I won't pretend that anybody wants to talk about anything right now other than Fat Betty. And fat suit / body double aside, it was actually a pretty complex issue. Betty is a polarizing character, and defenders of her often point to show creator Matthew Weiner and his writing staff having a field day in hating her. Betty has always been characterized as an Ice Queen, a terrible mother, and a bored housewife whose value has always been tied to her beauty. It's hard for most viewers to find much sympathy in her - after all, she's been married now to two handsome, successful men, lives in luxury and bears a striking resemblance to Grace Kelly. Why should we feel sorry for this woman?
Was Fat Betty then a way to further make fun of and point a laughing finger at an unlikable character, or was it a way to get us to feel something for her? Suddenly last night, Betty's struggles from earlier seasons came directly into focus. She's lonely and depressed, emotionally scared from her cold parents and even some of Don's emotional abuses, and when the tea leaf reader said she was beloved and a rock, Betty burst into tears knowing nothing could be farther from the truth. Later, her reaction to the doctor's news was vague and open to two interpretations. On the one hand, it's possible that the doctor called to say that the tumor was cancerous, and Betty told Henry otherwise for a myriad of reasons relating to her dream (a totally unnecessary, far too on-the-nose and overwrought scene), and didn't bother telling Don. On the other hand, it's entirely plausible that Betty would just be that depressed she was fat of her own Buggle-and-ice-cream-sundae-eating accord, and wouldn't bother updating Don on the results because she was no longer in real peril and needed his help. She just wanted to freeze him out again to be left alone to eat her feelings.
Of course, that's not to suggest that the writers weren't also having some fun making Betty fat. The scene where Betty struggled to zip her dress juxtaposed with one where Megan slips waifishly into hers seems particularly unfortunate for her. It seems hard to imagine Betty, who even when pregnant looked like "Grace Kelly swallowed a basketball," would let herself go to such a degree, don't forget that Betty's father Gene once mentioned that she was fat as a little girl. She's always been concerned with weight - barely eating, making sure Sally wasn't fat - so it could very well be that she has simply regressed and, honestly, "given up." Regardless, there are several positive ways her character could be developed from here on out, the most satisfying being Betty, fat or slim, finding some warmth and some worth outside of her appearance. But knowing how easy it has been for the writers to demonize Betty, let's not hold our breath.
Betty's frame literally overshadowed everything else in "Tea Leaves," but there were still a lot of interesting smaller moments. For one, it seems SDCP did hire an African-American secretary, Dawn, who will hopefully be getting a richer storyline as the series progresses. After all, we've already gotten a lot of information and some backstory on Michael Ginsberg, the new copywriter and token Jewish addition ("everyone has a Jew!" as Roger says). And what do we think of young Michael, who resembles Scott Baio and sounds like an extra from the "Jersey Boys" musical? He's certainly an oddball character who seems to have a lot of hidden depth. He also had some great interplay with Peggy, who may or may not end up a rival. Does Michael's hiring put up against Pete's public belittling of Roger and Roger's ominous words to Peggy, "that was the last guy I hired," portend dark times ahead of Peggy in her fight against the male-dominated agency?
Elsewhere, Harry continues to be a perv (though his scenes are full of much appreciated levity) and Don, so square he has corners, looks warily upon the screaming groupie girls and even counsels one with fatherly advice. The Don of old may have flirted with the teenage girl, but this time he interrogates her both from an ad man's perspective ("when you listen to the Stones what do you feel?") and from a father's ("what do you think he wants? We're worried about you"). It's an interesting sea change for Don, who in the premiere episode was also seen wistfully watching his kids pile out of his car, and even refereed to Betty as "Birdie" on the phone. When Megan brings up the possibility of mothering his children in the case of Betty's demise, Don is quick to shut it down, wanting instead to spend time withdrawing into contemplation and melancholy over Betty's illness.
Is Don having doubts about his sudden plunge into his new life? I think it's important to note though that Don still confides openly with Megan, telling her right away about Betty. Despite Don later commenting on Megan's positivity, how else would she have reacted to the situation? Her sly remark afterwards though about Betty "needing a reason to call you" doesn't seem like a throwaway line. We haven't seen much of Megan's reactions about Betty, but it seems that, much like Henry Francis in regards to Don, she doesn't like her hovering around their lives.
The promos for next week alluded to exploring some aspects of Don's pre-Megan life, along with some Roger and Peggy time plus more Joan. But of course, the season is young and there's so much that we cannot even begin to speculate about, so I suppose we should just relax enjoy our second
Sunday sundae. Everything's gonna be ok.
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Yes that is a new "Jon Hamm, Producer" credit you saw! He also directed the episode.
— Nice reference to Brian Jones and the cereal jingle days of the Rolling Stones.
— The Best of Michael Ginsberg: "That's what they said about Mein Kampf, 'the kid has voice!'" "I was at the movies ... well, I was at a peep show in Times Square." "Sorry, sometimes when my stomach grumbles it sounds like the F word."
— So who caught Henry's "Romney's a clown!" comment? Mitt's father was indeed Governor of Michigan at the time.
— "Eat first" - Henry Crane, after downing 20 White Castle / Krystal burgers he supposedly bought for his family.
— "Baked beans and the Rolling Stones? That's a client idea if I ever heard one" - Roger. Creative departments, nod in appreciation of this truth!
— Peggy: "Who smells like pee?" Roger: "Writers!" Hey, not all of us.
— Betty snapping at Henry that the reason why he doesn't mind her being fat is because his mother's obese, and the shade that she threw on her mother-in-law to her face about her fatness really was fantastic, classic Betty.
— "A penis ... I'll work on that" - Peggy, who seems to have a lot more personality this season.
— How beautiful is the exterior of the Francis' home? And how much do you want to eat Buggles and watch Andy Griffith right now?
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