Mad Men 503: Tea Leaves

Mad Men 503: Tea Leaves

Betty’s journey in this episode was beautifully told. It explored the isolation & boredom of the middle-aged housewife, through not just the changes in Betty’s body, but the change in her environment. She’s a princess caught inside a castle, a perpetual girl child whose body is betraying her by aging and changing. Her home is monstrous, gloomy and dark; every room feels claustrophobic, like three doors had to be opened and closed before being allowed to settle on the couch, in the bath, under the covers where it’s safe.

During Betty’s frantic phone call to Don we’re reminded of Don & Betty’s connection that still exists because it had been severed in an angry, impetuous moment when a man to replace Don had conveniently arrived. Betty bursts into her home with terrible news, crying for her husband, but was quick to call Don when Henry didn’t answer. I don’t believe she tried Mister Francis on the phone before she called Mister Draper. Betty knew that Don’s calm would soothe her, and it did. Every time I watch Henry I think, “There is nothing wrong with this guy, but he’s wrong.” He’s a good man who says all the wrong things. Don is an emotionally distant man who knows just what to say.

In the episode Betty struggles not just with a fear of dying suddenly with young children to only remember her through the eyes of people who she doesn’t believe capable of memorializing her, but also a fear of being plain, dull, just fat because she’s bored and not for a tragic reason beyond her control. Betty’s weight gain is beyond her control because it’s what she controls now. Betty can eat now. She has spent over 30 years not eating: sitting quietly at a table while smoking, sipping a glass of wine and watching other people eat; sitting prettily at a dinner table while men talk and women pose; making the food, displaying the food, cleaning the scraps of food, but never consuming the food.

It’s hers for the taking now, and she’s just as miserable as always, but now we can see the misery, and it makes everyone uncomfortable. No one wants others to see our depression. We want, even at our most distraught, to be able to hide inside ourselves and show others only what we want them to see. Betty’s weight gain has turned her inside out. We see it now. No one can hide from it, least of all Betty, who has to live with the acute sadness we’ve already seen displayed in her most private moments, or as a flash in the form of a furrowed brow or raised voice, but also see it every time she looks in a mirror, or down at herself.

We’re left wondering: what’s she going to do? We see the answer at the end of the episode. She’s going to attempt to bond with her daughter using sweet treats. She’s going to overeat privately. She’s going to quietly accept the well meaning insistence from her husband that she looks fine. She’s going to let middle age claim her. She’s going to resign herself because she’s trapped inside herself and can’t find a way to express how or why she’s so profoundly sad.

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One thought on “Mad Men 503: Tea Leaves

  1. Pingback: Bohemea’s Mad Men Words | LesBohemea

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