Season 5, Episode 3, Tea Leaves

“When is everything going to get back to normal?” Roger Sterling asks a question that will most likely echo in the upcoming episodes of this season. What is ‘normal’ for men like Roger and Don, men who have seen combat and grew up in the wake of the Great Depression? Certainly it’s a different kind of normal than the one they market and advertise to the Baby Boomers – now teenagers that can protest war and see the Rolling Stones on their first American tour in 1965. ‘Tea Leaves’ is a stare-off episode.

The Old are staring at the New, puzzled by their own creation, and the New are staring back boldly. The are staring back defiantly in the form of teenage girls with a twinkle of the sexual revolution in their eyes and in the form of an endlessly smug Pete Campbell finally getting to make quips at Roger’s expense as he brings in the big business. Old and New together are desperately seeking what the future holds, and its far more than a fortune teller in cheap costume jewellery can tell us.

While Megan got her chance to shine (and shake it) in last week’s episode, Betty’s cancer scare story line took precedence this week, reducing the new Mrs. Draper to a few brief scenes. We haven’t been shown these two in a room together yet, but there’s an apparent power shift the writers are playing with here by having each woman dominate their own separate episodes. All it serves to do is scream that the former and current Mrs. Draper’s first encounter will be salacious, as if the catty visual comparison of the two women zipping up their dresses wasn’t signal enough.

‘Fat Betty’, as the Internet have begun to refer to her, isn’t the most seamless (there’s a terrible pun in there somewhere) of Matthew Weiner’s storylines. Understandably, they needed an excuse to mask January Jones’ real pregnancy. Having built up the ice queen persona for four seasons, it’s a reasonable question that’s asked: Would she be missed? “You are a great soul. You mean so much to the people around you,” the fortune teller tells Betty, but is that necessarily a good thing? Once she finds out she’s in the clear, this ‘great soul’ is still left with the mess she’s created for the people around her: a failing marriage to a good man who’s turning bitter, the thousands upon thousands of complexes she’s given Sally about womanhood and beauty, and the dark way she wraps herself around Don, still looking for an excuse to call him. Although the future looked bleak for Betty as a sick woman, things don’t seem to brighten any now that she’s “just fat”.

The future in the creative department at SCDP is looking decidedly brighter with the addition of Michael Ginsburg. Ginsburg is the male version of Peggy. Being the male version of Peggy, however, means that Michael has the ingenuity and the advantage of being male. Peggy finds Michael insufferable during their first meeting, but he easily charms Don with his boldness, and even pulls it off wearing jeans to an interview. Michael is able to embrace the Beat Generation (“Allan Ginsburg?” “I must be related to him somehow!”) while Peggy could only awkwardly smoke a joint last season and lie to her superiors that boyfriend, Abe is a “journalist”. Michael is the same sort of underdog as Peggy, but just born with the right set of genitalia to help beat the odds.

Everyone is uncertain of the future. Old and young are tied together in that uncertainty. However, what makes the difference for the characters of Mad Men is if they can look the uncertainty in the eye and accept they’re never getting back to ‘normal’.