Mad Men‘s Betty Draper-Francis Is a Very Important House Cat

betty

When I first started watching “Mad Men,” Betty Draper quickly became one of my favorite characters and this scene might have had just a little to do with it. But as I became a more active watcher of the period drama, I realized that not many fans shared my sentiments. A lot of people thought she was nothing but a trophy wife who put up with her husband’s cheating for financial security, and a lot of people hated the character in the early seasons for it. Later on, as Betty began to find an identity, albeit not as radical as Peggy or Megan’s, fans (and sometime myself) began to hate her in comparison to Don. Suddenly, in the middle of a divorce, Betty was the “bad guy,” and we blamed her for the aesthetic dissolution of our favorite TV family. But there wasn’t any flaw in her wanting a divorce, I think, and I love Betty Francis (née Hofstadt, formerly Draper) for all that she is (including “Mother of the Year”).

No character in “Mad Men” is “loveable.” TV writers have the advantage of reoccurring seasons, and they can avoid portraying women (and men) as the perfect awe-inspiring muses to their immediate world. Every character has his or her essential faults, and Betty’s faults are important to analyze. Notice how the only two women Don has ever married share so much in common, yet are so vastly different. Frankly, without Betty, there would be no Megan. I spent much of Season Five dissecting the two women and noticing their infantilized ways. Just as Megan is portrayed as a young teenager, Betty is stuck in her childhood years. Megan and Betty aren’t even that far apart in age, maybe 4 years, but Betty is portrayed as middle aged while Megan is Don’s latest picking.

Betty is a classic Hitchcock blonde and it’s not hard to see where Grace Kelly references come from. Her blonde hair and cold disposition are tailored for this. It’s most prominent in her scenes with her psychiatrist during Season 1 especially with her appearance. During these sessions, she reveals a bit about her struggle with maternity and marriage. She builds up a beautiful façade for her life thinking that she doesn’t need a career when everything is provided for her.

The former model got a taste of her pre-Don life in the episode titled “Shoot” from Season 1, where she was used as a trick to get at Don. In the episode, she told her psychiatrist of how she met and married Don. She met Don on a photo shoot while he was a copywriter for the company when he asked her out. She refused and he sent the coat she wanted, but had to return, to her Manhattan apartment. Don proposed rather quickly and around that time she became pregnant with their daughter, Sally. Raising children in Manhattan wasn’t an option so they moved to the suburbs of Ossining, NY, and Betty’s new life – or lack of one, began.

            “Suddenly, I really felt so old.” – Betty, Season 1, Episode 9 “Shoot”

She also revealed details about her relationship with her parents. She became a model because she was under constant pressure of being thin by her mother, and even when she became one, her mother still wasn’t pleased. When Betty talks about Sally getting fat, she’s talking for her mother. She was always her father’s “little girl,” and still saw herself that way even up until his last days when he had Alzheimer’s. Having her father gone changed Betty; no one really appreciated him as much as she did, and she felt it ever more when she named her unplanned third child, Eugene, after him.

It seemed Betty was in a constant state of flux with herself as to whether she should be seen as “daddy’s little girl” or a grown woman, mother and wife with a predisposed lifestyle she didn’t plan for herself.

Dream sequences in “Mad Men” are always fantastic, portrayed seamlessly as with Don’s visions of his mother, stepmother and father when he was plain Dick Whitman. Betty’s dream sequence in the Season 3 episode “The Fog,” was one of the most revealing moments for Betty in the series. She was in the hospital for the birth of Baby Gene when a drug-induced reverie set in and took her from the walls of the hospital wing to her kitchen in Ossining. Her father was mopping up a pile of blood. His role: the janitor. In the dream, he plays dumb and pretends not to know her for fear of blowing his cover. “You do know me,” she said, and he turns around and confesses that he had to go away but he misses her. She is her grown-self but believes she is a little girl. “I left my lunch pail on the bus, and I’m having a baby,” she said – not knowing that she had just perfectly bottled a definition for herself.

            “You’re a house cat. You’re very important, and you have little to do.” – Eugene Hofstadt, Season 3, Episode 5 “The Fog”

In later seasons, when she divorces Don and marries Henry Francis, public relations assistant to Nelson Rockefeller, she finds she isn’t any happier. Getting together with Henry was an adventure to see if she could act like Don. She ended up falling for him and falling into a comfortable marriage because what would she do if she was single? If there was one thing Betty was never going to be, it was Helen Bishop, the divorced mother of Glen, working a sad little job folding pamphlets or behind a perfume counter.

Just as Megan is a foil for Don, Henry acts as a foil for Betty. He is in the show primarily to show a contrast between her two marriages. Her husband is faithful to her, but in Season 5 when she has her cancer scare, the first person she calls is Don. She will always cherish the life she built with the man she fell passionately in love with, but I doubt there will be a reunion of the two. It’s just not in the style of “Mad Men.” Is there room for any love in Betty’s life? Now that she got fat (though I don’t think she will be fat for Season 6) she doesn’t have her looks to keep her vain. In the Season 5 episode where Sally gets her period, she does regain her daughter though, realizing that she will always be her mother. In that sense, maybe this opens up a new maternal period for Betty. I doubt she will ever venture into the waves of feminism, but it would be interesting to see how she deals with the changing world outside of her new home, which resembles a mausoleum because of it’s out-dated Victorian-era décor.

I hope to see more of Betty during Season 6. I hope she get’s to teach her daughter more things, and maybe, Sally can teach her a few things too. I hope she moves out of the house and it would be interesting, although rare but not completely our of range, if she would turn into the next Helen Bishop for her own good.

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Author: Claudia Marina View all posts by
Journalism student at the University of Florida. Sally Draper is my spirit animal. I love writing about TV and how it affects culture. Occasionally I watch bad TV, but reviews make it better.

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