Mad as Hell
Fat Betty and Other Surprises
By: Charles Giuliano - Apr 03, 2012
Season Five of Mad Men.
After that seventeen month absence.
On Sunday nights riveted by that wonderful animated opener with haunting music.
The falling through space figure of lead character Don Draper (Jon Hamm).
Plunging to certain death deep into a canyon of high rise buildings along Madison Avenue.
Pushed and possible murder?
There are certainly enough dark secrets and a tormented past to support those possibilities.
For that we will have to wait and see.
Perhaps in Season Six?
After that blockbuster cluster of plot points in the season opener Mad Men has settled into a groove.
The focus appears to be shifting away from a dominance of Don Draper, now a happily married man, with Megan (Jessica Pare) a trophy wife. His quiver of theatrical tricks- from petulant pouts to smug shrugs- has been depleted. We are coming to know him more as a smart, ambitious, Machiavellian advertising executive and stiff.
In the 1960s we dubbed guys like Don as squares.
Never more so than in the latest episode in which Don and the head of broadcasting accounts Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) are back stage during a Rolling Stones concert.
Peggy Olson’s (Elizabeth Moss) pitch for Heinz Baked Beans flopped. She came up with the idea of adapting “Time is on Our Side” by the Stones as “Heinz is on Our Side.”
While never responding to Peggy it seems that Don and Harry are intent on pitching the idea to the Stones.
There is an awkward interaction between Don dragging on a butt and a groupie offering him a hit on her joint. He uses the occasion for a bit of market research. What is it that you like about the Stones? Really Don! The Stones? Were you living on Mars or just Connecticut?
With concern he asks what she will do in the dressing room of the British rockers?
“Whatever Brian (Jones) wants” is the answer.
In an episode directed by Hamm (his first such I believe) just what was the point of that?
The real emotional focus of the episode is the decline of his former ice queen wife Betty (January Jones) now married to the drab but solid Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley).
She is presented as a bored, suburban housewife with three kids and a maid.
We are shocked to find her struggling to fit 1nto a frock for an evening out. The real life January Jones is pregnant and they are adapting that in the script as 'fat Betty'.
In a funk she uses “female trouble” as a reason to stay home from a meeting of the Junior League.
Now how could one possibly miss that?
Betty has put on weight.
We see her snacking on a bag of chips and sharing ice cream with her daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka). There is always palpable tension between mother and daughter. When Sally leaves half of her desert “I’m full” there is a venomous exchange of looks. After Sally leaves Betty finishes her portion.
Her obese mother in law suggests pills. Mother’s little helpers.
The doctor, who states that rapid weight gain is usually triggered by psychological issues, refuses to subscribe without a physical exam. This leads to the discovery of a growth on her thyroid gland.
Possibly the Big C.
Betty immediately calls Don.
While now divorced he is concerned. Mostly at the prospect of raising their three kids.
Which he is reluctant to share with Megan (Jessica Pare). She is hurt when it is finally revealed to her.
There is more to Megan than we had assumed.
She deftly upstages him in their every scene together.
For example, when the Drapers host a dinner with a bourgeois Heinz executive and his dumpy wife.
Making nice with the beans people. How enervating.
But Megan sparkles through a dull meeting.
Actually seems to enjoy herself. What an asset.
How smart of Don not to bring her back stage to the Stones concert.
She might have proved to be the Maggie Trudeau of Madison Avenue.
Meanwhile, back in the office, the plot thickens. Sortah.
Apparently, the advertising business of the 1960s was ultra WASPY.
It was the old boy network.
All about the Ivy League and three martini lunches.
Cripes. They even drink at the office. It’s a wonder any work gets done.
Peggy, working class and a woman, however talented, is a rare attempt to break the glass ceiling.
More typical is the socially connected twit Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) who is taking control of a power grab at the firm by landing new accounts. In a general meeting he unveils Mohawk Airlines which he has snookered away from Roger Sterling (John Slattery).
In a cutaway shot from Pete’s triumph we see Roger fuming. Significantly, in an aside, he mentions that he knew Pete as a kid and accordingly brought him aboard. Now the tables have turned.
This sets up another potential reversal.
Because of expanding business, Peggy, who will not be the chief copywriter for Mohawk, has been charged to research and hire a new associate.
From a pile of portfolios she settles on the most creative. It belongs to a Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman). Warning her about potential trouble and competition the art director Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson) advises her to go for “mediocre.” It works every time.
But Peggy, silly woman, prefers to be challenged.
And how, as it turns out during an interview in which the wheels come off. Ginsberg wearing a garish plaid jacket is over the top. Dissing Peggy he demands to meet Don Draper, his idol. She loses control stating that she and only she will interview him.
Clearly, Peggy has made a terrible mistake. But it seems, yet again, the final decision will rest with Don and Roger. Ginsberg is hired and will surely be a wild card as the season plays out.
As will Don’s new secretary, an African American woman, Dawn.
She has been hired because of a fluke and prank.
Now, it seems, the firm includes a Jew and an African American.
The Times They Are a Changing.
Hey. That’s the ‘60s.
Links to Videos