‘Mad Men’ Episode Two Review-The Promise of Tea Leaves

Written by Spencer Sterritt April 02, 2012

As Mad Men moves beyond the initial plot surge in the season five premiere, I was curious to see if it would resume it regular glacial pace, or if it would keep the momentum up (which would be a first for Mad Men). Even season four, often referred to as the best thing ever, downshifted almost immediately after its premier. Thankfully this episode, technically the third one, managed to keep all of its wheels spinning and actually progressed the plot!

Curiously, none of the promos I saw gave a hint to the fact that Betty had the A-plot of the episode, and it wasn’t terrible. It’s a miracle! Last week I was excited that there was no Betty to drag down Don and the plot, but if her appearances continue like this, I’ll be quite pleased.

To cover up January Jones’ real-life pregnancy the writers decided to make Betty overweight, not to the point of slovenly, just to the point of despair. This move totally works with her established character; now that she doesn’t have the stress of dealing with Don, Sally and Bobby aren’t around all the time, and Henry is often away, she of course lounges around all day eating Bugles. Seeing Betty in such a state would normally irritate me, but the plot manages to find real emotion in Betty, since she actually acknowledges that she has been wasting away. An initial concern over thyroid cancer gives way to the stark realization that she is fat, and I felt more feeling from January Jones’ performance than I had in all of seasons three and four.

Also, I applaud the make up and prosthetics they used on her. When you see her back as she steps out of the tub I swear to god I though it was actually Bane stepping out of the tub, her back is that big. It’s mean yes, but true. Walking around in such an atrocious pink house coat doesn’t help either.

The pink certainly does off set the gravity of the situation

The episode efficiently fills us in on Betty’s mindset, as she calls Don first when she learns there’s a lump on her thyroid, to the despairing final shot of her eating Sally’s sundae alone, abandoned by a daughter who doesn’t eat to avoid becoming Betty. This is certainly karma for how much of a bitch Betty has been throughout the whole series, and I like it.

In the other plot, it seems Roger is slipping just as quickly into despair. The asshole attitude he put on full display last episode gets some explanation, though it isn’t exactly poignant. Roger just wants things to go back to the way they used to, where he could drink and wow a room with ease. Now he drinks and fills a room with disgust. His arrogance knows no bounds as it tries to mask the sad old man underneath.

Drinking won't make things better Roger!

Last week I talked about how Pete should finally get some respect, even if he falls well on the wrong side of the douche line to get it. Now Pete is firmly established as a douche bag, as he takes all of the credit for the Mohawk account, even though Roger did a fair bit himself. He was once Roger’s protege and now he’s Roger’s greatest enemy, representing the youth that are finally ready to take the world out from under the older generation.

There wasn’t much Don this week, which is understandable since Jon Hamm tried his hand at directing with this episode. What plot he did have was pretty solid though, as he and Harry waited backstage for the Rolling Stones. There were some good Harry moments, who screws everything up and gets to bumble around eating hamburgers. Don didn’t exactly fit in backstage, with his suit and tie, but he wasn’t egregiously out of place either, shedding more light on just how he manages to fit in seemingly everywhere.

Don looks good, Harry not so much

I’m glad Mad Men is keeping up with things, showing us more and more of the youth and racial movements that were raging through the Sixties. If the show keeps up this high quality, and keeps the Betty plot engaging, I expect season five will be the most poignant season yet.

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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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