Where Is Betty?

 Posted by on April 3, 2012 at 6:30 am  Season 5
Apr 032012

Last week’s trailer for Tea Leaves was interesting. Don kisses Megan; Megan mentions another man; and Betty appears.

Except that she doesn’t. Last week, we knew Betty was inside the creepy house when Don dropped off the kids at the end of Memorial Day weekend (“Give my love to Morticia and Lurch,” he kidded). We knew we’d see Betty this week, because we saw Henry and his mother. But we did not see her face until the first moments of this episode.

It takes a special kind of character to be not seen but suggested. Think of the great white shark in Jaws. Better still, the Alien: female as well, and more terrifying for it.

Now we know: a glance at Betty would have given it away. She has gained weight, and this makes a certain kind of sense. Betty’s exhaustion is clear from her first lines (“Darling, I just don’t think I can go tonight”). She is slow to move and slower to speak, tired, sad. Then the girl who still grieves for her mother gets a bad scare of her own, complicating matters further.

My concern for Betty goes deeper than a cancer scare. I don’t see much of Betty at all in Tea Leaves. This impostor Betty – I’ll call her Betty 1966 – resembles Old Betty only in her general affect. Still just as folded-in as an origami swan, Betty 1966 won’t speak until spoken to. She inhabits her reserve like the imprisoned princess she is.

But I miss Old Betty. Betty Draper, then the newlywed Betty Draper Francis, is a woman with a definite edge. Always dressed to the nines and made up perfectly, silent and smoking, the Betty of the past three seasons knows how to enter and leave a room. She is unlikely to react to you until you touch her last nerve, and then she erupts. Betty can be a volcano of fury, and those closest to her are most often burned.

But in Tea Leaves she doesn’t light up once. No cigarette, no tantrum, nothing.

Of course there are upsides: Betty 1966 is tender with her children. Inhaling her toddler’s scent, leaning her head against his, Betty 1966 seems to enjoy her kids. At the close of the episode, she is sitting in her sunlit kitchen, calmly eating ice cream with Sally. When Sally asks Betty 1966 if she can go watch TV, I am on to this woman. Who the hell are you, lady? What have you done with Betts?

Come on. Betty Draper doesn’t eat in public. She’ll smoke, she’ll drink, but she will avoid food as if it has power to soothe only others. Betty is the one person you cannot feed, cannot make happy, cannot soothe. She will feed herself, but only when no one is watching: alone in her dark kitchen with a chicken leg, relaxed.

Who is Betty 1966? Will Old Betty ever reappear? And what will I do if she doesn’t?


  80 Responses to “Where Is Betty?”

  1. I’m going off on a tangent a bit but I have to say that I’m still bummed that she and Don aren’t married anymore. I think Don is a more interesting character when he has to work within the confines of a marriage (even though he obviously isn’t too confined by it). Even his marriage to Megan seems so much more wide open and flexible. Maybe it makes him ultimately happier now but his marriage to Betty gave him rules and boundaries of a sorts, and I think he atleast understood those rules better. Now it’s more like tennis without a net.

    I mentioned yesterday I am a sentimentalist and even though I know it does not make for great TV I like to see couples fight to stay together. Since then ,the interesting character of Betty, to me, is searching for a good plot line. She will never have one as good as when she was paired with Don. Betty’s current marriage has drained her of interest because it was never fully formed to begin with. It was just a half thought out plot device (what up and coming political figure falls in love with a married pregnant woman, is anxious to marry her immediately and take over full financial responsibility for 3 kids?). It just never rang true in any way, in the manner that even Don’s outlandish back story did.

    • BKNY, I totally appreciate your perspective and agree with you about Don and Betty. I know I’m sentimental and I hate that they did not stay married! I find their ups and downs much more interesting than waiting to see what will throw the new Don off his game and lead him back to some Old Don tendencies. You are right….Henry “rescuing” Betty never rang true. I found myself asking, “What the heck is wrong with him? What’s his secret flaw”? And poor Henry…..it was so telling that Betty turned to Don for some familiar support when she was afraid of the diagnosis. I feel sad for her.

      • I’m sentimental too – I also hate that they didn’t stay married!

        • It’s not so much that I hate that they didn’t stay married, it’s that from the start they were written as an explosive couple (sexually, emotionally, mentally), and as such, very very compelling together. No other coupling has compelled me as much to watch. In the first two seasons, there were many hints as to why they loved each other, even if they weren’t good to one another all the time. So it’s sad to see them not able to work through it. So many people villify Betty, but I think given the cards she was dealt early in the show, it’s understandable why she became brittle with anger. She was powerless and still is in many ways.

    • BKNY – I totally agree. I am the only one I know who believes in Don and Betty. I don’t know if it’s the amazing chemistry between Jon and January. If it’s the fact that they are a modern day Grace Kelly and Cary Grant? What was between them was gold – the scenes with Don and Betty are now iconic. I wished they had kept them together as I think they had a lot to learn from one another. I did think Betty’s divorce and re-marriage was too fast, as is Don’s.

      If I could meet Matt Weiner I’d tell him this one thing: I believe Don and Betty’s relationship was about his false self meeting her false self and because of that it was doomed. However, I believe that Don’s real self and Betty’s real self are a good match and that they love each other. When the chips are down they are there for each other. I believe it’s love between them, but the each don’t know who they really are.

      My dream ending for the series is some self-awareness on each of their parts – and them getting back together. I’m pro-Don and Betty. I don’t see the chemistry with Betty and Henry or Don and Megan. I don’t see it.

      • I totally agree that Don’s and Betty’s real selves would be a good match. I thought I was the only one so thank you for sharing your thoughts. I don’t feel so alone anymore. 🙂

    • Imagine 1966 Betty in the same scene, at twilight with her children surrounding her, breathing them in and cherishing the moment….with Don by her side, and not Henry.

      What a difference that would be.

      • Sometimes you have to make the change in your fundamental life condition–your marriage–in order to have the opportunity to change yourself. I don’t want to over-romanticize Don and Betty. They didn’t help each other “move forward,” and Don has made some positive changes with Megan. Betty is more affectionate with her children, and that is all for the good.

        Love isn’t enough for a marriage. I loved my ex-husband to the day he died, I miss him every day, but it was right to divorce him.

        • That is an excellent point Deb. Thank you for pointing out that love is not enough, especially when lots of things in their relationship were built on lies and deceit totally on Don’s part. He played a huge hand in making Betty the woman she is, though of course we ultimately are responsible for our actions and no one drives us to behave a certain way but his cheating and not trusting her with his true self significantly affected her and it isn’t entirely her fault that she didn’t know how to process all of that. No one is taught really how to process such things.

  2. Excellent character analysis, Anne! Yes, this is a new Betty, but none the happier than the old one. This Betty is filled with self-loathing, she hates her weight and is ashamed of it, insisting that Henry turn around. She’s been absorbed into that scary house with it’s calustrophobic rooms. This is an extremely depressed woman, and I think this depression is worse than the sadness she felt with Don.Eating the chicken leg after her fling was a sign of ‘screw you’ triumph. Eating Bugles and later the remains of Sally’s ice cream, Betty now escapes through her food.
    But I see hope in her changing attitude toward her children, maybe this is a loving Betty that it took a cancer scare to bring out. When Roger mentioned that ‘Betty’s a fighter’, Don scoffed. But I suspect that the cancer scare, despite her ice cream splurge, will bring back Betty’s survival instinct. We’ll see.

    • Thanks lady! 🙂

      I was confused as to why Roger would have called Betty “a fighter”. Unless that comment fell under the heading of things-you-say-when-someone’s-sick, it seemed as far off the mark as the clairvoyant’s descriptions of Betty: “a great soul” and “a rock”.

      Betty is a lost soul, not a great one. And she may turn out to be a rock, but she is the last one in the world who would believe that of herself.

    • I agree with you about that house. It is a mausoleum. It is so dark and old fashioned and creepy in a gothic kind of way. What were they thinking? I feel like Henry Francis (who I still don’t like and find creepy no matter how nice he is to Betty) is making her older than her years and though Don is struggling with having such a young wife and will struggle more to come to terms with the youth cultural explosion that is starting off, he is in a much better position to move forward than poor Betts. I also kind of like how he can still call her Birdie and that they can talk to each other without fighting, or even just being civil. I still feel like there is some love there but they are both too emotionally stilted and repressed for their relationship to have worked.

  3. Well, was it good for her back then when she felt she always had to look like The Perfect Woman? I remember one scene in Season 2 or 3, she and Don had to go out (the evening at the end of Season 3?) and she didn’t really feel like it, but Don said “Come on, I need you to be in your best shape”, or something similar, which sounds like “I want you to come because you make *me* appear better”. Compare this to Henry asking for her to come with him but because he enjoys it when she’s there with him, and doesn’t really care if she’s not a Grace Kelly look alike anymore like before.
    Ok, it’s clear that she hates to be fat now, but I hope that she’ll get over this obsession seeing that, after all, her domestic life is far better now (I really like Henry). Am I too optimistic? This being Mad Men, I fear so.

    • Good point, Chiara.

      I think that was Don’s award dinner with Sterling Cooper. I think that Betty had just found The Box. She didn’t just not want to go: she actually didn’t like her husband, at that point.

      Don likes women who make him look good. His recent selection of Megan is not an accident, in this regard.

  4. Betty 1966 breaks my heart. I know a lot of fans rally against Betty but I always liked the character. I’m assuming she’ll get those diet pills and get herself back in shape but between the evil MIL putting her down and Henry ultimately doing with her as Don did (showing her off as a trophy and nothing more) she is bound to go down a lane she cannot come back from. No matter how much she enjoys her children, she is still too selfish to get herself healthy in the “correct” way. 🙁

    Poor Betty, in another life she could have been an intelligent, witty and just plain awesome butt kicking b****
    Remember when she asked Don “Is this the one where I talk or don’t talk?”. This woman could have been a confident rock that the leaf reader mentioned, but between societal pressure, one asshole of a husband and another one who doesn’t really get her she is a hollow wreck.

    • Hopefully, her thyroid issue will clear up if the lumps removed so she won’t need drugs or diet pills. Thyroid really can lead to weight gain. Just because the lump was benign doesn’t mean it wasn’t impacting her thyroid. I think they are toying with us just a little bit. The “Betty letting herself go” bit seems a little too cliche and a little out of character for someone who has taken such pains with her appearance for so long. I think we were intially drawn by Pauline’s theory, but in actuality, there was something medical (thyroid and/or depression) going on that was beyond Betty’s willpower to control.

      That’s why I was left a little confused at the end. Was the ice cream Sundae scene meant to show us that most of her problem really was overeating all along? (So we think ‘she’s unhappy, letting herself go.’) Or was it supposed to be a sign that–even though most of the problem was the thyroid–the whole experience was leading Betty to “lighten up” on herself and others? She didn’t look miserable eating thoses Sundaes. She looked like she was enjoying them. I just couldn’t tell if the smile meant that Betty was engaging in escapism and self-medication–with the food and the “Sixteen, Going on Seventeen” — or if it was actually the beginning of a more mellow Betty who –even though it was very late–still had a whole life in front of her. Maybe it was a sign that EVEN BETTY could be “on the brink” of adulthood–at last.

      Also, I am not ready to write Henry off so completely. He isn’t a main character, he isn’t like Don, he isn’t brilliantly witty, and he isn’t “amusing” the way audiences often want characters to be.

      But I think he tries a lot harder to communicate and have a relationship with Betty. He made an attempt to love her for more than her glamour. Betty’s mother spent her whole life training her to believe that a woman’s only value came from her looks and glamor. Don’s behavior reinforced that. And as lovely as she was–it didn’t make her happy.

      Betty didn’t quite believe it was meaningful when Henry tried to reassure her he loved her whether she was heavier or not. She was afraid it was a lie and a sign of Henry’s poor judgment (her own low self esteem discounting him), and she threw out the line about Henry’s mom. But he didn’t give up–he forgave the comment because he knew she’d been on a roller coaster. Now here’s a man telling her he felt like Scrooge who’d seen the gravestone and been given another chance. He acted like he really meant it—and Betty broke down and started crying. Why? Because who has ever said anything like that to Betty before? And I think Betty –“who felt like she’d come back on a boat from China” actually felt the “Scrooge looking at the gravestone” more than she said. I think that Henry was closer to understanding her than she realized.

      I think when Betty had her tea leaves read, she wasn’t sure it was true that the people around her loved her. That’s why she broke down crying. But I think Henry showed HE was miss her terribly.

      That’s a start. And she seemed quite “normal mom” with her littlest son. We saw Bobby and Sally racing all around with sparklers, and Betty sat eating Sundaes with Sally. Whatever their ups and downs, Sally and Bobby were intimate enough with her to be the “zipper helpers.”

      What is it like for someone who has been told her whole life that beauty is all-important to find out that a husband can love her even as she loses her “perfect” beauty?

      Maybe it is actually better that Henry doesn’t perfectly understand Betty? She needs to be pushed beyond the walls she’s been locked up in.

      I don’t know that everything will always work out for Betty and Henry, but he really isn’t so bad, even if he isn’t my favorite character to watch.

      I don’t like it that he decided to say “nobody” was on the phone when Don called, but I think it’s within the realm of the normal awkwardness when dealing with the Ex. Henry can’t exactly go yelling about the house that Don called asking about Betty’s cancer test results. There were 3 kids who were just about to sit down to dinner and can probably overhear his response. The kids may know Betty had to go to the doctor and get that band-aid, but I’m sure they didn’t know a fraction of what was going on. And if you mention their Dad, they will miss him and want to call back. Of course, he could have told her later –that would have been better.

      • What is it like for someone who has been told her whole life that beauty is all-important to find out that a husband can love her even as she loses her “perfect” beauty?

        My guess is that she will feel the same contempt for the man who loves her that she feels for her “less-than-perfect” self. Of course, she knows she’s far from perfect and always has been — but looking the part must have felt wonderful, as if she were getting away with something. It would be crushing to lose that power, if in fact that was the only power she thought she had.

        And I do give Henry credit for trying. He obviously is there for his wife in whatever way she needs — even if he does need the occasional brandy to deal with it.

        • Quite possible, but not inevitiable.

          I’ve read that people need time to grieve a divorce–whether they initiate it or not, and whether they get remarried right away or not. Sometimes a quick rebound or quick remarriage can just complicate and delay everything.

          Don had an awful time last season, but he seems to have dealt with some of the divorce pain more directly and more quickly than Betty has.

          If you buy into one of the various “stages of grief” models, you usually would expect ot see phases of denial, anger, bargaining, DEPRESSION, and acceptance.

          Betty could be defined forever as “depressed” or it could be part of a larger process. She seemed very angry last year, and that anger seems to have shifted into a softer, more depressed phase.

          It’s possible she will always cling to her past values, her past ideals, and her wardrobe of lovely clothes she cannot wear anymore.

          But it isn’t written in stone.

          It is true that Betty possessed one kind of power in the past–but it was only one kind. Even if she hadn’t put on weight, she wasn’t going to be young and glamourous forever.

          Even if Betty weren’t heavy–she’d be just as square as Don and getting older every day. If she tried to stay young, hip, and modern, she couldn’t pull it off and it wouldn’t suit the roles she typically plays.

          Anyway–I can’t imagine that the writers will leave JJ playing a heavy Betty for the rest of the series. I just don’t see it, though it is not based on the inner-workings of the plot so much as my knowledge that JJ was pregnant. The thyroid thing is actually kind of clever because my impression is that those conditions can cause rather rapid weight fluctuations. It makes it believable enough if Betty’s weight shifts noticably in either direction. Takes the pressure off actress JJ to instantly lose her baby weight, but it won’t seem too crazy if she naturally loses it quickly.

          Some have suggested Betty will turn to some form of drug for help. I think it depends on whether the writers are wedded to the idea that Betty has to stay stuck in the past, even if lots of other characters are allowed to change.

          Don has changed, Peggy’s changed, Joan has changed, Harry has changed—the whole world is changing. Does the show need to have Betty rooted in the past for contrast?

          • What I think is interesting is that Weiner and the writers have given themselves an “out” as to Betty’s weight with the thyroid plotline, but they are also giving Betty the character another opportunity to misunderstand exactly what is going on in her life. From we first met her, as a 28 – 30 – year old woman, it was clear Betty was suffering from Betty Friedan’s “problem with no name” and the later confrontation with Don, the divorce and the remarriage to Henry did not change that. Now we see Betty likely gaining weight both because of a thyroid condition and because of depression about her life, but if the doctors fix the thyroid problem she will have an excuse for her depression and weight, but might never get to the basic source of her real problems. Betty was raised to be the perfect accessory, and has yet to figure out she should be in control of her own life and happiness.

            I disagree with Anne B that the Betty we see in “Tea Leaves” is not the same Betty. Sure we don’t see the spunky Betty who shot at the neighbor’s birds or who deliberately sent a message to Don via her psychiatrist or who finally opened that desk drawer, but we sure see the Betty of “the Grown-Ups” and her interactions with her father.

            I have been a fan of Betty’s since the first season, and I sincerely hope we are finally getting some resolution to her story line – not that anything is ever really wrapped up on Mad Men, much like life (just watch Peggy and Pete deal with little Kevin Harris to know the secrets still lie just beneath the surface). But if Betty is to remain the clueless housewife – unhappy but not knowing why – there is little dramatic room for her character. It would be much more interesting to see Betty reacting to the soon-to-be-loud-and-proud women’s movement and discovering what is really going on in her life, even while dealing with her daughter’s coming-of-age in a radically different time, and all the conflict that will entail.

          • I realized when I was writing this post that to a great degree, I want Betty to stay the same: angry, self-focused, withholding, petty. I also saw that these things were all part of what I missed about her while the show was on hiatus.

            My feelings come from having firsthand experience of living with a person like Betty. I realized that if Betty 1966 really had changed — if she were suddenly this somewhat enlightened character, newly appreciative of her children, her husband, and her life — I’d feel cheated. Something would have needed to happen in her life to get her to that point, and I would not know what it is.

            Worse, I would have had nothing to do with it. Because I often identify with Betty’s daughter, this feeling would infuriate me.

            I have chosen my view of Betty 1966 as a “different person”. I choose either not to recognize her, or to believe that she’ll change right back — because these choices make me feel better.

            I”m not proud of it, but there it is.

          • “Something would have needed to happen in her life to get her to that point, and I would not know what it is.”

            Thanks for sharing. I can understand why you may feel comfortable with somebody who you perceived to be in the wrong changing “too fast” when you dont’ think they’ve earned or deserved it.

            I think many of the forces impacting Betty are not entirely obvious because she doesn’t always come out and say what’s going on with her.

            People who have experienced something very painful or traumatic can often be self-absorbed. They have not been able to process or cope with a severe psychological injury, and the worry and injury can consume them.

            In retrospect, Betty suspected Don was cheating on her way back in Season 1 — when her hands started shaking. It was a very painful and traumatic thing for her. She was right that he was cheating, though he NEVER admitted it — not ever. It made her feel very hurt, lonely, angry, and even crazy.

            I think Betty–for better or for worse–was too proud and possibly too much in love with Don to not let his suspected infidelities drive her to dark, black, hurt, enraged places. She wasn’t the kind of wife who could look the other way and pretend it didn’t infuriate her. And she couldn’t even prove it was happening, and he tried to pretend that “nothing was going on” –so it must all be in Betty’s head. It wasn’t.

            This may not have been ‘too much strain’ for some women, but it was too much strain for Betty. I don’t think I blame her in regards to Don. I wouldn’t want to live like that.

            Sometimes, I think she wouldn’t actually have left him over the Dick Whitman stuff if she hadn’t been so unhappy with him for so long suspecting his infidelity. But it gave her some sort of tangible proof of a legitimate reason.

            Yes, she was still pretty angry last season, but I think that she had years of repressed anger to process, a very young child which could mean sleep deprivation, a preteen which often is challenging, divorce trauma for herself, divorce trauma with her kids, change is always hard, and introducing a step parent to her kids was difficult. On top of it all, they were still living in the Ossining house with all of the memories of Don and their life together. (This was her choice, partly because she hadn’t processed all of her anger at Don.) Her rage was what gave her the courage to act after so many years, and I think she was nursing her rage because she temporarily found strength in it.

            Eventually, she learned that Don wasn’t ever going to show up at her door bawling, begging forgiveness, and telling her it was all his fault. Don got engaged, married, and moved on. She didn’t want the same house, the same neighbor drama–she didn’t want to be the same Betty anymore. Suddenly, she wanted to move.

            So some huge changes for Betty over the past couple years: she got some sort of evidence that Don really had been lying to her. She wasn’t “totally crazy” to suspect him. She doesn’t live with a man who is wounding her by running around behind her back. (Okay, maybe Henry is, but either she doesn’t suspect him or she doesn’t care as much about him so it doesn’t hurt as much.) Her new husband actually attempts to be supportive of her. Her old husband isn’t going to ask her to come back.

            There has been a total change in location. The intense aftermath of the divorce/remarriage has passed. She doesn’t need to be mad at Don all the time–he isn’t her husband anymore.

            The “crisis mode” has passed, and now that the biggest fires have been put out, it gives her more time, energy and awareness for the rest of her life. And the rest of her life got completely neglected while she was all-consumed with her anger at Don.

            Her kids keep growing–and they keep changing.

            And perhaps she’s realizing that she spent so much time stewing and being angry about Don, that she lost the other parts of herself that she used to like.

            So I think that many, many things have changed for Betty.

            On top of it all–she lost her ability to be perfect. She cannot be the “perfect wife with a perfect family” anymore. She got divorced like Helen. She is a second wife, and now she’s lost her perfect looks. She is aware on some level that her kids aren’t wildly happy. Her daughter was in therapy.

            It is now impossible to be the perfect Betty she used to strive for –either because she’s always been a perfectionist or because she thought she “had to” for Don or for her mom.

            In some ways it is good to have a goal and strive for perfection. But sometimes what a perfectionist really needs is to be shown the impossibility and futility of chasing something that will never fully achieve in a way that will never make you happy.

            And while she may have internalized the voice of her mom, her mom isn’t around anymore to lecture. And her husband and others aren’t reinforcing what her mom said–they are challenging it.

            Then on top of it all–she was faced with the possiblity she could die very soon. And she met an old acquaintance who probably will die.

            So I do think if she DID change to be nicer (I am not ready to assume she is going to stay this 1966 Betty) — I think there are many possible reasons for the changes.

            I think that Don comforting her when she was scared and Betty hiding Don’s secret from the feds signals a healthy move toward forgiveness on each side. It is a sign that the rage is abating. I’m not talking complete “let’s get back together” forgiveness. I mean the kind that says “as much as I’ve hated some of the things that have happened, I don’t HATE you and I respect your humaness.”

            Since I think part of getting over the rage is forgiving the person you are constantly enraged at, I think this COULD be an additional, healthy release of anger for Betty. She can finally let more of it go…

            I think the primary danger is that she will be so lost without her rage and without her beauty that she will not be able to work it out.

        • My guess is that she will feel the same contempt for the man who loves her that she feels for her “less-than-perfect” self.

          Stunning. Stunning insight and stunningly sad.

      • Henry’s attitude makes me wish for a happy ending with him and Betty. He does seem like a genuinely nice guy. Hey, even if he does miss slim Betty, he at least is warm enough to her to not make her feel even worse, like his mother. Cos god, if anything drives you to comfort eating, it’s the feeling that your loved one is disappointed in you!

  5. Funny, she’ s still a Grace Kelly lookalike. Grace’s appearance became more matronly as time went by, and there have been reports that her marriage was not the happiest.

    • I thought the same, if you look at photos of Grace toward the end of her life, she was quit stout and oddly resembled how Betty did the other night.

      Anyway, I’m guessing Betty stopped smoking because of her real life pregnancy, but I wonder how that will be addressed on the show.

      • In the bathtub scene, it looked like she had her pink leather cigarette case on a ledge behind her. I think it’s b/c of Jones’ real life pregnancy that we didn’t see any lighting up of real or herbal cigarettes.

  6. Hey, maybe Betty stopped smoking, she didn’t light up once…Why Betty, Why? Maybe that’s why she is eating like a little piggy and more of a wreck than normal? LIght up Betty, and have some red wine alone in your bedroom, you dodged a big cancer bullet.

    • I think Betty may have been smoking in the scene with Joyce – over tea – we see her extinguish a cigarette prior to sipping tea. So, the character is still a smoker.

    • What I thought when I was watching the episode was we used to watch Betty have cigarettes for dinner while she waited for the kids to finish. If Henry manages to come home at a reasonable hour she’s probably eating more because she’ll sit and eat with him. No wonder she’s gained weight.

    • Even cutting down on smoking (and drinking, too — did we see her take any alcohol this week?) could have increased her appetite. I mean, gods, the woman probably first stuck a cigarette in her mouth when she was 13 in order to get her mom off her back about eating, and has barely managed to not smoke in her sleep since then. (A lot of people used the cutdown method back then to try to quit, and Henry’s annoyance about Betty’s behavior in Tomorrowland might well have eventually led to his nagging her about her smoking.)

      But when you’re a size zero (in 1966 terms, probably a 4) and you go up to a (gasp!) size 6 (or in 1966, a 10), on TV it’s going to look like a lot more weight than it really is, especially if they go overboard with the chin prosthesis like they did here. (I thought they overdid Peggy’s too.) And the post-bath body double was disproportionately large also compared to how we saw Betty in head-to-toe body shot. The shapeless housedresses probably added to the effect, also, but I can’t imagine that Betty is actually any wider than Joan is right now, although Joan might be taller.

  7. Betty’s father was eating a lot of ice cream before he died.

    Any connection?

  8. I’m interested in how the tea leaves reader comment “You’re a rock” comes into play in the Betty storyline. In the moment, the comment reduces her to tears and I read that as Betty thinking, “yes, but for how long?” But is it foreshadowing of what’s to come? Will Betty be the rock for Henry and his political career? For Don, with a failing marriage perhaps? Or Sally with her upcoming teenage years looming? Is Betty growing up, hence the “16” song?

    Great post Anne B!

  9. Didn’t Betty have a weight problem in childhood? I recall her talking to one of her friends about it and I think Grandpa Gene also referred to it. I’m sure she carries emotional issues (if not scars) from that, even so many years later. I can’t help but think that every time she sees herself in the mirror, it has to stir up bad memories. Henry claims not to see it, but that doesn’t offer much (anything) in the way of comfort to her.

  10. Hi Anne and all.

    I too am worried about Betty this season (and Roger but for different reasons). Tea Leaves appears to be receiving some of the customary early episode flak about being too slow and somehow less satisfying than premiere(s) or the buildup to the finale. Are we are in the doldrums of the MM season or not? I like these “slower” episodes because they tend to have more thematic and symbolic clues about the meaning of the show and season than, say, a Tomorrowland where lots of things happen. I also still like Betty and find her sympathetic. The phone call with Don was especially touching. Was it my favorite episode? Nah, not by a long shot but I liked seeing the Betty/Henry dynamic again and I think Michael Ginsberg while a bit over the top will be a fun addition to SCDP.

    I especially enjoyed the continued development and blending of themes about personal and cultural change and how we deal (or don’t deal) with change – even as characters are confronted with serious questions about fate and mortality. MW seldom adds anything without intention and in a “slow” episode with non-plot elements like dream sequences and fortune tellers we better watch very carefully because we are getting clues to what the season and the show is actually about.

    In the bath scene (hated the body double BTW) Henry says “if” three times and he “won’t play that game.” Later in Betty’s dream, Henry repeats “if” three times with his head bowed. Finally, after the doctor’s phone call, Henry compares Betty’s circumstances to Scrooge – she is let off the hook and has another chance at life. Threes and dreams are always significant. Throw in a full-blown fortune teller and what are we getting at here?

    Fate is often depicted as a game of chance – one Henry apparently won’t play. The reference to Scrooge’s tombstone is pretty clear. Ol’ Scrooge gets to look into the future (like Betty) and learns that he can change his fate if he changes his life. Its Betty’s dream of course so the word “if” probably reflects her regret about not being a better Mom perhaps especially to Sally who she specifically reaches out to comfort. Can Betty change? I’d like to think so but I doubt it – not much anyway. The fortune teller says that she is a “rock” and that people care about and depend on her (and they do). I’m a pro-Betty MM fan but personally I don’t see her as a rock in the traditional Mom-as-the-family-rock sense. I see her as very stubborn and sorta rock-like in that way. The second she put down the phone she seemed to be back to the same old Betty. By comparison we see the traditional blessing of young Ginsberg – that’s some solid rock-like family support even if family consists only of “Pop.”

    What do you all think? Can Betty fundamentally change, maybe just at the margins – or not at all?

    Regardless, change is a comin’ and it’s all about how we deal with it. Those that can’t move with the times may get crushed or broken – even a rock can break – unless of course it is a Rolling Stone!

    • In the bath scene (hated the body double BTW) Henry says “if” three times and he “won’t play that game.” Later in Betty’s dream, Henry repeats “if” three times with his head bowed. Finally, after the doctor’s phone call, Henry compares Betty’s circumstances to Scrooge – she is let off the hook and has another chance at life. Threes and dreams are always significant. Throw in a full-blown fortune teller and what are we getting at here?

      I love that you brought this up.

      I am fond of a well-done dream sequence. The Sopranos presented some of the most truly dreamlike and deeply scary dreams I have ever seen. I’m always pleased to see Matt and company follow in these genetic footsteps.

      I also understand that a dream can allow a more reserved or introverted character to express things we would not otherwise see in them. (I’m an introvert, and you would not believe what I get up to in my dreams.) I saw this in Betty’s childbirth dream more than in her death fantasy in Tea Leaves.

      And I do think it was a bit of a fantasy. Betty has always been more than a little attracted to drama (remember how she reacted to Francine’s issues with Carlton? Seeing her old roommate as a call girl?), and I believe there was a part of her that recognized the drama in her cancer scare. I would not say that she relished it, not even close: but it did seem to bring a bit of movement to her life — which doesn’t have much of that anymore.

      • Great point Anne. Don has had his share of dream or dream-like sequences but Betty has had several too and they are every bit as significant and intelligent – remember her Mother and Medgar Evers?

        When an author inserts a dream sequence we have to be especially alert because we are getting a “direct feed” into relevant symbols and themes. We know that Betty is a complex character. She is frequently miserable but never simple. Betty’s dream showed several positive things. (1) “Dream Betty” knows what is going on here. The cup and the chair [Like Tiny Tim “there is an empty place”] make it abundantly clear to Betty that she is a goner. (2) Nevertheless she takes in the unhappiness at the table and wants to normalize the situation and make it right i.e. “Well I’m hungry!” ok, I’m not sure what this means food-wise but her instinct is maternal, unselfish and surprisingly upbeat. (3) Betty’s dream is NOT about her but caring about her family. In fact most of her reactions after finding the lump are not at all selfish or self pitying considering the possibility of cutting her life very short and the natural stress of that news.

        I’d say that on a based on the dream at a subconscious level, Betty has the raw material and strength to improve – it’s the weight of history and her inability to change much over the past four seasons that leaves me in doubt as to her ability to take this wake up call to improve her situation and her life.

      • I said somewhere in the recap thread that I thought it might be more fantasy than dream.

        I had a shadow on a mammography once (more than once, but the first time is the scary time). They called me and said to come in RIGHT NOW for another film. Of course, there was nothing wrong. The thing is, I had the mammo the day before vacation so all the alarmed phone calls were waiting for me while I was away (two each from the doctor and the radiology center, all very urgent). This was also before digital mammo was available where I went, so the film wasn’t developed right away and that’s why I was already out of town when they called. They had one digital machine only and they used it for re-exams, so I got the second, “all clear” result while I waited there.

        Anyway, here’s my point. I was TERRIFIED. Realistically I knew it was probably just a film problem, in fact they’d all told me that. And if it was something, it was probably a fibroid. and if it was not a fibroid but a lump, it was probably benign. I was approximately 42 years old and my family history is good. But. I. Was. Terrified.

        And in that period of terror, which lasted less than 24 hours, you frickin’ betcha I concocted every horrific will-reading, funeral-planning, paying-off-the-mortgage fantasy my morbid over-active imagination had in its arsenal. My own mind was my worst enemy. I grieved my life, I grieved for my poor son the orphan, the whole nine yards.

        When the scene resolves to Betty in bed, her eyes are wide open. They don’t pop open, or gradually open, they are already open. She’s fantasizing and I don’t have it in my heart to criticize that.

    • Look who’s back! Heya ddd!

      • Hiya Deb!

        Nice to be back and I love the new look and the fun little avatar fellers. Even more fun is that there are lots of smart, insightful comments as usual on a wonderful venue – you are great hosts!

        I definitely hear you on the scary MD exam/test – I have had a brush with that myself and let’s just say I didn’t start by thinking about anybody but me! I think that is what impressed me so much about Betty. Anne B is right, Betts likes her drama but she didn’t appear to do much grieving for herself either in reality or in the dream/fantasy. Let’s face it, Betts ain’t the most generous individual and doesn’t have a great track record of putting others first. I thought it was unusual to see her reflecting more about her family and feeling what is apparently some heartfelt regret – not bad progress for Betty I’d say. When Betty asks Joyce about her cancer experience and receives a rather terrifying and poignant description we don’t have the feeling she is asking out of selfishness but with a good deal of sympathy for Joyce and herself. Joyce even states that no one ever asked before.

        So I’m probably way overboard on this whole rock thing but it occurred to me that the Francis new home is made of rock and Ol’ Ebenezer’s tombstone referred to by Henry is certainly a rock too. Just saying here – maybe it’s nothing . . .

        Anyway, thanks for saying Hi and I’ll be back as often as time allows!

    • “What do you all think? Can Betty fundamentally change, maybe just at the margins – or not at all?”

      She had a brief health scare and, for a moment, contemplated the notion of her own mortality. But the crisis passed and everything is “back to normal.” (there’s that phrase again)

      I think it’s too soon to tell if this will change Betty in any significant way, but I know from personal experience how life-altering a major health crisis can be. 23 years ago I was diagnosed with a walnut-sized tumor on my pituitary gland. It turned out to be benign, but the surgery to remove it caused permanent aftereffects.

      Betty had the luxury of everything being resolved rather quickly. In my case, it was nearly three months between diagnosis and surgery, which provided ample time to dance with all the possibilities. I do know this: Once you could’ve died, but didn’t, nothing is ever quite the same!

      While Betty’s episode passed swiftly, it might still prod her to examine the state of her life and inspire her to be happier and more engaged than she’s been. Anything’s possible. I mean, look at everything Don went through in S-4. He has apparently emerged on the other side, a better person for it.

      • Roger learned, momentarily, that lesson when he had his heart attack(s) and then went back to his old ways. Some people learn and some don’t.

        • I know that some people can change but I wonder if Betty’s depression and unhappiness is more a sign of the times and therefore she will always be unhappy. She went to college, had a modeling career, lived in Italy and then got married. She moved out of the city to the suburbs and became a housewife. Just like today, there are women who even though they do not have to work financially, are happier/more fulfilled being out in the workplace. But unlike today, women did not have this option. If they had money and were married, they were expected to stay home with the kids. So maybe Betty’s depression stems from feeling stuck. Living in the suburbs, being a housewife is not enough for her but the society norms would not allow her to do something different. If this is the case, I don’t think she can change.

      • It strikes me that Henry’s response to the good news is that they have another chance, that he feels like Scrooge, seeing now what he could have seen before and Betty says she feels like she just got off a boat from China – something so utterly foreign and different that she couldn’t possibly have learned anything from it. Henry’s experience was a familiar, albeit terrifying story, that he followed from beginning to end and had something to take away from it. Betty’s experience was of a totally foreign environment, not understanding the language, not knowing what was happening on the “boat,” and unmoored, with the image of a boat seeming to drift in directions she had no way of following, none of it in her control or responsibility – all you can take away from that is the memories of confusion and disorientation, not a directive to have a change of heart or a new perspective. Just the relief that she’s not on that boat any more.

        • From “The Fog”, a couple seasons back: Don reports once being told by a nurse when Betty was in labor, “Your wife’s in the boat, you’re on the shore.”

          Poor Betty. She never reaches solid ground, does she?

          • good catch! yup. Betty reminds me of someone who falls in the water, panicking that they can’t swim, so caught up in their own fear and sense of uselessness, that they don’t even realize they’re not over their head, and just trying to touch bottom never crosses their mind.

            This is such a well-educated crowd, I’m embarrassed about my pronoun misuse in this post, but I’m rushing – I still should know better. Mea culpa

  11. My god you are a great writer. The origami swan was enough, but the not lighting up just slayed me.

    • Awww thanks, Roberta!

      I love you so much. <3

      • I think Betty will slim down. I think she will lose the weight. I think she will feel the pressures of being married to Henry and keeping him happy, but maybe something will happen with Don and Megan. Perhaps something related to Don will inspire Betty to drop the lbs. I think she will realize what she is missing by being heavy, and that her envy towards Megan will fuel her need to lose the weight. Also, after seeing Henry’s mother being fat and useless she will realize that she cannot end up like his mother. She will be determined to be like her own mother, Ruth, who’s portrait was prominently in the hall when Betty came home from the doctor. She said in Season 1 that her mother was very handsome and was perfectly charming until the very end. She will be fat for a few more episodes, but she will shed. She has a huge fan base that adores her for her Grace Kelly-like looks. Mad Men will not let her style go to waste.

    • The origami swan made me want to book a few nights at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

      Funny how that advertising stuff works; definite Peggy Olson influences in there.

      • Well I was Catholic, after all.

        My people know how to make you want things. 🙂

      • Commenting FAIL on my part. I think I sacrificed clarity for brevity. I blame the wet lunch.

        The Cosmopolitan commercial ran like a dozen times while I was watching AMC Sunday night. Did you get the origami thought from the same place or was it serendipity?

        Anyway, in the commercial, I noticed the influences of Don’s “. . .but what does it make you feel” philosophy and shades of the gist of Peggy’s bean ballet.

        The music invokes nostalgia from the late boomer/ Gen X’ers. It’s also sexy, slick and wry. And it doesn’t have a literal pitched message or narrative (no bite and smile, Heinz would be greatly disappointed), but it’s tres fun and memorable to its target market. A very effective postmodern ad.

        • You bet I know the ad! That’s not where I got the image, though.

          There’s another blog I visit somewhat regularly (www.gofugyourself.com). At one point in awards season, a comedic actress showed up on a red carpet in a Betty Draper look. This is a woman whose work has a joyful, muscular physicality, and the dress and hair were all wrong on her.

          I was struggling to explain just why the look was wrong when I saw some stuff my kid had been folding sitting on the coffee table. My kid likes to knit or text or do homework while she watches weekend marathons of police procedurals: that weekend she’d gone to origami when she was done with homework.

          Origami swan, I thought. Betty Draper!

  12. I was also struck by the similarities between Betty’s storylines at the beginning of Season 5 and the beginning of Season 1: She has a physical problem (S1 = numb hands, S5 = weight gain) so she goes to the doctor, who suggests that her problem is possibly due to an illness she finds horrifying (S1 = mental illness, S5 = cancer) and she’s worried when he recommends a specialist (S1 = a psychiatrist, S5 = an oncologist). The audience is left wondering if her problem is actually a physical manifestation of a psychological issue (S1 = her unhappiness and her mother dying, S5 = her unhappiness and her divorce).

    Now I’m wondering if her story will have more parallels to Season 1. Sundays can’t come quickly enough!

    • You do a good job of laying out the parallels.

      At the same time, it doesn’t feel like Season 1 all over again. Betty’s first complaint in season 1 was very hidden, and it was very isolating. Her problem in season 5 is public and led to some positive conversations with Joyce, Henry, and Don. She seems more willing to evaluate herself–even if she isn’t entirely sure she knows how to fix things.

    • Nice.

      • I’m intrigued by the thread identified by Tasha, Lady K and Tilden below. There is a pattern of illness-diagnoses with Betty and if we add in the brutal labor of The Fog in S3, we see a character that has already had more than her share of interaction with doctors and scary possibilities. Despite a number of potentially life changing episodes Betty hasn’t gained any traction in taking charge of her life.

        As Lady K and Tilden note she simply doesn’t seem to have the tools necessary to turn the corner. When Roger says “She’s a fighter” Don’s face says it all. Anna had balance, resilience and true grit. Betts, well, not so much. It does appear she could recede and eventually give up under literal and figurative weight – not unlike the scary image relayed by Joyce. That doesn’t necessarily mean literal mortality. It might be even worse to simply fade away in that castle with the regret of lost potential. I’d personally really enjoy seeing a Betty renaissance even if that meant seeing more of the nasty (but lively) Betty. If she can plug into the energy of the seismic cultural shift underway I think this is still a possibility.

        Regardless I think the table is set in S5 for something to happen.

  13. I just had a thought–nothing earth-shattering, just a thought–about the title of this latest episode: Tea Leaves. Perhaps it’s a play on words, as in T, the medical shorthand for thyroid hormone, i.e. T3, T4. If Betty’s weight gain is taken into consideration, it’s more likely a case of the benign tumor having led to her having too little thyroid hormone.

    The T leaves. So then, must the tumor leave–and some sort of replacement therapy be started–if she is to get well again.

  14. Betts was heavy as a child, when her age and emotional maturity level were parallel for the only time in her life. If the gland is not fully to blame, she is just comfortably receding into the womb by putting on weight. That ennui of hers, that she just can not meet happiness halfway always hers her in I can’t handle this right now mode. Low self esteem confirms her helplessness, and boom, check-out time.
    The worry is that Betty now has crossed the line that could never be breached—– she’s fat. Could be how her mind/spirit starts playing out the endgame. Or is this look into the abyss, the one spark that forces her to see that she has value, heretofore hidden.
    Betty = true grit?
    Betty is a character who finally is developing some shape, now that ironically she no longer has hers.

  15. I know everyone is sure that the MD was examining her thyroid gland, but when he noted “I don’t like the feel of that”, he was palpating a lymph gland. The thyroid glad can be felt on the lower part of the neck. So why are we assuming the problem is her thyroid and not another type of pathophysiology?

    • Because Betty said the diagnosis was thyroid. I think that’s a pretty good justification.

      • I guess I missed that, but why didn’t we hear anything else about this from a doctor. Not to belabor a point, but patients often hear one thing when doctors or nurses are saying something else, another reason it is a good idea to bring someone one with you or get something in writing when facing critical situations.

    • Very good point. His hands (unless I’m misremembering) were nowhere near her thyroid.

  16. This is a bit off topic, but I’m fascinated by the many comparisons being drawn between Betty and Megan in this episode, especially the depiction of their relationships with their husbands.

    An obvious issue is that both Betty and Megan are married to older men. We know that Don is 40 and Megan is 26 — a 14-year age difference, but an even more significant generational difference when it comes to societal issues each has experienced.

    It has been speculated here that Betty is somewhere between 32 and 34 in 1966. But how old is Henry? We know that he has a daughter who, in Season 4, looked like she was perhaps in her early 20s. It seems as if Henry is older than Don.

    Is it possible that both Megan and Betty have married men that are at least 10-14 years older than them, but that the age difference is more striking between Don and Megan because their ages span significantly different generations than the age/generation difference between Betty and Henry?

    How old is Henry Francis?

    • Hi Polly! 🙂

      I don’t think it’s off topic at all. The first Betty-and-Henry scene in Tea Leaves was answered with a Megan-and-Don scene. Two women, two husbands, two events, two zippers.

      Of all the ways we can read those two scenes (Betty’s let herself go! Don only likes skinny women! Dresses are a pain!), the rest of the episode gave us more background on the relationships — Betty/Henry, Betty/Don, Betty/Megan, Megan/Don, Henry/Don. I don’t see the parallels between the ages of these men relative to their wives as accidental.

      Betty looks for someone who will protect her, as an adult protects and cares for a child. In Henry, she’s found that — but she still has it with Don, who is anything but indifferent to her. I would guess that Henry is in his fifties, putting him a good 20 years ahead of Betty. Don may have slightly less of an age difference with Megan, but as you point out, her generation is all new to him.

      As a second wife myself, I think Don’s concern for Betty, and her continuing reliance on him, is a bigger deal than the age difference in either marriage. Don and Betty are a story that isn’t over yet. If I were either Henry or Megan, that would be a tough thing to ignore.

      • The Don and Betty thing – Betty came home looking for Henry in a panic. When she couldn’t find him, she called Don and he reassured her in the old way. It was an old habit for both of them. If she had found Henry, I don’t think she would have called Don, because she would have been satisfied with the attention from Henry. The little bit that keeps sticking with me is that Don’s jumping back to the old role, and being truly concerned about what happens to Betty reminds me that, even though there were bitter and cruel things that happened throughout the marriage, and especially through the dissolution of the marriage, it was Betty who wanted out, not Don. I think Don would have kept trying if Betty were willing. No matter how much time, growth, and new lives they have built in between, Don still has love for Betty, and would want to protect her. He can’t live like that now, but at moments like that it shows.

        • I know a couple like that: they were great together when times were good, but so alike in temperament and level of need that they were often combustible.

          In one of their down cycles, he got mad at her and wanted out. He went looking for a way out, and found it. He is now married to the way out — and nowhere near as happy as he was with his ex-wife.

          Their story is so far from over, it is obvious to anyone who sees them together. She remarried too, and her husband is down with the ex being in her life, but the new wife of that ex constantly struggles with their relationship.

          I think a lot of couples’ stories end while they are still together: one or both of them realizes that, and they eventually move on. What’s tragic are those relationships that suffer some kind of break before their end: one of them dies, or gets stupid and leaves the other, and then regrets it after it’s too late.

          I think there is more to Betty and Don, The Couple. I hope to we get to see it.

  17. Betty is always going to resemble the old Betty because the actress playing her does not have the capability of portraying dimension.

    • Ok Ashton! Have to disagree with you there.January has displayed quite an array of dimension as Betty, especially as she was trying to figure out if don was cheating on her. That scene of her on the bed, defeated after coming up empty on evidence. After she confronts Don with her knowledge of Bobbi when she is scrubbed of makeup and tells Don she doesn’t know what they heck to do. I could feel her pain. Just as quickly she is the woman everyone one wants to hate and not because she is a bad actress, but because you hate the character. Although I never hate her. I think she masterfully exposes the motherhood experience, warts and all.

      As an aside, I think Betty needs to go back to horse back riding. Smoking is one way to relieve stress, riding a horse, even better.

  18. I just wanted to say such an excellent thread and analysis!

    I have too much to say on this topic so I’m going to opt for “hear hear!” instead and say nothing.

  19. For what its worth I was stunned when DD told Megan that Betts could be trouble healthwise. Megan goes into the possibilities of Betty passing on and slake down the brakes: I don’t want to have that conversation. Don reacted exactly as she would have. Extremely reserved, discrete just QUIET. In that they are earily similar. Don and Betty are the same person. Limited, little smiling, neither is to have their authority questioned. Low self-esteem. It took me 5 years and 54.5 viewing hours to realize this?
    I need to pay attention. I wish I could express this observation in a more literate, enlightening manner, but I was lazy in high school, too. I graduated having read 1 book cover to cover in my life. The protagonist is Holden Caufield.

  20. Ugh…….. I meant to say, Don slams down the brakes. My apologies.

  21. Hi Anne B!

    Thank you for this really wonderful post.

    There IS more to Betty and Don’s story.

    I think that story will be more about Sally, Bobby (#4) and Gene, than it will be about Betty and Don. Betty did want out of the marriage and she broke Don’s heart. I think Don has moved on from Betty romantically, even though he cares deeply for her and her welfare, but primarily in her role as mother.

    The tie that binds Betty and Don is their children (“You’ll always be their father.”). As the youth culture takes hold, it will be interesting to see Sally’s reaction to Betty and Henry vs. Don and Megan.

    Can’t wait to see how this is played out.

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