Thursday, May 22, 2014
Why Has Betty Francis on "Mad Men" Become So Irrelevant?
As one of the very few fans of the perpetually bitter Betty Francis (January Jones) on Mad Men, I've always been one of the first to come to her defense whenever people scoffed at her b*tchy resting face or somewhat vacant parenting skills. But as we approach this Sunday's midseason finale, it seems that Betty's layers have been peeled away to the point where a mere empty shell remains of her character.
There used to be a time when Betty represented the silenced and seething 50-60s era housewife--personally and professionally stunted, emotionally tortured, and completely overwhelmed by the emptiness of her life and the insignificance of her voice. She resonated. But lately, she's just kinda...invisible. In fact, sometimes she's in a scene and I completely forget that she's even there. Sure, she has sparing moments like each time she nips at her husband Henry's heels in desperate attempts to prove that her opinion matters. But when it really comes down to it, what she thinks and feels doesn't actually matter anymore. And if that's the only point the writers are trying to make here, they could at least make it fascinating to watch.
It just seems like the writers are completely bored with Betty's character, and don't know what to do with her anymore (or don't care about her anymore?). What's even more troubling is that they seem to have a general lack of understanding of Betty's character. What does she want? What makes her sad? What makes her happy? Rarely do we get to see a housewife of this era portrayed with complexities and an overall rebuttal of the life she's been dealt in such a way that causes her to negate her own morals (Revolutionary Road did a great job with that on the big screen), and Betty was that breath of fresh air. She's not particularly likable, and sometimes you kind of want to shake her. But she once a fleshed out character that you at least understood. The Betty we have left is just pouty and miserable without any real depth to her emotions. It seems ill-fitting to watch an actress like Jones--decked in perfect makeup, hair and wardrobe--drift through each scene without making a real ripple (despite what her devoted haters may suggest). She's become nothing more than a really pretty prop, and she deserves much better than that (especially as the matriarch and the nearly sole provider for the lead character's three children). If not for Jones' sake as an actress in search of fulfilling roles, but for Betty's sake as a woman of the era whose story is too seldom told.
And this problem especially stands out at this point in the show, in its final season, as every other character seems to be coming full circle and is fleshed out to the degree that they are almost completely realized. (Even Betty's ex-husband Don's loyal former secretary, Dawn, is becoming more developed as a character). So why is Betty regressing in this sense? Is the idea that Betty, a mere housewife and mother of the 60s, as a more nuanced character such an outrageous concept? Should we as an audience all just be throwing darts at her and praying for her scenes to be over quickly so that we can get on to more pressing business on the show? Is Betty no longer relevant?
Hopefully after Sunday's episode we'll get a better understanding of where the writers are taking Betty's story, and what her motivations are. After all, her storyline is entitled to more than just a flimsy conclusion.
Mad Men airs Sundays at 10pm on AMC.