The times are a-changin' in the "Mad Men" world. New York is becoming increasingly crime ridden and ambulances wail in the background at every exterior scene. But its characters want to go back to the way things were. What has been a remarkably slow season of the AMC drama (even by "Mad Men" standards) picked up the pace in Sunday night's episode, titled "The Better Half." Its developments reached nearly soap opera levels as many of the characters renegotiated old relationships.
Don reconnected with Betty – who has regained both her confidence and her figure – when the two exes run into each other at their son Bobby's summer camp. For a few brief moments they appear a happy family, singing camp songs together, much to Bobby's clear delight. But once Don and Betty act on their lust for one another, it was clear that there was no going back to their old ways.
"I love the way you look at me when you're like this," Betty says, after sleeping with Don, "But then I watch it decay. I can only hold your attention for so long."
"Why is sex the definition of being close to someone?" asks Don, adding that it doesn't mean much to him. Betty acknowledges that Don's emotionally limitations are Megan's problems now. "She doesn't know that loving you is the worst way to get to you," Betty says.
But perhaps Betty's words had an effect on Don. When he returns from the Bobby's camp, Megan confronts him about the distance in their relationship and he admits he hasn't been fully there for her. A reconciliation seems to be in order as the two embrace on the balcony.
As has been the case for most of the season, Pete stands to learn from Don's mistakes, and do a better job with his own family. "You've got to manage that, or you're not going to manage anything," says Duck Phillips, a former account manager at Sterling Cooper and now a head hunter whom Pete seeks out for professional counsel.
The family is "the well spring of my confidence," he tells Pete, who is struggling to care for his ailing mother while his wife and child slip out of his reach.
Roger is also struggling with his family. A day he spends with his grandson goes awry when the movie he takes his grandson to – "Planet of the Apes," which Don took his own son to a few episodes back – gives the 4-year-old boy nightmares. Margaret, Roger's daughter, prohibits Roger from taking care of her son again. Distraught, Roger goes to Joan's, gift in hand, hoping to rekindle their relationship and start a new one with her son, who is grandson's age and at least biologically, is likely Roger's.
Joan, now seeing Bob Benson (who Roger, hilariously, doesn't recognize even though he works for his agency), turns down his advances and tells him he cannot be a father figure to her son.
What chance Peggy has for a happy family with Abe falls apart as well. Her frustration with their new neighborhood, which Abe insisted they move to despite its violence, grows when Abe is stabbed coming out of the subway and then a rock is thrown through their window. Complicating matters, her boss Ted – a cleanly scrubbed, anti-Abe – comes clean about his love for her. Abe and Peggy end things after she accidentally stabs him one night thinking he is an intruder.
Aside from the blade protruding from Abe's abdomen, their breakup feels a little haphazard. He blames her job at the ad agency ("Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment," he tells her), an issue in their relationship for sure but not really related to their most recent bickering.
No matter, he is now out of the way for her to pursue her interest in Ted. Unfortunately, Ted brushes off the news that Peggy and Abe broke up, suggesting that, his feelings aside, he would like his and Peggy's relationship to stay strictly professional.
The episode ends as it began: Peggy is stuck playing diplomat between Ted and Don, in the heat off a power struggle at their newly merged agencies. She realizes playing their work wife is nothing compared to the real thing.
Plenty happened on Sunday night's episode: Abe and Peggy's breakup, Ted's confession that he loves Peggy, Don and Betty's rekindling and then his reconciliation with Megan, the revelation that Joan is seeing Bob and has put Roger fully behind her. But it's hard to know how much the characters truly changed, especially the show's men who have been particularly static this season.
Perhaps Arlene, the star of Megan's TV show who visits Megan while Don is away, gave us the best clue. She tries to kiss Megan, but Megan rejects her and worries if this will change things at work.
"Status quo antebellum," Arlene says as she walks out the door. "Everything as it was."