‘Mad Men’ and the ‘Fat Betty’ Conundrum

ALTMichael Ginsberg who? Despite the fact that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce recruited a (possibly game-changing) new copywriter, the only addition to the Mad Men family that anyone could seem to talk after last night’s episode was the emergence of Fat Betty. While the always-ready-to-pounce Internet in full hysteria over the formerly svelte ex-Mrs. Draper (she’s even got her own Twitter already) Mad Men fans are now stepping back to see if there was more to last night’s Betty storyline that met the eye than unflattering pink coats and bags of Bugles.

There’s no question, among the Mad Men faithful, there’s no character more maligned across the board than the arguably worst mother on television: Betty Francis. (Reports of January Jones‘ alleged icy presence in Hollywood as an unfriendly robot sent from the future to destroy otherwise good X-Men movies and episodes of Saturday Night Live, hasn’t helped improve morale for Betty much over the past few years either.)

So it seemed like Matthew Weiner was setting up an interesting shift in the universally despised character by creating a Betty we’ve never seen before. No, not just Fat Betty. But, Vulnerable Betty and Downright Human Betty. Faced with the prospect of both losing her traditionally beautiful looks and facing down her own mortality with a cancer scare, the storyline set the stage for Betty to reconnect with Don, and — what might have proved to be even more difficult — audiences.

But even when “Tea Leaves” evoked the most superficial sympathy out of viewers for a struggling Betty (while she couldn’t fit into her designer duds, Don’s sexpot twentysomething wife slid effortlessly into hers), by the episode’s end, most fans felt the same disconnect and contempt that they’d harbored before. Not only did she turn to her ex-husband for solace rather than her endlessly supportive new husband, she seemed downright disappointed that her tumor was benign. Perhaps in Betty’s frigid world it would be a better fate to be dead than overweight. Now, what’s to like about that person exactly?

It’s not as though we haven’t had a glimpse of a strong-willed, take-charge Betty before either. Towards the end of her marriage to Don, Jones’ Betty stood up to her then-husband and called him out on his endless string of infidelities. But that complex, tough, bordering-on-likeable Betty was nowhere to be found last night. Instead, viewers got the weak, insecure, and arguably pointless Betty we’d grown to hate over all these years, who was more of a cartoonish sight gag than a human being. Why can’t she be as complex a character as her ex-husband and his new wife?

On a surface level, Jones’ anti-fans probably got sort of a kick out of seeing the gorgeous star go “ugly,” but that still doesn’t do anything for the looming Betty conundrum that lies in the show. Betty was something of a sad sack in her own right before the weight gain (though it’s arguable that Harry Crane was actually the most pathetic transformation in last night’s episode), so is this latest change designed to make her only more of a classically tragic Mad Men character? Or perhaps it will force Betty to, once and for all, face down her absolute worst critic: Herself.

What did you think of the “Fat Betty” storyline from last night’s Mad Men? Did it seem pointless to set up a health scare for Betty only to have it not change her to the core? Or was that one of the most telling things to have happen to her character in quite some time? Did the episode seem too mean-spirited towards Betty (and January Jones, for that matter)? Or is the show slowly finding ways to try and redeem Betty?


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