BY EMILY VIVIANI
In last week’s season premiere, we were reintroduced to Joan Harris’ new life with a close-up of baby Kevin’s diaper rash. This week we are reintroduced to the former Mrs. Draper, with a similarly vulnerable tight shot: Betty can’t zip up her dress.
In Sunday’s episode (“Tea Leaves”), we learn what Betty Francis has been doing since Don and Megan’s marriage. The answer: not a whole lot. If marrying young Megan has made Don Draper – by contrast – appear older, then marrying old Henry has had a similar, but inverse effect on Betty. She’s more of a little girl than she ever was, and now, she’s eaten too many bonbons.
Betty’s clunky return to the series [a scene she plays slumped and covered in a gloomy bedroom with “a woman’s thing” (i.e. weight gain), thus left unable to fulfill her duties as trophy wife extraordinaire] is uncomfortably mirrored with a scene of Don breezily zipping up Megan’s new dress. Megan bubbles over with je ne sais quoi, putting the finishing touches on her look before accompanying Don to a business dinner with Heinz (“He’s the only man I want to please more than you”). Meanwhile, Betty, cloaked in matronly exhaustion, asks her husband to forgive her on his way there.
The Francis marriage, which had initially been Betty’s naïve and bold attempt at a “fresh-start,” is looking as stale as the Bugles that Betty can’t stop eating. Their home, a big, dark and dusty mansion, is the ideal habitat for Season 3’s Victorian fainting couch. And while fat Betty is a heck of a lot more layered (no pun intended) than cinched-waist, chimney-smoking scary Betty, she’s also a lot more depressing. After being scolded for packing on pounds by Henry’s mother, Betty schedules a visit with the doctor in the hope of getting a prescription for diet pills. The doctor discovers a potentially cancerous tumor on her thyroid, which at the end of the episode we learn is benign.
Betty’s brief but startling brush with mortality enables the audience to ingest her often-vilified character with a level of sympathetic tolerance. Yes, she’s made mistakes, but she wants to be better. “I’m leaving behind such a mess,” she confides in a former acquaintance she bumps into at the hospital. She’s reduced to tears when a fortuneteller with impeccably unfortunate timing describes her as a “great soul.” This gloomy, introspective struggle – which we saw glimmers of through Greenwich Village Don from Season 4 – is contrasted by the frenetic and addictive energy of a new, up-and-coming generation. While Betty is taking a bath, no doubt mulling over the tragedy of her impending doom, Megan is “being bathed in commercials.” How cute.
“You’re so square you’ve got corners,” Megan says to Don as he leaves for the Rolling Stones concert – on business. Backstage at the show, accompanied by a boisterous Harry, Don engages in conversation with a 14-year-old girl. He attempts, as usual, to isolate the marketable essence of the Stones, but the girl sluffs off his pragmatic dissection saying he is “like a psychiatrist,” probably one of the least-sexy ways Don has been described the entire series. The girl proceeds to playfully and poignantly remove his tie and put it around her neck.
At the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, things are shifting away from business as usual, leading to Roger asking “When is everything going to get back to normal?” The firm did in fact hire its first African American, a secretary named Dawn, for Don. Peggy is given the task of finding a fresh copywriter for Mohawk Airlines. She’s intrigued by the portfolio of Michael Ginsberg (who is Jewish, further upping the diversity quotient). His provocative work is a far cry from Sally’s macaroni-noodle Valentine that served as inspiration for the Mohawk campaign in Season 2.
In his interview, Michael is awkward, unprofessional and candid – but entertaining! He dismisses Peggy’s authority and appears to be solely interested in meeting with Don. “Is Don a real person?” he asks. His tunneled insistence to meet the creative wizard behind SCDP sort of eerily mimicked the 14-year-old’s eagerness to become Brian Jones’ Lady Jane. Unlike the old consumer, with whom transactions centered around polite persuasion and a pretty little song and dance, this new generation of consumer appears to know what they want and take it – no manners required.
“I insulted you cause, I’m honest,” Michael said to Peggy in his interview. “I apologized cause, I’m brave.” This sort of twisted, self-indulgent justification, skewing himself as transcendent, rather than just rude, is clever and different. Peggy, despite being her “But-you-never-say-thank-you!” self, doesn’t hate it. He gets the job.
Overall, the entire episode (which also marked Jon Hamm’s directorial debut) felt a lot like the opening credits – the silhouette of a crisply pressed generation, falling. Yes, it’s disrespectful, when Pete publicly extinguishes Roger’s glow of importance at a firm-wide meeting to welcome Mohawk. But no one really cares. At the end of the day, suits are uncomfortable, antiques are predictable, manners are fake, and as Megan concurred at dinner with Heinz, all that business about business, is boring.