TV Talk: MAD MEN Episode 5.03 “Tea Leaves” - Meredith’s Take

Pretty much every week on MAD MEN is Peggy's week, but this week more than ever. 

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Pretty much every week on Mad Men is Peggy's week, but this week more than ever. She runs all over every character, dropping hot one-liners and making up for her awkward performance at Don's surprise party last week by maintaining a superb amount of control throughout this episode. When Roger makes it clear that Mohawk will insist on a copywriter "with a penis," Peggy replies coolly, "I'll work on that." She's not offended or discouraged; she's pleased that she's been tapped to select the copywriter. When she and everyone else are suitably impressed by Ginsberg's creative portfolio, her colleagues assume she'll be intimidated. "Oh I'm not threatened by his talent. He's not that good." She's simply worried about Ginsberg's batshit rambling tendencies and the effect this will have on Don. I'm looking forward to seeing that effect in action - and even more eagerly anticipating watching Peggy rein in Ginsberg for the foreseeable future. I already love the way she handles Ginsberg; I could spend hours watching a looped gif of her drily telling him, "Well, I'm glad you're excited."

While Peggy "the chick who races people to the toilet" Olson (good lord, what a magnificent epithet) may not feel intimidated by new talent, Roger's certainly feeling the Pete heat. Pete Campbell is straight up evil in this episode, and I love it. Roger made a concession to Pete's success last week by paying Harry $1100 to turn over his office to Pete, but he's going to have treat Pete with something more than condescending compliance. After Pete masterfully offered the Mohawk account to Roger only to yank it back in front of everyone in the office, Roger mutters to Peggy, whom he'd maintained had no reason to fear Ginsberg's talent, "Forget everything I said. That's the last guy I hired." While Ginsberg hasn't shown an iota of the ambition exhibited by Pete in even the pilot of Mad Men, there are no throwaway lines on this show. I expect Ginsberg's success to at least temporarily infringe on Peggy's well-earned and long overdue rise to the top - until he has a psychotic episode in the office, that is. 

Our other diametrically parallel scenarios this week are offered by Megan and Betty. Megan, who moves through life, Don's heart and the SCDP offices with seeming great ease, is effortlessly zipped up by Don mere moments after Sally and Bobby's combined efforts can't fasten Betty's dress. Megan attends the Heinz dinner with Don, having done all of her research and eager to impress Don's clients. (And she beautifully feigns boredom to bond with the client's wife, when it's clear that she's fascinated by the action unfolding.) Betty, humiliated by her weight gain, refuses to attend the Junior League function with Henry. Betty could never convince Don to do a thing during the course of their marriage; Megan calmly holds her ground until she convinces Don to honor his commitment to join her and her friends at Fire Island. Hulk asked on Monday if anyone else is interested in seeing where the show will take Megan's character and relationship with Don, and yes, Hulk, I'm fascinated by it. Megan is so willful yet diplomatic. She holds her own against Don even when her emotions get the best of her as they did last week. I find their pairing endlessly intriguing, and I'm impressed with much of what I see from Megan - even when she acts her unsophisticated age. 

And of course Don was right when he said he knew Betty wouldn't want Megan to know about her health scare, and understandably so. "She just needs to have something to call you about." While I don't doubt that Megan's indictment of Betty is partially true, I also believe that Don needs Betty to have something to call him about, as well. He settled so easily into that role of comforter, calling her "Birdie" and saying what he always says, "Everything is going to be okay." Betty needed Don in a way that Megan never will. And Don, true neutral as Hulk has so aptly dubbed him, still needs to be needed, regardless of the fact that he will never, ever admit it. Megan's a fighter, and that's why she is well-matched with Don, but with Betty, Don knew he was indispensable because he was the only one capable of fighting - something he acknowledges to Roger when Roger perfunctorily offers the age-old response to hearing someone's had a health scare: "She's a fighter." "C'mon," Don scoffs. 

This was a fascinating episode for Betty. While Francis has his "Scrooge seeing his tombstone" moment at Betty's health scare, it doesn't appear that it affected her in the same way. At first, maybe. She frets over her children: "I'm leaving behind such a mess...They'll never hear another nice word about me again." She makes love to her husband for the first time in too long, and she enjoys a pleasant moment with Sally over ice cream sundaes. But when she learns that she's healthy, she feels bitterly disappointed to "find out [she's] just fat." She no longer has a reason to feel depressed, unmotivated and unhealthy. It's all on her again. Betty has spent her entire life trying to be model thin, smoking and sipping rather than eating, putting in precious effort to maintain her stunning appearance, and that appearance didn't earn her the happy ending she expected. Her gorgeous husband is now married to a "sex kitten" in her mid-twenties. So if Betty wants to finish Sally's ice cream sundae and eat an entire bag of Bugles, she absolutely fucking should. I just hope one day she can believe Francis when he tells her how beautiful she is.

Of course "Tea Leaves" is another brilliant Mad Men episode - and one directed seamlessly by Jon Hamm! - but there's honestly no point in belaboring the quality of this show. It's always brilliant. So I'll leave you with one further thought: maybe Don should have agreed to try that dynamite veal parm with Harry so he wouldn't be subjected to watching the man scarf an entire bag of White Castles. 

Tune in next week when Devin and Henri take the wheel again for episode 5.04, "Mystery Date." Watch the melodramatic promo below!