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Mad Men Review: "Tea Leaves" (Episode 5.03)

April 2, 2012  |  9:03am
<i>Mad Men</i> Review: "Tea Leaves" (Episode 5.03)

“When’s everything going to go back to normal?”

It’s a question—posed sort of half-jokingly, half-desperately from Roger to Don after Pete shows him up in front of the entire office—that everyone seems to be grappling with to some extent on this week’s Mad Men. We’re only two episodes in (three if you count last week’s double premiere as two stand-alones), but it’s already clear that this season’s going to be the one where characters must learn to adapt to their changing surroundings or find themselves becoming irrelevant, relics of a bygone era.

Not all the changes are on a grand, social scale, however. Betty’s back, and guess what? She’s fat! Kudos to the writers for finding a way to work January Jones’ pregnancy into the story that’s a little more cerebral than having her carry a bunch of large bags. Instead, they’ve got Betty struggling with what’s undoubtedly her worst nightmare—the loss of her looks. The episode opens with her kids unable to zip her into a too-tight dress, followed by a shot of Don breezily zipping Megan into her dress as they get ready to go out and woo the Heinz folks. It’s a telling image; Betty’s no longer the glamourous, young wife brought along to smile at her husband’s business associates.

As it turns out, her weight gain is the result of a tumor on her thyroid. She and Don (whom she frantically called after a visit to the doctor) are pretty shaken by the possibility of cancer. Don even calls to check up on her, and at one point he calls her “Bertie” again. Have years of smoking and boozing finally caught up with her—and metaphorically, her entire generation? Not this time, it turns out. Her tumor’s benign, but rather than be relieved, she’s upset that she’s “just fat.” Oh Betty.

Meanwhile, Don seems to be dealing with some changes of his own. He and Harry head backstage at a Rolling Stones concert to attempt to get Mick Jagger and company to appear in a Heinz ad. They’re promptly denied entry, and they stick out like sore thumbs (As Don puts it, “I have to look like The Man.” As his much-younger wife Megan puts it, “You look square enough to have corners”). They chat up some groupies, and rather than flirt back or hell, go home with one of them like he most certainly would have last season, Don plays the part of a worried parent, speculating the girl he’s talking to is only 14, trying to wrap his head around what she feels when she sees the Stones and even at one point telling her he’s concerned about her. Maybe he’s rattled by the fact that he’s a little out-of-touch with the kids these days, but he comes off as old and stuffy. He doesn’t even take a hit of the joint she offers him. Who is this man, and what has he done with Don Draper?

We’re not the only ones trying to figure out what’s up with Don. Peggy, who has been tasked with hiring a new copywriter for the Mohawk campaign, is afraid to hire the qualified-yet-socially-awkward Michael Ginsberg because she’s certain Don will hate him. He’s the total opposite of Don: he’s bumbling, he overshares (“my stomach sometimes grumbles and it sounds like the f-word”). He even wears clashing prints (c’mon man, a polka dot shirt and a loud tie with a plaid jacket?), so we know he’s no good. Shockingly, however, Don doesn’t raise an eyebrow and hires him. Maybe it’s because he senses that his old approaches can’t work forever, or maybe he’s too caught up with the Betty cancer scare to care, but whatever the reason, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has a new copywriter for Peggy to butt heads with as she continues to wonder when Don’ll get back to “normal.”

Stray observations:
-Once again, Matt Weiner’s a genius when it comes to little details. The Rolling Stones song the Heinz folks want to use (in an episode that dealt primarily with people feeling old)? “Time Is On My Side.”
-Don’s new secretary—the African-American woman hired by the agency to avoid bad publicity—fascinates me. She seems to be an extension of Don: they basically have the same name (hers is Dawn), and they both were hired by the agency as a way to save face (remember how Don tricked a drunken Roger into bringing him on by simply showing up and telling him he’d hired him?). Not sure where her story’s headed, but it’s sure to be interesting.
-Of course Betty’s cancer scare has her more concerned with being ignored and not having anyone to eat breakfast with than the well-being of her kids.
-Harry’s really shaping up to be this season’s comic relief. The scene where he wolfs down 20 sliders as an incredulous Don says, “I thought you were bringing those home for your wife and family!” was priceless.

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