In the weeks leading up to Mad Men’s highly publicized return, one of the few hints creator Matthew Weiner dropped about the new season was this piece of dialogue: “When is everything going to get back to normal?” The line was officially uttered on last night’s episode, by a beleaguered Roger to Don. Trouble is, the question seemed oddly misplaced, and a bit premature. Roger’s desperation to remain relevant at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, as well as the older generation’s attempt to make sense of the ever-changing times, are still very real plot points, but the episode, “Tea Leaves,” was more concerned with bringing the audience up to speed with Betty, who was MIA throughout the season premiere.
34 Going on 16
“Tea Leaves” was the first episode shot of the new season, and even more notably, it was Jon Hamm’s directorial debut. And what better way to throw a novice director into the deep end than by having one of your stars be one month away from giving birth! Instead of hiding January Jones behind large shopping bags and plants in the tradition of shows like Beverly Hills, 90210 and Gossip Girl, her belly was front and center – along with a makeup-enhanced full face to match. Yep, while African-Americans were protesting the Office of Economic Opportunity and the SCDP crew was swaying to “Zou Bisou Bisou,” Betty was packing on the pounds.
We’ve known things weren’t entirely rosy in the Francis household at the end of Season Four. As Betty prepared to move to Rye with Henry and her children, she confided to Don that she still wasn’t happy. But this is a genuinely disturbing side of her that we’ve never seen until now – especially when a doctor (whom Betty visits for a quick fix of diet pills) feels a lump in her thyroid. It’s weird to observe Betty as someone vulnerable, and we’re scared for her throughout most of the episode. Although we’re not inclined to agree with the tea-leaves-reading clairvoyant who tells Betty that she’s a “great soul.”
After a few nail-biting days, Betty and Henry get the news that the tumor is benign, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that there’s no need to have sympathy for her just yet. But instead of feeling elated, Betty is disappointed that a clean bill of health really means she’s “just fat.” And it doesn’t look like she’s going to do much about it other than eat Sally‘s leftover ice cream. As Betty breezily shovels creamy spoonfuls into her mouth, The Sound of Music’s “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” closes out the episode, the lyrics proving rather salient: “You wait, little girl, on an empty stage, for fate to turn the light on.” Sure is easier than having to do it yourself.
Don Draper Meets “Lady Jane“
Now that SCDP has a steady foothold in the advertising industry, the previously noncommittal Heinz Company is on board as a client and on the lookout for a splashy television commercial. At a dinner with their wives, Heinz executive Raymond Geiger suggests to Don that the Rolling Stones record a jingle. Soon enough, Don and Harry are off to the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium for a backstage meeting. Even though Don has periodically shown signs of being more progressive than his colleagues – his latest secretary is the sole new African-American hire at SCDP, for example, and he knows the Stones have sold out once before – his uptight presence at a Rolling Stones concert only reaffirms his role as a member of the old guard.
While Harry is in the band’s dressing room, ostensibly pitching the idea of a Heinz commercial to Jagger and Co., Don finds himself cornered by a teenage groupie. Under the guise of small talk, Don does what he does best – his job – and interrogates the girl about why she is such a fan of the Stones. His line of questioning is no different than when he asked a bus boy about why he preferred Old Gold cigarettes to Lucky Strike in the pilot episode. Eventually the conversation delves into the girl’s plans to be Brian Jones’ “Lady Jane,” turning the chat into a typical young- versus older-generation argument, with each representative proudly stating his/her case. Teenager: “None of you want any of us to have a good time just because you never did.” Don: “No, we’re worried about you.” Whether it’s 1966 or 2012, both sides are still right.
But Don will never know if the Stones would’ve been game for the Heinz commercial – because a clueless Harry (who can’t tell British accents from American ones) winds up signing the opening act, the Trade Winds, to the deal. Yet Don isn’t exactly disappointed. He plans to tell Geiger that the Rolling Stones simply aren’t good for Heinz. And when Harry quips that Geiger’s teen daughter probably just wanted to meet them, Don adds, “I don’t think they’re good for her, either.” Once again, Don never fails to be a hypocrite. It’s OK for him to be promiscuous – but if a teenage girl wants to bone Brian Jones, that’s unacceptable, and his music is to blame.
Changing of the Guard
The one-upsmanship between Roger and Pete continues as the junior partner succeeds in re-signing Mohawk Airlines to SCDP. Now that he has the upper hand, Pete throws Roger an olive branch by handing him the account. It seems the two have reached a détente, until Pete smarmily makes an announcement that while Roger will be handling the “day-to-day” of the account, he will be running the show. A thoroughly embarrassed Roger retreats to Don’s office, bemoaning his situation: “I’m tired of trying to prove I still have any value around here.” It’s a valid concern, once that’s been rearing its ugly head for a while, but as stated earlier, these proclamations felt forced – because this episode wasn’t about Roger or Pete.
Meanwhile, since Mohawk Airlines requires a full-time copywriter, Peggy is assigned the task of hiring a new member of the creative team. Galvanized by this responsibility, she throws herself into discovering unknown talent. But art director Stan Rizzo warns her against hiring someone who shows too much promise – “he could be your boss one day.” Peggy dismisses his comments, but Stan has a point. As she learns with aspiring copywriter Michael Ginsberg, just because she has worked her way up to a senior position at SCDP, playing by the rules, doesn’t mean that a brash and uncouth person can’t come in and completely change the game. Peggy, while impressed with Ginsberg’s portfolio, is turned off by his lack of professionalism. But Roger insists she take him on – since Ginsberg is Jewish, it will only help SCDP’s image with Mohawk.
Wrap-Up: Last week’s “Zou Bisou Bisou” incident and subsequent hate sex aside, Don and Megan’s marriage seems to be going well, but there remains a bond between Betty and Don that only needed a cancer scare to potentially reopen that relationship. And Henry’s on to them. When Don calls to get Betty’s results, Henry deliberately doesn’t tell his wife that her ex checked in.
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