A letter to Matt concerning Betty Francis
The seasons have not been kind to Betty Draper. For a show that I think is problematically feminist but indisputably sympathetic towards female characters (they tend to be either: 1) bright and ambitious or 2) non-culpably vapid), Mad Men has been cruel towards Betty.
During the first several seasons, Betty shouldered the thankless task of representing everything that we have come to regard as inauthentic and self-deluded about her age. Where Don is granted a quasi-sorcerous insight into this psychological abyss that was in the process of pulling civilisation apart, Betty was always the one charged with caring deeply about things we have come to regard as unimportant. I mean, you kind of admired her for being so successful in her commitment to propriety. But you had to ask: what was in it for her?
To add insult to injury, she’s spent the Francis years cultivating a cruel streak and a wattle. Despite getting herself a substantial husband-upgrade in the person of Henry Francis, the experience of seeing her married life for a sham didn’t seem to have given her much in the way of self-knowledge nor happiness.
Indeed, while you could cite the fatsuit as the chief humiliation of the Francis era, to me the cruellest cut was the infantilisation of visits to her daughter’s psychologist: her dogged obliviousness to the fact that those visits were for her. I mean, there is just this indignity of watching a grown woman lying in a room full of children’s toys, talking about her mother with a person who is elaborately polite about the inappropriateness of the whole situation. This obliviousness a characteristically human failing, but one that evokes pity.
Which is why I was so pleased to see her get some swagger back in this last episode. While I cannot in good conscience recommend going blonde or sleeping with Don, you have to admit: she’s the first woman in a long time who has gotten what she’s wanted from sleeping with Don. She seemed, even more, one of the only people in this series who seems to have don’s number, to have an compassionate bead on what a needy shit he is — Peggy, while she has the good sense not to bewitched by Don, seems no closer to figuring him out. I mean, she didn’t have any idea who this man is while they were married, but better late than never.
It takes a higher grade of woman to slip out for pancakes and leave your formerly despised ex-husband to wake up, alone, wondering where his wife went. I’m glad to have her back!