Sunday, April 1, 2012

MAD MEN 5.3--"Tea Leaves"

Hey, ho, let's go. On with the show and the show is recapping Mad Men, though this is a pretty full night in any event, given Game of Thrones is also premiering and there's at least two other things in the offing. Never mind trying to avoid everyone on the Internet trying and failing to be a goddamn comedian today.

Nevertheless, I do like keeping my schedule.

Last week, we saw that Don and Megan's married life is a rich pageant of French ye-ye music and a little s/m (which I'm sure made more than a few hearts aflutter), Pete is grappling with not quite being where he wants to and being his usual bratty self about it, Joan feared being mommy-tracked, Lane stole a wallet and got a little creepy, and Roger managed to turn being sidelined into a way to mess with Pete. Meanwhile, another of his practical jokes backfired and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce had to make its first diversity hire.

And Bert Cooper's back even though he quit. We're not sure why. Betty Francis (nee Draper) wasn't there, but no one seemed to miss her all that much.

"Everyone's pretty much who you expect them to be."

So this week, some shit gets real, not least because Betty makes up for not being in the first two episodes with a vengeance when we get a little peek into her existence post moving out of the Draper house last season comes to the fore.

Initially, it seems like journeying over some well-worn ground, only worse--as Betty has developed a crippling Bugles addiction and isolating herself. This initially brings her husband Henry's rather formidable mother over to see her and suggests she get some diet pills, figuring as longtime viewers of the show did, that with the final connection to her old life with Don finally severed (and plenty of people watching the show wondering why we should give a shit about her given how much she'd drifted out of the orbit of the rest of the characters) and we think we know where this is going.

Then the doctor finds a lump on Betty's thyroid. Ladies and gentlemen, the "has Betty gotten a written out of the show disease" pool begins now. Betty takes this opportunity to begin nailing herself to the cross because this is Betty Draper, we're talking about here, and while I've grown accustomed to that sort of thing, good lord, that speech from Joyce about "floating out to sea" and then the gypsy showing up was a bit much. Also, the dream sequence--yes, the one when she was giving birth to gene was really good. I'm not sure it was a well that could be gone to twice, especially when it went nowhere . . .

Meanwhile, the Pete vs. Roger pissing contest continues as Pete shackles Roger to Mohawk Airlines, whose having a bad time of things, which is sort of the point. Roger's duty is to take a copywriter to do what few ads they'll have, but more to match drinks with them, which is eminently capable of doing . . .more or less. Roger doesn't immediately bridle against this, perhaps because he's happy he has something to do, at last.

For those of you wondering how the whole "diversity hire" business shook out, Don drew the lucky secretary, who is named Dawn. Don and Dawn both seem to get confused for one another, but they are, in fact, quite different. Any relation to DC Comic's Dove, who was also two people named Don and Dawn is entirely coincidental and just something I interject to fill up a paragraph, as this episode is kinda thin on the ground for things to expound on.

Roger handles it with the amount of sensitivity that someone who put on blackface would be expected to.

But while I'm casting about, let me dwell on this . . .Heinz, in what Roger derisively refers to as a "client idea," wants the Rolling Stones to sing the praises of Heinz beans. Despite this being a daft idea, Don and Harry (who was otherwise occupied with embarrassing himself on every conceivable level) go to court the Stones, which translates to Harry getting fooled (naturally) and Don talking to and toking up with a groupie who weaves a lot of nonsense about Brian Jones. Thankfully, I don't have to focus on that particular bit of "Wonder Years" bullshit, because the whole scene is more about Harry and Don's growing irrelevancy than it is them actually seeing the Stones. As with the business with Betty, this all has a curious tone-deafness that mad Men usually doesn't have, and it was funny to see Harry Crane drowning his sorrows with White Castle. So appropriate, really.

Meanwhile, in another part of town just a few miles away 17 years ago that very same day, Peggy is tasked with hiring a copywriter to help Roger, and manages, using a search criteria I can only speculate on, hiring Michael Ginsberg, a man who sets new standards for rampant douchebaggery on this show (No mean feat, considering Stan's still around) Ginsberg exacerbates things by apparently getting his jacket at the same place Pete got his party jacket last week. Given we get a look at Michael's home life afterwards (he lives with his dad, who is almost comically Jewish) we're supposed to find some kind of sympathy for him. It would go a bit better if he weren't such a dickweasel.

It works far better as another example of Peggy feeling her position under threat. While she should be focusing on the fact that she's getting more of a say in hiring people, she takes it as a threat, as her unique position in SCDP already seems like it's under siege, seeing as how Megan's addition no longer makes her the only woman copywriter at SCDP, and Stan helpfully stokes her paranoia, telling her whoever she hires could be her boss.

I really did hate this episode, and I would like to stop talking about it, so let me go ahead and pull this: April Fools, everyone! Betty's tumour is benign, which kinda negates about 60% of this episode, generally feels like a stunt, and, given how Betty immediately reverts to type and calls Henry's mom fat, was pretty much the Platonic ideal of a journey into pointlessness. I'm not one of those people who thinks Betty necessarily needs to die die die, but for God's sake, did we need all this TV Movie-esque hand-wringing about her just because there's a tendency among people who view her as inessential now that she's not married to Don to ignore her completely? I mean, what was the point of any of this? If you hated Betty, all this did was piss you off more because they didn't write her out. If you sympathised with her, it was just a deflection from her being fat, and if you didn't care, you were probably just hella confused. I was.

Ordinarily, it might be OK, but there was scene after scene this week that just felt . . .bad. Whether one rolled their eyes at Betty's Gypsy encounter, the dream sequence that went nowhere, the dozen speeches about people fretting about their relevancy . . .Jesus, this felt like a shitty parody of Mad Men rather than an actual episode of Mad Men.

Thankfully, there's a good bit at the end to distract me from how much this episode sucked. Pete decides to take credit for Mohawk Airlines in a ceremony that is almost a bacchanalia of shitcockery that humiliates Roger by casting him as Pete's subordinate in front of everyone. One can't exactly blame him for the rather nihilistic point of view he takes about it when Don tries to talk to him about Betty's cancer scare (then again, maybe he read ahead in the script)

God, this episode blew. My overall feeling watching it was "Man, I wish I'd been watching Game of Thrones." There were some good bits--Pete's dickish gambit, Harry's use of White Castle as anti-depressants. The problems in this episode went further than the Betty not-cancer scare--the whole episode felt completely ramshackle, with blatantly manipulative scenes that ultimately went nowhere and lacked Mad Men's typical sense of subtlety and light storytelling touch.

On the other hand, I got to use the phrase "bacchanalia of shitcockery." It's not much, but I have to take these small victories where I find them.

I hope this isn't a trend. Whatever the case, let us never speak of this episode again.

Thank God, that's all for this week. Join us next time when Don is drunk as hell, Peggy blows someone's ass away like she' ringing a bell, Lane and Joan put their foot to the floor while the whiskey is flowing, and Pete has a porn shoot and has to get going. You don't understand--he don't give a damn, because next week's episode is a mystery date with an episode called "Mystery Date." Until next week--soupy twist!

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