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weighty issues

What Are Mad Men Critics Saying About Fat Betty?

Betty Francis (January Jones) and Joyce Darling (Adria Tennor) - Mad Men - Season 5, Episode 3 - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC Betty Francis (January Jones) and Joyce Darling (Adria Tennor) - Mad Men - Season 5, Episode 3 - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Betty Draper Francis is back, and she is fat. There was no getting around this very visually obvious fact in last night’s episode; instead, poor Betty was subjected to zipper gags and lectures from her delighted mother-in-law, as the character’s entire story line was dedicated to her unsightly weight gain. (Presumably, the plot was designed to hide January Jones’s pregnancy, though it appeared that she was wearing a bodysuit, makeup, and possibly using a body double at certain points to achieve the added heft.) Vulture’s own Matt Zoller Seitz “felt sorry for both the actress and the character,” adding that the show “is walking a thin line between showing us an unlikable woman victimized by a sexist society and dramaturgically beating the crap out of her.” But, of course, most of today's online discussion has been devoted to Fat Betty, as she will now forever be known, so here's a quick roundup of what the critics are saying.

Meredith Blake, writing for the L.A. Times, found the weight gain insulting to the character:

Betty’s weight gain makes her more sympathetic, in a way, but there’s also something faintly sadistic about her cartoonish make-up. I’ve always found Weiner strangely unforgiving of Betty, who’s easily the least sympathetic character on “Mad Men” but who, as the virtual poster girl for “The Feminine Mystique,” has more reasons to complain than, say, Roger Sterling or Pete Campbell. Yet once again in “Tea Leaves,” Betty is made a figure of ridicule — right down to the Band-Aid slapped on her neck after her doctor's visit.

At Slate's TV Club, Patrick Radden Keefe thinks "January Jones must have the patience of Job":

We’ve wondered in the past what kind of grudge Weiner and his writers hold against this woman, given the serial humiliations to which her character has been subjected... But man, this episode took that sadism to new places. This could have been the moment when Betty’s humanity burned through her frosty demeanor. But even if you bought the notion that her sickness might be dire, before you could so much as shed a tear for the martyred Mrs. Francis, she went and announced to her lunch companion, who was suffering from something genuine, “It turns out I have the only kind that makes you fatter.”

Julia Turner, also at Slate, defends the episode because of Betty's character development:

 I thought Betty’s brush with mortality offered her a moment of clarity, about who she is, and how she’s failed those around her. The episode was called “Tea Leaves,” and the central scene was Betty’s collapse when that beturbaned fortune-teller overturned her teacup, contemplated the debris, and told her “You’re a great soul. You mean so much to the people around you. You’re a rock.” The patent falsity of these bromides — their sheer absurdity — was apparent even to Betty, and shamed her.

Alan Sepinwall didn't think Betty changed at all:

I didn't especially miss Betty in the season premiere, and though she's packed on some weight since last we saw her(*), she's unchanged in many other ways: chronically unhappy, reluctant or unable to fully articulate the reasons for that unhappiness, and almost stubborn in her myopia.

Todd VanDerWeff at the AV Club appreciated the show's deft handling of Jones's pregnancy, at least:

One thing I thought would bother me actually didn’t, however: The show has chosen to disguise January Jones’ real-life pregnancy by saying that Betty’s put on a few pounds. Normally, this storyline (which a few other shows—most notably Frasier—have tried) is an excuse for fat jokes. Here, it’s an excuse to do a story about the unresolved feelings between Don and Betty (particularly on his end), Betty’s mortality, and, ultimately, her depression.

Political writer Ezra Klein posted a conspiracy theory about Betty's weight gain on his Tumblr — he thinks she really does have cancer after all:

[W]e know — or at least are pretty sure — a main character dies this season. Also, Betty is kind of an awful character at this point, and I’d be surprised if the show’s creators didn’t know it.

And former Vulture Logan Hill, now at GQ, had many thoughts about Fat Betty, including this, on Mad Men and delusion:

"Nice to be put through the ringer and find out I'm just fat," says Betty. "I just don't see it," says Henry. With all due respect, Henry: Are you fucking kidding me? That woman was a size minus-two last season and now she's doublefisting Cool Whip. Over and over again on this show about advertising, people choose fantasy over reality: "People tell you who they are," Don said, "but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be."

Do you agree? Disagree? How about that Bugles couch scene? Discuss.

Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC