After last week’s feverish, drug-induced romp through the office, Mad Men comes off a lot more restrained this episode, even as dramatic moments such as Abe getting stabbed twice (!) and Don and Betty’s one night stand keep unfolding.

“The Better Half” is rife with references to twins. Megan’s twin characters are “two halves of the same person and they want the same thing but they’re trying to get it in different ways.” Of course, the description is really in reference to Don and Ted, who cannot agree on how to approach the margarine account. Everyone in the office feels caught in between, most of all Peggy who tells Don that he and Ted are “the same person sometimes.” The two face similar situations outside the office in their respective unhappy marriages. Don casually has a fling with ex-wife Betty at their son’s summer camp, while for Ted, cheating on his wife with Peggy is an unacceptable option.

The second I realized Don and Betty would be in the same place alone, I knew they would be hooking up. Strangely enough, there is no pursuit or calculated seduction. Both appear as though their actions are not only inevitable but also natural. Betty certainly feels no guilt, excusing her actions in a typically, reality-denying Betty manner with a “this happened a long time ago.” Their conversation afterwards isn’t really full of any new revelations. Don can have sex so casually because it doesn’t mean anything to him. He doesn’t see it as a physical manifestation of any kind of emotional commitment. Don is disappointed because all the sex he’s had doesn’t help him feel close to any of his lovers. All of this is old news. What’s fresh is Don’s surprising candor with Betty.

Meanwhile, Joan, Pete, and Roger all continue to struggle with familial issues. Frustrated with work, Pete goes to a headhunter to get an idea for what else is out there but instead receives the advice that he should refocus his attentions on his family. Joan can sympathize with his mother problems but is distinctly unhelpful. There’s a strange moment where Pete asks her to dinner and is shot down. Pete’s been sidling up to Joan all season and I don’t like it one bit. Roger earns the wrath of his daughter Margaret when he takes his grandson to Planet of the Apes. Her jab at his abilities as a father and as a grandfather hurt him enough to turn his attentions on his illegitimate child with Joan. However, when he shows up to Joan’s only to find Bob “Bunson”, all he can see is himself having been replaced with a younger, handsome man in short shorts. His distress at slowly becoming irrelevant (and hasn’t this always been Roger’s story) is obvious in his plaintively telling Joan “I just wanna be around.”

When Don returns from camp, Megan confronts him about their growing distance. The sirens in the background perfectly set off her “I don’t know when I started pretending like everything was sunny.” Their conversation recalls the dream Sylvia recounted while ending her affair with Don, when she told her husband that she had been gone but she was now home. Don too admits that he “hasn’t been here.” Megan tells him “something needs to change” but as we all know, change is the one thing that Don cannot accomplish.

Extra observations:

  • Ted reveals that he considers Peggy to be his protégé. Wonder what Don would have to say about that.
  • I love how little Bobby knows that his dad just wants to get drunk as fast as possible as soon as he shows up.
  • Bob Benson was so smooth at getting information out of Joan on Pete. He’s thrown his loyalties in with Pete now, but could this be a sinking ship?
  • Oh Abe. “Were they colored or Puerto Rican?” “–Or White?” “You can keep talking because everything you’re saying is going in my story”
  • This episode had several great laugh out loud moments. 1) Arlene going for that kiss a third time with Megan 2) The apathetic EMT in the ambulance 3)Peggy’s “Abe got stabbed”