COOL: Mad Men S5E3 discussion “Tea Leaves”

Posted on April 2, 2012 by

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words: TA

Let me start by saying: I love this show again!
I have always loved Betty—not as a person, because she’s a complete narcissist, but as a character. This episode proved to me what a great character she is: she has always been the person on the show most defined by societal expectations of womanhood; she has always tried to be the embodiment of the ‘perfect woman,” as defined by mid-20th-century, middle-class American standards. And the outward quest for perfection has always been accompanied by utter hopelessness and depression on the inside which she could never admit to, lest it make her less perfect. See the vicious cycle there? For a long time she was able to blame Don for all her troubles (remember when she was seeing a therapist?), but now that he’s out of the picture, she’s at a loss, so she seeks food for comfort and hates herself for being fat. And when she suspects she might be dying, she seems almost relieved. Poor Betty. Part of me hopes for her that she will have her “consciousness raised,” but a bigger part of me knows that people like that seldom change—and for the sake of realism, and interesting writing, I prefer so see all the various incarnations Betty’s depression and narcissism takes.

There’s a lot more to explore in this episode, so here are some topics that stood out to me in this episode:

Jews: Let’s get it out of the way. I don’t know—this character was a bit cringeworthy to me. I LIKE that they’re trying to include a Jew whose parent is a recent immigrant, possibly a holocaust survivor, who knows. The “rye bread and farmer cheese” was spot on, but the priestly blessing was NOT. LDS: this seemed to me a clear example of where secular Jewish writers felt that they needed something “religious” for Jewish authenticity. They didn’t, and it wasn’t authentic. But anyway, moving on…

Black People: Yay! There’s a black character on Mad Men! With a few lines!! Ok, my enthusiasm is waning. PLEASE tell me we’re going to follow her home, Mr. Weiner. It’s high time for us to get a closer look at the black experience of the 1960s. (Roger Sterling’s racist comment about her was perfect—I like how this show isn’t trying to whitewash racism, but it needs more depth in regard to its black characters to balance that out.)

Fatness: I actually felt that Betty’s weight gain was dealt with quite sensitively, Mad Men style, in which Betty’s harshest critics (herself and her mother-in-law) were shown to be superficial and / or hypocritical. I like that Henry really didn’t care, and that Betty was shown still able to enjoy herself sexually. Even Betty’s friend really didn’t seem to care.

Teenagers: The scene backstage at the rolling stones concert was really wonderful. Seeing Don in this milieu, you could sense that the real generation gap isn’t between people his age and the teens, but between people of Don’s generation and Harry’s. There was a seismic cultural shift in the 1960s, and people who were of a certain age or mentality before it simply had different notions of adulthood, masculinity / femininity, and desired / normative behavior. Harry wants to be / is ‘cool’; Don is not. (I also like that these 14 year old girls were sexualized and smoking pot—something I think we rarely get to see anymore because of current outsize fears of pedophilia / drug taking. But it felt real.)

Sexism: Oh, it’s still there, in spades. “Preferably someone with a penis.” I love that’s the chief qualification for getting a job. And the way Michael treats Peggy when he meets her. It’s good that they’re keeping this theme upfront and center even as time is marching on and we’re moving on to other issues.

I’m sure there’s more…thoughts?

originally posted here

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