Wednesday, 4 April 2012

MAD MEN, 5.3 - "Tea Leaves"

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

There haven't been many, if any, signs of ageing in Mad Men's cast since the show began. Do you really want to add crowfeet to Jon Hamm's visage, or give Christina Hendricks flecks of grey? So that perhaps made it all the more shocking to see glamorous Betty (January Jones) for the first time this year, nine months after we last saw her, because she's borrowed Elisabeth Moss' jaw-flab from season 1. Yes, bombshell Betty's now chubby and "middle-aged" according to her blunt doctor ('60s-speak for a parent over-30), which echoes how ex-husband Don (Hamm) was described in the premiere, and it's all downhill from here. Nobody knows what the future may bring, and "Tea Leaves" made that abundantly clear with Betty learning she has a potentially cancerous lump growing on her thyroid…

Mad Men has yet to tackle the death of a regular character, especially one integral to the show (although that's debatable in Betty's case post-divorce), and while "Tea Leaves" didn't go through with this threat (the distressing growth was revealed as benign) it was still interesting to consider the possibility and Betty's reaction to it. She rang Don and wanted his reassurance, in lieu of her own husband's support; and she ultimately looked equally as upset about the good news she's "just fat" by the end.

But is there a chance Betty's not out of the woods yet? I wouldn't be surprised if a second malignant tumour appears later, or some other sickness claims Betty's life and puts Sally (Kiernan Shipka) and Bobby (Mason Vale Cotton) permanently in Don's life… likely as a wedge between him and new spouse Megan (Jessica ParĂ©). But for now Betty's healthy, if not happy, because her weight gain's knocked what little confidence she has—meaning she makes excuses when asked by Henry to join him at social events, and won't even let him see her naked when stepping out of the bathtub.

The reaction of Megan to Betty's possible cancer was also intriguing; at the outset she was reasonable and understanding with Don, but once the tumour was downgraded to benign she made a cynical crack about Betty just needing an excuse to call her ex. Jealous? I reckon we'll be seeing more of Megan's true colours this season, as she gets overconfident about her untouchable position as the new Mrs Draper. I wonder if Betty rise in Don's estimations as Megan plummets. It's always hard to see exactly what the writers have planned for Betty, I find, because lesser shows would probably have abandoned that character by now. Mind you, given Jones' capable but limited talents (which perhaps dictated many of Betty's personality traits over the years), maybe Matthew Weiner's laying the ground to just let her go.

"Tea Leaves" wasn't the most action-packed of episodes, even by Mad Men's low-key standards, meaning the supporting subplots weren't especially memorable. First, Don and Harry (Harry Somner) went backstage at a Rolling Stones concert to try and sign the British band for a Heinz commercial, to appease the important client who thinks it's a brilliant idea. It was mostly interesting to note Don's unexpectedly parental vibe when chatting to a teenage groupie, with the inference being that his womanising may now be a thing of the past. Would he have bedded a teenager before now? I'm not so sure. Has Don changed from womaniser to clean-cut husband and father? We'll see. Change appears to be this season's big theme, though. The '60s are reaching a conclusion and the era's famous societal shakeups are going to hit a crescendo soon. How many of our characters will still be relevant when the tremors subside? Roger's (John Slattery) certainly warier of the up-and-coming Pete (Vincent Karthesier) now, especially after Pete publicly downplayed Roger's part in securing the return of Mohawk airlines to SCDP's account. This young, talented prick Roger hired now shows zero respect for the elder who took a chance on him, and is perhaps therefore an example of this generation taking over from the post-war age group.

Peggy (Moss) interviewed a new copywriter called Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman), only to run into a form of sexism in Michael's attitude about having to impress a woman for a job position ahead of Don's final decision. It seems that Michael's a new character for the show this season, and he definitely made an impression (concealing his true personality to impress Don, much to Peggy's chagrin, and coming home to a devoutly Jewish father). There was a clear parallel between Roger and Peggy in this episode, as it's inferred that both have made the mistake of getting their own future replacement a job.

"When is everything going to get back to normal?" ponders Roger to Don, after his workplace snubbing. My guess is that's wishful thinking now. You can't turn back the clock.

written by Erin Levy & Matthew Weiner / directed by Jon Hamm / 3 April 2012 / Sky Atlantic