Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 3: Tea Leaves

Betty:  Say what you always say.
Don:  Everything's gonna be okay.

What happened to Betty Draper Francis?  The formerly lithe beauty has, since the last time we've seen her, packed on many extra pounds.  Knowing how important her looks are to Betty, how she was hurt by her mother's harsh criticism and obsessive concern about her weight and how Betty defined herself in large part (no pun intended) by the fact that she used to be a model, it's easy to see that this change is going to cause her great consternation. She enlists Sally to try and help her squeeze into a dress so she can go out, but she is no match for the zipper.  Her efforts to get dressed having failed, Betty feigns illness—woman's problems she says—and passes on the chance to be on her husband Henry's arm at tonight's Junior League of New York event.

Contrast that scene with the still slim Megan Draper all dolled up to go out, her husband easily zipping her into slinky, mod dress.  She is acting as Don's better half tonight as he tries to wine and dine the Heinz Beans executive and his wife.  Betty used to fill that role, Don's beautiful partner charming the clients and their spouses.  But when Betty was Don's wife, he did the work, all she had to do was sit, smile, and be pretty.  That was a woman's job. Megan, by comparison, is not just his lovely wife, she's a coworker.   The client's wife jokes how tiresome the work talk is and looks to Megan for her sisterly agreement and Megan successfully feigns being completely bored with all the advertising talk.  But Megan is the very model of a modern working woman—and she is not just Don's dinner accessory, she is another creative with her own ideas and interests.

Back at the office, Roger is puffing out his chest and making his power moves to establish that he's still the rooster in the henhouse—making Pete come to his office for the meeting that Pete set up.  But with good news—Mohawk Airlines has returned to them as a client—the petty bickering between the two of them falls into the background.  Don has a new secretary, a black woman with the homophonic first name of Dawn.  Harry shows his utter lack of charm by joking to her about the confusion between their sound alike names and is then snubbed by Don when he tries to turn their venture to sign the Rolling Stones for an ad campaign into a bonding experience.  No Italian restaurant, no veal parm, just business. Poor Harry, the Rodney Dangerfield of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Back over at the "Betty is suddenly fat" subplot, Henry's plump mother comes over to tell her newly corpulent daughter-in-law that she needs to get back to her fighting weight and while we saw Betty sitting on the couch shoveling Bugles into her mouth, she tells the doctor whom she sees to get a prescription for diet pills, "I haven't had much luck reducing on my own for some reason."  He checks her out as she's hoping for an external cause for her problem.  He doesn't help by calling her a middle aged woman.  But things take a turn when the doctor finds a lump on her thyroid.  Panicked, she calls not her husband but Don.  She needs him to tell her what he used to always tell her, that everything was going to be okay.  They may be divorced, but she still needs Don and he is still able to comfort her.

She bumps into an old friend while at the doctor's office going to have the lump on her thyroid tested.  The friend has cancer and is getting radiation and they meet up for tea after Betty's biopsy to talk.  She asks her friend the tough questions that no one asks and she hears about the struggle and the desire to just give up.  While they're are sitting in the restaurant a woman comes over and offer to read the tea leaves that give the episode its title.  Don't worry, says her friend.  It's always good.  The woman reads Betty's leaves and tells her that many people rely on her and she is a rock.  This makes her breakdown as she in convinced the doctor will be coming back with bad news.

The agency needs another copywriter to take on the Mohawk work and Peggy is charged with the screening process for someone who will be her competition and could be, if Stan's warnings carry any weight, her eventual boss.  Stan suggests she tread lightly, find someone competent but not too good, someone who would not be competition.  But Peggy wants to hire the best and brightest.  Unfortunately, the best and brightest is a little kooky.  His name is Michael Ginsberg.  He looks like he put his outfit together form pieces found in a dumpster behind the local Goodwill, he keeps his resume crumpled up in the sleeve of his loud, poorly fitted jacket, talks a mile a minute and thinks about two seconds after random words come out of his mouth.

Peggy loves his work, but she passes on him.  He's crazy, he's certifiable, she tells Roger.  But Roger talks her into hiring him.  Don't worry, he tells her, he won't take your job.  And now that the agency has hired a black secretary, why not a Jewish copywriter.  It's so progressive of them!  She's worried Don will hate him, but Roger promises to smooth his path.  How much crazier than any other copywriter can he possibly be?

Don's new wife may be young, but the girls he meets backstage at the Rolling Stones' concert are young.  They are everything he isn't—free spirited, naive, open and in touch with the changes going on in the world.  Don is, as Megan tells us, so square he has corners.  When the show began in 1960 Don was relatively young and definitely fit in to the world around him.  Just six years later, he is out of touch, a relic.  He doesn't get the younger generation and their music and that would not usually be a problem, except for the fact that he's in advertising and his job is to understand people so he can sell to them.  If there is a whole new generation of people coming up that he cannot relate to, he won't be the great Don Draper for long.

Roger is also feeling like a relic.  He used to be the top dog at the agency, but now upstart Pete Campbell has the big office and re-signed Mohawk Air and is getting all the glory that once was Roger's.  He had warned Peggy about hiring someone too good, someone who might surpass her.  And then what he warned her about came true for him as the last person he hired was pushing him aside.  He goes off to mope in Don's office and complain about his irrelevance to the agency and Don stops him by telling him about Betty's cancer scare.  Real life and death is not what Roger wants to deal with and he walks out of the office, but not before asking "When is everything gonna get back to normal?"

Don calls the Francis residence and Henry answers.  He was surprised, and irritated, to learn that Betty had called Don about her tumor and he quickly tells Don that everything is okay without letting him talk to Betty or even telling her that Don called.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt, you can see that Henry wants to be enough for her.  He wants to be the one she turns to, not Don.  It is hard when you've been with someone for so many years, you have children together, you practically grew up together.  It's natural for her to rely on what's familiar, a place, a person with whom she felt safe.  But when you're the new husband, that has to sting.

We see Michael Ginsberg at home.  He told Peggy during the interview that he had no family, but we now know that is not true.  He's got a father at home who worries about him, who wants him to find a nice girl.  What to make of this mysterious young man who denies he has family while admitting to talking to himself?

Finally, we see Betty at home, sitting at the kitchen table with Sally.  She's over her cancer scare, and stuck with the reality that her weight gain is her own fault.  So how does she deal with it?  She finishes her ice cream sundae and then goes after Sally's.  The doctor suggested that gaining weight at her age can be a sign of unhappiness, anxiety, or boredom.  Is that what's plaguing Betty and if so how we she move beyond it?


Raymond: You know, back in Pittsburgh, everybody's pretty much who you expect them to be.

Pete (to Roger): Since you were here when they were here, they think you know their business.

Betty: Aren't you sweet to come all the way over here when a phone call would've sufficed?

Pauline:   I know how it happens.  You get comfortable and you give up a little bit.  And then it just gets out of control. 

Roger:  Mohawk is going to insist on a regular copywriter.  Someone with a penis.
Peggy:  I'll work on that.

Roger:  I want you to bring me a good-looking version of Don.
Peggy:  Oh, that'll be easy.

Stan:  Are you suddenly not competitive? The chick who races people to the toilet? 

Stan:  I hope you like him.  He's gonna be your boss someday.
Peggy:  I like working with talented people.  It inspires me.

Michael:  I insulted you because I'm honest.  And I apologized because I'm brave.

Peggy:  Then you're like everyone else.
Michael:  I've never been accused of that. 

Peggy:  You know, your book really does have a voice.
Michael:  That's what they said about "Mein Kampf."  The kid really has a voice.

Betty:  What is it like? 
Joyce:  Well, it's like you're way out in the ocean alone and you're paddling, and you see people on the shore, but they're getting farther and farther away.  And you struggle because it's natural.  Then your mind wanders back to everything normal.  What am I gonna fix for dinner? Did I lock the back door? And then you just get so tired, you just give in and hope you go straight down

Cecelia (tea leaves reader to Betty): You mean so much to the people around you.  You're a rock.

Megan:  My God, you're so square, you've got corners. 

Harry:  I'm Harry Crane.  I'm on the list.
Security:  There's no list.

Girl backstage:  None of you want any of us to have a good time just 'cause you never did.
Don:  No, we're worried about you.

Don:  I thought you were getting it for your family.
Harry:  You know what? Let them get their own.  You bring home a bag of food and they go at it, and there's nothing left for you.  Eat first.  That's my recommendation to people who say they're getting married and having kids-- Eat first.

Megan:  Why didn't you tell me?
Don:  I didn't know how you'd react.
Megan: What, did you think I'd be happy? 
Don:  I don't know what I thought.  I just knew she wouldn't want you to know.

Peggy:   Shouldn't we wait for Roger? Pete:  For what? He doesn't even come to the meetings that are important

Michael:  You wouldn't want me running all over town telling your secrets.
Don: Well, I wouldn't want you grumbling behind my back, either.
Michael:  You're right.  I shouldn't have said that.  I just wanted to make you smile.

Peggy:  You know, I thought you were crazy when I met you, and you have confirmed it by not acting the way that you acted with me.
Michael:  You told me not to act that way.
Peggy:  And the fact that you can control it really scares me.

Michael:  Come on, be proud of me.
I need it.  Nobody in the world cares I got the job but you.
Peggy:  Then I'm happy.

Roger:  You know, I used to love that kid.
I would hold his hand and help him up on the swing set.  He grew up.
Don:  What did you expect?
Roger:   I'm tired of it, Don.  I'm tired of trying to prove I still have any value around here.  I'm exhausted from hanging onto the ledge and having some kid's foot on my fingertips.  Bombs away.


The "fat Betty" storyline was a result of the producers fears that the pregnant January Jones would plump up and there would be no explanation on the show. They needn't have worried nor written in this silly diversion.  Jones gained a regular amount of baby weight, in the regular places, and a well placed box would have worked much better.  But it gives us a chance to delve into Betty's psyche, especially to see how she deals with losing the safety of her beauty.

The young versus old battle plays out in a number of different venues.  We see the difference between Don's two wives, between Pete and Roger, between the ad men and the girls at the concert and even between Peggy and Michael.  While the country itself is starting to move towards the generation gap on a macro level we feel the rumblings on a micro level. There's tension and fear and distrust on both sides of these various interactions.  Change is not welcomed but dreaded by the older generation and the newer generation feels it's their time and doesn't want anything to stand in its way.  

Roger is seeing a bleak future where he is irrelevant and unnecessary.  Clients don't need him. The firm doesn't need him. They're able to go forward without him.  And this scares the hell out of him.  

Nothing makes you feel as old as being around someone younger and not only does fifty-something Roger feel it, even twenty-something Peggy senses it when she interviews Michael Ginsberg.  Roger looks at Pete as that kid he hired who is now replacing him and he projects this insecurity on Peggy and suggests that she too may be hiring her replacement.  Will they still be relevant, will they be pushed aside, will there be a place for them in the future.  Time marches on and will you go with it or be left behind?

While the fear Roger is feeling is about his future at work, Betty's crisis is more existential. Her fear of the biopsy results is understandable and concrete -- that's not a vague fear of the unknown or an exaggerated fear of some vague obsolescence but a genuine fear for her life.  Hearing the fortune teller tell her that her family relies on her and how important she is to them only makes her upset.  While it's easy to assume she feels bad that she might not be there for them.  But part of me wonders if Betty is really facing the truth that she might not be there for them now.  

In the end, though, Betty's fear was not realized and she received a clean bill of health. Yet she was not relieved by this news.  Henry feels like he's been given a new lease on life, but Betty does not share his joy.  Betty is still a sad, unfulfilled woman and even getting this great news is not solving whatever is ailing her.   

On the other end of the spectrum we have the young enthusiastic Ginsberg who is bubbling over at the prospect of his new job.  His youth and social awkwardness makes Peggy feel old by comparison and there's something about his jittery eccentricity that makes her feel almost maternal towards him.  Her initial opinion is that he's talented but crazy.  But Roger tells her not to worry about the crazy, that's par for the copywriter's course. Roger would be more concerned by the talented part - as she doesn't want what happened to him (watching "the last guy" he hired move beyond him) to happen to her. 

The dynamic between Don and Betty, Betty and Henry and Don and Megan this episode was fascinating.  How does a divorced couple who have children together stay involved in each other's lives.  And how does your prior relationship color future interactions, especially in a crisis situation?  When Betty gets a health scare, she turns not to Henry but to Don.  He had been her rock once and part of her still needed to hear him tell her everything was going to be okay.  Don was there for his ex-wife Betty, but was not willing to share the news with his new wife Megan.  How did he think she would feel that she was shut out of something so important?  How committed to her, to their marriage, is he if he's so comfortable keeping things from her? And Henry?  He was not thrilled that Betty reached out in her time of need to Don rather than him.  He lost the power in their relationship and was pushed to the side in his own marriage.  And so when he got the call from Don after he heard the good news about Betty's test results he gave a quick perfunctory response and then pretended the call never happened. Henry Francis with his powerful friends and important job was scared of and threatened by Betty's relationship with Don and so he petulantly kept the two apart.  

Jon Hamm directed this episode. 

Series Spoilers - Don't Read Until You're Caught Up

In Season 7, Michael Ginsberg has a psychotic episode at work.  The question was, has he always been nuts and everyone just ignored the signs or did this come out of nowhere?  The first time we meed Ginsberg, he is a bit of an oddball, but in a cute, nerdy Woody Allen way.  But he does drop some major hints that we can now see.  He tells Peggy, of his becoming a copywriter:  "I didn't pick this profession.  It picked me.  I didn't have any control over it."  He goes on to describe why he's the perfect employee:   "I have no hobbies, no interests, no friends.  I'm one of those people who talks back to the radio."   She refuses to hire him at first, calling him crazy and certifiable.   Yep, the clues were there from the first moment we met him.

It was funny how many people thought Peggy was threatened by Ginsberg, but it was Don who ended up feeling threatened by Ginsberg's youth, edge and raw talent.  Don's distance from and lack of understanding of the younger generation becomes more and more apparent as the show goes on.  He refuses to change with the times and fails to adapt.  It is in his final journey at the end of the series where he gets in touch with the wave that has been sweeping the country and finally believes (whether or not he understands them) he can reach the new, younger generation.

Betty gets another life or death scare from a doctor in the final season, but that time it's not a false alarm.  Contrast how she handled the news of her impending death, her calm, her self-possession, her maturity, at the end of the show with how she handles the news of possibly having cancer in this episode.  Here, she's almost angry when the doctor gives her the news that she is healthy, wanting some external excuse for her weight gain.  Even before that, she's scared and panicky and turns to Don for comfort.  Later, she finds strength and determination she never knew she had.  She is self-reliant, strong and poised and doesn't need a man to fix things for her. 

Don was so out of touch at the Rolling Stones concert.  He could not have looked any more out of place and his question what the music made the fans feel was as big a sign that he was the establishment as his suit and tie.  Contrast that uptight image of "the man" with our final view of Don Draper, relaxed, seated in the lotus position, at peace and most importantly feeling connected with the youth movement that had taken over the country. No longer feeling old and uncomprehending, he felt one with the new world around him.  

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