'Mad Men's Betty Francis Needs to End Up Alone If She Ever Wants to Be Happy
How about that nipple, huh? "The Runaways," the fifth episode of only SEVEN Mad Men episodes that will be airing this year (please, Matthew Weiner, could we have some more?), blew the lid off and finally let a little steam blow. And it's about time — usually Mad Men seasons burn slowly and then pack the action into the last few episodes, leaving us with ambiguous cliffhangers and moody last shots. "The Runaways," of course, focussed on Don getting back to being Don, Ginsberg losing the battle with the machine and his own mind, Megan's paranoia manifesting in a ménage à trois—but what about Betty Francis?
Betty's been sadly overlooked this season, but Sunday night her frustrations bubbled to the surface. In the course of Mad Men, it seemed like she finally got what she wanted in Henry Francis, a man who appeared to totally be Don Draper/ Dick Whitman's opposite: kind, loving, well-to-do, wealthy, and not hiding secrets about his past and his identity. In "The Runaways," we see Betty Francis finally speaking out about not being so comfortable with the subservient, sitting pretty housewife that Henry apparently wants her to be. At a dinner party for Henry's colleagues (and benefactors), for which Betty has so graciously made lil hot dogs (something about this seems so sad — Betty Francis in her vast mansion frying up wieners), Betty and Henry enter into an uncomfortable conversation about the war, where, gasp!, it's revealed that Betty and Henry hold different opinions.
"You're not supposed to talk about the war!" Henry barks at Betty later in bed, and it's like watching her relationship with Don unfold all over again. Time and time again Betty finds herself in a position where she is supposed to look pretty and only speak when spoken to, and she's finally cracking. "I'm tired of people telling me to shut up," she says. Slow clap for B. Francis.
Betty is NOT a sympathetic character; usually, her coldness and childishness are always pitted against Megan's sophistication and progressiveness, and her meanness and stubbornness are extrapolated in just about every interaction she has with our heroine Sally Draper. Even in "The Runaways," Betty's insolence at the fact that Sally "ruined" the perfect nose that Betty gave to her makes Betty seem shallow and one-dimensional. But she's not; she's a product of a society that has told her incessantly that her beauty is her only worth. We've seen moments of tenderness from Betty, though, like when she laments that her children hate her with a genuine sadness, or when she shares a cigarette with Sally in the car home from the boarding school.
And in "The Runaways," when Henry comes home and demands that she move from the kitchen to the bedroom, Betty stands up for herself in one of her best lines. "I'm comfortable here. If I wasn't comfortable, I wouldn't be sitting here." And the kicker: "I speak Italian!" It may seem like a scrap, but Betty is finally asserting her worth and intelligence, which she's been repressing for so long.
Bobby asks Sally later in bed after hearing Betty and Henry fight if they are going to get a divorce, which Sally thinks is ludicrous, most likely because she doesn't think her mother could survive on her own. But what if Betty COULD be alone? She was unhappy with Don, and she's unhappy with Henry, and as the series ambles to a close, we have to wonder — does Betty Francis need some time alone? It would be radical for a WASPy woman like herself in the late sixties to be getting a divorce (remember how scandalized she was by Helen Bishop?), but it would be refreshing to see Betty attempt to start over and rediscover herself.
And hell, it would make her a lot more likable and sympathetic if she were to walk away from a situation that made her miserable, and to realize that marriage isn't the only avenue to happiness.