Mad Men recap: Season 5, Episode 3: "Tea Leaves"
This post contains spoilers.
Matt Weiner's jab at Mitt Romney got the headlines yesterday—Henry Francis, now an aide to New York mayor John Lindsay, was heard explaining on the phone that he didn't want Lindsay seen with Michigan governor George Romney, "because Romney's a clown." This characterization has raised the hackles of Romney's family, but it wasn't entirely gratuitous, especially at a moment in 2012 where there's much talk of electoral tea leaves.
That phrase, "tea leaves," provided the episode with its title, which ostensibly referred to the moment when a psychic predicted Betty's future during lunch. But more broadly, the installment concerned the impossibility of predicting how children grow beyond their parents. It's unlikely that anyone in 1966 would imagine "Romney" signifying any presidential contender but George Romney, for example. Again and again, this episode found characters grappling with unbridgeable generational divides. Don, trying to sign the Rolling Stones for a commercial tellingly set to "Time Is on My Side," goes to a concert and finds himself openly worrying about the safety of a teenage fan. Betty, who flirts with a drug dependency à la "Mother's Little Helper" (also released in 1966) before having her cancer scare, has a dream in which she visualizes life for her family after her death. Don comforts Roger after Pete upstages him on the Mohawk account, noting that their kid "grew up." SCDP's first Jewish hire, Mike Ginsberg, has never heard of Pete Fox, the Red Sox player whose passing has upset his father. Even Peggy is confronted with the suggestion that one day she'll be working for Mike, just as Roger is being eclipsed by Pete. The closing song, "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," crystallizes the theme of aging.
Notwithstanding January Jones's pregnancy, the elephant in the room is Anna Draper, whose death marked the last time we've seen Don visibly frightened by mortality. The fact that Don might lose the two women who've been most central to his life is a matter no one else in the show understands. There are hints that Don is softening (he surprises Peggy by being immediately open to the idea of hiring Mike), and as in the double episode that opened the season, he seems to be trying to be forthright with his loved ones. Still, Megan doesn't grasp how disturbed Don is by the prospect of Betty's death, from a tumor that turns out to be benign. "Megan, you're 26 years old," he explains. "So I don't understand death?" she retorts, even as she models a bikini on her way to Fire Island. Indeed, a beachside retreat would only further remind Don of his time with Anna.