‘Mad Men’ Season 6, Episode 9 Review – Table For One

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Jon Hamm in Mad Men The Better Half Mad Men Season 6, Episode 9 Review – Table For One

Examining the sides of a character’s identity is nothing new to Mad Men, and certainly, when an episode is titled ‘The Better Half,’ all sort of situations seem to beg for attention. And this episode takes a somewhat gloomy, but frequently amusing look at how a character’s view of themselves and those close to them can alter his or her place in the scheme of things.

Naturally the identity that is Don Draper is only half of the man we’ve come to know and love (or love to hate). Don is a man who so wholly embraces rebirth he’s practically become a mythical beast who makes the phoenix look like a hapless upstart. He’ll do it whether he’s under fire in Korea or just trying to figure out how to land Chevrolet, while getting drunk in a Detroit hotel bar. And this ability to remake himself has a profound effect on his relationships – marital or otherwise.

This is part of Don’s love affair with beginnings; he practically re-creates himself every time a new relationship begins, but eventually reverts to the old Don when they inevitably end, only to start over again. We saw this recently, when Don took role-play with Sylvia to new heights (or lows, to help find and retrieve his shoes), and again during an uncomfortable elevator ride when he coldly brushed aside the recent object of his affection with a terse reply to her question of how he was doing. But the sordid goings between the Draper and Rosen households are, naturally, only part of the story.

Kevin Rahm in Mad Men The Better Half Mad Men Season 6, Episode 9 Review – Table For One

The merger with CGC has put what’s left of SCDP’s staff on alert for their doubles. One of the first to suffer from this incursion was Margie, who saw her exit coming the second Peggy walked right back through the door, and right back into Don’s domain. Now that things have settled somewhat – especially after the vitamin-shot Jim Cutler (Roger’s double) helped everyone out with during last week’s ‘The Crash‘ – Peggy’s increasingly finding herself being asked to chose between Ted and Don, as when Don asks her which take on the margarine campaign she prefers. But rather than simply be about Peggy (or anyone for that matter) choosing between the two people who’ve shaped her career more than anyone else, ‘The Better Half’ is also a revisiting and reexamination of relationships for the characters of Mad Men.

There is a pervasive sense that out of an ending something will begin again, with everyone seemingly unaware it’s just the cycle that’s starting over. And because of this, many of these ostensibly new (or new again) relationships are destined to flame out faster than ever.

Which brings the episode around to its surprising star, in the form of the former Mrs. Draper, Betty Francis. Early on, ‘The Better Half’ telegraphs Betty’s run-in with her ex-husband by showing Megan on the set of her soap opera, as a blonde-haired twin of the character she normally plays. Certainly, though, it goes back a little further, to when Henry announced he’d be running for the state Senate, eager for people to meet the real Betty. Not long after, Betty was very much back to her old self, receiving not entirely unwanted attention from men everywhere she goes.

Vincent Kartheiser and Christina Hendricks in Mad Men The Better Half Mad Men Season 6, Episode 9 Review – Table For One

Don’s connection with Betty seems tied into her reinvention of herself – that is, on the outside at least, she appears to be new. But like Don, she’s really just new again. And even though they fall into bed with one another while visiting Bobby at camp, it’s not the beginning of something; it’s really more of a chance for Betty to see the man who broke her heart with a the kind of vision that’s only granted through time, distance and a renewal of one’s self. The event leaves Don alone and contemplative enough that he appeals to Megan on an emotional level, after she’s spent part of her weekend once more rebuffing Arlene’s sexual advances.

At the same time, Peggy’s relationship with Abe is crumbling in part because she can’t handle the crime-ridden neighborhood he talked her into moving to, and because of her growing feelings for Ted Chaough. After a succession of unpleasant incidents, Peggy’s desperate for change, to alter her situation. And sometimes, change requires something drastic to take place – which comes in the form of Peggy inadvertently stabbing her boyfriend with a makeshift bayonet. The aftermath sees Abe breaking up with Peggy in the back of an ambulance, spouting phrases like “Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment; I’m sorry, but you’ll always be the enemy,” while an indifferent EMT just shrugs along.

In the case of ‘The Better Half,’ change brings opportunity, and opportunity means making a choice. Peggy chooses Ted over Abe and Don, and eventually winds up standing alone with closed doors on either side of her. Meanwhile, Joan chooses the increasingly questionable Bob Benson over a frequent paramour and the biological father of her child. Considering Bob’s history seems to be as scattered and illusory as Don’s, she may have been wise to stick with Roger.

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6 Comments

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  1. Great critic! This episode was awesome for me, this is the change I have waiting for since Don leave his house the first time.

  2. Terrific review. You hit so many of the satisfying moments and themes in an episode that I personally loved, as I imagine many others did. And not only because it took us out of the office, but it didn’t resort to delving (again) into Dick Whitman’s psyche. Frankly, even the most die-hard fans (myself included) were wearying of that terrain.

    I especially appreciate your take on cycles, and this observation you make: “it’s not the beginning of something; it’s really more of a chance for Betty to see the man who broke her heart with a the kind of vision that’s only granted through time, distance and a renewal of one’s self.”

    What is also interesting is how pragmatic she is, while Don seems more able to allow himself a romantic reverie. For a change, he isn’t the taker in the equation. If anything, she is. Yet there is no guilt. To some extent, it’s closure.

    As for Joan and Bob Benson, I can’t help thinking that she’s going along for the ride to the extent that it suits her. Joanie is a smart cookie. I doubt she’s betting on Bob for much, and she knows Roger to be utterly unreliable – or as his daughter put it when he had his grandson for the afternoon – a four-year-old with a four-year-old.

    There were other lovely touches in this episode, many of which you’ve mentioned. There were visuals that took us back not only to Betty of Season 1, but other seasons in specific scenes – of potential flirtation in grand style, and reflections in front of those same sliding doors in Don’s Park Avenue apartment.

    This time, instead of Betty staring out pensively, it was Don – and Megan on the terrace.

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  3. Is anyone else surprised that Don is driving that same—what is it?—1962 Cadillac? Don strikes me as the kind of guy who’d get a new car every 2-3 years (city-living or not. That posh penthouse surely has an indoor garage? You’d think he’d have gotten a new car when he and Megan married)

    Speaking of Megan: was anyone else all kinds of unsurprised when Arlene put the moves on her? When Arlene and her husband invited the Drapers to swing, I definitely had the feeling then that both of them were bi!

    …and I was little more surprised by the Don&Betty’s Ex-Sex: once you knew the flattered-for-attention Betty was going to the same camp as Don (FYI: as a kid, I don’t remember my parents ever spending the night at my camp!), horizontal shenanigans were all but telegraphed. [But Betty having insight into herself, much LESS Don---and Megan? Now *there* was the shocker!] I really have to take exception w/ this, though: “it’s really more of a chance for Betty to see the man who broke her heart.” Funny, I remember it the opposite. (Come now, *who* filed for divorce? When Betty told Don she didn’t love him anymore, the closing song was “Don’t They Know It’s the End of the World”: that wasn’t regarding the Death of JFK. Betty certainly tossed her cookies and climbed the walls due to Don’s infidelities, but Don got his heart broken–you gotta pay if you’re gonna play.)

    Good review, of a really good episode. Last week’s was just TOO wacky for my taste, but “The Better Half” was classic MM.

  4. I agree on all points – Great review and that “The Better Half” was classic Mad Men.

    I took Betty’s hop-in-the-sack-with-the-ex more of a “I’ve still got it” moment that anything else. After the yo-yo weight and emotional issues, she feels she’s once more desirable to someone other than Henry the husband. And to pique the interest and libido of the man who desired every third female BUT you, well you can’t get more “I’ve still got it” than that. I loved the scene when Don walks into the diner and so Betty’s nonchalant while sitting with Henry, as though nothing extraordinary occurred just 12 hours before. Vintage Don moment with Don being on the receiving end.

    To me, this episode was about choices – Fleichmann’s over Blue Bonnet, quality over expense, Don over Henry (for Betty), work over Peggy (for Abe), Bob over Roger (for Joan), Ted over Abe (for Peggy), Don over Arlene (for Megan).

    Anyone else notice the ever-present wailing of police/ambulance sirens in the background throughout the episode as if signaling something wicked this way comes or perhaps has already occurred?

  5. Betty was simply enjoying closure. Done with her fat figure, done with her jealousy over don’s lifestyle now that her husband has grown some balls and run for senate. She’s feeling sexy in a way she wasn’t since Rome. She still had her doubts over her past relationship. Now it’s gone. She can play house with bobby like tge regular family they once used to be, she can enjoy don company . She knew exactly what she was doing when she asked for his bottle and then let the door opened. She has everything she wants and can now fully enjoy her life with henry.

  6. Loved this episode and loved the Betty and Don relationship. I find the feel right together? In a weird way, classy and from that time. Megan really ages Don and I feel she deserves someone more fun and closer to her age.

    Joan and Roger are great together too, Bob has me questioning alot. He did remind me of Sales and bit in his short shorts though.

    Can’t wait to see next week!

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