Mad Men, Season 5 Episode 3: “Tea Leaves”

“When is everything going to get back to normal?” – Roger Sterling, Mad Men 5×03

Roger’s quote basically echoes a theme throughout the episode for a few characters. Roger is feeling lost at sea, getting used to changes around the office – particularly the addition of Dawn, Don’s new secretary chosen from the pool of African-American applicants. Betty wants to be back in her old body again, and Peggy is wishing people would realize that women achieving in the workplace is beginning to become the new normal.

Betty’s weight gain brings out a lot of fascinating questions for me about Betty’s character and her relationships with people. I have often written off Betty as a bitch and a negative role model in terms of a healthy lifestyle and relationship with food for Sally. I’ve encountered many people who think I judge her too harshly, and during this episode, I actually started agree with them. The first time we see Betty again she has both of her kids struggling to get her into a dress. You can see what almost looks like a look of disgust on Sally’s face,  but we’ll get to that in a second. Betty shoos away the kids, saying she’ll take care of it, and ends up faking feeling sick.

I wonder about Sally’s development and budding relationship with health and weight pretty constantly – Betty has always valued weight and looks above all else, and in the past has constantly been dieting and substituting food with cigarettes, and Sally surely didn’t miss those cues. Does she think less of her mother now that she is heavier? It was interesting that Sally only ate a quarter of her ice cream and then her mother grabbed it to finish it.

And what about Betty’s relationship with her mother-in-law? I found that fascinating, that Pauline would come to the house and encourage her to take diet pills. I also found her comment about her own weight fascinating: “at my age I don’t have to please men anymore.” It saddens me that, to these women, staying in shape and being healthy revolves primarily around being nice-looking for their husbands and only in a distant second does health even play a role.

Betty’s cancer scare gave the episode – and Betty – quite a lot of depth. In the past 4 seasons, I think that this is the first time I can remember Betty having honest and frank discussions with female peers. Her conversation with her friend over tea was so interesting. Betty was being real with someone in a public setting for one of the first times – crying, asking frank questions, etc. Betty also seemed to realize what was important in the world; being intimate with her husband and actually spending time with her children and appreciating them.

I greatly admire and love Henry for treating her exactly the same. I love that he said to her when she didn’t want to get out of the tub nude, “I see you all the time. You’re beautiful.” And I also found their exchange after the call that Betty didn’t have cancer so illuminating of their individual personalities:

B: Good to know I”m just fat.
H: I told you, I don’t see it.
B: Of course you don’t, your mother’s obese.
H: I feel like I’ve been given a gift! Don’t you?

Betty is almost like a child – blurting out rude things and moving on quickly to the next item, harping on smaller problems and her appearence. Henry is a big-picture thinker, and they almost balance each other. I’m interested to see how the weight thing plays out this season.

What amazed me about Betty’s new storyline were the online reactions – some people reflected how this  and the cancer storyline would effect Betty, her relationships with Don, her family – and some people simply wrote “woah! Fat Betty! Blambalam” a la the song of the same title. When are we going to stop solely defining characters based on weight?

Speaking of interesting marriages and balance, Megan and Don had one notable scene – when they both went to a business dinner with a Heinz executive and his wife. Don and the Heinz exec start talking shop, and Megan is actually in the loop – she has worked a bit on the account, and at the very least understands basically what they’re saying since she works at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. But when the Heinz executive wife turns to Megan and says “this is boring, isn’t it?” – Megan has to think for a moment before she decides to play the role of “wife” tonight, nodding and smiling. Megan, to me, represents the new changes that are coming – she is going to shake things up, and I’m hoping in the future she’ll find her voice at a business dinner where she’s supposed to just be the “wife”.

Peggy also faced some pain-in-the-ass workplace politics. Now that they’ve signed Mohawk, they need to get a phenomenally good copywriter to work full-time on their account. Lane suggests Peggy, and Roger quickly dismisses the idea, saying “they’re going to ask her to make drinks.” When Don and Roger approach her about leading the search for a new copywriter, Roger is once again quick to write Peggy off as a choice (after he cracks a joke about Dawn privately to Don):

Don: They’re going to insist on a regular copywriter.
Roger: One with a penis.
Peggy: I’ll work on that.

During her search, she sees a portfolio from someone named Shelly and rejects it, saying “might be a woman – god forbid.” Sean, Peggy’s office mate,  warns her against hiring someone too talented, saying “he’s going to be your boss someday.” And indeed, when she brings in Michael Ginsburg, he thinks she’s the secretary and even when he finds out that she’s not, still demands to speak with Don. Sexism is alive and well in SCDP, but Peggy seems to be growing more outwardly frustrated about her lack of upward mobility.Roger – and the rest of the old timers – are wondering when things are going to “get back to normal”, but the answer is that they won’t – things are a-changin’!

What did I miss? What did you think about Betty’s weight gain and Megan and Peggy in the office? Let me know!

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