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TV Diary | Mad Men – “Tea Leaves”

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TV Diary | Mad Men – Episode 5.03 – “Tea Leaves” – Original Airdate: 4/1/12

Episode Grade: B

Daaaammmnnnn… Betty got FAT. After sitting out the opener, January Jones’ Betty Draper was back in a… er… big way [1] in what was technically this season’s third episode, “Tea Leaves.” Seems that since we last saw Betty she’s gotten verrry comfortable making friends with food, to the point that she and new husband Henry’s sex life is non-existent and that a visit to the doctor to try to score some diet pills [2] ends with a cancer scare after the physician becomes concerned that Betty may have a tumor on her thyroid [3]. Now, anyone with any kind of pop cultural knowledge knows that Jones’s real-life pregnancy [4] was likely the cause for this storyline, but frankly I find it more fun to see it as some kind of punishment for Jones’s notoriously prickly demeanor. I can see creator Matthew Weiner now – “Hey January, you want to be like that? Fine. Put on this fat suit.” Salaciousness aside, the Betty plotline in “Tea Leaves” was part of an overriding theme of characters feeling obsolete and fearing that they’re about to be replaced. Betty is no longer the model-thin version of herself that she once was and, after Don’s marriage to Megan – the much younger Megan – she questions where she still fits not only in Don’s life, but in the life of her children as well. The theme of obsolescence also carries over to the action at SCDP in “Tea Leaves.” After Pete manages to land the Mohawk Airlines account – and despite their stated preference to deal with Roger and not Pete – Pete manages to take all of the credit while simultaneously marginalizing Roger [5], causing Roger to later lament to Don that he (Roger) was the one to hire Pete only for Pete to eventually position himself as Roger’s replacement. As I mentioned in my review of the premiere, one of the major threads that Weiner set up in “A Little Kiss” was the intensification of the Roger/Pete conflict at the agency. Pete, for his part, seems to be the only person in a position of authority taking work seriously, while Roger is content to coast along on his laurels and his reputation while hitting on anything in a skirt. It’s actually kind of ironic – much as Roger is one of my favorite characters on Mad Men – that he’s part of the old guard who opposes the “entitlement” of the younger generation and is dismissive of those seeking equal rights (African-Americans, women) yet he himself may have one of the largest senses of entitlement on the show. Watching this rivalry continue to play out over future episodes is one of the things that I’m most looking forward to. Just as Roger is feeling Pete’s footsteps behind him, so too is Peggy with regard to the new copywriter that she’s tasked with hiring by Don and Roger. After hiring Michael Ginsburg – who Roger feels is good for business because, as a Jewish man, he makes the office seem more modern in the mid-60s – Peggy is warned by the lunkheaded Stan of the dangers of hiring someone with any kind of talent [6] since the potential that that hire could end up doing more harm than good to her career. Perhaps more than some other episodes, the theme of “Tea Leaves” was blatantly clear but that’s not to say that it didn’t ring true. It had a ramshackle feel at times that made it feel a little lesser than the show’s best, but there was enough here to give Weiner a pass as he continues the process of plotting where this fifth season is heading.

[1] I’m so sorry.
[2] On the advice of her, let’s go with “jolly,” mother-in-law.
[3] This is going to sound cruel but whatever. Is there a Mad Men fan around who wouldn’t have wanted to see Betty get cancer? Anyone?
[4] Presented without editorial comment. I’ll let this link speak to the rumored details of said pregnancy.
[5] “Mr. Sterling will be handling the day to day but rest assured — everything he knows, I’ll know.”
[6] And Peggy is very impressed by Ginsburg’s portfolio.

Miscellany:
*Don spent most of the episode attempting to placate the Heinz executive who wasn’t a huge fan of Peggy’s “bean ballet” idea in “A Little Kiss” by attempting – on request of the Heinz exec – to convince The Rolling Stones to modify “Time Is On My Side” to “Heinz Is On My Side.” Knowing what I know about the Stones, I literally laughed out loud at the naivety of the clueless Heinz exec’s suggestion and, sure enough, Don and Harry strike out in their efforts. But Harry got stoned and hung out with a teenage girl, so all was not entirely lost, right?
*It’s worth mentioning that one other character fearing replacement is Henry, who looks none too pleased to hear Don on the other end of a phone call checking in on Betty at “Tea Leaves’” end.
*I’m sure that this was intentional but the transition from Betty struggling to fit into her dress and then begging off going to a charity event to Don zipping Megan – slim Megan – up was a nice touch.
*However, another possible crack in the Don/Megan marriage arises when Don tells Megan about Betty’s condition. She’s shocked he didn’t tell her sooner, while then asking if he thought she’d be happy about it. His look betrays his true feelings.
*Lest we forget how divorce was viewed back in the 60s, the Heinz executive’s wife seems more than a little put off by Megan’s mention that Don was divorced as the two married couples dined out at a restaurant as part of Don’s damage control.
*In a scene that owed to the new world order at SCDP, Roger asking Peggy to take the lead in the hiring of the new Mohawk copywriter showed nicely that he takes her seriously and treats her as something close to an equal – or, as much of an equal as someone as set in their ways as Roger Sterling possibly can. Peggy has come a long way from the naïve secretary we were first introduced to five (five!) years ago.
*Don’s new secretary – hired in the wake of the Young & Rubicam payback in “A Little Kiss” is named Dawn, causing Harry to lament the similarities in their names. “But out in the office it’s hard to tell who’s who.” Sure it is, Harry. Because Jon Hamm looks so much like a young African-American woman.
*Harry apparently thinks that Charlton Heston is good looking. Just in case you were wondering.
*Henry, to an unknown associate on the phone: “Well, tell him Your Honor is not going to Michigan. Because Romney’s a clown and I don’t want him standing next to him.” Yes, this line of dialogue is about former Michigan governor George W. Romney but, in light of this year’s presidential election, I’m preeetttaaay… pretty sure that Weiner is making a political statement here.
*Jon Hamm made his directorial debut with this episode and, he must have done a good job, because I didn’t even notice until reading about it after seeing the episode.
*Of course Betty can’t help but polishing off Sally’s ice cream sundae on top of her own after the younger Draper informs her mother that she’s full. (Sad trombone.)
*Roger Sterling Line Of The Week – When told of Betty’s health crisis he responds, “Well… that would solve everything.”
*”There’s things you can do about this. There are pills you can take.” “Why haven’t you taken them?”
*”Baked beans and the Rolling Stones. A client’s idea if I ever heard one.”
*”Mohawk is going to insist on a full-time copywriter.” “One with a penis.” “I can work on that.”
*”Did he smell like pee?” “Who would smell like pee?” “Writers.”
*”None of you want us to have a good time because you never did.” “No. We’re worried about you.”
*”Saturday night was fun.” “OK.”
*”I’m exhausted from hanging on the ledge and having some kid’s foot on my fingertips.”

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