‘Mad Men’ Recap: Don and Betty Go to Camp (Season 6 Episode 9)

 Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

The choice between two margarines: Between the conflicting appeals of dueling brand names. Between affordability and taste. Between the old cold-hearted mentor under whose wing you so misguidedly soared and the new all-smiles one who’s totally gaga over you. Peggy’s story this season has stung the most. That glowing scene last year that sent her out of Don’s reach, onto an elevator car, and up into the world of tomorrow is a painful memory now that she, effectively, has lost all of the control that turn of events afforded her.

Peggy was on the rise. Then, she found herself steeped in a crime-riddled s**t-hole and back under the old roof she so proudly escaped. But through all these factors, she had the people in her life — the men, specifically — aching for her, in a variety of ways. She had control over Don, whose precious protégée should never belong elsewhere. Over Ted, smitten like a cockeyed yokel over his brimming star pupil. And over Abe, who really doesn’t seem to have much else going for him than his attachment to Peggy (that war against tyranny ain’t going so well, is it?). But though injected with enough preservatives to last forever, Peggy’s margarines seem to melt to liquid in this week’s “The Better Half.” And her butter… well, she accidentally stabs it in the stomach.

And thus, having spread herself too thin (wait, so is she the margarine now?), banking on Don, Ted, and Abe to each maintain solidity while giving back to none of them, Peggy finds herself entirely without. She left Don a television year ago, only to face his territorial contempt on the regular once returning to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, asserting an absence from his grasp once and for all (or for now… these people are chronically inclined to revisit their mistakes) by refusing to side with him over Ted. Ted reacts similarly, though more in regards to his and Peggy’s shared albeit complicated affection, deciding that her will to “forget about things” is a voluminous reminder that he sees her as primarily interested in the control over and the opportunity for anything between them — a notion that is shouted even louder by her addressing, behind closed doors, a recent breakup with Abe (a message that Ted, in all his boy scout glory, dutifully rejects). And that very breakup? Peggy accidentally stabs Abe when she thinks he’s somebody (of marginalized race) breaking into their apartment, so he tells her that she’s everything he opposes and that they are through. Hectic day.

Upstate New York is a magical place — the countryside above the Big Apple brings Don and Betty together to visit young Bobby at sleep away camp. It brings out the song in Don, who joins in on Bobby’s playful “Father Abraham” ditty. It subdues the wrath between Don and Betty just long enough to have a pleasant diner lunch with their cheerful son — markedly less socially conscious than he was back in his Planet of the Apes days, as the mention of Bobby Kennedy stirs no sentiment of civil unrest within the chap. Maybe it’s the cool summer air, the clear country sky, the hormonal mosquitoes… or the fact that both Don and Betty are embedded in deeply unhappy marriages and are no longer able to hold one another responsible for their self-loathing, not to mention the fact that they, much like Peggy, are desperate to feel their hands fitting firmly around any course of action that might befall them. So, discarding (or shelving) that gleaming rage we know so well, one we witnessed only one episode back, Don and Betty sleep together, happy to decide that the evil whose access to their internalities has faded just enough is a much safer bet than the ones they must face by the day. And while Betty at least has the shell of a marriage to revert to the morning after, Don is all but alone, grabbing coffee at the corner table, fully aware that nothing awaits him back home.

Also, Bob Benson. He goes to the beach with Joan and then recommends a highly qualified military nurse for Pete Campbell’s mother. The plot thickens.

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