Mad Men: Big Betty's House

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Mad Men S05E03: "Tea Leaves"

Hands up: Who thinks Betty Draper was telling the truth about her results? We never did hear what was on the other side of that phone call, and Henry took her word at face value. Based on Betty’s panicked reaction to the entire cancer-scare, it would be far-fetched to believe she’s pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. But then, why not just show the doctor speaking? Maybe I’m just a Mad Men conspiracy theory nut (have you heard the one about Pete falling out the window?), but it’s a pretty conceivable twist, and one that better explains that dramatically fast weight gain, which appears to be a result of more than just Bugle-binging. In any case, fat Betty Draper is indeed the only thing anyone wants to talk about today. She even has her own Twitter feed (obviously). What did you think of that girthy development? It looked ridiculous (the plus-sized body double emerging from the bathtub made me gasp-laugh-out-loud), yet I actually had bigger problems with “Tea Leaves” than Fat Betty. It was an episode that felt tonally and rhythmically off to me. From the random fortune-lady sequence to the choice of closing song—“I Am 16 Going on 17” from The Sound of Music—things just seemed clunkier and too on-the-nose for the caliber of Mad Men episodes I’m accustomed to. It’s old vs. young, thin vs. fat, then vs. now; we get it—but let’s get back to making us genuinely care about these characters.

Whatever Betty’s size, I will say that it nice to see her back again, and mellowed considerably. Fifty pounds and a cancer scare have done wonders to thaw the Great Draper Ice Age, and there was comfort to be had in watching Betty gravitate toward Don in her hour of need. The pretense of their enduring bond is that it’s “about the kids,” but I kind of loved when Betty admitted to not even having thought of the kids when she picked up the phone to call Don. No, she may be fat, but she’s still Betty, and that call was all about her needing to hear Don utter his copacetic mantra: “Everything’s going to be okay.” Ahhh. It’s just like popping an aural Xanax.

“Heiiiiiiiinz is on my side ... yes it is.” Fuck bean ballets. Mr. Heinz (he and his wife are so cute!) wants the goddamn Rolling Stones, and Don and Harry are just deluded enough—and genuinely titillated by the latest wave of the British Invasion, because, come on, the Stones—to think they actually have a shot at getting them. You have to love Harry’s transformation from a corporate square to a corporate square-masquerading-as-aging-hipster (or the 1966 equivalent) who’s desperate to get inside of things—the Stones’ dressing room, a teenager’s pants, a White Castle bag, what have you. Here’s something we never saw coming: Betty gets fat and sad; Harry gets skinny and funny. Don, however, is just old Don, the “dirty old man” of Megan’s dreams. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t changed: His backstage rendezvous with a groupie is a telling one. Two seasons ago, he’d have made up some story about being the Stones’ personal couturier before luring that girl into a broom closet for a personal inseam measurement. But he eyed her like a semi-concerned surrogate father, probing her for insights into the groupie psyche. Whether or not he’s planning on filing these away to better understand Megan, to have a leg up on Sally, or just to drop into a pitch for a future tampon campaign remains to be seen. I have a feeling it might be all three.

On Real Time with Bill Maher this week, Matthew series creator Weiner said the two big areas of thematic exploration this season are “when is everything going to get back to normal?” and “every man for himself.” Poor Roger, then, is the living embodiment of both. He’s this season’s sad-eyed poster child: “Only 59 cents a day can help prevent an entitled, alcoholic, womanizing bigot with a knack for one-liners from steadily calcifying until his fossilized dick falls clean off. Please give today.” How sad that scene was, the one in which Pete announced to the whole company that Mohawk is his account, but that he’d let Grandpa Roger play with it a little while. “The shiny model airplanes might stimulate his cerebral cortex!” There was a time when Roger would have torn that smug little punk a new mohawk; now, he scampers back to his office to stew in his own obsolescence , counting down the seconds until death with the help of an executive Newton’s cradle.

Roger just wants two things: for everything to go back to normal, and for a Jewish writer to be put on the Newton account. He got one of his wishes. What do we think of Michael Ginsberg? I’m not entirely sure what's going on with the guy. He’s the Marx Brother from another planet (Planet Borscht Belt). Is this the Woody Allen origin myth? Talk about laying it on thick. Michael Ginsberg is Ida Blankenship minus fifty years plus a penis. He might as well join around the marchers on Madison Ave., carrying a placard that reads, “FIND ME DELIGHTFUL!” Pete’s surprise party blazer not plaid enough for you? Let’s turn things up a notch! Is Peggy the Don to Michael’s Peggy? Or are things going to get sexy between the two? One thing is certain: There is a great deal more Michael in our future, whether we like it or not. (As a side note, I’d like to humbly request that Stan be retired from the series. His Munsingwear wardrobe is fetching and all, but there are only so many times I can handle the guy fake-laughing while saying something obnoxious to Peggy. Enough, already.)


Questions:

1. Let’s get this out of the way: What are your thoughts on Fat Betty?

2. Were you left a little disappointed by the tiny role given Dawn, Don’s new African-American secretary? So much was made in “A Little Kiss” about the hiring, I figured we’d get to know a little bit more about her.

3. Michael Ginsberg: Yay or Oy Vey?

4. Oh, and that cancer question. Thoughts?


Fun Find:

Don’s comment that the Stones had sung a jingle on UK TV was based in fact. (We all know how Weiner is a stickler for musical details.) Here it is: The Rolling Stones singing a Rice Krispies jingle. Warning: It’s extremely catchy, and it kind of made my day.

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