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Posted at 2:20 PM ET, 07/27/2010

'Mad Men' season four: Why Betty is already bugging me

By Jen Chaney

Betty Francis: looking upbeat and easygoing, as always. (AMC)

Let me start by saying this about Betty Francis, formerly Draper of TV's "Mad Men": I have, on more than one occasion, carried a measure of sympathy for her. Betty is a product of the era that preceded her current one, a simple housewife of the '50s attempting to move through the '60s in impossibly flouncy skirts and high heels. She has no sense of self and an existence stifled by the daily suburban grind of backyard parties, cocktail hours and, at least when she was with Don, a perpetually adulterous husband. I have felt for her. I really have.

But with just one episode of the fourth season of "Mad Men" behind us, one thing is clear: Betty is really starting to bug me.

Betty's chilly incompetence as a mother has already been well-documented by a number of sources, including January Jones, the actress who plays her. Oh, and also this widely distributed New York Magazine video compilation dubbed "Ugly Betty":

But her behavior in Sunday's "Public Relations," as I describe below in list form, takes things to a new level of self-absorption-dressed-up-in-Grace-Kelly clothes.

Annoying Behavior No. 1: She actually married Henry Francis. It was pretty clear from the season three finale that she would follow through with her plan to leave Don and become the wife of Gov. Rockefeller's PR man. But how disappointing. All she's done is run from one man who tried to control her to another one who, potentially, could be even more controlling. (Didn't he advise Betty not to seek any alimony or financial support from Don in their divorce? In the words of Seth and Amy: Really, Betty? Really!?!)

Annoying Behavior No. 2: The sweet potato force-feeding. Sally Draper doesn't care for sweet potatoes. You know what? Last I checked, Sally Draper lives in an America of yesteryear. And in that America of yesteryear, that little cherub-cheeked girl doesn't have to scarf down some marshmallow-and-yam mush if she doesn't want to. But does Betty realize this, let it go and not worry if Sally's rejection of her Thanksgiving meal will reflect poorly in the eyes of the Francis family? Of course not. Instead, she forces her to eat those potatoes, prompting poor Sally to essentially barf them right back up on the table. Betty, let that be a lesson to you. If you love someone, set their eating habits free. Otherwise, it's all going to come back to you, in the form of borderline potato-vomit on a crisply-pressed tablecloth.

Annoying Behavior No. 3: Severing Sally's phone call with Don. Betty chose to leave Don. Some might say she had good reason, what with Don cheating on her right and left and maintaining an entirely secret life and all. But that's no reason for Betty to prevent her daughter -- the same girl undoubtedly still suffering trauma due to the aforementioned sweet potato incident -- from talking to her daddy on Thanksgiving, even if her daddy is very busy getting slapped by a hooker.

Annoying Behavior No. 4: Preventing Don from seeing baby Gene. At the mere suggestion from Henry that perhaps the baby should stay with Carla so the two can have a night out, Betty follows through, thereby preventing Don from seeing the infant when he drops off Sally and Bobby after a visit. Henry is manipulating Betty, and Betty -- mindless, malleable, man-dependent Betty -- is letting it happen. I know, I know: Betty's inability to think for herself and be unselfish is society's fault.

Annoying Behavior No. 5: Refusing to vacate the premises: Betty will not move out of the Draper home, despite the fact that Don is still covering the mortgage. She says she doesn't want to cause any more instability for the children, which is understandable. Or it would be, if she wasn't busy snapping at the kids and shoving grub in their faces every other second. In truth, it seems Betty just wants to hang on to the life she once had and has simply inserted Henry into the role Don once played. And let's be honest: she doesn't know the real Husband No. 2 any better than she knew the real Husband No. 1. And that may be the most annoying thing of all when it comes to Betty Francis-Draper: that she invariably gets frustrated about being kept in the dark yet refuses to shine a genuine light on the people she supposedly loves.

Am I being too hard on Betty? And, in a related question, is it possible she'll get even more annoying as the season continues? Weigh in with a comment. But please, don't make anyone eat any potatoes if they aren't hungry.

By Jen Chaney  | July 27, 2010; 2:20 PM ET
Categories:  Pop Culture, TV  | Tags:  Mad Men  
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I think January Jones is one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood these days.

I'm looking forward to the new season of "Mad Men" just so I can watch her.

There's just something about January Jones. I like her personality and how she looks. I saw a few interviews of her on YouTube. She seems like a cool girl to hang out with. Once the Mad Men series is over with, I hope to see January Jones in more TV shows and in movies.

Hopefully, she'll become an "A-list" actress before long. I saw "To Catch a Thief" a few years ago and January Jones reminds me a lot of Grace Kelly. Maybe she could be in a movie like that or a James Bond movie or something. She should go after the same movie and TV roles that Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Jennifer Aniston go after.

Posted by: asdf3322 | July 27, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Jeez, asdf3322, are you Jan's freakin' agent or what? Your girl was celinedion, no daneclark dreadful on her SNL guest-hosting stint. Talk about one-dimensional...

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | July 27, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

She bugs me, too. I think she's not getting out of the house just to stick it to Don. Plus, she's essentially lazy. Moving is a lot of work, even if you're paying someone else to pack the boxes. Husband #2 is a wuss - I don't think there will be a control issue there. It won't be long before Sally is in charge of the whole bunch!

Posted by: isthisajoke | July 27, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Hmm. I don't watch Mad Men so perhaps I'm not entitled to comment ;-) ... but Betty Draper/Francis/whatever doesn't seem any different than many modern-day suburban women to me, regardless of whether it's the 50s, 60s or 2010. Moving from one man to another before the body cools? Check. Lack of introspection into relationships? Check. Milking Hubby #1 for everything she can get? Check. Dubious mother? Check. Using kids as weapons against former spouse? Check.

Posted by: Californian11 | July 27, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Betty has never been a good mother. Poor Sally is just so in need of some attention. I think Betty is so cold and selfish. Yes Don is also selfish so those poor kids don't stand a chance. I always wondered if I could ever act as emotionless as January Jones acts as Betty but she certainly is a master at it.

And the post that asdf3322 posted is the same post he/she made on another Mad Man opinion board, word for word. Must have it saved on their computer and is posting is even if it has nothing to do with the article written.

Posted by: jtsw | July 27, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I'm with ya on every Betty hating point.

Posted by: wadejg | July 27, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone here watch The Good Wife? Alicia Florrick is another cold, emotionless character to me, played perfectly by Julianna Margulies.

Posted by: Californian11 | July 27, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe as a guy that I am responding to this, but...
Jen Chaney, off base. She is a characture. Listen to the interview with the writer/directer yesterday on NPR and it will clarify. Issue 1) Betty's family are upper class snobs and she is attracted to Don because of his mystery and "style". With admission that he is a midwestern nobody, she hates him more that the cheating. She NEEDS the upper crust life that husband 2 can give her. 2)Former model with no skills, she doesn't know how to interact with anyone. She is a poor mother because she has been completely incubated and no frame of reference. 3) Needs the semblance of a "perfect" life, perfect child, perfect husband, etc. You may not like her, but great character elements.

Posted by: cadam72 | July 27, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

As a baby boomer who was Sally's age in the 1960s, I can attest to the reality of Mad Men's portrayal of Betty and other mothers of that period: Women were either the mothers/marrying kind or the bad girls that one used and discarded. Once married, women were expected to serve their families and husbands. Home Economics was a required course series, as homemaking was an assumed role for us all. Betty is the Barbie of her day, and January portrays the wooden "first lady" and begrudging mother she's been bred to be -- like the horses she rides. Children were to be seen and not heard -- literally. Betty is an unsympathetic character because she is so unhappy in her role yet she's resigned to play it out as defined for her. That she left Don for Henry is not surprising, as he offered her a way out of her misery with Don. (Betty was only happy when she was alone with Don in Rome and was the center of attention.) Henry adored her and she loved the attention. Remember, he first saw her pregnant -- like a Madonna. Already, Henry's starting to see Betty for the self-centered Barbie she is, a far cry from the Madonna who captured his heart. Hence, his rejection of her sexual overtures after Betty chided Sally for wanting to call her father. Pity Betty and all those who must endure her resentment and callousness.

Posted by: debraeisenberg | July 27, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Yes, you are being too hard on Betty (although stuff like that got/gets on my last nerve, too).

If you had lived as a young adult through the 60s, you would recognize that Betty is being true to cultural form.

"The Feminine Mystique" was not widely appreciated yet.

Posted by: bmschumacher | July 27, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

I think Betty is a dope! Henry Francis is not, and never will be, anything close to Don Draper in looks, finances or stamina. She thinks she's moved up the ladder by leaving Don and marrying this much older man but he is essentially a 'momma's boy'! You can tell he is annoyed by their 'bedtime' being interrupted by Sally's call to Don and I'm sure this marriage won't last.

Throughout the series she has always been mean to her kids. The only time you saw her show affection towards anyone was when baby Gene was born. Don shows much more affection to his children and to her. She was better off being the trophy wife since Don never denied her anything she wanted for herself or the kids. I love the little girl who plays Sally -- she's a great actor!

Posted by: FFXMom | July 27, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I think I will enjoy Betty having Mother in Law problems. Yes, I will. Don came completely MIL free, so welcome, Betty, to the pits of hell. (Even worse for Betty, MIL is right.)

Posted by: sandydc1 | July 27, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

I have been a Mad Men watcher since day 1. One thing that has changed since the first season is the issue of psychological problems that Betty had. She was going to therapy and not getting much out of it, but still those issues are there. I think they will come up again when she realizes she has not found true happiness. I wanna see Sally in her teen years...right smack in the middle of the 60's...

Posted by: rainydaygirl | July 27, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Betty (January Jones) is hot when she wants to be; but here she is just a cold fish. A pretty face does not a good person make. She has been hurt before and now her sweetness from season one has converted to a perpetual sour puss and future divorce in the making.

Posted by: Airborne82 | July 27, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Nice column as usual, Jen. An off-topic observation: although Don refers to him as "the baby," I don't think Gene is an "infant" any longer.

Check out the last scene when Don begins telling the WSJ reporter his story. As the scene fades, Don is recounting that they began the new agency in a hotel room, and that "a year later, we had three floors" in whatever building they are working in now.

Since the baby was born before the end of last season, I would think this puts him somewhere between 1 and 2, although he could certainly be older still. Hard to tell how much time has elapsed, which is a minor curiosity for me. Thoughts on that?

Posted by: pronounpolice | July 27, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

If you watch the show, you'll realize that Betty is bitter and kind of cold because she knows she has a husband who's been cheating. It's understandable.

She has a lot of brewing resentments about her life as a woman in the 60s who is supposed to look the other way when her hubby is cheating.

Some women who are really mad at their husbands (unfortunately) tend to take out a bit of their frustration on their kids.

It's the same thing that happens in corporate America. Big boss kicks midlevel manager ... midlevel manager kicks entry level person. Then that person might take it out on the wife. Then wife takes it out on the kids. It's called the "stuff flows downhill" phenomenon.

Even the shrinks back in the 60s probably told the women back then to just not worry about her cheating husband and ignore it ... for the kids or whatever.

I respect Betty for not putting up with Don's cheating. He's the one who is screwing up their family. Not her. Don married the wrong kind of woman. He should have married one who he knew would look the other way.

Posted by: asdf3322 | July 27, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Betty has quite a few issues, parenting skills not withstanding. However, as a Boomer who grew up in the late 50's and early 60's I can attest to the fact that cherubed-cheeked little girls did have to eat food they didn't want and didn't like.
I don't know if this was the case with affluent children, but middle class kids and those on the lower economic strata were forbidden to waste food. You ate what was on your plate, because millions of starving children all over the world would give anything to have that liver or those brussel sprouts. I had loving and wonderful parents, but I was involved in many a Mexican stand-off with them, because they were determined that I was not going to leave the table if I didn't eat or at least try a few mouthfuls of whatever was served. I knew this to the true for the majority of my friends and relatives as well. So Betty's behavior on that issue was not out of step for the time period. As one commenter stated previously, children were to be seen and not heard. You were to do as you were told and your opinions were not to be voiced.
Luckily for kids today,freedom of expression is the embraced and encouraged.

Posted by: trueblue102 | July 27, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

I was a child in the 50's and 60's with a mother very much like Betty, compete with psychological problems. She was the one who cheated, not my father. My parents made me sit at the dinner table till I finished the fish that I hated. This was a common parenting practice in those days. I still don't eat fish as a result. Betty is a terrible mother and this series depicts her and the times very accurately. It is, however, easier to understand why women had so many problems when viewed from today's vantage point. Hooray for "Mad Men" for its accuracy.

Posted by: sheffieldst | July 27, 2010 11:33 PM | Report abuse

Matthew Weiner is writing Betty's character to be a cold shrew and I'm finding it misogynistic. She's so over-the-top bad that we have no choice but to hate her. Force feeding her daughter? Not letting Don see their son? Either give her character some dimension or write her out.

Posted by: marciamac1 | July 27, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Another child of the 60's weighing in. We were not raised believing we were the center of the universe (unlike the current generation), so yes, we ate what was on our plate (I recall stuffing unwanted food in the expansion tube of the dinette), and we were expected to be seen and not heard. I had a great mother, who was a career woman--unusual for the times--who did all the homemaker stuff--including gardening and canning-- AND her job. She sometimes was short with us, she sometimes spanked us, and probably wouldn't be called a good mother by today's standards. One of the joys of Mad Men is that they do the research--not only do the clothes & furniture look authentic, the people are authentic. Anybody else have a problem reading historical fiction & finding a 2000 era female? Nothing makes me toss the book across the room faster!

Posted by: plderrick | July 28, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

LOL, you're not being hard ENOUGH on Betty! She's a terrible person. I had some sympathy for her in the first two seasons, but last season she really revealed her inner ugliness.
She's a seriously flawed and unhappy woman who should *never* have been a mother, much less a wife to two men she didn't know. This fling with Henry is going to end badly, and Sally and Bobby will end up needing therapy (desperately) when they try to unravel why they hate their mother so much.
That said, I like January Jones a lot. She has a thankless task in playing Betty, but she does it well and doesn't flinch from showing what a hollow, vapid and self-absorbed witch she is.

Posted by: dbitt | July 28, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse


Yes! I too can't believe this nitwit actually married Henry Francis. Is she out of her mind? Or clearly just doesn't have one? You don't throw a man like Don away when you're a woman like Betty! And you certainly don't just swap him out with Henry Francis.

Her days with Henry are numbered. He clearly is averse to her kids - did you see how he lost his (ah-hem) "woody" when the kids interrupted him and Betty about to get their swerve-on? When they went back to bed he was "tired" or "too full" or something. Then he suggested they get rid of all the kids and as soon as that happened, his "woody" came back and in the garage of all places!

I hate to say it, but I think Don is an a-hole really in a sexy lovable a-hole kind of way. I'm rooting for him to get back with his annoying wife and be tortured again by her narcissim.

Posted by: shelley514 | July 28, 2010 9:59 AM | Report abuse

@ asdf3322 - you sound like a stalker! And you didn't even respond to Jen's question.

Posted by: shelley514 | July 28, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I think January Jones is great as Betty. She was terrible on SNL, though.

Posted by: Roxie1 | July 28, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Jen, you want Betty to be more than she is. You want her to be a mover and shaker in this storyline, and it sounds like the writer is not looking to inject modernity into a vintage period piece.

However, if Betty is written true to her time and personality, that frustration is exactly what you SHOULD be feeling. Having said that, as a watcher, I would feel your pain, Jen.

Posted by: cfow1 | July 28, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Betty certainly is unlikable, this season especially. In previous seasons I felt bad for her and hoped she'd have a liberating epiphany but Jen nailed it on the head: sadly she just moved from one controlling man to another. Matthew Weiner is a genius at writing unappealing characters...Mad Men is just littered with them...Pete Campbell, ick! Kind of like the people one encounters in real life, some might say.

Posted by: womanofscience | July 28, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Who should Betty trust? On what basis can she build character?

Her shrink betrayed her confidences to her husband, belittling her into the bargain. This is a professional paid to help her. (This is not over the top; this happened to me in the 60s.)

Betty is on her own raising her and Don's children and running the household. Yes, she has help; she also does her own laundry, defrosts the refrigerator, and the house is spotless. She certainly is bored, but not lazy. When she acts independently, seeking an air conditioning quote or buying a bikini, for example, her husband condemns her.

When she wants to work again, men playing games with one another first give, then takeaway her job, without telling her what is going on. She lies to safe face, to imply she has power. She has none and knows it.

She is expected to host dinners and show up for professional appearances on demand, but cannot count on her husband to show up for anything, including their daughter's birthday party. When she is 9 months pregnant, her daughter's teacher puts the moves on her husband.

She is valued only for her looks, for keeping up appearances, and for performing on command.

She has no economic standing in marriage, legally. Work opportunities in 1964 are secret

Posted by: KyWoman1 | July 28, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

Hit send by mistake. I meant to say Betty's work opportunities aresales clerk, bank teller, secretary, nurse and teacher in 1964. Getting an MRS. is serious business in the 60s. It doesn't make her any happier, than Don's work makes him. His work, however, ditto Henry's, make them well to do and give them power over their lives and those of women.

Posted by: KyWoman1 | July 28, 2010 11:30 PM | Report abuse

I agree wholeheartedly with the analysis of Betty. I rewatched old episodes and thought that despite all of his cheating, Don was dedicated and loving to the extent he let himself go. Betty is bored, arrogant and elitist and Henry Francis does not come close to Don in looks, personality, creativity etc. He already is more controlling than DOn and I have no idea what keeps Francis and Betty together. Her treatment of the children is pathetic. HOpefully Weiner will craft a raproachment between Don and Betty as both are pathetic in their current situation. ANd what's with Don getting into kinky sex with a prostitute as opposed to all of his affairs in the past where he at least spoke to his temporary paramours?

Posted by: drmonty1 | July 28, 2010 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Betty Draper may be symbolic of women from the 50s/60s who were truly frustrated because they really didn't want children or even to be married to the men they woke up next to. But please, don't lump all mothers in to the BD mold. I grew up in the Mad Men era and in defense of my mother who was an RN Supervisor in a major metropolitan hospital by the age of 25, and then went back to work to help pay for three children's college tuitions, she was loving, patient, and kind toward her husband and children. No, things were not perfect in our household, however, I grew up knowing I was wanted and loved. I refuse to accept that BD is the representative generic for all women in that era. But she remains a great literary character--the idealized, even-featured patrician blonde with the social graces you reluctantly love to hate.

Posted by: brookebisset | July 29, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

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