Mad Men Review: “The Better Half”

No one could ever accuse Matthew Weiner of rushing. Every season, it seems he takes the utmost delight in taking...

Kyle Murphy

Contributor

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No one could ever accuse Matthew Weiner of rushing.

Every season, it seems he takes the utmost delight in taking his time before pulling back the curtain to reveal the true machinations and inner-workings of his characters.

Parallels could certainly be drawn between Mad Men’s season one series premiere and the current season six’s debut episode, which both found our protagonist Don Draper presumably living comfortably and monogamously through the course of both episodes, until in each season premiere’s respective final scenes. Don unveils a family when returning home to his wife Betty and kids in the opener of season one’s closing moments, after an episode of romance with his bohemian girlfriend, Midge. Don held true to form in this season as well, putting up a convincing front of a happy marriage with Megan through the course of the hour, only to run to the arms of his neighbor and doctor-friend’s wife, Sylvia, before returning next door to his wife. It took an entire season of flirting with the she-who-knows-him-too-well Faye, a dalliance that seemed closer than any to piercing the always stoic Don Draper’s tormented mind, before pulling a fast one in the season four finale and proposing to the doting and reassuring Megan.

Our current season has not found Don Draper any less lost than previous seasons, especially with last week’s unraveling episode that laid bare Don’s deep attraction to Sylvia, not to mention the childhood turmoil he associates with relationships. Abused by his mother for finding comfort and warmth with a lady-caller, Don’s history of poor treatment of women becomes much more clear when we see the shame and torment his mother inflicts on him. Suddenly, Don making Megan crawl around on the floor for his own pleasure, or confining Sylvia to wait alone in a hotel room for his return, all make much more sense when understood in the context of Don’s formative treatment. Not to mention Don’s oedipal conflicts coming to the fore, his searching for an old oatmeal ad that would solve all of his problems, his passing fancy of a familiar secretary and the striking similarity between Sylvia and his own mother, all bring to greater focus the warring freak show inside Don Draper’s head.

This week’s episode,”The Better Half”, deals with the respective halves of some of the central relationships. Megan is tested when hit on by her fellow co-worker over reading a script, a situation still-so-innocent Megan could not make out for herself until she was kissed. Betty got her figure and her groove back, seemingly starved for attention, is seeking it out from any neck she can break, see the rumpled money-grubber she cozies up to while waiting for Henry, or the smitten gas station attendant she is clearly giving a show to. Peggy reaches a breaking point in her ability to cope with her lefty boyfriend Abe, trying to make the free-thinking idiom of the late-1960’s a reality, but continually running into the problems and issues of desegregation in a highly volatile time.

Where Megan turns down the kiss from her fellow starlet Arlene, and Henry scolds Betty for being such a flirt, it is their better halves Don and Betty, that give in to their passion and rekindle the flame of their past marriage, aided in no doubt by the quant back drop of their son’s camping trip under a cacophony of cricket chirps, their budding romanticism wafting through the night air with the biting mosquitos.