It was all a bit much
Mad Men Season 5 Episode 3 recap
Wasn't it? I mean, I get it. Depending on shooting schedules, January Jones was either about to deliver or had just done so when this episode was shot, and I understand that the alternate way of hiding her pregnancy - having her sit in and around and beside large objects - would have been cheesy and awkward. But this story didn't incorporate her weight; it made the shocking weight gain the only thing we saw, other than that beautiful house.
Okay, so Betty has weight issues and weight bias (“your mother is obese” would have been a very, very bold statement back then, where a woman of the elder Mrs. Francis' size would have been called “stout” or “plump”) but the story was a cop out. Betty wasn't sick, and January Jones sure as hell isn't staying at that weight for the rest of the season so her efforts to lose will, I bet money, not actually make it to screen.
I'm not complaining because they did a weight storyline. I think it's interesting, particularly as Betty was calling Sally fat not three years ago, and probably more often since then. I don't mind Betty's one touchstone, her beauty, abandoning her. But I don't think that the shocking! reveal! of a body double climbing out of the tub is pushing boundaries, because it makes us immediately say "Gasp! Betty can't look like that! Horrors!" I didn't need the overdone bed creak when they began to have sex, either. I get it, she's heavy. And I don't buy the whisperings that Betty was kinder and milder as a fat girl - because it's not staying, so it's not real character development. The show had an opportunity to tell us something real about weight and beauty in the 60s, and just didn't. They didn't really tell the “life-threatening illness” story either, since that too was washed away by episode's end. I understand that we didn't hear the doctor say it and maybe Betty's in denial and lying, but it's not good business to lie to your audience, and Mad Men never has. I wouldn't think they would start now.
The saving grace, of course, was the Don and Betty interaction. It's really nice that he can still make her feel comforted. It's unusual, but not all that surprising, that she has places within her that are touched and comforted by him and not her new husband. His concern for her - not just for his kids, but for “Birdie” herself - is what keeps Don Draper from being the lout casual viewers think he is. He probably wishes he were less empathetic sometimes, less able to see what others are going through. It would make his life easier, even if his job was less so. He could wait for the Rolling Stones with idiot Harry in peace, without realizing how grave his concern is for his daughter. I mean wife. Don knows that to be a completely emotionless capitalist, Roger-Sterling style, would probably make him more cash but what he has to deal with are the feelings of, you know, empathy, that plague him day to day.
This, of course, is not the reason why he wanted to bail on Megan's trip to see her friends (and a bikini top should go STRAIGHT across your back. It should not ARCH back there like a drawbridge); it's because he's selfish. It didn't have to do with the fact that she was 26 and didn't understand death (see what I mean about that all being meaningless now that Betty is fine?), it had to do with him not wanting to shift himself to do the work of appearing interested and pretending not to notice the insults about being “old” that are thrown his way, the fact that she did the exact opposite earlier that week notwithstanding. For a scene that was ultimately inconsequential, the meal with Heinz might have been my favourite. From the ghastly white lipstick to the condescension from the wife, Megan grinned and bore it all. Let's see how long it takes before she realizes she's not likely to get reciprocation. I also didn't buy her irritation at Betty. We've never seen them acknowledge each other and now she's implying that Betty calls too much? Doesn't sound like the Mrs. Francis I know. Henry, at least, has reason to be irritated that Don called but ...can we see how his insecurity, if it exists, manifests itself?
The episode was, otherwise, only okay. Harry is awful and irritating, but at least they're playing into it now, somewhat amusingly. It's Don who's mellowed more, finding less to be enraged with (my betrothed is mourning the loss of Don's clipped, irritated “what?”), and commenting less and less on the workings of SCDP. When Pete stopped Roger out of making the Mohawk announcement, Don barely lifted an eyebrow. As for the copywriter story - I don't know. They were clearly trying to do something here, but it did feel a bit like the episode from last year. Is there no personality for aspiring ad types other than aggressively egotistical? I didn't love Michael the copywriter, don't know how his interactions with Don are going to be anything new, and seeing his home life didn't change my mind.
But. I will ride this story wherever it's going if I get to see Roger and Peggy together more. The show is clearly holding back on the Peggy storyline, as those are usually strong driving forces through the second half of the season. But I can't believe I never realized what hilarious allies these two would be. Peggy never met a bitch session she didn't want to be a part of and Roger is the KING of talking about how he could have done it better. Their snarky asides in the corner will fuel me for days, especially if there's going to be a counterpoint of Lane and Joan, the people who keep the place afloat. Seriously, Roger and Peggy. I don't know how I didn't think of it before. A less sophisticated show would have this relationship between a woman and a gay man. Mad Men is so much better than that.
Not to say that it's above an easy joke. Don's new secretary is named "Dawn". Heh. If the show had a larger cast budget, we would have heard Stan and some young accounts guy talking about the new Person Of Colour in the office. While that might be a missed opportunity, I trust Dawn will be around to help Don, and the story will come. I have to trust this. As a final grumble, I also have to trust that they'll figure out the music on the show. I've always loved the poignant ending songs, but the music stings in the middle of the show - particularly when Betty arrived home thinking she might be ill - seemed really heavy handed. But I trust.
Next week, Sally hates someone! On the phone, no less!