Let’s get this out of the way: January Jones is a terrible actress. Matthew Weiner and company write beautiful scenes for her on Mad Men—scenes that many TV actors and actresses would sell their first fainting couches for. But geez, is she ever not up for the challenge. Her dialogue is wooden, her actions stilted, her emotion nonexistent.
But what I find so intriguing about Betty Draper is that she’s been absent for more than two episodes and it took me this long to even notice.
I suppose it’s logistics. Each week the show has focused on Don’s home life and work life, plus one stray office story. With Betty out of the picture, she’s likely only going to appear in episodes when one of the members of Sterling Cooper Draper Price takes a backseat. Hopefully, though, Betty hasn’t appeared much because the writers have realized her collapse has reached an end. She got everything she wanted, she should be happy now, and yet she’s a selfish monster. There’s nowhere else to go with her.
Good. This season has been a triumph of near-Season 1 levels without her. For years Don lived a double life that he revealed to nobody until he was under intense pressure. With that weight lifted, rather than begin the healing process, Don has delved right back into the darkness. He maintains a pleasant-enough demeanor at work (unless pushed by focus group moderators or hacky clients) but sleeps with secretaries and pretends it didn’t happen. The Don from work would never do that. The Don broken up at home makes terrible choices and pathetically tries to rectify them with half-written sentences on a typewriter, blitzed out of his mind. The major difference this time around is that the two worlds exist much closer to one another. Yeah, there have been those outbursts at work, but Don also tosses breadcrumbs to coworkers in need, as he did with Lane last week. Trouble at home? Might he suggest a hooker and a steak?
It’s also fascinating to watch how Don’s issues have seeped down to his underlings. As the show point out last night, SCDP is Don Draper’s agency first and foremost, so consciously or not, the people there are going to feel his presence. Peggy has always looked up to the man, and last night she learned that Don has slept with all his secretaries (presumably) except for her. Just as Don threw a fit when the clients didn’t give him what he wanted during, Peggy started her own rebellion by escaping the stuffy suits of SCDP and jumping into the open arms of East Village bohos. Pete, meanwhile, has learned to believe wholeheartedly in the greatness of himself professionally, yet remains disconnected from the things that are “supposed” to make him happy, like a wife and a child. I still don’t buy that he was genuinely happy with the news. Pete and Don are a lot more similar than I initially thought.
This has been a rich season of Mad Men thus far, and with Betty out of the picture, it’s likely to continue. Does anyone else not miss her?