Let’s begin with Betty, who didn’t make an appearance in the season five premiere, but was heavily (not a pun on purpose, I swear — but the title was) featured in “Tea Leaves”. We knew that Matthew Weiner was working around January Jones’ real life pregnancy this season, but I wasn’t sure how they’d handle it. Would Betty be pictured holding lots of things? (Yes.) Would Betty Francis herself be pregnant? (No.) Would the weight gain be acknowledged? (Yes.)
Betty’s storyline was twofold. First of all, she has put on weight. It can sound like a frivolous storyline, but it suits the theme of the season. Betty has gotten older, and her ex-husband is now married to some young, hip, sexy French girl. Betty is at home, bored and alone. And she eats. That was the first part.
The second part was much more interesting, so it’s a shame it was resolved so quickly. When at the doctor to inquire about diet pills, a lump was discovered on Betty’s thyroid. It was possibly cancerous, and she’d have to go for tests.
The idea of Betty having cancer brought up so many fascinating ideas. It’s interesting because of Don and The Letter last season. It’s interesting because, really, how would Megan be as a full-time mother? It’s interesting because Betty Draper was always a cold, unlikable character — how much sympathy would we feel? And it’s interesting because, when she arrived how terrified and couldn’t find Henry, Betty called Don. She called Don and she asked him to say what he always says, that everything’s going to be OK.
And Don was worried about Betty, too. He told Megan he might call, he told her what was going on. He tried to use it to get out of going to the beach with Megan’s young, fun friends. He talked to Roger about it. And then when he called the Francis household to find out about the test results, Henry didn’t relay the call to Betty. She’ll think that Don never called, she’ll think that he never cared.
Betty doesn’t have cancer. The tumor was benign. She is simply fat. This could have come across as obnoxious, but instead it’s a smart way of using a real life complication to examine a character’s unhappiness. Betty is depressed, and it’s showing. In the closing scene, Sally stops eating her sundae halfway through because she’s full only to have Betty pull it across the table to finish it herself. Then the episode closed with “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” fromThe Sound of Music. Perfect. Betty might have a few good years left in her. Sally, however, is only a few years away from the world being her oyster. And Betty knows it.
This theme was the most obvious when Don and Harry went backstage at a Rolling Stones concert to try and pitch their manager a ridiculous idea about doing a Heinz commercial. At a business dinner with Heinz, only Megan really had a grasp on what the band was all about. The Heinz executive only knew his teenage daughter loved them.
Once again, Don is humoring the client. But more importantly, they couldn’t have been more out of place at the concert. Don might make me swoon, but to 15 year-old girls of his own era he’s downright square. Though Harry, who is closer in age to this new, young generation, was even more square. The storyline provided some good laughs though, like Harry shoveling 20 burgers into his mouth in Don’s car after indulging in some marijuana at the concert. Oh, Harry. Married life isn’t working out for him like he’d hoped.
And then there’s the office politics. Sterling Cooper Draper Pricedid hire an African American woman, she’s now Don’s secretary and her name is Dawn. Apparently this is hilarious. Mohawk Airlines is back in the fold, with Roger because they know him. That meant Peggy got to hire a new copywriter, and she chose an awkward Jewish guy named Michael Ginsburg. Peggy hiring another writer brought up an important issue – do you hire a talent that could outshine you, or a mediocre schmuck who will never be made your boss? Peggy went with the talented guy, even though she couldn’t stand him.
Meanwhile, Pete Campbell made a big deal out of the return of Mohawk and how even though Roger would handle the day-to-day, Pete would be aware of all that goes on. He obnoxiously made it seem as though he was in charge, not Roger. And Roger was furious. As he pointed out to Peggy, Pete was the last guy he hired. It’s so interesting because, really, right now neither guy is happy. Roger knows he’s on the way down, he’s irate that he’s in a position at his age where he still must prove his worth. Yet, he has a cache and a reputation that Pete can never have. Yes, Pete is on the rise. But he’s so desperate and calculated, people see right through him. He will never be Roger Sterling, even if Roger Sterling isn’t either.
Jon Hamm directed this episode, and while I don’t know what exactly that entails, the episode was beautiful. Betty’s dream sequence and the images of July 4th at the Francis household immediately come to mind. Also, Henry’s reference of “Romney is a clown” was a hilarious little jab that I can only assume was intentional. After all, I have a hard time believing anything on Mad Men is ever unintentional.
What did you guys think of “Tea Leaves”? How do you feel about the new season so far?