Mad Men Season 5 Episode 9 recap

Two households, both alike in dignity...

That's what Bobby Draper was thankful for, and by the way, it's Thanksgiving, so time marches onward pretty fast, I guess.  And they're growing more and more similar - and more different.

This episode had so much to do with divorce and new families, and I almost believe it felt...hopeful. Is this naive? Wishful thinking?  Or is it possible that even in the days before family therapy was common (although Sally's an old hand already) there can be benefits to having both?  I love that Mad Men plays with our expectations here. A young wife with no experience with children? Sure, she can be a welcome companion for her husband's three children (and a “friend” to the one she's too old to have birthed herself).  A formerly uptight, angry mother?  She might mellow with age.  Don't tell me you didn't feel a surprising warmth as she checked Bobby's homework without incident.  The two father figures in the situation? Neither particularly relates to children, it's true, but they both appreciate the position they're in, it seems.

I can't help but value this portrayal. Not that every family doesn't have problems; in fact, those problems are the meat of the show and we'll get there.  But I'm impressed and heartened that the show has the presence of mind to say that not all divorces are terrible, that not all remarriages spell immediate disaster.  Of course, we know this isn't true, but I'm happy to see it reflected in the show's mid-60s timeline, that opinions are changing, as Henry told Betty when she objected to a candidate having been divorced: "Nobody cares about that anymore".   

I know this sounds like a departure from my usual hand-wringing over Sally Draper but however devious Betty's intentions began while telling her about Anna, what Sally ultimately got was (a version of) the truth - the experience of seeing she couldn't manipulate her stepmother, and crucially, whether you think this is important or not, listening to a married couple resolve a fight. It's not traditional, but it might be beneficial, right?

Kind of like Betty's weight gain.  I still think it's a bit of a trivial subject to subject an entire season's arc to, yes, and arguably a waste of a performer - whatever you think about January Jones' acting in general, I've always been inclined to buy the Betty she was selling. But it's about finding ways to go on in the face of failure, and in failing to be the beautiful, perfect wife she thinks she was supposed to be, she's been getting better at other things.  Being a genuine friend to someone at Weight Watchers, since she can't see herself as “better”.  Being milder with her children, and a little freer with compliments (though I love that even praise is preceded with “get in here right now”. Rome wasn't built in a day).  So she tried a little espionage to take down her successor.  So what? If it taught her daughter a lesson along the way, isn't that...kind of a wash? So she cheated (by one bite) on her diet.  So now she's learning you can do that and still live to tell the tale - savour the small bites you have because "nobody has anything better".  Betty might be faking it 'til she makes it, but isn't this what she wanted? Not to feel like anyone else has something she doesn't?  After all, she and Megan have the same flawed husband in common - but Megan doesn't have a new, different one.  Nobody has anything better.

That's Don's and Roger's position too, of course. Roger pays to ensure that he's surrounded with “the best”, sometimes all the way up to the price of a new apartment.  I cannot find any sympathy for Jane, as much as I try, because she sure didn't seem to like Roger's company before so I can't really scare up enthusiasm for her cause when she pouts that his presence “ruins” things.  I also never felt that she was particular about making her Jewish-ness known before now, so that point of sulk seemed a bit weak.  Am I heartless?

Don, of course, makes sure that “nobody has anything better”, even if he has to resort to rather crude means to ensure it.  What I love about Don is how early in the game he knew that his “devil” pitch was markedly weaker - his face fell as soon as the empty praise from his subordinates left the room.  I'm like Peggy in the sense that I'm really irritated that it's Ginsberg who points this out to him and makes him anxious, but this is a truism of creative enterprises - Don taught Peggy everything she knows, so basically, how can she have an idea that's better than his?  It's not factual, but it's an assumption that's made all the time. Ginsberg, on the other hand, has his own outside influences, and just his creativity provokes Don to work harder than he has in months.  Of course, protecting the ego means that work needs to be worth something, and he lands the account.  So who can complain, really? Nobody, unless they're resentful for other reasons.  Unless they're trying to push their own ideas through.  Unless they're trying to jump steps.

And you know what happens to people who aspire before they're ready? Either they learn to sit down and take their praise where they can get it (remember Peggy telling Megan that landing-an-account feeling was “as good as it gets”?) or they strive, and brag...and have their humiliation served up in the form of absence from the New York Times, and have to fantasize about a topless Alexis Bledel.  It's really a tossup.  But as Don reminds us, if you don't like what he's doing... well...he doesn't think about you at all.

Don and Betty have, respectively, arguably the happiest families on the show right now. Are you in shock?

Photos courtesy AMC