MAD MEN 5.03 ‘Tea Leaves’

Betty returns with a new look and a health scare, which reveals some surprising implications.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud

 After an extremely long and massively detailed season premiere, Mad Men's fifth season returned into its regular stride on Sunday with a more limited focus, allowing fans to breathe and fully absorb the experience rather than race to reacquaint. And as timing would have it, the one missing piece in last week's return – Betty Francis, formerly Betty Draper – has returned, but with a whole new set of baggage than we're used to from the frigid ice queen.

Yes, the perpetually unsatisfied housewife everyone loves to hate has returned, and the pin-up picture of post-war femininity has suddenly ballooned into borderline obesity. She hasn't been able to drop those post-pregnancy pounds, it seems – either that or she's got a deeply committed love for Eddie Murphy's penchant for fat suits. Picture Norbit in a billowing pink housecoat.

But seriously – the fat looks terrible. It simply doesn't sit right, and rather than putting forth an image of a pudgy beauty struggling with extra weight, the fat suit adds an unintentional comedy streak that distracts from the episode entirely – just do a search for #FatBetty on Twitter for evidence.

Betty's mother-in-law Pauline stops by to offer some advice: she should get a prescription for diet pills. But just as we're envisioning the future episodes which document her decline into the hell of pill-head spazziness, Betty gets sideswiped by the doctor, who tells her that throat cancer may be the cause of her extra mass. There's a lump on her lymph nodes. 

She calls Don in a panic, even before telling Henry, and in a touching moment the two reconnect as he obliges her need to her him "say what you always say" – which is, of course, that "everything is going to be fine." The moment was brief, but the way each dealt with it had a greater impact; Don simply didn't tell Megan until the next day, at which point she questioned his ability to trust her reactions. It's fascinating to see the subtle indications of the two women's particular discomfort with the idea of one another. Betty also didn't tell her husband Henry at all, which doesn't please him in the slightest (he discovers their interaction when Don calls to check on her).

After a hellishly morose nightmare in which she's passed away and the kids are left with Henry and Pauline in a cold, lonely kitchen, Betty gets a call indicating that the lump was benign. "Turns out I'm just fat!" she says, with a mix of relief and humiliation that borders on disappointment. At the end of the episode, when Sally decides she doesn't want any more of her sundae, Betty is clearly unhappy as she scarfs down her daughter's leftovers (after finishing her own, of course). She's starved for something else entirely, and the pampered trophy wife of a politician is not the kind of life she will ever be content with.

This is an untenable scenario, and it's not presented as a workable existence for Betty. That, coupled with the too-sweet-not-to-spoil romance between Don and Megan, leads one to believe that we're going to see an inevitable reunion between the turbulently divorced two. It's early, it's premature, it's the last thing I want to see (mostly because I'm among the legions of fans head over heels for Megan's spark) but I'm calling it. And there's no way they're going to make it a dreamy, willful return. I predict at least a near-tragedy.

Meanwhile, back at the offices, SCDP is trying to woo The Rolling Stones into reworking their hit "Time Is On My Side" for a Heinz baked beans commercial, at the request of their client. This, of course, is never going to happen. Harry and Don head to a Stones concert with expectations of meeting the band and discussing the idea with management, but they never get past the door. Instead, they spend their time bantering with groupies, two square pitch-men in a world of exploratory excitement. It's the least cool we've ever seen Don, where he represents the old guard as he turns down a joint and lectures a girl about her life choices.



Lastly, Peggy handpicks a neurotically annoying, overly confident Jewish copywriter to fill a new position. Michael Ginsberg is immediately a magnet onscreen, and despite the fact that he treats Peggy like a pissant, we're unable to resist his screaming charisma. It's not obvious by any means, but all signs point to the two of them hooking up rather quickly this season. 

Time will tell… but if anything's certain in Mad Men world, it's that time has a way of pulling the rug out from even the most guaranteed of circumstances.