Mad Men Monday Recap – The Better Half

By: Daniel Reynolds

Heading into its sixth season, the Same Page welcomes you each week to the Mad Men Monday Recap. A show as deep as this one needs a little diverse commentary so jump in and enjoy the irreverent breakdown of each episode. 

Mad-men-title-card

What’s Happening on Madison Avenue?

It is worth taking a minute to discuss what happened in each episode, right? If you’re looking for some straight talk on what we just saw on Mad Men, read this section (and then read the other sections because, why not).

Who can a person really turn to for advice? After last week’s bizarre escapades, it was rewarding to take a moment to assess the current power dynamic within and without the Madison Avenue environs. It seems like everyone this week was turning to someone, or looking back on something, for an answer or solution. Did this work out for anyone? Of course not!

Let’s start with the in-office action. There are Don and Teddy still talking about margarine, but really, they’re just mightily resisting the urge to pull out a ruler to settle who is the best man. Their underlings, Harry and Pete sitting idly by, are ignored. Harry is surprisingly zen about his lack of say, while Pete, of course, is convinced that he is going to get cut loose from this new amorphous company. He meets with a headhunter played by, holy shit, Duck Phillips!

As usual, Pete wants reassurances, he wants to know he is still wanted, still special. Now, besides the crazy notion of Duck giving useful advice to anyone, I enjoyed that he talks about hooking up Burt Peterson. It’s like a double-decker jerk sandwich. This is the guy who tried to take a dump on Don Draper’s desk! Duck seems painfully aware of his past lapses, even though, for the most part, it appears that Pete is probably not listening to his advice.

From the unreal to the totally surreal, there is Megan playing the blond twin of the maid character of her soap opera. She is having a hard time keeping the two characters apart. In no way does this reflect her current relationship with the easy to define Don Draper. I’m being sarcastic. Fortunately, she has the totally cool and not at all sexually aggressive Arlene (remember her? The swinger?) on hand to act as a sympathetic ear. Arlene offers Megan her body, err, I mean, some advice. It doesn’t take.

While Pete and Megan worry about the future, good ol’Roger and Don are diving back into the past. On the lighter side, Roger hangs out with his grandson and unwisely takes him to see Planet of the Apes. His daughter Margaret is, let’s say, not a fan of this decision. In a power-punching reversal, Roger gets thrown out of all future solo dealings with his grandson by his own daughter. What is a old man grappling with his mortality to do? Why, go lurching after the semi-illegitimate son he had with his former secretary! As expected, Joan rebuffs Roger (and dear God, we’ll talk more about this later).

Don, meanwhile, takes a trip down memory lane, meeting up with Betty (who is now totally without the fat suit) at the summer camp of their son, Bobby. Since Don is coming off a terrifying sex bender, the solace he finds in this type of nostalgia is curative. It definitely reminds us that there was once a time when Betty and Don seemed to fit so well together.  It also reminds us that Betty was once able to be far more insightful about Don’s inner workings than most other people (even Megan, who continues to seem woefully lost, even though she knows there is a problem). Oh yeah, and huge kudos to Mr. Weiner for working a great Bobby joke into the proceedings (Don: “Are you Bobby 1 or 2?”, Bobby: “I’m Bobby 5!”).

Finally, in the story line I was in the most denial about, Peggy and Abe fight about their current living arrangement. As they race to the hospital (how’s that for a segue?), after Peggy accidentally stabs Abe, the EMT does not have any words for Peggy. And then Teddy gives her the gleeful shrug off (after angrily admitting he is in love with her, I think?). Don is as cold and distant as ever. People may have a word or two to help out, they may do some things to assist, there can even be solace in nostalgia, but in the end, you’re on your own.

The Symbolism Rankings

Enjoy, with minimal comment, the weekly rankings for whatever symbolism Matthew Weiner has heavily stacked into each Mad Men episode. A show set in the world of advertising is only as good as its symbolism, right?

1) Ad-hoc spear

2) Background sirens

3) Menthols

Back in the Day

Remember the 1960s? Mad Men really values its sense of place. To that end, here’s where we make mention of whatever anachronistic or historical element popped up this week.

Well now, there is a reference you just don’t hear very often: The ’27 Yankees. Our friend Harry Crane, that doughy prince, utters it between mouthfuls in the main conference room after studiously avoiding getting in the middle of a meeting between Don and Teddy. Did you know that the ’27 Yankees were nicknamed a “Murderer’s Row” because of their tremendous batting lineup? Wait, is Harry including himself in this assessment? This feels a bit generous (lest we forget the Broadway Joe on Broadway fiasco) but it got me thinking. Where would Harry fit in on the ’27 Yankees? An in-depth analysis:

Babe Ruth – Obviously one of the most famous baseball players ever and definitely one of the most beloved. Had a long career spent being an awesome force on the field and a real party guy off it. Comparison: Roger Sterling

Lou Gehrig – Legendary player, ultimately felled by a disease that got named after him. Was known as the classiest guy and gave famous “Luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech. Comparison: Bert Cooper

Joe Dugan – Considered one of the best defensive third basemen of his era. Known as “Jumping” Joe after taking unauthorized leaves from the team due to his temperamental nature. Comparison: Don Draper

Urban Shocker – Had amazing run of success throwing four consecutive 20 win seasons. However, was also last Yankees pitcher to legally throw a spitball. Died young of pneumonia. Comparison: Pete Campbell

Waite Hoyt – Famous pitcher known as the Schoolboy Wonder after getting signed at 15. Moonlighted as a mortician (!) and vaudeville actor before eventually became a quality broadcaster. Comparison: Michael Ginsberg

Tony Lazzeri – Hard hitting infielder who came up from nothing. He is the only player to hit the natural cycle (single, double, triple, homerun in a row) with a grand slam at the end. Comparison: Peggy Olsen

Julie Wera – Backup third baseman. Mentioned here because he eventually became a butcher for a Piggly Wiggly in Minnesota after retiring. Comparison: Stan Rizzo

Ben Paschal – Was a valuable bench player from the team. On any other roster he would have been a starter. Never quite got his due. Comparison: Joan Harris

Earle Combs – Known as the Kentucky Colonel and a first class gentleman. Comparison: Ken Cosgrove

Mark Koenig – Utility infielder famous for bring the last surviving member of 1927 team. Unremarkably average. This feels right. Comparison: Harry Crane

I spent way too much time thinking about this.

This Week in Ken! (Cosgrove. Accounts.)

As the most likeable guy in the entire series, Ken Cosgrove deserves his chance to shine. Here’s where we discuss what everyone’s favourite earnest moonlighting sci-fi writer was doing or not doing on the last episode.

At this point I’m not sure which is more dead: the SCDP/CGC deal with Chevy or Ken(!) Cosgrove. Etiquette says I should take some responsibility. I just pushed too hard. It was an exercise in pure folly to expect worthwhile segments each week for everyone’s favourite character on Mad Men. Wait, he is your favourite character right? No?

I rest my case.

Know Your Role

Since so much of Mad Men is predicated on minute character interactions, here’s where we discuss the top conflicts that happen in each week’s episode and decide on a winner.

Apparently the 60s were a tough time for people living on the upper west side. It could be an ugly bit of history, but damn, we need to address it. On the one hand, Peggy feels unsafe. She shouldn’t have to live in a dangerous environment (in an apartment that just looks exhaustively hot). And anyway, how is she supposed to know that in 30 years her place will be worth millions of dollars? On the other hand, Abe wants to live a vibrant life, he wants to live on the edge, close to the action. Even if that action involves getting stabbed (by people besides Peggy) and dodging a rock through the bedroom window. On the other other hand, it is sort of an unwritten rule in relationships that once you stab someone in the stomach (even if you do happen to miss their heart), it is just tough to bounce back from that, chemistry-wise. That person will always just be, you know, the person who stabbed you. It’s a tough work around.

Granted, Abe has other reasons to finally initiate the dissolution of the relationship with Peggy. Most of them, admittedly, will sound silly in retrospect: she works in advertising, she sides with the police, she remains the enemy. On paper (written by an unabashed counterculture hippie), Peggy sounds terrible for Abe – and he doesn’t even know about her bizarre affection for Teddy. Setting aside the stabbing, their pairing was probably doomed from the start. I didn’t want to admit it, but here we are. We’ll probably never see Abe again (and I doubt he’ll adjust well to the 70s) and poor Peggy is just hoping for a little guidance from her mentor(s). Instead, she gets a bunch of closed doors in her face.

Winner: … Abe?

Actual Advertising

Between the drinking, the social commentary and the drinking, sometimes the people of SCDP and Madison Avenue actually do some work on advertisements. Here is where we sit in the seat of the client, trying to figure out what the hell these ad guys are talking about.

So the SCDP/CGC crew is back talking about margarine this week. Don is adamant in his believe that its chief advantage is its low cost, while Ted is talking about the relative quality of the product. A lively discussion gets started as Don and Teddy argue the merits of… OK, I have to stop. I didn’t want to disrupt this segment but we’ve got some more pressing issues to talk about here.

Bob Benson in those shorts.

We’ve clearly gone into the next twisted realm of existence right now. Somehow, Bob Benson has gone from creeping suck up lecher to chaperoning Joan to the beach. I repeat, Joan on a beach. Just… I can’t even. Not even Roger’s classic condescending game can throw this guy off his target. Joan shrugs off Roger’s advances, even after he calls Bob a “Bunsen” (classic Roger).

But. But! This is not even the most distressing element of this Bob Benson/Joan pairing. Stay with me here. We’ve all been conditioned from the start to assume that Bob Benson is angling for something. He sucks up to Roger, to Don, to Pete. He manages to sink some hooks into Pete (there is a natural kinship between simpering strivers). Are we now watching a show where a guy like Bob Benson, who clearly has some designs on moving up in the company of SCDP/CGC, can find the easiest path to success by seducing Joan? What wormhole have we tumbled into here? Bob Benson has gained valuable insider information on the health of Pete Campbell’s mother that he is now apparently using in his continued campaign to ingratiate himself with Pete. He got this information from Joan! Joan! Bob Benson! Bob Benson is using Joan!!!

I can’t even deal.

Joan is hanging out with who?!

Joan is hanging out with who?!

Next Episode Predictions

This is where we watch the totally opaque preview for next week’s episode and make wild guesses as to what will happen next.

Wait, I’m not finished. In the On the Next Episode promo we see Joan stride into Peggy’s office to announce she needs a drink. Then some other stuff is said: problems, kissing a ring, cynical, upset, 200 body bags a week, whatever. Then it cuts back to Joan and we hear Peggy ask, “who is he?”, while Joan BEAMS WITH EXCITEMENT.

Bob Benson, what have you done?

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One response to “Mad Men Monday Recap – The Better Half

  1. Benson told Ken in the premiere his dad was dead, but he tells Pete the father made a full recovery with the help of the nurse. He also managed to make it seem like Joan’s a gossip, which may make Pete less comfortable spilling his guts to her in the future.

    Betty was ON FIRE last night. Killed it.

    Pretty sure Margaret’s kid grows up to be Buster Bluth.

    Step up your game, Roger. Hopefully seeing Bob Benson’s glorious short shorts playing pater familias will be the kick in the pants he needs.

    Looks like next week is the California episode from those paparazzi pics of Harry driving Don and Roger around in the Corvette. Sweet.

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