I don’t like Betty Francis.
I’ve never liked Betty Francis, or Betty Draper, as we’ve known her for the better part of the series. Most people have clambered upon the Betty hate-wagon by now, but I remember when people did like Betty—around Season Two, when she first threw Don out of the house—and I remember when people felt sorry for her. I was not one of those people. To be honest, I kind of felt sorry for Don. He chose the wrong person to marry; he chose somebody that was empty when what he really needed was somebody full and nuanced, somebody that was actually an adult (coincidentally, each of the women he was adulterous with—save for maybe Bobby Barrett—fulfilled those qualifications). Betty is as thin as a one-handed clap, yet she maintains the healthiest self-centered, self-aggrandizing, self-pitying attitude of anyone on the show.
So, I don’t like Betty Francis.
Last night we saw that the now overweight Betty has a ‘benign’ node or tumor on her thyroid gland. I wasn’t as interested in Betty’s response to this development as I was in how the other characters would react. I’ll admit I’m not sure what to make of how Don’s reaction. He seemed legitimately concerned, at least for a time.
His response could be dismissed as him worrying how the kids would fare without their biological mother. Don lost both his parents; he is very aware what it’s like to not have your birth parents around and what it’s like to be under the care of step- or foster-parents. His own experience was difficult. While he went on to repeat the cycle of child-parent separation, albeit through divorce rather than death (his parents died), he does seem aware that losing their mother would be terrible for his children. Betty certainly isn’t a capable mother, but from what we saw of Megan’s parenting at the tail end of Season Four, Megan appears to take the “best-friend” or “babysitter” approach to parenting. She’d likely manage better than Betty, but I’m not convinced she’d be perfect. Some part of Don must be aware of that.
But what if some small echo of Betty has been left rattling around in Don’s heart? Judging by his past behavior, he no longer seemed to be attached to her, even when they were together. He was impotent the night of their Valentine’s Day tryst in Season Two—and Draper certainly doesn’t have any problems with his sex drive. He simply wasn’t attracted to Betty anymore. I’d have to believe that’s still the case, but his reaction to the news and his glazed-over eyes do leave me a little suspicious that there’s some dust left over that hasn’t been swept out.
I’d like to return to Betty’s thyroid tumor, however. I couldn’t shake the feeling that too many new plot points have been introduced over these two opening weeks. Or, rather, not that there have been too many new points, but that the two that stick out to me—Lane and the girl Dolores from the wallet, and Betty’s thyroid condition—don’t seem to be part of any larger season arch that should be forming by now.
But one of the things I’ve long admired about Mad Men is that it doesn’t leave loose ends lying about (the same observation was made in the Slate discussion of this week’s show). I’m reminded of Raymond Chandler in that respect—if you’ve read Chandler before you’ll appreciate that Chandler’s prose was never wild. Every sentence he wrote was there for a reason. Not every sentence had a big, important meaning, but it all worked to form the image he wanted you to be seeing. Chandler was not wasteful.
Neither is Mad Men. I think we’ll see more from Lane’s girl Dolores. And I think that Betty’s tumor isn’t benign.
I don’t know whether they told Betty the truth over the phone and she’s hid her state from everybody, or whether the clinic has made a mistake, obviously to her detriment. But from Weiner’s track record these past four seasons, I can’t imagine he’d introduce something like this just to make it a one-hit plot point. If it was just for this episode, then what was the meaning of the whole thing? Everything in Mad Men has a very present—sometimes blatant—subtext. What was the point of Betty’s cancer scare if not for it somehow turning out to be legitimate?
I really do look forward to seeing what happens. Knowing my track record, I’ll likely be proven wrong. But I do hope we see more from those two stories. Here are some disparate thoughts that I’ll close with:
- I love how the quack psychic got the tea leaf reading wrong immediately. It wasn’t even like, “Oh, this could kind of apply to Betty.” Nope, dead wrong straight from the first word.
- Betty’s dream sequence probably rates as the clunkiest dream/hallucination in the show yet. I’m not sure whether it was because of the overt writing, or the lighting (it was weird that it was so dark)—or maybe it came off strange because of January Jones’ acting.
- Sterling looks like he’s toast. He really looks like a major leaguer that refuses to believe age has caught up with him. I love his character, but I can’t see him sticking around past this season.
- If we don’t see Don pull some ad-pitch voodoo soon, I’ll buy into the whole “he’s lost his touch” thing that’s going around.
- I think the young girl Don was talking with backstage was there only to prove that he’s no longer nipping at everything feminine that walks past him. He treated her like what she was: a child. (“We’re worried about you.”) On that note, what the hell has happened to Harry? Can he go away, please?
- I didn’t see any indication of it this episode, but I have to believe that Megan is going to want a kid of her own soon.
So did you guys like “Tea Leaves”? I recall the comments from last week; some of you were disappointed with the season premiere. Did this episode steady the ship? And do any of you share my feeling that the season has been kind of frenetic with introducing plot points thus far? Does Betty actually have cancer, or is that whole thing over and done with? Let’s talk about it.