This season of Mad Men is all about power – who has it, who doesn’t, who wants it, and what they’ll do to get it. Episode three opens on one character whose omission from the first two episodes was glaringly obvious: Betty Draper Francis. Poor Betty, a former model who in preceding seasons used her sex appeal (and occasional enormous bouffant) to manipulate and coerce, has put on a bit of weight. The little Draper kids struggle to zip their poor mother into an old dress – no doing.
As a metaphor this is flawless: the entire episode is about generational differences. It’s 1966, smack dab in the midst of perhaps the most important era of change in twentieth century America. Beneath the surface of hippies, free love, civil rights, and rock’n’roll, one generation is trying to squeeze the other into a neat little package.
Heinz, the company that turned down Peggy’s “bean ballet” pitch, now wants the Rolling Stones to record a version of “Time is on my side” but replace “time” with “Heinz.” The kiddies love the Stones, and if those sexy long-haired Brits were to sing about ketchup and baked beans, well, the teens would buy ‘em up lickety split! Although it seems a pretty laughable concept, Don and Harry head to the nearest Stones show to meet with the band’s manager. In the dingy basement of the venue, they find themselves waiting outside the band’s dressing room for the perpetually late rockers.
Don, buttoned up in his square gray suit, and Harry, with his stylish black glasses frames and faux-mod getup, stand in a corner surrounded by teenagers in miniskirts and ripped jeans smoking joints. The kids are just as confused by the presence of Harry – who tries to impress with a story of naked Charleston Heston and gets the response of “Who’s that?” – and Don as the two of them are about the young ones. Harry tries so hard to impress…and then signs a band he thinks is the Stones only to find out they’re actually The Tradewinds. Don’s objective, analytical thinking is what makes him a brilliant ad man, but he has not a clue why anyone would be so passionate about the Rolling Stones. “You need to relax,” a pretty young girl tells him, removing his tie and unbuttoning his shirt. It’s a direct reference to something Megan says to Don about his suit: “You’re so square you’ve got corners.” Don’s suave, he’s smart, and he’s intensely charming; he isn’t, however, young.
Betty, while also middle-aged, acts every bit the child she is inside. When Henry’s mother Pauline (to whom Betty now bears a striking and frightening resemblance, down to the limp bob and double chin) tells Betty she really ought to look into diet pills, Betty rushes to the doctor to line up for her prescription. When the doctor examines her, he finds a nodule, a tumor, on her thyroid. She rushes home to tell Henry, but when Henry isn’t there she immediately picks up the phone to call Don at work. “Say that thing you always say,” she begs after telling him the news. “Birdy,” Don replies (using an old nickname we haven’t heard in ages), “everything’s going to be okay.” That’s all it takes to calm her down: kind words from her ex husband, who is in the end more of a father figure to her than anything else.
Betty spends much of this episode in a voluminous, quilted, salmon-colored housecoat. In the Francis household – a castle-like mansion with soaring ceilings decorated entirely in forest green and oppressive earth tones, she looks every bit the child she acts. Henry, it seems, is just as frustrated as we are with Betty’s immaturity. He treats her like everyone else does – a kid. Janie Bryant’s costuming is brilliant, and this season she’s amped it up. Betty, in her 50s pastels and ugly flowers, clashes so severely with her surroundings as to make your eyes itch.
Speaking of clashing, Peggy is responsible for bringing in a new guy to handle the recently re-acquired Mohawk Airlines account. Upon seeing his daring, provacative ads, she brings in one Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) to interview at SCDP. The guy shows up in a plaid jacket, polka-dotted shirt, and patterned tie. He only wants to know where Don is, and berates Peggy for (basically) having a vagina. He’s not the only one to tell her they want someone with a penis in this episode (the other is, of course, Roger Sterling). Peggy’s struggle to prove herself in a male-dominated world gets more and more infuriating every episode.
Don approves of this kid’s moxie and sweet-talking, and suddenly we get an unexpected glimpse into Michael’s home life. He lives in a tiny walk-up with an overbearing father who prays over his wayward son, telling him “Get girls.” Apparently, here’s our first new cast member of season five. (SCDP not only hired an African-American secretary for Don, but now they’ve hired a Jew. They’re just rolling along with the changing times!)
Pete Campbell plays a horrible card against Roger, who, to be fair, has been messing with Pete since the beginning of romancing Mohawk. Pete calls everyone into his office to take credit for bringing on Mohawk and to wrest control from Roger, who pouts that he’ll never hire another young guy again. Pete’s character is undergoing perhaps the swiftest changes in this season; last episode Trudy soothingly muttered, “Dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition.” Pete’s dissatisfaction is sliding away as he learns to play the game, and his ambition is burning like wildfire.
Don, who’s understandably frightened that Betty might have cancer, tries to cancel a Fire Island date with Megan’s friends. After patting the bed (“Sit down, honey!”) and telling her, as one would a daughter, that Betty may have cancer, Megan says rightly that they will handle this news as best they can. “Megan, you’re all of 26 years old!” he chastises. The age difference is shriekingly apparent not only to everyone around them, but to the couple themselves. What’s interesting is that in this episode, Megan acts far more like an adult than Betty ever has.
When Betty hears from the doctor that her tumor is benign, she receives the news with a stone face, and immediately turns on Henry. “Your mother’s obese!” she says, lamenting her own weight gain. She hoped, of course, to blame it on an illness. In Betty’s final scene, Sally gets up from the table, telling her mother she’s full. Betty sits alone in her dark kitchen, finishing Sally’s hot fudge sundae after she’s already sucked up her own. (What a different Betty this is from the one we first met, who smoked and never ate.)
Waiting for the Rolling Stones, one of the teenagers, frustrated with Don’s fatherly questions, tells him, “None of you want us to have a good time just ’cause you never did.” No, Don answers, “We’re just worried about you.” Well, thanks, Pop. Likewise, Roger, genuinely confused and concerned for himself and the rest of his generation, wonders aloud to Don, “When is everything going to get back to normal?”
Well, sir, I hate to tell you, but the answer to that question is a resounding “never.” Watching our cast of characters adjust this season is going to be a delight.
How did you feel about this episode? What do you think of Michael? Are Betty and Henry doomed?