“Tea Leaves” played with the audience in a lot of unsatisfying ways, from the minor (though I knew the show would never do it, I wondered if they would allow Don and Harry to actually meet The Stones on-screen) to the major (everyone’s least favorite character gets a cancer scare that is quickly resolved.) Matt Weiner also indulged in one of his least laudable habits, the excessive, winking use of dramatic irony, where he allows the audience to use their knowledge of future events to feel superior to the characters. This episode featured Henry Francis calling “Romney” a clown (referring to the current GOP candidate’s father), which will surely result in at least 17 Fox News segments referring to the show as liberal propaganda.
All this playing with the audience, and for what? “Tea Leaves” was one of the few Mad Men episodes I’d go so far as to call badly written. Every point was made clumsily and obviously. Pete’s little speech at the end was ineptly petty, even for Pete Campbell. Every Betty conversation felt like Matt Weiner screaming at us about Betty’s deficiencies as a human being. Even Jon Hamm, perhaps distracted by having to direct this mess, couldn’t save the scene where Don is forced to face his impending irrelevance in the form of a teenage Brian Jones fan. (Another use of dramatic irony, as we know that Jones will be joining the famous “27 club” in the near future.)
Of course, this is Mad Men, so there was still a lot of good stuff packed in there. For as little as I cared for the cancer scare plot, it led to a fantastic phone call between Betty and Don, though please, please don’t let that be a tease toward a reunion. I can’t take more Betty. I also enjoyed both the conflict between Roger and Pete, and the way it nicely paralleled Stan’s advice to Peggy about the new hire. That Roger himself made the connection at the end of the episode sealed it.
However, that new hire, Michael Ginsburg, is a bit of a mystery so far. Incredibly arrogant and unlikable in his first interview with Peggy (whom he assumes is Don’s secretary) and then very professional but blunt with Don, and finally sympathetic in his humble home life with an aging Jewish father. Even the actor didn’t seem to really have a handle on the character, but we’ll have to wait a few episodes to really see.
And next week, can we please have the old Don back, even for just a little while? This guy who indulges the client’s inane idea to have The Rolling Stones sing about beans has got to go.