Whether or not you’re enjoying Mad MenSeason 5 depends on whether or not you enjoy seeing so much of Megan Draper (JessicaParé). Longtime viewers have certainly become attached to Don’s (Jon Hamm) first wife Betty (January Jones) over the years, intrigued by her robotic, trance-like depression, and learning the root causes of her many unattractive qualities — her father’s habit of hitting his children, and her mother’s obsession with beauty being two examples.
In other words, we’re invested in the character, inscrutable as she may be. So her near-absence from Season 5 has had a worrying effect on fans and critics, notably Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter, who contemplates what Betty’s reduced role means for Mad Men as a whole. Will she eventually fade into obscurity as Don’s life moves forward without her? Was Betty only an interesting character worth watching because of her relationship with Don? Or, once Fat Betty has lost the bored housewife weight (i.e. once January Jones loses her pregnancy weight and can fit into that Grace Kelly wardrobe of hers again), will storylines of her own suddenly open back up?
In a recent interview, January describes Betty’s character development as having reached a kind of standstill. "I think that [Betty]'s just really trying to grow but her emotional immaturity is at a level where it's not possible ... for her to really feel content, ever." If we’re to believe that, then it sounds like there isn’t much more to tell of Betty’s plight.
Then again, show creator Matthew Weiner has said that he did everything to work around January’s pregnancy while filming Season 5. He said, “She got to go off and have her baby, take her maternity leave, and come back to work. We actually shot some of the things out of order, not just the first episode but later episodes, like scenes and things like that when she was able to come back to work."
We already know that we’ll at least see Betty on this week’s Mad Men (Season 5, Episode 9: “Dark Shadows”), since she appears in the promo (still fat, FYI). And Weiner implies that we’ll see even more Betty in later episodes this season. His comment on coming right back to work also suggests that he considers her back full-time after leaving briefly to give birth.
But Betty’s presence also depends heavily on the story of Don Draper. We agree with Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz, who sees each Mad Men character as an obtuse representation of what it means to be a human being, to be selfish, to make mistakes, and move on with life. But we would argue that Mad Men is, ultimately, the Dick Whitman story. If Betty has nothing to add to Don’s present situation, do we need her around anymore?
Share your thoughts on the incredible shrinking woman that is Fat Betty, and tell us if you miss her when she’s gone in the comments.