“Mad Men” Eulogies: Betty Draper

 

betty

 

Possibly the dullest major character on a successful show in the history of television, Betty Draper was a consistent suckhole of interest, attention, and narrative movement with every appearance.

Whether fixing her daughter with a bovine stare, smoking yet another cigarette, or donning an implausible fat suit, Betty never failed to bring down a scene or make the viewer consider flipping over to catch the end of Burn Notice instead. Her entire arc with Henry Francis is a master class in irrepressible yawns and incipient Shark Jumping.

In fact, the only interesting scene I can think of involving Betty is the one when she goes to visit her daughter at boarding school and sits angrily on a picnic blanket like a re-creation of the pre-strangle scene from Frankenstein. Then, of course, Don decides to have sex with her again, but only now that she’s lost sixty pounds by unzipping her Nu-Rubber haunches.

What’s strange is that the Constipated Housewife should have been one of the strongest characters on the show. A study in frustration, the soul-killing meaninglessness of watching the 60s float by while your husband works and drinks and philanders. Of giving up your career for children you didn’t want and can’t relate to. Of slowly descending into a mania hastened by popping Mother’s Little Helpers and taking swigs off bottles of Schnapps hidden in the cupboard. A study in the pure fury of all of sexist culture, the condescending indifference of male society, the roaring need to break out and thrive, to create and be heard, to crush the dominant paradigm.

Instead, we got stultification. Not a brilliant take on what it must have felt like to be her, but a straight and un-examined reflection, an essay in being smothered that only got the point across by boring the mortal shit out of an entire audience for six full seasons.

The main question, though, is this: was January Jones even acting? Being so forcefully dull and opaque could be the great meta-performance of our generation, a woman at the height of her stagecraft and dramaturgical chops turning Barbie Wife into blank mirror, a leaden albatross sucking up all the other actor’s light in order to create the black allegorical heart of an entire show.

Or, that could really just be her personality.

It’s a toss-up.

 

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About Vince Navy

Vince Navy is the original Walking Dude. After a stint in the Merchant Marine and a few tours on trumpet for Johnny Midnight and the Velveteers, he released his first chapbook Howling From The End of The End, which was followed by the iconic short story collection Abduction Songs and Cock Shadows. Navy currently lives in San Francisco with his partner Reina and their dogs Isolde and Tristan. He is hard at work on a novel about all the things Nathaniel West forgot to satirize. Follow him @VinceNavy
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2 Responses to “Mad Men” Eulogies: Betty Draper

  1. sam says:

    Betty deserves a much richer and nuanced analysis than Navy delivers here. Much like the anti-Skyler White garbage that has been printed, Navy’s critique seems to have missed the value of the character entirely. Especially if we give Jones some credit and accept her as delivering the “great meta-performance of our generation.”

    The real criticism of shark-jumping belongs to Weiner, who dumped one of his most compelling characters after the 3rd season into a fat suit and left her with nothing to do. The greatest flaw of this excellent show may have been the producers’ inability to see that Betty was the only foil that really mattered for the story of Don.

  2. m says:

    This is two years late but this write up is pathetic. Everything about her character really went over your head, damn.

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