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« In Which Loving You Is The Worst Way To Get To You »

Lousy Affair


Mad Men
creator Matthew Weiner

We couldn't have asked for a more perfect episode this weekend: it was vintage Mad Men, rich with everything that drew us in the early days. Romance was on the table, and it wasn't your garden variety Pete Campbell sleaze fest or Don Draper affair; it was about the deeper bonds, the ones that have been brewing and breaking since the very beginning. 

And like the early seasons, we find Don back in bed with Betty at their son Bobby's summer camp, and Peggy without a spot of make-up on her face, standing bewildered in the hallway of the agency, unsure of how to please. Even though Peggy is stronger this season than she's ever been, working with Don has put her back into an old rhythm, one we thought she'd avoid while working under Ted Chaough. But between Ted admitting his feelings for her then regretting it, and Don forcing her to choose between his work and Ted's, she ends up right where she's always been: a damn fine copywriter who happens to be a woman and who isn't sure which one she's supposed to be. 

Peggy doesn't play writer or woman any differently, because both sides of her want the same things. And why should she have to choose? Megan has started playing a new character in her soap opera — the twin sister of the character she was playing before. She's pressed by the director to distinguish the characters, but what stands between them is a blonde wig and a costume. "They're two halves of the same person and they want the same thing, but they're trying to get it in different ways," she explains. With the blonde wig and class she's a cheap Betty Draper, who glides into the episode as svelte and icily glamorous as we remember her from before. 

When Betty didn't feel desirable, we got a brief, exhilarating glimpse of her behind the broken zippers and flowing mumus. I've always been more tempted to psychoanalyze her rather than Don, but whatever differences lie between them, they face their unhappiness the same way: sex. Both of them are afraid of being abandoned — Betty if she's not beautiful enough, and Don if things become too comfortable. Afterwards, in bed, Betty reveals that she feels sorry for Megan because, "She doesn't know that loving you is the worst way to get to you." This, after she fishes for compliments on her appearance. 

Betty and Don are perfect for each other in the way that two incredibly fucked-up people can make each other somewhat less unhappy. She will never stop wanting a dangerous man, and while Henry will likely become a more powerful man, he's basically a softie. Betty is beautiful, certainly, but she's also got the sort of psychological dilemma that Don savors. Home is where the whorehouse is, and while she certainly keeps up the pretense of the perfect housewife, she's incapable of making a completely comfortable home. In other words, Megan's got her work cut out for her if she hopes to mend the distance between herself and her husband. 

Meanwhile, Peggy and Abe's utopian dream of gentrifying a rough neighborhood comes to a startling halt when Abe gets stabbed by local hooligans. He calls the policeman a "fascist pig" for asking what race the attackers belonged to, and is incredulous when Peggy takes the policeman's side. It's been the beginning of the end for them for a while. Peggy may have had her head in the clouds when Abe mentioned children, but ever since Ted Chaough came onto the scene, it's been a ticking time bomb with her long-locked hippie boyfriend. 

The shit really hits the fan when, paranoid because of conflict on the streets and rocks through bedroom windows, Peggy fashions a shiv with a broomstick and a kitchen knife and accidentally stabs Abe. It was a hilarious moment. You could see it coming a mile away, sort of like Betty and Don's affair, but the actuality was no less marvelous for all of the foreshadowing. The satisfaction I experienced in both moments was only mildly surpassed by Roger's "Bob Bunson" comment after we see Bob Benson in Joan's apartment wearing shorty shorts. 

Fatherhood comes naturally to Don in this episode as he accompanies Betty and Bobby to summer camp. Roger Sterling remains the token failure in this department after he takes his four-year-old grandson to Planet of the Apes and upsets his daughter. When he offers toys to Joan for Kevin, she announces that she'd rather her son think that Greg is his father. With Bob Benson hovering, however, it's likely he'll be playing with little Kevin on the beach before either Greg or Roger has a chance. 

Pete Campbell is basically ordered to get his life in order before considering taking on more responsibility at work, and Harry is still enterataining the delusion that he'll be made partner when "things calm down". Abe probably dies. Peggy consistently gets screwed even though she's the only one who doesn't expect to have everything handed to her, but if we know anything about Peggy, it's that when she reaches the end of her rope she makes good things happen for herself. That's the best we can hope for anyone, really. 

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Mad Men. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing for This Recording here

"You Know" - Laura Marling (mp3)

"Master Hunter" - Laura Marling (mp3)

The new album from Laura Marling is entitled Once I Was An Eagle, and it is out today from Ribbon Records. You can purchase it here.


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