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'Mad Men' Recap: Betty's Back

'Mad Men' Recap: Betty's Back

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It's tempting to think of Ted Chaough as butter and Don Draper as margarine, Fleischmann's perhaps. Ted, wholesome and earnest, could have been churned up by a farm girl. You have a pretty good sense what he's made of. Don, on the other hand, spreads well and won't perish even in harsh conditions. The ingredients, though, are suspect and the effects of long-term exposure can't be good.

On second thought, think of the epic struggle of Ted vs. Don like the choice between different types of fats. Neither's a nice bowl of kale, but at least Ted is a good fat, the kind you'd find in avocado. Don's the much-feared saturated variety, artery-hardening and hot to bond with any old hydrogen atom that enters into his orbit.

Betty Draper Francis
Betty Draper Francis
Not that we'd suggest Betty Draper Francis is any old hydrogen atom.

In this episode, ironically titled "The Better Half," Betty and Don get the romp many viewers have long wanted. Betty has slimmed down and lost the raven locks she took on earlier in the season. Back to blonde, she is close to the Betty we knew in early seasons--charmingly bitchy, cool, and mischievous—and once again the object of so many gazes. Ogling her is Henry and his fat-cat friend, not to mention a leering gas-station attendant, and, of course, Don.

Betty hasn't been around enough the past two seasons to make the post-conjugal reunion with Don seem inevitable. Plus, she hates him, or so it seemed when she turned up at the conclusion of last week's speed freakout to lecture Don on why he shouldn't have left Sally alone in charge of the two other kids. (Chief reason: so his apartment couldn't be ripped off by an old lady pretending to be their grandma.)

So when Betty and Don end up playacting husband and wife at an event for Bobby's summer camp and sparks fly, you've gotta suspend some disbelief. Not only has she dropped the dowdiness overnight, but there's a lot of bad blood to wade through. Don's charm wins the day, as he ditches his usual stiff demeanor, tunelessly contributing to "Father Abraham" and magically lubricates the dry camp with a bottle of Canadian Club that helps the divorced couple's slide into the sack.

Don and Betty's love scene is really a post-love scene and above all a gift to the audience. But it's also surprisingly effective given the potential for soap opera schmaltz lurking there. Their coupling is less the rekindling of anything than a reminder of how far Don has fallen. Grabbing her hair, he seems like the aggressor but it's not like that anymore. Fresh off of being rejected by a lover, Don is the one on the defensive, mewling empty sweet-nothings about not needing sex to feel close. Betty throws them right back at him.

When he moves on top of her for a second go-round, her line is the kind of acid show-stopper only Betty Draper can deliver: "Are you sure you don't wanna just hold me?" The next morning Betty's back to her new life, happily breakfasting with Henry, while Don skulks off to a lonely table.

Betty always was a worthy adversary. In those early seasons, she was on the trail of his infidelity, staring him down, rifling through his suits, jimmying his Dick Whitman drawer open. She knew what she knew and though it took finding Henry to force her out of the marriage, you would never feel sorry for her.

Unlike, say, Megan Draper, who is all too pitiable. Not only does Megan's dip go uneaten, but the poor girl is now playing twins on that horrible soap opera and not pulling it off convincingly. Megan just can't do multiple personalities the way her hubby can.

After an on-set berating, she receives a visit from Arlene, the director's wife. Now, we already know this lady to be a swinger and the visit ends poorly. Let's just say that Megan is forced to announce that she is, most definitely, bi-incurious. After Don returns from camp, Megan's waiting there in her undies to be latched on to by Don, who latches onto her because, you know, he's got to latch on to someone. See -- saturated fat! Too many bonds!

The saddest thing is what Betty observes: Megan "doesn't know that loving you is the worst way to get to you."

Cut to Ted Chaough, who, while far from perfect, has at least some sort of built-in id-resistance. A few episodes after their smooching session, he summons the strength to push Peggy away, even after she discloses that she and Abe are over, following but not because of her accidental bayonetting of him. Suffice it to say, the gentrification effort uptown has gone badly -- and, by the way, if you hadn't noticed from last week's burglary and this week's cacophony of sirens in virtually every scene -- crime is getting out of hand in 1968 New York City.

When Peggy sticks Abe, it's actually the second time Abe's been stabbed in an episode in which the young journo is eminently stabbable. He's got some annoying liberal guilt to which Peggy responds with a perhaps anachronistic diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. She doesn't literally use those words, but close enough.

In any event, Peggy's a free woman and still hot for Ted. That Ted is successful in resisting a newly single Peggy makes him, in the "Mad Men" universe, a monument to restraint and certainly the antithesis of Don. The final shot of the episode makes literal what we've known to be the case. Peggy will have to choose between Don and Ted, presumably in a more decisive and dramatic way than she's done so far, i.e. opting for Ted's price-conscious approach to Fleischmann's over Don's taste-oriented idea. A question for the rest of the season is how.

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-- Bobby Draper is the new Sally. Hot off his classic from last week -- "Are we negroes?" -- the little man is now seeing to dad's needs. "Do you want me to get the waitress so you can get a drink?" He's in a summer camp cafeteria, mind you.

-- Duck Phillips makes a welcome -- and gray -- return, to advise Pete Campbell. Camped out in his grim pied-a-terre and saddled with a done marriage and a declining mother, Pete wants to, as Harry Crane put it, have his "balls tickled" by a recruiter. Duck, the former new-business chief, is now a headhunter, but you probably don't want him writing you any LinkedIn testimonials. Sample wisdom: "I've been you. I went on interviews and realized I filled the room with desperation."

-- Joan and Bob Benson going to the beach? Nutty -- just like his shorts.

-- Roger Sterling, already in grandfathering mode, on whether Bob Benson is fit to watch Joan's (and his) son: "Who's gonna watch TV with him? Bob Bunsen?"

-- I've said it before and I'll say it again. For the butter-friendly Gen Xers and Yers among us, it's easy to forget what a big deal margarine was back in the 1960s. Five hundred brands were on the market, feasting on the decline of butter. Between 1940 and the mid-1960s, butter consumption was lopped in half, while margarine consumption tripled.

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