Betty Francis (formerly Draper) made her return to “Mad Men” tonight after a notable absence from last week’s season five premiere.
If you’re like me, the first thing you thought upon seeing the face of Don’s former wife was: Good lord, is she wearing the same sort of prosthetic they used on Eddie Murphy in “Norbit”?
Yes, the perfect Grace Kelly wife packed on a few pounds, aided undoubtedly by January Jones’s real-life pregnancy and some additional make-up help.
That made it difficult for her to get quickly zipped into a fashionable evening sheath the way she once did so effortlessly. (To drive home the difference between her life and that of her ex-husband’s, the director of the episode — who happened to be Jon Hamm — cut directly to a shot of Megan Draper throwing on a frock with plenty of extra material to spare.)
For those who have always had issues with “Mad Men’s” frosty mommy, the sight of a hefty Betty — dare I say an ugly Betty, even though she still looked very pretty with a bit more meat on her— was a terrific schadenfreude opportunity. But it didn’t last long. A doctor discovered a tumor on Betty’s thyroid and suddenly, we all found ourselves feeling really bad for Betty Francis/Draper.
Some interesting things happened when Betty got the alarming news about a growth on her thyroid gland.
Thing 1: When husband Henry could not be found, Betty immediately called Don to break the news. Don’s genuine concern for Betty — he referred to her using that old nickname, Birdy — was touching. Her desire to turn to him in a crisis also reflected the strength of the bond between them and kind of made me wish they were still married. I mean, Betty would never sing “Zou Bisou Bisou” for Don. But would Megan freak out, crash the family car, start seeing a therapist, find out Don had been secretly securing the minutes from those therapy sessions and still stay married to Don for two more seasons of television? I don’t think so. And that’s what real love looks like, people.
Thing 2: After running into a friend during a follow-up doctor’s appointment, Betty went out for lunch and broke down crying after a psychic read her tea leaves. This was the scene that really pressed our sympathy-for-Betty buttons. When the psychic — clearly a writerly contrivance — suggested that Betty was a great soul who means so much to many people, the desperate housewife started to cry because she realized it wasn’t true. Facing a potentially fatal disease, Betty was suddenly assessing her own legacy and not liking how it looked. “They’ll never hear a nice word about me again,” she said, imagining how things would be if she died and Sally, Bobby and Gene moved in with Don and Megan, her successor as wife of Don Draper. (And yes, it was ironic that she hyperbolically described Megan as being 20 years old when the age span between Henry and Betty does not seem vastly different from the Don/Megan gap.)
Thing 3: Betty had a bad dream about her mourning family. Everyone was in black, Sally placed her mother’s empty chair on top of the kitchen table and Betty’s “I’m sorrys” went unheard. Really sad stuff. Although watching that scene, one couldn’t help but think that maybe Betty was less concerned about how her children would go on without her than she was about the idea of being easily forgotten.
Thing 4: After a positive prognosis, Betty was back to her old self again.
When the doctor called to tell her the lump was benign, Betty said to a relieved Henry, “It’s nice to be put through the ringer and find out I’m just fat.” Her reassuring husband told her not to worry about her weight gain. “I don’t see it,” he said.
“I know,” she replied. “Your mother’s obese.”
There’s the Betty we all know and love!
Thing 5: Despite her concern about weight gain, Betty was back to eating double portions of ice cream sundaes by episode’s end. The doctor rather condescendingly told her initially that “When a housewife has rapid weight gain, the cause is usually psychological.” It was a ridiculous comment. But in Betty’s case it might be true. At the very least, it means January Jones probably didn’t feel as pressured to drop her baby weight right away — yet another reason to applaud the thickening-of-Betty-Francis plot development.
Some other quick notes about this week’s episode, ‘Tea Leaves’:
—One of the African-American applicants from last week’s episode was indeed hired to be Don’s secretary. Her name is Dawn, which should afford us all a season’s worth of Don/Dawn jokes, as well as the chance to point out how her name is an obvious allusion to the dawn of a new era.
—Don is becoming a fogey. Megan noted that he looked square when he put on one of his classic suits to go backstage at a Rolling Stones concert. Proving that point: he spent his time there conducting a focus group session on a teenage girl by asking her how the Rolling Stones made her feel. Don Draper’s moves? Definitely not like Jagger.
— Peggy Olson is getting screwed over at the office again.
Because, in Roger’s words, she doesn’t have a penis, Peggy didn’t get the chance to be lead copywriter on the Mohawk Airlines account. So she was tasked with hiring the talented but neurotic and weird Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) instead, which is totally going to come back and bite her, as Stan pointed out. Oh, and did you notice that Don did not even tell her about the dinner he had with the Heinz executive, or the fact that they really did want to use a Rolling Stones song in the commercial Peggy is supposed to be in charge of developing?
— And speaking of the Rolling Stones selling out ... “Time is on My Side” may have seemed like a goofy idea for a Heinz commercial. But there was subtle irony in referring to that particular song’s advertising potential during an episode in which Betty worried about her weight gain. “Time is on My Side” actually was used in a semi-recent TV spot ... for Slim-Fast.