“When is everything going to get back to normal?”
I hate to tell you, Roger, but it never will.
The generation gap foundations and divisions that were laid in the opening episode of this season of Mad Men were further explored in this week’s episode, ‘Tea Leaves.’ Supposedly, reading tea leaves is a way to see into someone’s future. However, watching as the world and time passes someone by is much more telling.
Though she was nowhere to be seen in the premiere, this episode focuses on one Mrs. Betty Draper Francis, newfound weight and all. Relying on a mix between prosthetics and actress January Jones’ own weight gain (from being pregnant during filming), Betty’s appearance is quite jarring, to say the least. It calls to mind Peggy at the end of season 1 and how odd and, frankly, how fake it looks.
Initially it seems like simple boredom or depression that’s led Betty to add on some pounds, her doctor discovers a lump in her throat near her thyroid gland, which could not only be the cause of her weight gain, but also brings the fear of death. Cue the brief humanizing of the show’s most loathed character.
Despite Betty’s story seemingly taking up most of the episode, SCDP does get its fair share of story in. Don has a new secretary, also named Dawn; a new hire courtesy of the “equal opportunity” joke ad from the season opener. She doesn’t get much screen time this week, but if Harry’s bumbling around her was any indication, hopefully she’s going to shake some things up.
Pete and Roger continue their petty song and dance. Pete has reeled Mohawk Airlines back into the company, and is “letting” Roger handle the account, but not without some grandstanding and humiliating Roger in the process. To go along with Mohawk’s return, Peggy is tasked with finding a new copywriter to take on the client. Enter Michael Ginsberg, who initially comes off as a bit of a loose cannon and definitely has Peggy worried, although she can’t help but admire his work.
After a dinner date with Heinz that showed Megan isn’t quite as good as Betty at “Business Dinner” wife mode, Don and Harry are tasked with getting The Rolling Stones to produce a jingle for the company, with disastrous yet humorous results. The pair is stuck in the backstage area for hours, being made fun of by two young Stones fans that help further illustrate just how far the generations are growing apart.
Other notable moments:
– The casual name dropping of The Rolling Stone’s ‘Time is on My Side’ is a bit on the nose with the narrative so far this season, but it does work.
– Henry’s mother, who might be just as cold as Betty at her finest, bluntly calling out Betty on her weight gain and suggesting she pick up some diet pills to help.
– When she gets the initial news about her health, Betty calls Don first. Despite knowing that they are awful for each other, seeing Don console her and refer to her as “Birdy” is honestly kind of sweet. That said, don’t do it, Don!!!
– “My God! You’re so square you’ve got corners!” – Megan
– The scene with Don playing 20 questions with the young girl backstage was a nice nod back to the very first episode of the series. No matter where he is, Don is always working, always trying.
– Although said scene plays a tad creepy at first seeing Don Draper talking to a young girl, he actually takes on a stern paternal mode we’ve not often seen from him. When accused of being a part of the adults that don’t want teens to have any fun, he simply replies, “No, we’re worried about you.” It comes across as one of the more genuine and heartfelt things Don has ever said.
– Harry being high and eating 20 White Castles in Don’s car is about as hilarious as his repeatedly failed attempts at getting Don to be his friend. This was a sincerely great moment between the two.
– Even though it’s a conversation on the verge of argument, Don shares his feelings with Megan in a way that he never would have with Betty. Megan has made him a bit softer and, although it hasn’t really come in to play yet, I have a feeling this is going to affect his office persona in some way.
– Gem’s from the mouth of Roger Sterling:
“I want you to bring me a good looking version of Don.”
“Between that and ‘It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn’ over there.”
“Turns out we both have a dream of throwing something through this window.”
“Actual life and death; I’ve given up on that. ”
– Despite the fact the he pretty much stole Betty from Don, Henry can’t seem to shake the feeling that he’ll forever be living in the Don’s shadow.
– There’s two instances of someone younger not recognizing someone that the older person they are conversing with is referencing. In both cases, the older parties are taken aback by the lack of knowledge, whereas the younger set exhibits complete indifference.
With so much in ‘Tea Leaves’ that I did like, I honestly felt really lukewarm to the episode overall. Jon Hamm directed this episode, and while I feel like he nailed the style and tone, some of the execution felt off. There were two particularly odd scene dissolves that both began before the initial scene ended. In a show that’s editing and pacing is so precise at all times, these transitions came off feeling like errors. There’s also a dream sequence that feels out of place on the show too. I’m not sure if these issues should fall on Hamm or the editors, but they definitely stand out.
Then there’s focusing a whole episode around Betty. She’s far from the strongest character on the show, and odd use of the fat suit really took me out of some scenes as its fakeness is so noticeable. I was also very surprised to see the tumor scare be wrapped up by episode’s end. With as scary as cancer is nowadays, it was pretty much a guaranteed death sentence in the 60’s and could have made for some interesting storytelling and, as I mentioned earlier, possibly humanized the Betty character even more. The show went completely opposite that line of thinking, however, showing that once Betty knows she’s in the clear, she’s right back to being the ice queen we’ve always known.
– Matt Hardeman