There are two things you should have noticed within the first minute of last night’s episode of Mad Men. First, it was directed by Jon Hamm. Second, Betty Francis, formerly Betty Draper, is fat. That’s right, folks, fat.
I couldn’t believe how much this traumatized me. January Jones is half the reason why I even watch this show. Now I guess it’s more like three-quarters. I was so accustomed to seeing the modelesque Betty smolder and fume in gorgeous 50’s attire. The opening scene has Betty feigning illness to skip her new husband’s event because she can’t fit into her dress. Formerly a model, she has “gotten comfortable” as a housewife and mopes in front of the television in the middle of the day in her robe and slippers. She’s still pretty, but she’s plump, and the depression and disappointment is written all over her face. Hamm handles Betty’s transformation subtly, but without losing any of its shock power. Shadowed cuts of her full form and brief glimpses of a more rounded arm communicate her condition quietly. As he should, Hamm glosses over the status quo of ideal thinness, because obesity and using amphetamines for weight loss are still unexplored territories for the characters.
Although Betty has proved in previous seasons to be cold-hearted and pathologically selfish, seeing Betty grovel at the doctor’s office for diet pills makes me just want to hug her now ample berth and say, “Betty, darling, step away from the Bugles.” Even though her thyroid cancer scare incited some pity, I’m still waiting for Betty to come back to the screen in full glory. That being said, January Jones’s skill within Betty’s new dimension demonstrates her excellent range and ability to adapt.
Meanwhile, Don Draper and Harry Crane, one of the media department executives, have trouble procuring The Rolling Stones for the latest Heinz Ketchup case. The clash between the two generations is astounding and amusing. Don looks outmoded and old next to the gaggle of pot-smoking, screeching girls.
I do have one qualm with Hamm’s direction in this scene. His oversimplification of a youthful point of view (the teenagers fail to recognized the name of Charlton Heston and talk about recent television shows like Bewitched) might have driven home the theme of Don’s increasing age, but it was one-dimensional and shallow. What caught my attention, though, was his interaction with a certain reckless youth. After she accuses the older generations of preventing fun “because you never had any,” Don gets serious. “We’re worried about you.” I expect it will dawn on Don that Megan, only 26, has more things in common with those groupies than himself in a terrible, conscience-gripping anagnorisis.
Speaking of dawn, Don has a new secretary of the same name. Dawn is African American, and Harry’s brief first awkward interaction with her is only the beginning. More verbal fumbling and racist undertones to follow.
I’m also unconvinced that Don and Betty’s divorce is permanent. Don is genuinely concerned when Betty calls him with news that she might have thyroid cancer. She begs him, “Say what you always say.” She still wants him to use those oh-so-comforting, but oh-so-overused words, “Everything is going to be ok.”
And Megan’s unfeeling reaction to Betty’s brush with death will certainly make the distinction between the two women’s differing levels of maturity even clearer. Megan’s arousing performance of “Zou Bissou Bissou” still rings in our ears. How long will it take for Don to realize Betty’s sophistication and grace, albeit frigid, suits him just as perfectly as a skinny black tie and a slate-gray suit? And hopefully this medical stint will steer Betty in the right direction: away from the ice cream sundaes.
Peggy continues to be the poster child for female oppression in the office. Sterling is still unconvinced of her advertising genius, so he charges her with the task of hiring a male to join him on the return of Mohawk Airlines. She reluctantly interviews the humorous, quirky, and blatantly Jewish Michael Ginsberg, played by Ben Feldmen.
The show’s distinction between races, religions, and genders and the semi-atheistic Caucasian males makes a statement for the era’s tolerance transfiguration. In Michael’s case, his childish honesty and quick wit impresses Sterling and horrifies Peggy. She can’t believe she’s being passed up, but is “scared” by Michael’s versatility. Feldmen’s acting draws out new characteristics from the old cast. Peggy seems both more feminine and more power-hungry against this new arrival. His startling sincerity is a breath of fresh air.
She would do well to get on Michael’s side, and quick. Sterling still has to endure the prattling of Peter Campbell, the last associate Sterling hired. Am I the only one who wants to rip his prep school smirk right off his face with a wrench? His humor and bluntness are refreshing, although his ambition makes him, in the words of Peggy, “just like everyone else.” I’m interested to see where this character goes, though I wouldn’t be surprised if a small flame of romance developed between Peggy and her new hire.
Hamm executed this episode with a somewhat uninformed hand. Some of the shots were oddly angled and discomposed. The advent of a new era, that is, Michael Ginsberg, should freshen up the aging cast, and will complement nicely Betty’s long-anticipated return to the show.
Meghan Thomassen is a Boston native studying English, Philosophy and Literature at the University of Notre Dame. She aspires to work in publishing, or travel the world, or do both. Her favorite authors include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Plato, and Oscar Wilde. She can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow her on Twitter @thomassentropes.