?” The scene ends before we get an answer, but when Peggy later shows up at work, she tells Ted that things are over with Abe. Ted tells Peggy she’ll find someone else.
As Peggy leaves Ted’s office to get to work, she sees Don arrive. Don asks Ted how the meeting with Fleischman’s went. Once the men fill each other in on the account, both go into their separate offices, leaving Peggy in the middle of the hall, stuck between both of them once again.
Betty (Draper) Francis
Betty has lost the weight. Although she was briefly in last week’s episode, back to her original blonde hair, during the scene where Don returned to find the apartment burgled, her weight loss wasn’t revealed until this week’s episode.
Since Betty essentially lost the weight for Henry, I did a quick calculation. Henry told Betty about his decision to run for office in April of 1968. Since Bobby is attending summer camp, we can assume this is August of 1968, meaning Betty’s weight loss occurred over the summer.
Although Joan is a sexual character, no female character places as much worth on their looks as Betty does. In earlier seasons, she talks about how her mother made her conscious of an early age about not gaining weight. Betty then worked as a model until she met Don and even after having three children, kept her slim figure.
In this episode, Betty is enjoying the attention she’s receiving from men because of her weight loss. A man who is attending a fundraiser for Henry flirts with her, saying he wants to spend all night with her, and Henry is jealous, asking Betty about it in the car later. Even Don, the ex-husband, finds his attraction to Betty has returned.
Her weight loss seems to have given Betty her gumption back, as after visiting their son at camp, Betty returns to her room and leaves the door open for Don, if he wants to come in. He does.
“What did you think when you saw me?” Betty asks as Don’s kissing her.
“That you were as beautiful as the day I met you,” Don replies.
A strange thing to notice six seasons into the show, but seeing Betty and Don together again made it clear how very Rock Hudson and Doris Day they look together. Odd how Don also has a hidden life, although much different than the lifestyle Rock Hudson was hiding.
Betty and Don seem to understand each other better now than they did when they were married. After they sleep together, they’re in bed together talking, and Betty comments on how she’s happy with her life. She says she knows she can only hold Don’s attention so long and she expresses pity for Megan. “She doesn’t know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.”
The next morning, Don wakes up alone, and when he finds Betty in the camp cafeteria, she has been joined by Henry. Don takes a table in the corner, but watches Betty with Henry. She does seem to be happy.
Megan is now playing twins on her soap opera and in her first scene of the episode, she’s taking criticism from the soap opera’s director over a PA system, in front of the crew and her fellow cast mate, Arlene. The director refers to her as “honey”.
Megan worries about keeping her part on the soap opera as well as worrying about keeping her husband’s interest.
When she voices her concerns about her work to Don, he isn’t the most sympathetic ear. Instead of eating dinner with her, Don tells her he wants to lie down and watch TV instead. His only reassurance to her is: “Tomorrow’s another day.”
Since Megan doesn’t have Don to confide in, she invites over her cast mate, Arlene, when Don is away visiting Bobby at summer camp. Arlene tells Megan Don is old-fashioned and isn’t entirely comfortable with having a successful wife. “He’ll get used to it,” she advises.
“I think he did. And I think he got used to me not being around and having a bunch of problems he couldn’t solve,” Megan says. She tells Arlene she’s lonely.
When Don arrives home from the weekend, he finds Megan out on the balcony. “I missed you,” he tells her.
Megan confesses she misses him all the time. “I don’t know where you’ve gone, but I’m here. I keep trying to make things the way they used to be, but I don’t know how. And maybe that’s stupid or young to think like that, but something has to change.”
Don admits she’s right. “I haven’t been here.”
Joan seems to have gone from a sex symbol of the Sterling Cooper offices to a mothering figure. She is forever cleaning up the partners’ messes, even though she is a partner herself. It makes sense that Joan has made this transition, as she is now a mother herself. In this episode, she listens as Pete confides in her about his mother’s condition.
But Joan also struggles with the idea of a father figure for her son. While Joan’s mother is present, helping her daughter care for Kevin, Joan’s own father has never been part of the picture. It may have been mentioned in an earlier episode, but most likely he’s either deceased or left Joan and her mother when Joan was young.
Bob Benson, who escorted Joan to the doctor’s when she had stomach pains, now seems to be a frequent presence in the apartment. He is waiting, dressed in swim attire, as Joan packs up to take her son to the beach. When the doorbell rings, Bob answers it, expecting it to be Joan’s mother, but comes face to face with Roger. Roger is just as surprised to see him and doesn’t even recognize Bob outside of the office.
Roger tries to pretend he’s there on professional business and takes the hint when Joan tells him it can wait until Monday.
At the office, Roger drops by Joan’s office, giving her Lincoln Logs for Kevin. “You can’t drop in on me like that,” Joan tells him.
Joan says Kevin’s father is Greg. “But I’m here,” Roger replies.
“For now. But everyday Greg is some hero out there and I’d rather him think that is the man in his life,” Joan explains to Roger.
Joan understands that Roger wants to be around, but she knows better than to count on him. Roger only is there when it’s convenient and Joan, out of anyone, knows that from experience. Joan thanks him for the gift and opens the door for him to leave.
- MAD MEN Recap: “The Better Half” (musingsofamildmanneredman.com)
- A Girl on Mad Men: They’re Two Halves of the Same Person (S6/E8, “The Better Half”) (vol1brooklyn.com)
- Maureen Ryan: Don Ignites An Old Flame (huffingtonpost.com)