Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mad Men Episode 5-3: Tea Leaves

Recap: In this episode, Betty hits rock bottom and shifts her perspective slightly. Overweight and miserable living with Henry and his mother, Pauline, Betty learns that she has a lump on her thyroid and fears cancer. Calling for Henry and finding him not at home, she phones Don and seeks his sympathy and reassurance. Don worries that his children might have to grow up without a mother, as he did. Betty meets an old girlfriend at the cancer clinic. When they have lunch together at a restaurant, a gypsy shows up and reads Betty’s tea leaves. She tells Betty: “You are a great soul; the people around you care about you a lot. You’re a rock.” The absurdity of these statements is apparent even to Betty, who finds it jarring to hear. Later, back at the Francis residence, the phone rings and Henry picks it up to talk about some political event. Then another phone rings in the hall and Betty answers. It’s the office of the cancer doctor, and she gets the news that her tumor is benign. However, while on the phone, Betty looks stunned and repeats “Okay” several times, so that it takes Henry a little time to find out that the doctor had said the tumor was benign. Henry is thrilled, but Betty is depressed – because to her it means that she’s “just fat.”

Later, Betty has a dream that she has died, and she sees Henry and her children sitting around the breakfast table, dressed in black, while Pauline serves pancakes all around. Betty speaks in the dream and offers to cook breakfast, but nobody hears or sees her. Henry mutters, “If, if, if” (a reference to his criticism of something Betty had said to her previously) and then Sally gets up, takes Betty’s empty chair, turns it upside down, and sets it on the table, showing that Betty is dead. This dream helps Betty realize she has made a mess of her family, and she resolves to do better.
Meanwhile, Don and Harry go to a Rolling Stones concert to try to meet the band and ask them to do a commercial for Heinz beans, an idea proposed by Don’s contact at Heinz that Don thinks is a bad idea. Don and Harry are approached by two young teenage girls. Don relates to them in a fatherly way, whereas Harry relates as more of an equal. Harry reveals to Don that married life is a disappointment and that he prefers being around teenage girls.  

At SCDP, Roger brings Mohawk Airlines, an old account, back to the firm, but Pete insults him by taking credit for winning them back. The execs decide to hire a creative person specifically for Mohawk, and Peggy is assigned to hire a person to do what she does, raising the question of whether he will become her replacement. She maintains her confidence and hires Michael Ginsberg even though she doesn’t like him personally. Oddly, Michael looks to Peggy to be proud of him. At the end of the episode we see that Michael lives in a small, dark apartment with his father, and that they have a strained relationship.  

A major theme in this episode is people finding themselves in foreign, alien, or highly uncomfortable environments in which they feel out of place or alienated. People stepping outside their familiar worlds, dwelling in foreign worlds and feeling like outsiders, include:

·         Betty finding herself in the foreign environment of the cancer clinic where she has to follow orders

·         Betty feeling alienated in the family and social circles of Henry & Pauline, both of whom are very controlling

·         Betty feeling alienated from her body because she’s so fat and eating out of control, stuffing down her feelings

·         Betty feeling that the house in which she lives is an alien environment

·         Betty running to Don for comfort when she learns she might have cancer, rather than keeping her feelings in her current marriage and waiting to talk to Henry about her tumor – feeling alienated from her current marriage

·         Betty saying, “I feel like I just got off the boat from China” after hearing over the phone that her cancer was benign – which implies that she has a new life ahead of her, but in a “foreign land,” metaphorically speaking

·         Megan having dinner with Don and Don’s client and wife, where Megan looks out of place and where some of her comments sound inappropriate for the situation

·         Don going to the Rolling Stones concert & hanging out with young teens backstage, a very foreign environment for him

·         Don going with Megan to Fire Island to meet her friends, who are probably all in their 20s (she is 26 and he is 40), where he must have felt out of place

·         Don being put on the phone to talk to his mother-in-law, although she speaks French and he can’t understand her, which places him in a foreign environment in terms of language

·         Harry feeling alienated in his family and wanting to go out as much as possible – and stuffing himself with food to stuff down his feelings

·         Harry going to the Rolling Stones concert backstage area and not even realizing how out of place and foolish he looks

·         The Rolling Stones singing a commercial for Heinz beans, if it happened, would make them sound comically out of place

·         Dawn Chambers sitting in an all-white advertising firm where she is “the black person” and is perceived as out of place and in defiance of the social mores of the time

·         Peggy being put into the new, somewhat foreign position of interviewing an applicant for the same role she has

·         Peggy feeling alienated by Michael Ginsberg because he insults her

·         Michael Ginsberg venturing into a non Jewish company where he is “the Jew” in an alien environment, even if having “a Jew” is already becoming socially acceptable for ad agencies; his presence as a Jew also reminding us of the Disapora of the Jewish people

·         Michael feeling alienated at home with his father, where he appears not to feel loved or cared for

·         Michael apparently feeling alienated from his religion

·         The fortune teller looking like a foreigner, even if she’s just dressed up that way; the “gypsy” is the idea of a person who is always outcast in society, no matter where he/she goes

·         Roger being alienated from the Mohawk account because of Pete

·         Roger feeling that because he now has to prove his value at SCDP, even though his name is on the door, he is an outsider of sorts in his own company

·         Roger saying, “When is everything going to go back to normal?” as if their entire society has changed and suddenly become a foreign environment to him

End of episode: the song from The Sound of Music: “I am 16 going on 17” says, “You wait, little girl, on an empty stage for fate to turn the light on. Your life, little girl, is an empty page that men will want to write on.” This song poses an ironic contrast to Betty’s life experience, making her feel alienated from her childhood dreams. However, it describes pretty well the innocent state of the teen girls that Don and Harry met backstage at the Stones concert.

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