Mad Men: “You’re so square, you’ve got corners.”

April 3rd, 2012

SPOILER ALERT: FAT BETTY! Ok, so I know she’s a fictional character and all, but I’m taking such joy in Fat Betty. As a not-skinny person, I always take great pleasure when someone who’s been hateful to others for their weight packs on some pounds themselves. It’s delicious, delicious schadenfreude and I will not apologize for it.

I know some other stuff happened last night. Some important stuff, in fact. Important stuff with Betty, even! But none of that cold overshadow January Jones, wearing a fat suit on top of her natural post-pregnancy weight. She’ll be skinny and perfect again before the season is over, surely, but for now, I’m going to revel in it. Plus, it makes Betty a more interesting and sympathetic character, something we’ve sorely needed.

As I was spinning around in my office chair, waiting for Mad Men to come on and for my cookies to be delivered (What? It was raining in New York last night.), I thought to myself, “Self, I bet we’re going to start this episode with Betty.” Mrs. Francis was so conspicuously absent during last week’s two hour all-drinking, all-smoking extravaganza that it seemed like there would be no other way to kick things off this week. And I was right! God, I love it when I’m right.

Where I wasn’t right about, though, was everything else about how Betty would show up. She’s always been the type who grips even harder to any kind of control she might have when things get stressful, so if anything, I assumed that Betty would be more tight-jawed and autocratic than ever, making Sally’s life a living hell and pushing Henry away at lightning speed. On the contrary – Betty got fat, yo. And I know that January Jones was likely still getting over being pregnant when the first episodes of this season filmed, I have no doubt that if Matthew Weiner had wanted her skinny for this season, he would have held filming until she starved herself back to normal. That’s consistent with everything we know about how Weiner, an autocrat in his own right, runs this show.

Again, au contraire. Betty couldn’t even be zipped into her old clothes, which contrasted sharply with the next thing we saw, which was Don easily zipping young, lithe Megan into a very late-60s looking dress to go to dinner with the Heinz exec and his wife. What Megan lacks in girth, though, she makes up for in awkwardness. In the process of trying to make basic small talk with Don’s client, she told them that Don’s divorced and more or less that she was his secretary when they met. In that era, that’s all “we met at work” could mean. Still, the Heinz folks seem intent on looking forward and being modern, so they ignored Megan and told Don to go out and get them the Rolling Stones for a jingle. “Heinz is on my side.” It’s not brilliance, but it’s also not a Bean Ballet, so points for Mr. Anonymous Heinz Exec.

Mad Men: Youre so square, youve got corners. Mad Men 3

Back at the office the next day, we learned a little bit more about a variety of things that happened during last week’s episode, including the addition of at least one new black staff member, Don’s secretary, Dawn. That gave Harry the opportunity to pull both a subtle reference to “you people all look the same” and an “eye-talian” in the same scene, proving once and for all that he’s not only a virulent sexist, but also a ready and versatile racist.

The Mohawk deal that Pete (and Roger, sort of) went about securing last week had also come through, but not without a little passive-aggressive office musical chairs over who should host what meeting and where. Peggy was instructed to find a male freelance writer to put on the account, though, and that’s exactly what she went about doing, despite the fact that she knew it could put her own career in jeopardy. Peggy follows instructions well, for better or worse.

Back at the Francis House of Darkness and Wood Panelling, Betty and the elder Mrs. Francis were squaring off in a Battle of the Fat Ladies. Betty’s mother-in-law had come over to tell Betty to take some diet pills and lose the weight to keep her son happy, and naturally, the best comeback that Betty would come up with was, “YOU take some diet pills!”

We know how Betty feels about being fat, though, so she dutifully went to the doctor to request some sort of amphetamines to help her stop eating Bugles and her feelings. Her doctor insisted on doing a physical exam, during which he found what felt like a lump on Betty’s thyroid. Ruh-roh. Would cancerous Betty be a better or (somehow, against all odds) worse human being than non-cancerous Betty? Only one way to find out.

After she went home and did a little bit of nominal shouting to see if Henry could be summoned from behind some giant planks of mahogany, Betty did exactly what we knew she would do: she called Don at work to tell him that, oh no, she might be dying. She didn’t call Henry at work first, you’ll notice. She went straight to Don, as if she was almost excited to have a reason to call him.

Henry was somehow notified, though, and he came home to find Betty in the bath, feeling too fat to be viewed. He suggested that they schedule her for a test tomorrow and that in the meantime, she should have a brandy. In 1966, a brandy or four cures everything. Come to think of it, 2012 isn’t all that different. Still, Betty made Henry turn around while she got out of the bath – he wasn’t drunk yet, after all, and wifely weight gain was one of the legal grounds for divorce in New York state back then.

Mad Men: Youre so square, youve got corners. Mad Men 2

Back at SCDP, Peggy had gone about the work of calling in books and bringing one copywriter, Michael Ginsberg, in for an interview. As if the name hadn’t tipped you off, Ginsberg is Jewish, and Weiner (also a member of the tribe) wrote him like the pushiest, most stereotypical New York Jew you’ve ever encountered, except for the fact that he appeared to have picked his outfit from the Pete Campbell WASP Plaid Blazer Collection at Sears. I halfway expected a pastrami sandwich to fall out of his briefcase.

Ginsberg treated Peggy like a secretary, pulled his crumpled-up resumé out of his sleeve and continually insisted that he wanted to skip the interview and go directly to Don. At first Peggy reacted with defensiveness, and then with righteous indignation, and then she fell in love with him a little bit. It’s the same thing that happened with her and her boyfriend last season – at first he was offensive, and then he was really offensive, and then he had her heart forever or at least for a little while.

Peggy didn’t even have time to gather her thoughts before Roger suddenly decided that Ginsberg was hired, though. Not only had he already promised Mohawk, but Roger felt that having a Jewish dude on board made the firm seem cool and modern, and that’s more or less how Roger the manchild makes all his decisions – slightly drunk declarations about what’s going to be happening because he thinks it sounds good. That leads to a lot of good one-liners, but also to losing Lucky Strike. Speaking of Jewish people, can we have Rachel Menken back? She was always my favorite of the Don Draper paramours.

Back in Bettyville, it was biopsy time. At the doctor’s office, Betty ran into an old friend who we had never met before (at least that I remember) who was there to be treated for some kind of cancer, and after their appointments, they met for lunch at a hotel that looked like it was probably supposed to be the Plaza. The scene that followed, wherein Betty asked questions about how it felt to be slowly dying, was one of the only sympathetic ones that I can remember from the character in the past two season. The entire episode, in fact, painted a more diplomatic picture of Betty than we’ve seen in a long time, which made me wonder if perhaps Weiner has taken some of the loud criticism of how her character is written to heart. Everyone else in the cast gets to have their positive and negative attributes, but in recent seasons, Betty is nothing but flatly negative and entirely unsympathetic.

Still, though, I couldn’t help myself from cackling when the “fortune teller” came over to read their fortunes during lunch (tea) and told Betty that she’s a rock on which everyone around her depends. It made Betty get weepy and sad about her surely impending death, but come on. Everyone hates Betty. Her own second husband doesn’t even like her all that much, and I’m halfway sure that Sally is eventually going to snap and stab the shit out of her. The gap between the way Betty hopes to be seen and what the audience (and her fellow characters) actually think about her was so cavernous that I was afraid her lunch partner might fall into it, never to be seen again. Which, of course, made me (and probably you) wonder if Betty was perhaps a little bit excited for the chance to martyr herself. More on that later.

First, though, Don and Harry had to go in pursuit of the Rolling Stones during a New York tour stop. Don’s thinly veiled, white-hot contempt for Harry so far this season (he even turned down a great veal parm just because he’d have to eat it with Harry) is so utterly spectacular, but I’m not entirely sure why it gives me so much joy. Perhaps because Harry has evolved from a lovable, bumbling buffoon trying to make a name for himself to a smarmy, self-important mid-manager with little regard for anyone who can’t immediately advance his career or show him her boobs? Actually, yeah, that’s probably it.

Anyway, the Stones. One thing that’s usually missing from Mad Men’s version of 1960s America is how important youth culture was to the changing face of the country, and seeing Don and Harry in their suits (as Megan said, Don’s so square, he has corners) backstage at a Rolling Stones concert with a bunch of long-haired, pot-smoking teenagers brought that gap in the show into stark relief. One of the teens set her sights on Don, and for a brief moment, I was terrified that he might bang a 16-year-old. Don came through, though – he got all Dad-like on her instead while Harry was inside a dressing room, accidentally signing the wrong band. Afterward, it became clear that Betty isn’t the only one who eats her feelings. Anyone else have a strange craving for White Castle?

While Don was out courting rockstars, Betty was at home, using her newfound martyr status to summon up the strength to have sex with Henry, which they apparently hadn’t done in quite some time. Henry seems unfailingly patient and understanding about the whole thing, but now that Betty might have finally found the victimhood for which she’s always been looking, it’s actually made her a tolerable person. Afterward, she had a genuinely sad dream about the family after her death, during which Sally was actually sad. Might be wishful thinking, lady. (Ok, I’m kidding.)

Mad Men: Youre so square, youve got corners. Mad Men 1

The next day at the Draper household, Don finally got around to telling Megan that Betty might have cancer while the pair was getting ready to go to Fire Island. Although Megan’s reaction was a bit petulant, she did have a point – using Betty’s maybe-illness to get out of going to visit her friends looks pretty terrible when you consider that Don went to a Rolling Stones concert the night before, even if it was for work. We all know that hanging out with a bunch of 20-somethings is the last thing Don wants to do no matter the health status of his ex-wife, and even if he was kind of bummed, it’s a crappy excuse. Still, Megan’s reaction reflected her somewhat neophytic maturity level.

It would seem that Don didn’t end up going to Fire Island, though, because he was back in the office the next day, interviewing the Jewish copywriter that Roger had already actually hired. Peggy sat in on the interview and was a bundle of nerves, apparently afraid that Ginsberg would behave poorly, which would reflect poorly on her for bringing him in to waste Don’s time. To the contrary, Michael (I think that’s his first name) actually did a fantastic job and seemed to genuinely impress Don, a fact that both relieve Peggy and infuriate her. And then, of course, it forced her to fall a little more in love with him. Just wait and see, you guys! I’m sure of this one.

While all of that was going on, a very important phone call was happening at the Francis Wood Panelling Emporium. Betty got the test results for her biopsy back, and based on the look on her face, the nurse might as well have said, “You’re not dying, you’re just fat.” That’s all that Betty heard, anyway. She seemed happier when she thought she was cancerous, because not only did that give her the victimhood for which she’s always been searching, but as Megan later pointed out, it gave her a reason to call Don. Say what you want about everyone’s least favorite Canuck chanteuse, but a lot of the time, she’s right on the nose. Henry, once again, acted like the husband that every girl, fat or skinny, wants to have. He loves his Fat Betty.

Back at SCDP, things were continuing apace with Pete and Roger. Pete had gathered everyone into his office to announce the addition of the Mohawk account, and even though he had promised the day-to-day Mohawk operations to Roger, he made a point to ensure that everyone in the office knew that the account was his coup and he was merely giving it to Roger as an act of charity, all the while staring squarely at him, watching Roger squirm.

After being publicly bent over, Roger retired to Don’s office to complain about all the changes happening around them, and tellingly, to wonder when everything would go back to normal. Roger doesn’t want to admit to himself that Pete Campbell’s ascendance and the existence of Peggy Olson in the copy department and the mere presence of non-white staff members is now the new normal, and the days of his office being strictly an Ol’ Boys Club might be dwindling. He’s not a man who has much experience with getting anything but exactly what he wants, and that’s becoming harder and harder. The world will never be Roger’s world again, which is likely a realization that he’ll have to deal with sometime before the end of the season.

We rounded out the episode with two home visits, the first being with Ginsberg the new Jewish copywriter. He had told Peggy during his initial interview that he had no family, but that wasn’t exactly accurate; from the short scene in his dark, cramped apartment, it was clear that he lives with and perhaps supports his aging father, an immigrant from Europe and a reciter of Hebrew prayers. That’s the only hard information we gained from the scene, but it was very clear that the life Ginsberg leads is quite different from the average lifestyle of an SCDP employee. Hopefully we’ll get a similar peek into the life of Don’s secretary, Dawn, at some point in the season – in order for the show to give the era’s race issues a fair treatment, they should be seen from a variety of angles, not just the white folks’ perspective.

Our second and final home visit was back with Betty, who was trying to have a familial moment with Sally over some ice cream sundaes. Sally’s hitting the tween years though, which means that on top of her generalized hatred of Betty, she just doesn’t really want to hang out with mom. Where Betty used to have to swat food out of Sally’s hands for fear that she’d get fat, now Sally’s abandoning ice cream sundaes at the kitchen table, which Betty mournfully finished up on top of her own. I won’t lie to you, I was hoping that she’d grab some Bugles and sprinkle them on top. Maybe next week.

Stray Observations:

– There’s been a lot of both talk and foreshadowing about windows and falling this season. Megan’s time on the balcony last week, Roger and Ginsberg joking about throwing things out the office window, Roger’s metaphor about hanging from a ledge with Pete stamping on his fingers. The great majority of the season’s promotional materials emphasized the falling man from the opening credits, so is someone literally going out the window this season? Is it Roger? Has he always been the falling man in the credits while Don sits coolly on the couch?

-Megan seemed a little less calculated and a little more like a young, sympathetic woman swept up in a powerful man’s wake this week. I still can’t figure out exactly which direction her character is headed.

-If Betty has a tumor on her thyroid, even if it’s benign, couldn’t it still be what’s making her fat? I know that Betty’s weight gain is supposed to be a signifier of her unhappiness, but the medical explanation hasn’t quite been cleared for my taste.
Betty and Don are totally going to have an affair.
As are Peggy and Ginsberg.

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