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Friday, 16 of April of 2021

Mad Men – “Tea Leaves”

“When is everything going to get back to normal?”

A doctor feels Betty's neck for lumps.

"Don't worry. I know there's no pulse. It's on account of how I'm dead inside."

If there’s anything you can take from Mad Men, from life within the lower parts of the office to the world at large, it’s that the younger generation is a collection of jackasses.

But in this episode, it’s not just a reckless generation shattering the comfortable, widespread social repression but we also see that the olds are getting older and, occasionally, are threatened by the new class or just by age/experience itself. Heck, Bert Cooper isn’t even in this episode. But you don’t have to be Roger Sterling to feel that pinch. Peggy’s right there with them.

Obviously, this is one of the reasons for setting the series in the 1960s, to showcase this time of tumult when youth became praised above all others and elders were brought behind the proverbial shed, all from the perspective of the industry that handed society the shotgun shells. This isn’t the first time the topic has come up, and it isn’t the last, but who it affects has expanded.

Oh, and Betty’s faaaaaaaat.

The comparisons between Betty and Megan won’t end until one of them is dead or put on a ice float to Alaska so it’s fitting the show begins with one of those comparisons. Betty looks like she stole Monica Geller’s fat suit (especially in that pink house gown she wears — it’s like a quilt with buttons) as she’s put on pounds since we last saw her with Don at the end of Season 4 (has it been 3 months? 6 months? 18 months?). Her looks are what she had going for her so, of course, this is identity-shattering and enough for her to sink into a social depression. She also can’t zip up her dresses so how can she go out?

So her entire story is how she looks fat, especially when her scenes are intercut with Megan in a bathing suit (there’s even a scene where Don is able to zip up Megan’s dress just fine). There’s also Betty’s possible cancer but, with it being benign, but that’s a red herring. She’s no spring chicken and is bothered by Don’s recent marriage to a younger woman (who is a spring chicken). How she defined herself is fading and the analogy Joyce provides, of being alone in an ocean, is probably just as much how Betty feels as a woman of a certain age. She feels like she’s dying of something terminal.

Her brush with cancer is not unimportant but the lump turns out to be benign and had no effect on her appearance. Betty’s issue has more to do with flagging youth and beauty than it does with whatever the doctor finds. She’s scared and immediately calls Don (she tries to find Henry at home but calls Don) for his reassurance. She wants to feel pretty and vital again so she initiates some lovin’ with Henry. She sniffs the head of her youngest son like the smell of a child will bring her youth. All of these things may look like a woman living her life in the shadow of what might have been a life sentence but, when she dips into Sally’s parfait at the end, it didn’t feel like she was “enjoying the time she has left.” It felt like things were back to normal and she’s fat because she eats too much and isn’t 26 anymore.

Don, on the other hand, finds himself to be timeless, even somehow appealing to the younger generation. Obviously, he has a thing for younger women and they have a thing for him. Every once in a while, Don finds himself the opportunity to do market research by interviewing a member of this younger generation. This time it’s backstage at a Rolling Stone concert with a wannabe groupie. Her only goal in life is to get into a room with Brian Jones so she can look at him. The price for that is something this girl is willing to pay, no matter the cost, and that leads to Don’s concern. “None of you want us to have a good time because you never did,” she says. Don: “No. We’re worried about you.” Draper’s appeal may transcend generations but he still speaks from the one about to be infirmed.

Roger, meanwhile, actually suffers from threats of being infirmed. A running theme throughout the series is that Roger is slowly becoming irrelevant (“I wasn’t even on the chart”), a process quickened by the new SCDP lifestyle. Leading that charge: Pete Campbell. Unfortunately for Roger, the man he hired for the job, the wet-nosed kid with illusions of grandeur, is all growns up and doesn’t need his drunk uncle to carry him through. His name is first in the list on the wall and now he’s doing the day-to-day account management for a B-airline? If it wasn’t bad enough that Roger feels demoted, Pete also has a flair for the dramatic to make sure everyone in the office knows his place, like Pete is Roger’s boss. That can’t end well. You get the feeling Roger is going to go after Pete with a piece of Swedish furniture.

Even Peggy, who has often communicated with (an counts herself a member of) this reckless generation, feels turned-off by its brashness. Michael is the epitome of the confidence of youth and his abrasiveness wears on her so harshly, everything from his opinion of women to his ego, one that makes him feel entitled to talk to the great Don Draper. To Peggy, that’s like demanding to the Great Wizard, except no one understands what’s really behind the curtain like she does. When Michael actually does curtail his behavior in front of Don out of respect that he didn’t show to her, you can see the “what have I done” all over her. She wanted someone inspiring but she didn’t count on that person being a jackass. And, just like Stan says, he’s the kind of guy that’ll try to gun for Peggy’s spot and has the (literal) balls to do it.

New blood is something for everyone to worry about. Even Don’s new assistant (Dawn) is pretty enough for Megan to question. Maybe she can clean the house some more in her underpants to keep him distracted. But the new blood is filtering into SCDP and what’s old may need to be displaced. How will SCDP handle that? Is Don Draper going to be the Mr Belding of Mad Men: The New Class? Probably not. But I’m dying to get through the set-up episodes and see what’s in store.

Other things:

  • “Heinz is On Your Side” is such a “client idea” I can’t stand it. Although the Stones’ commercial for Rice Krispies was something I wouldn’t mind listening during breaks.
  • “This is boring. Am I right, Megan?” “Yes?”
  • Everything with Harry is hilarious. From Megan’s attitude toward him all the way through his sad sack of burgers. Are there webisodes or anything to follow what happens to Harry when we don’t see him? I want to watch that show.
  • The conversation between Betty and her mother-in-law is priceless repressed venom disguised as civility. A clinic in doing a back-and-forth without it becoming too campy or ridiculous.
  • I’m really glad Betty’s trouble this season isn’t about diet pills. That would be too much.
    • DON (to Peggy): “Your plate is full and, frankly, Mohawk is going to insist on a regular copywriter.”
    • ROGER: “Someone with a penis.”
    • PEGGY (to Roger): “I’ll work on that.”
  • This doctor is much more hands-on and thoughtful than the one that prescribed Peggy birth control. Of course, that doctor seemed like he went to the same school as Dr Spaceman.
  • “Say what you always say.”
  • “Stick with mediocre. You’ll sleep better.” I’m afraid that’s the mantra for this season so far.
  • Cecilia, the tea-leaves reader, must be gifted in saying things about a person that are the complete opposite of what everyone else thinks. A great soul? Mean so much to the people around her? Betty Francis?
  • Mad Men would be so much better with a witch.
  • It may be small but a poignant moment happens during Betty’s dream of her family in mourning. She apologizes to Sally. No one on this show deserves on more than her.
  • “That’s the last guy I hired.” Pete’s going to have to get his eventually. He’s too much of a jerk to continue to exist successfully.
  • I know that was supposed to show that you’re a porker, Betty, but I’d totally eat the other parfait, too. No reason to let that ice cream go to waste.

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