TV Review: Mad Men 5.3 – ‘Tea Leaves’

I was somewhat disappointed that Joan was not in this episode, but aside from that I haven’t any real complaints. Another triumph!

Chris Swanson

Contributor

Rating: ★★★★★

Cancer has got to be one of the nastiest, suckiest things in the world. It’s bad enough having it now. Can you imagine what it would have been like to have it back in 1966, before we had a lot of the treatments that we do these days? This thought entered my mind and stayed put through a lot of tonight’s episode, which centers, at least partly, on that very issue.

We begin with Betty (January Jones) and Henry (Christopher Stanley) at their very, very palatial house. I mean, seriously, this place is impressive. A bit too conservative in the furnishings for my taste, but still. Nice. House-wise, they really traded up.

Of course that wasn’t what I noticed at first. No, initially my attentions were taken by the fact that Betty has…well, let’s be polite here. She’s bulked up a tad. To be less polite, she’s gotten fat.

We barely have time to digest this before we go to Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Pare) as they get ready for a night out. Turns out that the night in question is a night meeting with representatives of Heinz, and the rep in question has a great idea: why not talk to the Rolling Stones while they’re in New York and have them record a jingle called, “Heinz Is On My Side.” Indeed. Don says he’ll try to get in touch. Back at the office, we see that Don has a new, black secretary named Dawn. This is a bit of fallout from last week’s episode, and it’s nice to see, as it were, a bit of color in the office.

At the Francis house we see that Betty is spending her days sitting on the sofa wearing a housedress and eating junk food. Thus we know why she’s not quite the thin thing she once was. Henry’s mother arrives while everyone else is out to have some polite words with Betty that basically end in her suggesting Betty might want to look into weight loss pills. This does not go over well, but in the end Betty decides to see a doctor.

Before that happens, we go back to the office where we have a meeting between Roger (John Slattery), Don and Peggy (Elizabeth Moss). It seems that Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) is only steps away from getting Mohawk Airlines to come back to SCDP. Everyone is pleased, though it looks like they’ll have to hire a full-time copywriter to do nothing but their account. Peggy offers to do it, but Roger, with his usual level of tact, suggests they might want “Someone with a penis.” Peggy’s reply of, “I’ll work on it,” was priceless.

We catch up with Betty, now at the office of a doctor who casually refers to her as “middle aged”. He then annoys Betty by making it clear that he needs to examine her before he’ll do a prescription for diet pills. She’s unhappy, but that’s nothing compared with her reaction when he finds a small lump at the base of her neck; right about where the thyroid gland is located. Peggy does not take this well, understandably, and goes home in a panic. She can’t find Henry and can’t think of anyone else to contact, so she calls Don to tell him what’s going on, doing her best to remain calm while trying to figure out what to do next…

The subplots for this week focus mostly on Peggy interviewing a rather odd young Jewish man (Ben Feldman) for the new job while Don and Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) go to try and sign the Rolling Stones, an amusing diversion that ends with them accidentally signing some band named Tradewinds.

This was a sensational second episode (well, third), for the season. I loved everything about it, and was even able to feel some real sympathy for Betty, who has no one to talk to but her ex-husband. Betty has always struck me as an excellent character; not someone I’d ever want to spend any time with, but someone who is really interesting up on screen, unlikable though she was. The fact that January Jones did such a good job actually making me feel something for Betty is quite impressive.

I also really enjoyed a somewhat backhanded modern political reference to a governor by the name of Romney. Of course, as hinted above, I was really pleased that they brought up the subject of cancer, and I was especially pleased that they managed to show two characters talking about the subject without once mentioning the word “cancer” which felt very authentic to me. I was somewhat disappointed that Joan was not in this episode, but aside from that I haven’t any real complaints. Another triumph!