Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Betty Draper Francis Deserved A Better Last Scene

I made an embarrassing digital era mistake on social media last week. With so many things to remember/keep track of -- internet week, upfronts/newfronts, design week, Life in general -- I thought that last week's episode of Mad Men was indeed the series finale and wrote "Farewell Mad Men" on my Facebook page.

Quite the contrary. I was quickly jolted back to reality in the digital form of instant messages and reprimanding comments on my Facebook account. This week's episode of Mad Men was, they said, the last, the previous week's was the penultimate. With egg on my face I corrected myself and pitched forward into the usual media hair-splitting of the last episode.

I was generally pleased with the closer -- Don "Mr. Anxiety" Draper got a good ending, and so did Pete, Peggy, Roger and, to a degree, Joan. One thing though greatly disturbed me: Betty's last scene. Diane Cleheane, one of the most passionate commentators on the Mad Men phenomenon, got it pitch-perfect with a comment on Facebook, "If (series creator Matt) Weiner was driving home the point of the randomness and the cruelty of life, mission accomplished."

That ending didn't sit well with me either. It seemed to me a particularly cruel way to kill the unpopular suburban housewife, while, at the same, time venerating the shows go-getter career women. "Mad Men Gives Way to Strong Women" -- or somesuch take on that narrative idea -- was the general critical takeaway. Peggy gets it all -- love and a career; Joan gets most -- the high powered career that has always eluded her on the other side of the glass ceiling; Betty, however, is resigned to her dark fate, smoking unto an early Death, while Sally washes the dishes in the still of the suburban home.

Last week -- the week I mistook for the last -- presented a better Betty. In many ways the penultimate episode presented the better end for Betty Draper Francis; in many ways the penultimate episode would have been the best way, even without the resolution with Don, to sunset her character. This was the Betty Draper who has evolved from slightly spoiled housewife wholly dependent upon her husband's status and her looks for her identity to the mature woman, tempered through the fires of her father's decline as well as the unravelling of Don Draper's deception. The Betty Draper of last week was the Betty that stood up to Don, all iron festooned with lace. But the tone in the discussion of her impending Death with her daughter Sally was almost beyond beautiful, thanks to an soft, understated but amazing performance by January Jones. This is the Betty Draper I and untold others have come to love over the course of Mad Men.

This is how January Jones wants us to remember Betty, according to her Instagram account:

I prefer to remember Betty from her speaking to her daughter about her impending Death, just before giving the final instructions. "I watched my mother die. I won’t do that to you. And I don’t want you to think I’m a quitter, I’ve fought for plenty in my life. And that's how I know when it's over. it's not a weakness. it's been a gift to me. To know when to move on."

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