Mad Men's Betty Draper has never been a very sympathetic character. While we're able to forgive many of Don's transgressions, it's harder to come to terms with Betty's because she's such a charmless, immature, seemingly slight woman of that time.
L.A. Weekly's Ali Trachta sat down with series creator Matthew Weiner to talk about Betty, and what's up with the recently chubs mom of the year.
It would seem, then, that Betty can't win. Never a likable character, she has always elicited audience disapproval, even as the victim of Don's philandering. In the earlier seasons, Weiner observed a hostility toward Betty for being so beautiful and being cheated on. Audiences perceived her as an idiot, he thought, or felt she deserved it somehow. Perhaps had she been "a little dumpier," he says, "there would be a different attitude toward her."
That's an interesting point, but a woman can't really win when she's being cheated on. If she's attractive, people assume it's because she's a withholding ice queen, and if she's not, then the man was just looking for a hotter piece on the side. Except, those excuses are just bullshit — it's because the cheater is a fucking wuss who'd rather live a lie than deal with their life.
Weiner goes on to say that the fat suit won Betty little sympathy, and that gaining weight meant losing her value. "She's lost her job," as Weiner describes it, "which is being beautiful."
Therein lies the richness of the story Weiner is poised to tell through Betty. "What's fascinating is that giving her this blow to her vanity," he explains, "this compulsion, this self-destructive impulse, this physical representation of her unhappiness, really kind of opened up the character."
"She loves Henry," he says, "she has the husband she always wanted. He's secure, he's loyal, he's ambitious, he has a lot of status, she's living in a mansion, her children are going to private school – it's all the things that she wanted because she's very concerned about the outside world." Yet with all her needs supposedly met, Betty is still, as Weiner puts it, "a melancholy dame. What's going on inside her?"
It's precisely this sense of being unfulfilled, caught in between, left behind by a changing world, that Betty must now face. When success for women solely meant being thin, young, beautiful and married, the world made sense to Betty. Now it doesn't. "She has a sense of these rules," Weiner explains, "and people are always breaking these imaginary rules, but she's living by them."
It'll be interesting to see where they take her when the show returns on April 7 — will Betty descend into further depression and destructive tendencies or will she get with the times? It's also worth noting that Betty's weight gain doesn't make her any less desirable than her personality already does. Sure, she's a little older and a little heavier, but if the woman would get herself together, she could still work it out. She's still got that face and she could rock some sexy fat curves, but who knows if Betty has it in her. I guess the key part is whether or not she can access the internal strength and courage to live in a changing reality, and that's never been Betty's strong suit.
Weiner says Betty "has a big season," coming up — which could mean more screen time or a much fatter Betty Draper — so we'll have to wait and see. Any guesses?