Mad Men’s fifth season started off with a bang last week with the blazing two-parter “A Little Kiss.” An episode framed by race and integration (however backward and malevolent it was), it strongly hinted that the new secretary would be instrumental, somehow or some way, to SCDP. This week, Mad Menplayed to its own strengths by reducing the new girl Dawn to the joke that is her name. It isn’t hard to imagine her filling a role once played by Peggy, but the show may have other plans. Dawn doesn’t turn heads or flip over tables; how could she? Change might become this season’s centerpiece, but it doesn’t come about in a week. And when change does come, it won’t be ephemeral. “When is everything ever gonna get back to normal?” Sterling asks Draper. He doesn’t have an answer.
Tonight’s “Tea Leaves,” directed by none other than Jon Hamm, turns its focus elsewhere. It reintroduces January Jones’ Betty Draper, conspicuously absent last week and conspicuously overweight this week as a result of the actress’ real-life pregnancy. Nobody pulls punches about it, least of all herself. Tonight, her cancer scare took the easiest swipe at her; it seems she would rather be dying of cancer as an excuse to be fat than not have one at all. But the biggest lingering problem it reveals is with Don. “She just needs to have something to call you about,” an uncharacteristically vindictive Megan tells him. But she’s wrong, and Don knows it. The day he spent speculating on Betty’s death proved how badly he still needs her. He fell in love with Megan partly because he thought she would make a kinder mother figure (remember the spilled milk scene), but now he realizes a childless twenty-six year old is no mother at all. Fortunately, the scare was just that; but if a situation like this ever arises again, Don could be forced to come to a decision he doesn’t want to make.
In fact, Don and Megan were tenser this week concealing their emotions than they were last week fighting about them. Mad Men likes to play with power in Don’s relationships, something it became a lot more explicit about since the beginning of season four, when he (sadly, hilariously) hired a prostitute to slap him around. The premiere didn’t prove their relationship was doomed; rather, it laid out the mechanics it surprisingly thrives on. They made their problems clear and found a way to work them out, even if it happened to be Megan crawling around cleaning angrily in her underwear. This episode does not bode as well for them. If Megan can’t understand why Don doesn’t want to visit her friends while Betty’s cancer hangs over his head, how could he ever explain it to her? Much as I like their marriage in a strange way, Megan’s character can be inconsistent. Is she understanding and kind, or isn’t she? Hopefully something more decisive comes about soon. I would hate to see it happen, but given Matthew Weiner’s taste, things could fall apart in a hurry.
Meanwhile at the office, Peggy looks to hire a new copywriter for the Mohawk Airlines account Pete and Roger brought on. She interviews the eventual winner, Michael Ginsberg, a near-schizophrenic, unsettling Jewish character. He insults her, he changes his tune by the second, and generally makes an ass of himself. Naturally, Roger sees to it that he’s hired. The joke around the office is that he might compete with Peggy for her job eventually. Rizzo tells her, “stick with mediocre, you’ll sleep better.” She may have done just that, if by accident. His personality gets in the way of his talent. Don likes what little he’s seen of him, but Roger isn’t so sure of himself after all. Pete shows him up at the Mohawk announcement. “Forget everything I said before. That’s the last guy I hired,” Roger tells Peggy.
My favorite bit of the episode, and that which it will most likely be remembered for, is backstage at the Rolling Stones. A harebrained scheme to get the band to do a TV ad for Heinz baked beans lands Don and Harry Crane in a sea of weed and 14-year-old girls. Mad Men did some excellent groundwork for this the previous episode, expressing Don’s dislike of Harry directly and giving Harry a reason to be cautious of him after he embarrassed himself in front of Megan. Like a bizarre inverse of Don and Lane’s drunk day out at the movies last season, high Harry inhales 20 White Castle burgers and is basically torture for Don to be around. It’s absurdly entertaining, and anything that gives Harry Crane more screen time is alright with me. “Eat first. That’s my recommendation for people about to get married and have kids.”
Tonight, we’re left with a depressed Betty, frightened Sally, angry Roger, angry Peggy, and frustrated Don and Megan. All in a day’s work for Mad Men.
One more thing: Henry Francis isn’t going to Michigan; “that Romney’s a clown.”