the recap recap

The Best of This Week’s Mad Men Recaps: ‘The Better Half’

Photo: AMC

The critics pumped their fists in the air for “The Better Half.” They rebuffed the portentous dialogue of Camp Sex Scene, but cheered for Betty Francis, rising out of her fat suit like a “conventionally attractive phoenix” to reveal yet another side of Don: the teenage girl, who just wants to cuddle. Let’s iron out those Yankee wrinkles. Here’s your weekly recap of the recap.

* “What I’m loving about this season of Mad Men as it goes on is how the characters find those once certain truths eroding out from under them, the turbulent nature of the outside world reflecting the much smaller traumas going on in their own hearts and minds. Nowhere is this more apparent than with Peggy, who increasingly seems like the season’s true main character. Her personal voyage has always been at the show’s center, but the more we watch as she simply tries to hang on for dear life in the middle of this turbulent work situation, the more she becomes central to what the show is trying to say. In an episode obsessed with duality, Peggy suggests that there is no right or wrong answer, no one correct approach that will satisfy everyone. Instead, there’s likely some answer in the middle that will ultimately result in everyone’s happiness.” — A.V. Club

* “How dare you speak about family, Duck, when you let Chauncey out onto the streets of New York alone!!! /NeverForget” — Collider

* “They talk about sex and intimacy in such a mature, illuminating fashion, it must be a first for that level of romantic candor between a man and a woman on Mad Men.” — Complex

* “Don Draper is never satisfied and that’s what makes him Don Draper. A satisfied Don is a Don with a pot belly and a “Kiss the Cook” apron: unimaginable.” — Entertainment Weekly

* “‘Status quo, ante bellum.’ Arlene, Megan Draper’s soap opera co-star, spoke those words in this week’s Mad Men as she sloppily exited Megan’s apartment after several attempts to turn an innocent conversation into a scene from Blue Is the Warmest Color. The phrase means “The state existing before the war,” and Arlene used it to imply that she and Megan would forget all about Arlene’s rebuffed advances and pretend that nothing of a lesbian-sexual variety ever happened between them. But the line also served as a pretty apt summary for much of what happened in this episode, in which several situations semi-reverted back to the alleged good ol’ days before the Vietnam War, and the internal war at the still unnamed house of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason and Chaough and even the war between Betty and Don Draper.” — Esquire

* “‘The Better Half’ was an episode about the two sides of ourselves — the person we think we are versus the person others see, or the person we are at work versus at home — and yet another sixth season episode loaded with doppelgangers and time-displaced versions of the same characters. It’s an episode where Megan plays twins, where the sleepaway camp has five Bobbys, Father Abraham has seven sons, where Duck Phillips (now a headhunter rather than an office vandal) can tell Pete “I’ve been you” in the same hour where Bob Benson does a fine impression of the young Pete (to Pete, in fact) and Henry is alarmed to see a man hitting on Betty while he’s on the phone in the same way he once hit on her while Don was busy meeting Connie Hilton. Everyone has a copy, some better than others. Megan struggles to distinguish between Collette and Corinne, while Bob’s young Pete Campbell is smoother and more assured than the original ever was.” — HitFix

* “Much of the episode concerned characters who were trying to step into time machines and reset relationships to their own liking. Roger tried it with his grandson and Joan; Don tried it with Betty and Peggy; Ted tried it with Peggy; and even Peggy herself tried it with Abe. All along, she’s been trying to believe that he’s the kind of guy she can build a life with, when both of them ultimately knew that wouldn’t work. Sometimes it takes a knife in the gut to realize that a relationship isn’t going where you thought it would.” — Huffington Post

* “Skinny Betty has risen like a conventionally attractive phoenix, not from ashes, but from a smoldering coil of hastily discarded latex, finally free of the showrunner’s curse that consigned her to a multiseason arc of thwarted dreams and greedily drained Reddi-wip cans. Huzzah! She can now stop being the body-shamed Boo Radley of central Westchester, peering through windows at the life she used to have before the suburbs crushed her will, and rejoin her husband on the campaign trail, arm-candy status restored in full.” — Grantland

* “‘You ready to get to work? It’s Monday morning, Peggy!’ [Ted] says with the kind of insistent cheerfulness that’s a sure sign of profound emotional repression.” —  Los Angeles Times

* “I didn’t feel a sense of build for any of the emotional threads. Like Bob and Joan. That scene starts, and I think, ‘Oh, so that’s happening.’ I mean, first I think I’m going to start a jam band called Bob Benson’s Shorts. And then I think, am I supposed to care about this?” — New York Times

* “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. ” - Rolling Stone

* “But Don’s path is pretty consistent: He’s sinking lower and lower, so much so that he can’t keep lying about it. ‘I keep trying to make things the way they used to be but I don’t know how,’ Megan tells him when he returns from his trip to see Bobby. ‘You’re right. I haven’t been here,’ Don admits, finally. Does this mean he’ll try to save his marriage, at long last? Can Don overcome the fact that Megan’s activities are offensive to his every waking moment?” — Salon

* “On most other shows these sort of doings would be subject to endless teaser ads: Will Don and Betty get back together for one night of passion? Who will Peggy stab with a freaking spear? Here it’s all of a piece.” — Slate

* “At this point, Don’s love-them-because-you-leave-them shtick has exhausted its sociopolitical metaphorical power, and the pseudo-Freudian claptrap about prostitution and consumerism is less satisfying than a menthol cigarette after sex. I mean, what if Don Draper isn’t the 20th Century hard-boiled into an inscrutably handsome man? What if he’s just Dabney Coleman in 9 to 5 a few decades earlier?” — Time

The Best Mad Men Recaps : ‘The Better Half’