MAD MEN, SEASON FIVE/EPISODE 3: GENERATIONS COLLIDE, BETTY RETURNS

by Claire Moshenberg on April 6, 2012

For episode 3, I crossed my fingers and prayed to the Gods of Television that this episode would be half as long and twice as interesting. I got half my wish.

Don: Time is not on your side  

The man who hated the bean ballet is back, this time with his wife in tow, and he’s out on the town with Don and Megan. It’s an awkward double date, made worse by his deeply out of touch suggestion that Don court the Rolling Stones into turning their hit “Time is On My Side” into “Heinz is On My Side.” Unlike Don and Captain Heinz, Megan knows the correct title of the song and smirks at the suggestion. Because unlike Don and Captain Heinz, Megan is a part of the swiftly changing culture, and her stock is rising.

Don and Harry throw on their sharpest suits and go to a Rolling Stones show. They end up waiting backstage as a teenage girl  drives the point home (maybe too far home, Weiner) that, yes, Harry and Don are wildly out of touch by checking to see if they’re Narcs and then comparing them to those square ad guys on “Bewitched.”

Big haired and wide eyed, the girl looks about fourteen, and her smirk when Don says she was “What, 11?” three years ago seems to confirm it. She’s no child though: She’s Lady Jane, Brian Jones will know it when he sees her. Meanwhile Harry lusts after her (“Those GIRLS, Don, those young girls…”), while she smokes a joint and admits with ease that she’ll do “whatever they want” once she meets the Stones.

Don has a penchant for women. Because of that, we’ve seen him interact with lots of young women over the years: Girl in California, original secretary he slept with, the current Mrs. Draper, even Peggy. With all of these women, he’s initially alluring and desired. There is a currency in looking “so square you’ve got corners,” something delicious and important about being a solid adult.

There is no power in adulthood when you’re backstage at the Rolling Stones. The look he put together so he could reel them in, the one he told Megan made him look like “the man,” proved worthless. Harry got more action: Even if Harry saw the wrong band, he was grabbed by a girl, dragged backstage, treated like someone slightly relevant. And Don was relegated to the hallway, trying to learn Little Lady Jane’s language and failing.

“None of you want us to have a good time because you never did,” says LLJ. “No, we’re worried about you,” says Don.

I think they’re worried about themselves. If Don was cued into the cultural zeitgeist, he would know that a sharp suit wasn’t the item to bring from home: it was the gorgeous, 26 year old wife he left on the couch. She’s inheriting the power cards. Which begs the question: How will Don Draper function in a world where his wife is more powerful, where he wants to parent and protect the girls he meets instead of bedding them?

Peggy can’t grow a penis: Meet Michael Ginsberg  

Roger Sterling needs a copywriter “with a penis.” Peggy is impressive, but her penis growing skills are not, so she does the next best thing and hires a sharp young crazy person named Michael Ginsberg. Unlike Don, who tries to analyze young people, and Roger, who competes and complains, Peggy is the only one who realizes that you have to embrace them. Probably because even though she’s a Sterling/Cooper/Draper/Price old-timer, I think she’s supposed to be about 25. But I think even if she was twice that she would get it—she pays attention. She wouldn’t show up at a Stones concert to peddle a beans ballad.

Roger and Pete: Manchild Battle, Round 2  

Pete giveth Roger the Mohawk account, and Pete taketh away at a big celebratory meeting with the whole staff where he celebrates his success with Mohawk and implies that he’s Roger’s boss on this project.

Old vs. new! Generations collide! Two increasingly unlikeable characters battle for power—the unlikeable young guy is winning! Sorry unlikeable old guy.

Betty the Womanchild  

When the doctor says “Middle aged women—it’s easier to put it on, harder to take it off,” I shared Betty’s grimace—it’s hard to grasp the concept of Betty as an adult.

Betty isn’t childish: she’s a child. And not in a “footie pajamas and Sunday morning cartoons” way, but in a “small, and scared, in a big world” way. The soft, sorrowful look on her face throughout the episode as she handles her cancer scare wasn’t the expression of a mother grappling with her mortality; it was the expression of a little girl lost at a supermarket. After her doctor’s appointment, Betty calls Don because she needs a father figure, someone to step in and say, word for word, “Everything is going to be okay.” It didn’t even cross her mind that she might want Don to take the kids for a few days; when he mentions them, she appears to have forgotten about their existence. She has a vivid dream that she is dead and standing by as her mourning family eats breakfast. Dream scenes are rare in Mad Men, and this felt like an echo of Betty’s last dream, during childbirth, where she was a little girl who left her lunch on the bus, and had a baby. Though her circumstances have changed since that dream, she hasn’t: she’s still a kid grappling with adulthood, balancing mortality and pancakes this time instead of a lunch pail and an infant.

After her second doctor’s appointment, Betty is approached at a restaurant by a tea leaf reader. The woman’s reading proves her lack of psychic abilities when she tells Betty how important she is to the people in her life, how she’s “a rock.” Faced with the sad falseness of both statements, Betty spends the rest of the episode dabbling in adulthood. She sits outside as her children play around her, rests her nose against the  top of her baby’s head and takes a deep, maternal whiff. She makes love to her husband. But the second she finds out that she doesn’t have cancer, she stops playing grownup and returns to her little kid antics of lashing out and pouting. “Good to know I’m just fat,” she says, then callously tells Henry that her heft doesn’t bother him because his mother is obese. And there’s Henry, a counterpoint, a real adult who just faced Betty’s mortality and is relieved, thrilled that she’s healthy. These are the kind of thoughts adults have when the tests come back negative, not pouty jabs at fat mother-in-laws.

A page out of Frasier

I understand that the creators of Mad Men had to do something about January Jones’ real life pregnancy. But this feels…uninspired. Except it was inspired: The “lets turn a pregnant actress’ weight gain into an obesity storyline” is a page straight out of the Frasier handbook.

Here’s what they could have done instead:

  • A fourth Betty pregnancy: Lets add more replaceable non-Kiernan Shipka child actors!
  • A Betty miscarriage: The show has handled birth control, accidental pregnancy, abortion, planned pregnancy, fertility issues—wouldn’t a miscarriage storyline be the next frontier in their ongoing treatment of women’s reproductive health issues?
  • Nothing: January Jones was photographed by paparazzi constantly during her pregnancy, which is how we know that the excessive jowelyness they’ve added to her face is the handiwork of a makeup artist. With an award winning costume designer and an obsessive knack for set design, why not just hide the pregnancy?

Betty Francis sat on the rainbow and Skittles came out 

That’s the level of class going on in this episode when it comes to handling Betty’s weight gain. Oh, she can’t zip up her dress? Cut to lithe little Megan Draper zipping her dress up with ease. Oh, she’s in the tub and feels awkward having her husband see her naked? Lets set up the shot so her back seems weirdly close to the camera, creating the illusion that she’s a lumbering, screen shot filling figure. Oh, Sally Draper won’t finish her ice cream? Better end the episode with a reminder that cancer-free Betty is all about eating two sundaes in a row!

Does Matthew Weiner hate January Jones? Does he hate Betty? Not even Peggy’s growing figure in Season One was treated with this level of malice. If they’re keeping Betty on the show to be a punchline, that’s a sad move for what was once a flawed and fascinating character. Lets hope she’s treated with more kindness, or at least with more depth, in the next episode.

Harry and Don: Hit the road!

Harry is getting more lecherous by the episode, Don is hurtling towards identity crisis number 500, but the scene where Harry eats a bag of hamburgers and Don openly hates him? The comedy gold buddy road trip movies are made of. Let just ditch this season and send them on a mid-60s “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”

 

Claire Moshenberg is a San Francisco based author, activist, and new media consultant. She is co-proprietor of the web site Charm City Jukebox.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: