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“When is everything going to get back to normal?”, Roger asks Don in this second episode of Mad Men Season Five, and I couldn’t agree more. Don and Harry are backstage at the Rolling Stones, but there’s no pulsing track to accompany the ride, and only an offer of a joint to make it any way rock and roll. Betty, the pristine woman who was once terrified after a car accident because of how it could have made her daughter look, is eating ice cream sundaes by the bowlful. The carefree attitude of our mad men and women seems to have cost them a little, or maybe it’s just as Megan points out to her husband – they’ve grown up and are now simply so square, they’ve got corners.
Normal for Mad Men, however, isn’t normal at all – it’s inappropriate at best, and that’s what, as fans of Mad Men, we’ve become used to. Perhaps this is where ‘Tea Leaves’ felt strange – even with Betty’s sudden shock of a tumour, Don isn’t allowed to wallow in memories and scotch-tinted nostalgia as he may well have done in earlier seasons – in fact we barely see how it affects him before he finds out that she is in fact alright.
So as there’s no scene of Mr Draper feeling weak and emotional and behaving rashly, we’re left with his ex wife, alone in a hollow house, perhaps twice her size, but half herself. Whilst at first I was hooting along with the rest of them at ballooning Betty – it could not have happened to a worse character – by the end there (ironically) isn’t much of her to laugh at – she’s lost everything whilst Don has Optimistic Yet Realistic Megan (action dolls are being produced as I type).
Speaking of Zou Bisou Bisou, when will it feel normal that Don has such an accepting yet strong wife? The issue of psychology reared its ugly head for his ex once again this episode, but Don’s new wife Megan seems to be taking everything in her stride. There are already signs that mixing work with pleasure may not necessarily lead to happiness as Megan reluctantly agreed that talking about work at the dinner table isn’t her scene, so perhaps in this sense Don will be back to playing unhappy families some time soon.
In fact the only hope for anything normal regarding Mad Men is the hilarious new addition to the fold, Michael Ginsberg. Like Pete Campbell, but if he actually liked his parents, I’m predicting big things for this young copywriter – that is, if Roger goes on another booze trip with Mohawk and forgets that he wanted to fire him. With Daddy Draper getting old in the tooth it’s nice to see some fresh blood livening up the SCDP office – who knows, perhaps more lawnmower type hijinks will be following shortly.
Is there such a thing as normality in the world of Mad Men, and what does it mean if there is? Probably a lot of things for a lot of people – for Don it’s finding out what people really and truly mean by what they say – even if he does it backstage at a Rolling Stones gig. For Betty it’s being loved for what she looks like, so even when she finds out she doesn’t have cancer, she still can’t feel good about herself. For Roger, it’s a drink in one hand and a silver smooth quip on the tip of the tongue. Roger’s normal world may be changing, but that’s not to say that Mad Men should do – let’s hope that whilst the characters continue to grow in surprising ways this season (in Betty’s case, perhaps not too much more) there’ll still be some Old Fashioned left to pour, and I will be first in line with an empty glass.
What the episode should have been called – Tea Time (For One)
What I’d like to see happen next time (but won’t) – Don becomes obese in solidarity with Betty, Michael has a boxing match with Pete for the title of Bastard To Peggy Who Is At The Same Time Strangely Attracted To Her, Harry comes up with a brilliant idea that goes to plan faultlessly and everyone finds him charming and elegant.