Betty ate the children! April Fools! No seriously, was this Matthew Weiner's idea of an April Fool's joke? If so, it was pretty good. It has gotta be said, the wildest thing this show does is the way they throw around fat makeup. It's hilarious that this is how MW wrote in January Jones's pregnancy -- you think you can get pregnant on his show and get away with it?! I know it's wrong to laugh because she could've been sick, but fat-suited January Jones is like watching fat-suited Gwyneth Paltrow in Shallow Hal: laugh-out-loud funny and a gift to jealous women everywhere.
That said, I had to immediately re-watch because she was so big I couldn't see anything else the first time around. Two side notes: MW has said he thinks people aren't sympathetic with Betty's character because of January's beauty. Is this his way of testing us? And she looks as fake as pregnant Peggy did -- how is their incredibly-talented-at-everything team not better at this?
This week's episode, "Tea Leaves," deals with literal tea leaves (the luncheon tea reader and smoking "tea") and figurative tea leaves as it looks for a diagnosis of fate. "Tea leaves" is as much about predicting the future as the inability to, and the futility of trying since it can't be stopped. The generation gap seen last week is growing wider. Last week Bobby tells Don when he's 40, "you'll be dead," and this week's actual possibility of death turns mortality into an acute fear. The constant fear of death and change are both about the fear of being replaced, of the younger honchos taking over (whether it be Pete or Megan) as time moves forward.
It's been a month; it's July 4th weekend (we continue the holiday hopping). For an episode so focused on death, this one was incredibly funny. This episode has three main storylines: SCDP tries to hire The Rolling Stones for Heinz, Fat Betty has a tumor scare and they need to hire a new copywriter for Mohawk Airlines -- all comically marking the passing of time.
1. The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones appropriately expose the generation gap, as they did at the time, headlining the rock 'n roll culture that the older guys were just not a part of. The two sides of old and young are established when the old Heinz guy aptly mistakes the name of the Stones song as "Time Is On Your Side," and Megan corrects, "Time Is On My Side." (Nice directing, Jon.)
The entire sequence of Don and Harry back stage at the Rolling Stones concert is comic gold. Don seems so old that teenage girls strike up a convo just to make sure he's not a cop. They light up a joint and these" tea leaves" reveal the gap, too. Harry partakes but Don does not and he seems confused and horrified by this entire conversation. Don's grown up over the past few years. Remember it wasn't so long ago he was smoking up with Midge. In this setting, Harry's actually cooler than Don (!) and is the one who gets pulled into a room by a girl ("just Harold"). Don's left to talk to the girl outside, who just a few years older than Sally, is a terrifying image for him. In a typical parent-child disconnect, she says, "None of you want any of us to have a good time just 'cause you never did," and Don responds, "We're worried about you."
Harry is all high and confuses The Tradewinds (a band that turned into Styx) for The Rolling Stones and runs out saying, "I got it!" Priceless, but of course he didn't at all and then he stuffs his face in Don's car. Don's complete disregard for everything he says is also amazing. He just says "no" and "okay" in response to everything. Don can't believe how much he's eating (he thought Harry was getting enough food for his family!) and Harry says, "You know what, let them get their own, bring home a bag of food and they go at it and there's nothing left you for you. Eat first." This is an important line. One of the few things Matthew Weiner was willing to say about the season before it started was that a theme of this season is "every man for himself" (see fifth question from the bottom) and that's what Harry's saying (and introducing).
The literal meaning of "rolling stones" also connotes time passing...
Henry's mother stops by to tell Betty it's time to get back in shape, so Betty goes to the doctor to ask for diet pills and finds out she has a lump on her thyroid. In crisis mode when Henry's not home, she calls Don to talk her down. He calls her "Bets" and "Berty" familiarly and tells her everything will be okay -- a nice moment that shows us they've calmed down a bit. Don's really struck by the news, probably hitting particularly close to home because of Anna and the fear of losing another "wife" to cancer. The prospect of death also reveals that Don sees Megan as a child. He says she doesn't understand and later tells Roger, if something happened to Betty, Megan would "try" with the kids, but he clearly doesn't see her as a real replacement. Megan gets all jealous (obviously she hasn't seen Betty recently) and is kinda catty when she says, "She just needed a reason to call you."
At tea with Joyce Darling, a friend she runs into at the doctor's office, Cecilia "gifted with the power of sight" reads Betty's tea leaves. Cecilia says her leaves reveal, "You mean so much to the people around you, you're a rock." Since Betty is certainly not a rock, this reading points to the inability and insignificance of the leaves -- they're just what's left in the empty cup.
She asks Joyce what it's like to have cancer and Joyce says its "like you're way out in the ocean alone and you're paddling and you see people on the shore and they're getting farther and farther away... you get so tired you just give in and hope you go straight down." This is a beautifully sad description of how all the older people feel, losing touch and relevance as they're washed farther and farther away. Sickness is an expedited road to death and this calls up the same feelings of aging and mortality.
Henry, it turns out, is super nice about all of this. Even though Betty has obviously been disconnected and ashamed by her weight gain, Henry is completely supportive and says he doesn't notice. Hilarious response: Betty whispers, "I know, your mother's obese." In bed when he says, "I thought that's what you wanted," it mimics Megan to Don last week about the white carpet, the member of the couple with the lower hand looking to please. The only notable thing is that he doesn't tell Betty it's Don who called. He's clearly still wary -- but with better reason than Megan, as Betty did want Don at the end of last season.
3. Mohawk Airlines
Pete brings in Mohawk Airlines -- a major coup for the agency. Mohawk is old-fashioned, so Pete gives Roger the account and needs a new copywriter because they won't take Peggy seriously. They represent the older generation and the older way of doing business, and are sure to be an old-age measuring stick through the season. However, Wikipedia tells us Mohawk was the first airline to hire an African American flight attendant in 1958, so they weren't so stuck up after all (and they would've supported SCDP!)
Peggy calls in Michael Ginsburg, a semi-sweet jerky loudmouth with an impressive portfolio who assumes Peggy's the secretary and reminds me of Jimmy Barrett. The outside of his portfolio says, "Judge not lest ye be judged," which is kind like Don and Peggy's secret code, so he seems like a good fit. Peggy isn't going to hire him but Roger already told Mohawk about him because he wanted to "smooth the ground about working with a Jew," ("Turns out everybody's got one now!"), so he's in. On the way out of his meeting, Michael stares out the window with Roger. They'll be working together and it'd be funny if these two became buddies. Note: Stan warns Michael will end up Peggy's boss... could she ever be pushed out too?
Pete gathers everyone to announce Mohawk Airlines and embarrasses Roger, saying, "Of course Mr. Sterling will be handling the day-to-day but rest assured, everything he knows, I'll know." Roger turns to Peggy, who he had just assured wouldn't be replaced by the new copywriter and says, "Forget it. That's the last guy I hired." Roger tells Don he's tired "of trying to prove [he] still has value," and we get another example of the cycle of time and aging and change.
Roger turns around and asks, "When is everything gonna get back to normal?" This is the line MW told us is a theme for the season. Everyone is wondering when their worlds will stop spinning out of control. But they won't.
A few other things:
This was Jon Hamm's directorial debut -- how'd he do? I think well but I didn't notice too much...
It's Independence Day when we took control of our own country and pushed out the old regime -- kind of mirrors what's happening here.
Dawn: they hired a black secretary. Amazing name for multiple obvious reasons.
Don/Dawn is funny. Harry fumbles, "But out in the office, it's really hard to tell who's who."
Roger says, "It makes the agency more modern, between that and it's always darkest before the dawn over there." We could also say she represents the dawn of a new age.
You can see Don feeling old with Megan as well. He tells her she doesn't understand about Betty and that he doesn't want to go to Fire Island with her friends (though notably, he does anyway) and when he goes out to go to the concert, she's blasting the TV (bathing herself in commercials) and he doesn't know why it's so loud. She tells him he looks so boxy he's almost square (showing he's square! About the TV volume, music, etc.) and he says, "I need to be the man," which is how he feels about his position.
When Michael gets home, his dad is yelling about Pete Fox, a Red Sox player who died at 57 on July 5th, 1966 -- totally accurate and another marker of death. He tells his dad, he got the job and he blesses him...not sure what's up with that, anyone? I wasn't expecting him to have a family when he says to Peggy, "You're the only one who will be excited for me."
Why does Peggy keep wearing that shirt?
Betty's downfall: bugles and ice cream sundaes (remember when she wouldn't let Sally eat?)
Closing Song: "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" from The Sound of Music -- also about aging but in this case, about innocence. The episode ended with that Jewish prayer and then it fades into a song from the setting of Nazi Germany with Leisl wanting to enter the world. It almost feels like a warning of what's to come, of unknown dangers outside... Is it for Michael? Is it for Sally? The episode is about the young generation pushing out the old, but could the song (sung by the older boy) be their collective return warning?
What else? Thoughts?