Mad Men Season 5, Episode 2: There is a lot more to Betty, Harry Crane is sad
After being conspicuously absent in the first episode, Betty and Henry Francis open this episode, and there is a big dinner to go to. Henry is waiting but Betty can’t fit into her dress because she’s fat now. She gets discouraged and tells him she can’t go after all, citing lady troubles. Thus begins the saga of Big Betty.
Matt Weiner makes a point of showing how easily Megan fits into her dress right after we see Betty struggle, just one of a few heavy-handed storytelling moments in this episode.
But let’s get back to Betty for a moment. We see her sitting on the couch eating snack food out of a big back when Henry’s mom, who is no stranger to these things, comes over and convinces her to get some diet pills. Betty goes to the doctor, because she figures it’s the easy way out and that’s what Betty does. This may be the doctor’s first time meeting Betty, but he presumes her weight gain is caused by boredom or unhappiness, so he must be a pretty smart dude. Wait, a second, what’s that on her thyroid? Might it be a tumor? The scare gives Betty some time to reflect, and she does so in typical Betty fashion.
She calls Don to break the news, not for the purposes of planning how their children will be cared for during this ordeal and in the worst-case scenario, but rather to hear his sexy reassuring voice. She worries how she might be remembered after she dies and seems ready to give up at dinner with a fellow patient. When a psychic woman reads Betty’s tea leaves Betty realizes how disconnected she is from everybody.
So she tries to live a little: touching Henry’s penis, smelling Gene’s hair. You know, basking in the glory of life and all. But when she gets the call that the tumor is benign, she reverts to her unhappy, unpleasant self, saying she went through an ordeal to just to find out she is plain old fat, and calling Henry’s mom obese when he tries to comfort her.
But the only thing she does about her feelings besides complain is to eat them away, as we see at the end of the episode when she scarfs down a sundae in the time it takes Sally to eat three bites, then eats Sally’s when she doesn’t want anymore. Overall I think Betty’s arc this episode revealed a new facet of her personality while staying true to her previous characterization. Betty isn’t fat because she’s unhappy (she was slenderly unhappy with Don), she’s fat because she’s unhappy and Henry doesn’t seem to mind it (and because actress January Jones is pregnant).
Henry is sweet and accepting of Betty, saying that he doesn’t even see her as bigger. Don never gave his approval so easily. Betty still seeks Don’s reinforcement; the phone call in this episode showed as much. Megan agrees, saying to Don, “She just needed a reason to call you.”
One subplot that I think was beautifully subtle was the burgeoning sadness of Harry Crane. Last episode, Harry was a one-dimensional greaseball, a sexual being, but not the kind everyone likes. Megan said Don really dislikes him, and Roger used him as a patsy to avoid losing his office. It’s safe to say he’s not viewed favorably by most of the office. With that in mind, consider the possibility that his crude antics are desperate pleas for attention and approval.
I think that hypothesis gained some credibility in this episode. He tries his best to be charming to Don’s new secretary Dawn, a black woman hired as a result of events from the last episode. I think he does it because she doesn’t yet have a negative opinion of him, and he just wants a friend. He later mistakes smoking a joint with teenage girls as a grown man’s idea of fun. But don’t laugh, reader, it’s the first time in a while a person has shared something with him. He’s so grateful he tries to prove his worth to them by casually name-dropping Charlton Heston. And when he indulges his munchies in Don’s car, he’s so baked he verbalizes rather explicitly his unhappiness with married life. All this drives him to act like a boor and a douchebag, which is a shame because now no one will listen to his cries for help.
My favorite part of the season so far is the dick-swinging contest between Pete and Roger. Roger is becoming obsolete, and his staleness is encapsulated perfectly by the line, “When will everything be back to normal?”
Sorry Roger, but the times are changing, passing you by unless you do something about it. Moping while Pete puts on a spectacle to let everyone know he is the new sheriff in town just won’t cut it.
I can’t in good conscience write about this episode without writing about the new copywriter, Mikey Ginsberg. So: He baffles me and I don’t know what to make of him just yet.
If anyone out there was only interested in the Don Draper Thankometer, I’m sorry to say that I totally forgot about it when taking notes last night. Luckily, the Thankometer is and always was a biweekly feature.