Mad Men: Heavy Stuff

Out with the old, in with the young. That seems to be the theme of Mad Men‘s fifth season, and it’s showing itself in so many ways.

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?

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About Jill

Pop culture junkie and TV aficionado. I write sharp and snarky TV recaps at www.couchtimewithjill.com
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19 Responses to Mad Men: Heavy Stuff

  1. kristaspurr says:

    I was kind of “meh” about this episode, because I really couldn’t care less about Betty. I liked the idea of Don’s life being further complicated by Betty Francis’ demise and his resumption of parental responsibility. Tonally, it seemed inconsistent with the world created in the premiere.

    Matthew Weiner was on Real Time with Bill Maher the other night, and he described the theme for this season as “every man for himself.” It’s easy to see that shaping up with Pete and maybe even Peggy, but the other characters are still holding on to what Roger said late in the episode, “When is everything going to get back to normal?” It’s probably going to be another couple of episodes before we really start to see what both of those statements mean for the show, longer-term.

    Still, I’m calling it: something bad is going to happen to Roger.

    • L-A says:

      The thing that drives me crazy is that so many questions are raised about supporting characters, but rarely answered because it’s all about Don Draper. I want less him and more of everyone else – cold, black hearted Betty included.

      • kristaspurr says:

        Agree, that sort of exposition tends to come out in dribs and drabs and is rarely as satisfying as “the further complexity of Don Draper.” I want to know what happened to the Sterling Cooper folks who were left behind! What about Sal?

    • Jill says:

      I don’t *like* Betty, but I like her character. I like thinking about why she is the way that she is.

      I can totally see the ‘every man for himself’ theme, and I’d be interested to have to see Peggy really fight for a place at the boardroom table.

      Good call on Roger. He’s already had a few health scares, so I can see how we’ve been leading up to something happening.

      I really, really wanted Sal to come back when they broke off onto their own. But I guess maybe in real life, in that era, you’d never hear from that character again.

  2. Melanie says:

    Yeah, the “When is everything going to get back to normal?” comment really struck a chord with me as well. A new era is on the way, and that means Roger’s “normal” will never be.

    Best line this week comes from your review, not the actual episode: “He will never be Roger Sterling, even if Roger Sterling isn’t either.”

    • Jill says:

      Thanks!

      I think they’re using Roger really well to illustrate the growing generation gap. He’s older, not what he once was, stuck in his ways. Even when he’s being somewhat positive he’s being derogatory, like saying that having a Jew in the office is modern.

  3. Dana says:

    Loved the episode and in general, particularly based on other stuff I am reading, people are too hard on Betty. Depression on some level besides being sadness is rage and this is what causes Betty to act as she does. This WASPY girl was raised to be a trophy wife and learned that appearances are what is important, that your real feelings are to be stuffed inside your beautiful dresses or to be laying down on your fainting couches. Now her appearance is going and oddly enough she seems more miserable with Henry, who I think in general is a more caring husband than Don and at least so far not subjecting her to daily infidelity humiliations. She would have never let her appearance go with Don the way she has here. I give Matthew Weiner credit for how he wove JJ real life pregnancy into the storyline, it just fits Betty to have her character develop this way and is way better than showing her with a basket of laundry in front of her. I thought the dream sequence was beautifully done (way to go Hamm!)

    I also liked the business dinner scene. Megan was truly uncomfortable playing the role of wife and wasn’t very good at it. If you compare that with Betty, who would have charmed the pants off the Heinz people it’s quite interesting. I also thought Don showed more genuine concern for Betty than of him merely thinking of his kids possibly losing their mother. I think in some way he is showing some regrets about Betty. Yes, he wasn’t happy with her, but he understood her, he knew what their life was about. Now everything is changing. He has a black secretary, he’s not interested in work, his wife is of another generation.

    The new normal on Mad Men is really an uncomfortable place.

    • Jill says:

      Dana, I agree with you about Betty. I think her character is an interesting portrait of a housewife of that time. She’s sad, and she’s kind of horrible, but I like that we’ll never really know why. There’s no concrete reason. She has a more supportive husband now, yet she’s still not happy because she probably never will be.

      The business dinner was a great example of how Megan doesn’t have some of the strengths Betty did. She can’t play that part for Don, just like how she humiliated him with that song and dance.

  4. kimberleymosher says:

    I’ve never loved Betty Draper, but I did love this episode. I thought the dynamics of Betty dealing with something as serious as cancer was really interesting, and it’s too bad it was, as you said, so quickly resolved.

    I really love the dynamics they are creating this season, and I really love the addition of the copywriter Michael Ginseberg. His interview with Peggy, and then with Don, made me laugh out loud and I predict he’ll get into some compromising and interesting situations to come.

    And, although Megan’s character wasn’t a main focus in this episode, like she was in the first two, I really love that she holds her own and has a considerate nature about the previous history Betty has with Don. All in all, I loved this episode!

    • Jill says:

      I liked how Megan was considerate to a point, but had limitations. She was ready to deal with Betty’s sickness if they had to and had genuine concern, but she also didn’t understand how Don could be OK enough to go to a concert but not feel like going to the beach.

  5. Wayne says:

    Did anyone else see Ginsberg and think that they were hiring Chachi? :-)

  6. Dana says:

    A couple of other thoughts….just because I am obsessed.

    -I hate Betty and Henry’s new house. The other house didn’t have a personality but it was quietly dignified and tasteful. This house seems big, drafty and ostentatious. I get that Henry wouldn’t want his new house to reflect Betty’s old life with Don but ick, it’s like an old, dusty haunted mansion. That fainting couch should have been somewhere prominent.

    -Did anyone notice if Betty smoked or drank during this episode? I don’t think so. Perhaps she replaced it all with food. One vice for another.

    • Jill says:

      Really? I loved the new house! It was so intimidating. Well I guess I should say, I don’t like it as in I’d want to live in it, but I like what it represents for Betty and Henry.

      Yeah I didn’t notice her drinking or smoking. She had tea at lunch.

    • Melanie says:

      Hmm. Interesting catch on food replacing her other vices. While most everyone on this show drinks and smokes quite heavily, it’s always so apparent that they are major vices for Betty.

  7. Dana says:

    The house doesn’t seem at all like Betty although she did buy that crappy fainting couch which fits much better in this house, so maybe it was her house with Don that wasn’t in her taste. The decor seems kind of dingy for the period.

    Another thing I loved were the scenes with Roger and Peggy together. They surprisingly play very well off one another. You don’t see them in scenes too often or when you do Peggy is silent. But they should have more interaction in the future.

    And I loved the scene with Harry and Don where he tries to get Don to go to dinner with him before the concert, Don, just deadpans a no and Harry, not missing a beat says, “ok, I’ll see you at 6.30 after having eaten.”

    • Melanie says:

      Yes that exchange between Don and Harry was priceless. I kind of like what they are doing with the Harry character this season. Both episodes so far (counting the premiere as 1 even though its technically 2) I’ve tweeted something to the effect of, “Oh, Harry.” I think/hope I’ll be doing a lot of that.

      • Jill says:

        Peggy and Roger interact rarely, but when they do it’s gold. I hope with Peggy’s status in the company rising she’ll have more opportunities to be in scenes with Roger.

        I love Harry. He’s so awkward.

  8. Dana says:

    I honestly think the best thing that happened to Harry was when Paul Kinsey left. He was the character with his proverbial foot in his mouth but now Harry has really taken that role on and he’s great with it. His timing and delivery are a lot better than Kinsey. I do with they’d bring Sal back though.

    Did you see the previews for next week? Looks like Don and Megan are headed for trouble, although knowing MM, it could be a red herring.

    I can’t wait.

    • Jill says:

      Just watched. Very intriguing, and with Mad Men you never know what’s going to amount to something and what won’t. I wish every night were Sunday night.

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