Monday, April 2, 2012

Mad Men -- The Episode About Betty Getting Fat

*Warning, spoilers ahead from the recent episode of Mad Men.*

Last week, it was Megan's foxy little "Zou Bisou Bisou" song and dance, where she flashed ample thigh to Don while his colleagues looked on in astonishment, that caught everyone's attention. This week, Betty made her first season five appearance and viewers were, um, gobsmacked to see the transformation she'd undergone, eating her unhappy self into oblivion. (That was a genius way to deal with January Jones' real life pregnancy. Much better than a laundry basket propped up in front of her belly.)

Remember back in season one, when Peggy began to put on weight everywhere, including on her face and neck? Before it was revealed that she was pregnant (and unwilling to admit to herself that she was with child), people suggested that perhaps Peggy was purposefully getting bigger in an attempt to ward off sexual overtures from the Sterling Cooper neanderthals. She wanted them to see her as a copywriter, not an object of affection, or so the argument went.

Well Betty now seems to be doing exactly what folks thought Peggy was doing, putting pounds of flesh between herself and sex, specifically her husband Henry, to keep him away from her. Now I've always had a soft spot for Betty, her feelings about being confined in a gilded cage with a duplicitous, cheating husband and her struggles with the fears her mother instilled in her about becoming "stout." Even though she was depicted as cold and cruel last season, I still had sympathy for her.

But there was something a bit creepy about the way Betty's weight gain was handled. It was treated in a fetish-y fashion, from the scene of Betty's kids trying to unsuccessfully zip her into her dress, to the unnecessarily exploitative shot from behind when she was getting out of the tub. It's one thing to explore Betty's emotional issues, how she's dissatisfied with her life, so unhappy that she became overweight, that what she feared the most when she was younger -- gaining weight -- had occurred, with making a spectacle out of her body, the way in which Megan did by design with her performance. We can all see that she put on weight. We get it. The show's writers didn't need to make the point over and over and over again with visuals that don't seem to elucidate as much as they do exploit, as the internet is doing in the aftermath of the "Tea Leaves" episode.

The wrinkle in all of this was the specter of cancer, the possibility that the growth that was found on her thyroid was malignant. This brought to the surface Don and Betty's emotional connections, which still exist despite the extreme acrimony they've experienced as Don fretted over his potentially motherless children, admitting that Megan was no substitute. (There are mommy issues galore in this show.) It was particularly interesting that when Betty was afraid for her life, she sought out Don for comfort -- and his hollow "Everything's going to be okay" motto -- and Henry, who remains threatened by Don, didn't like it one bit.

Meanwhile, Megan was parading around in a bikini top and trying to get Don to come to a gathering with her twentysomething pals, with whom and from whom Don feels a generational disconnect. Seeing Don look "so square" that he "had corners," as Megan said, at the Rolling Stones concert amid all those teen fans, Don seemed even more out of place in his own skin, realizing that he wasn't "it," upstart young man any more. (Ironically, in season two, Don chastised Betty as "desperate" for wearing a bikini.) How times have changed.

What did you think of this episode?

Image credit: Michael Yarish/AMC.

1 comment:

Giuliana Lonigro said...

Have to say I was shocked when I saw Betty in the first shot of the episode. Then I was intrigued and really wanted to see what would happen to her story line. I'm keeping an open mind about how they dealt with her weight gain; I'm just curious to learn what happens next. While many people have criticized Betty's character, like you, I don't feel as judgmental towards her and have never fully understood all the vitriol that is hurled at her. I've felt sad for Sally at times because Betty can be cold, but Betty is also the most unfathomable character to me: I often don't understand her and have to really think about her scenes to understand what might be going on underneath. Maybe I've been fascinated with January Jone's Grace Kellyesque beauty, but she is still a really compelling character to me. In past episodes, I've really understood that there is a sadness and emptiness that drives her. I've been shocked by Betty's behavior before, too, like when she started shooting pigeons in her backyard with a cigarette hanging from her lip, and also when she engineers a quickie at a pickup bar in retaliation for Don's disloyalty and infidelities. Looking forward to the rest of the series!