Betty is wrong and right. She divides fans because she is divided. She’s unsympathetic but she’s a victim of a system.
Amanda Marcotte (whose take on each episode is almost always completely different from everyone else’s) said:
I’m probably the only person left who still defends Betty, or the portrayal of Betty. Obviously, actual Betty is a monster, but I think the show has done a bang-up job of getting her character to this place. She’s the end result of a system where women’s only value is metaphoric baton-twirling. Once the crown has been placed on your head and life keeps going on, then what?
Betty played the game the right way according to the rules as she understood them. She even rebelled a little, modeling for her own fulfillment against her mother’s objections. But ultimately, even her fulfillment was about the performance of a feminine role. She’s oh-so-good at that role, but it has no real satisfaction for her. The obvious thing about the “not a good mother/not a bad mother” fight that breaks out from time to time is that Betty doesn’t like being a mother. Unhappiness permeates her being.
Betty can only see a shrink if she pretends that it’s not for herself. Everyone in the world, I think, noted that Betty wants to see a child psychiatrist in Blowing Smoke because she’s a child, and that was underlined in Tomorrowland when, in her unhappiness, she lay down on a little girl’s bed. But more than that, Betty can’t see a psychiatrist unless she can also pretend that she’s fine, and by pretending to be the put-together, concerned mother with Dr. Edna, she can allow herself some vulnerability.
That tail-end of conversation we heard her have with Dr. Edna was interesting; she was talking about assuming Henry was being like Don. It’s obvious she’s still traumatized by her marriage. Let’s not forget that in 1960 she opened herself to the vulnerability and intimacy of psychiatry, only to be betrayed by the shrink and Don in collusion. It’s really hard to get help when seeking help is part of the wound. The covert help from Dr. Edna must have seemed like a perfect solution. She can avoid opening up the vulnerability, but still talk about things.
What’s new in Betty is her driving need for vengeance. Well, of course we didn’t see that in 1960; she didn’t feel betrayed yet. In Season 1 Betty was depressed, and depression is a mask over anger; people who recover from depression are often enraged. In fact, Betty’s been cycling. She was sad in S1, angry in S2, deeply sad in S3, and now furious in S4. Each of her depressions was on the heels of the death of a parent, and because Betty wants to stay a child, there’s an extra layer of fighting back against that. “I’m your little girl” was one of the last things she said to her father, shocked that he would treat her as an adult.
When Betty found her life raft in Henry, she could end her marriage more easily. The problem is that she’s seething with rage at Don and now that she’s not married to him anymore she hasn’t got a good place to put that rage. Her “he doesn’t get to” from earlier in S4 is “I’m entitled to” by the finale. She can’t blame Don for her anger at Sally, at Henry, at Glen, at Carla. It’s fully internal now and will never be satisfied.
Betty behaves monstrously to Carla, and monstrously over all, but she’s not a monster, she’s a human being. She’s vulnerable, she’s fighting sadness with rage (as, in the past, she fought anger with sadness; a vicious circle), she’s needy, and she Just. Doesn’t. Grow. Up.
She also isn’t entirely wrong. It was right to move, and Glen is a bad kid. Keeping Sally away from Glen is only a bad decision because it’s badly, cruelly enforced, and it’s done for the wrong reason. Moving to a new town to break up a little pre-teen romance is over the top and crazy. All of that is true. Also, firing Carla was not just wrong but evil.
Why does Betty hate Glen? In The Inheritance they had a creepy pseudo-romance for an afternoon, and then Betty did the right thing, acted like an adult, and called Helen. Glen said “I hate you” to her, and she seemed to understand, in that moment, that sometimes that’s just what kids say.
So I think she hates Glen in part because they “broke up,” in part because he’s a reminder of her own vulnerability and bad behavior, and in part because in her less mature moments, that “I hate you” still stings.
Betty may be irredeemable as a character. I don’t know what Season 5 will bring, but it seems like she’s now raged herself into a corner. She isn’t allowing herself access, either internally (in her own feelings) or externally (through therapy) to anything that might grow her up and ease her pain. It’ll be a challenge for the writers to show us more than Monster Betty from here on out.
After I finished writing this, I found this amazing post by Sady that is brilliant about Betty’s anger, and really worth reading.