Monday, November 9, 2009

“MAD MEN”: “Wanted or Not – An ‘Emancipated’ Divorcee”





“MAD MEN”: “Wanted or Not – An ‘Emancipated’ Divorcee”

One of the events of the Season Three finale of ”MAD MEN” - (3.13) “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” turned out to be Betty Draper’s decision to file a divorce from the series’ main protagonist, Don Draper. Acting as Betty’s main supporter throughout this upheaval was her almost paramour Henry Francis.

Betty had first met the aide to New York’s Republican governor, Nelson Rockefeller, in the third episode, (3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home”. In the episode, Henry he had asked to touched her belly, while she was still pregnant with young Eugene. Betty gave him permission and a silent spark of attraction ignited between the two. They met for the second time in (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”, when Betty was asked by her colleagues in her local Junior League to seek his help in preventing the installation of a huge water tank that will drain the scenic local reservoir and mar the landscape. Henry managed to briefly come to her aid in the following episode, (3.08) “Souvenirs”. By the ninth episode, (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”, the pair was ready to have an affair. Until Betty realized that she did not want to engage in a tawdry affair that involved sex in hotel rooms or behind the closed doors of Henry’s office. When they had met at the wedding reception for Roger Sterling’s daughter, Margaret, in (3.12) “The Grown Ups”; it was apparent that the two had remained attracted with one another.

When Betty finally decided to seek a divorce from Don in the season finale, many noticed that Henry was by her side when she visited a divorce lawyer and when she flew to Reno, Nevada for a divorce. The hostility toward Henry’s presence was strong amongst the fans. It was not long before assumptions about the relationship between Betty and Henry appeared on various blogs and message boards about ”MAD MEN”. Many fans insulted Henry with a variety of names. Others insulted Betty. Fans expressed belief that Henry would end up treating her as a trophy wife, just as Don had during the past decade. More importantly, many accused Betty of being nothing more than a spoiled Daddy’s girl who turned to Henry, because she needed a ”father figure” to dictate her life. The fact that Henry had been seen at her side during a meeting with a divorce lawyer, and during the flight to Reno seemed to be solid evidence to them. And Henry’s advice that Betty dismiss any divorce settlement from Don in order to keep him out her life was another piece of evidence in their eyes. But I wonder. Do any of these fans really know what Betty wants? Or were they merely expressing their disappointment that she had failed to follow a path that they had desired? Is their hostility based upon their disappointment that she did not become a single divorcee like Helen Bishop . . . or that she had failed to reconcile with Don and try to repair their heavily damaged marriage?

I find it interesting that fans had heaped a great deal of disappointment and hostility upon Betty for failing to become the epitome of the new “independent” woman. No one had complained when Joan Hollway had married her doctor fiancĂ©, Greg Harris, after he had raped her in (2.12) “The Mountain King”. Nor did they bash Joan’s character when she finally left Sterling Cooper to become a wife only in (3.06) “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” The ironic thing is that Joan had expressed a desire for a life with kids and a husband in the suburbs since the series began. She wanted to be a pampered housewife adored by her husband. Instead, she ended up with Greg Harris, who turned out to be a less than talented surgeon. Worse, he was incapable of kick starting a career in psychiatry after failing a job interview. Now, Joan is now forced to become a career woman, again. In (2.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”, Greg had decided to continue his career in surgery . . . as a U.S. Army officer. And there is a chance that he might end up in Vietnam. Although Joan expressed relief that she managed to find a permanent job again, with the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Agency, I cannot help but wonder how she feels about her failure to become a suburban housewife of a successful careerist. Perhaps deep down, Joan had always wanted to remain a career woman. But she had allowed society to dictate her wants, just as Betty has. What will the future bring for Joan? Will she still desire the life that Betty had with Don? Or will she finally wise up and realize that that living the Suburban Dream was never really for her . . . with any man?

And what about Betty? It seemed unrealistic to expect her to become the “liberated” woman so soon after her breakup with Don. Considering Betty’s upper class background and non-conformist personality, I do not see that happening this soon in the series. After all, Season Three has just ended. Personally, I suspect that Betty might still be too scared to consider a life independent of men, or have a man in her life and at the same time, create her own lifestyle. Perhaps it will take the Women’s Movement in the 1970s for Betty to become that woman. Perhaps she will end up as another Betty Ford, an activist who managed to have a lasting marriage with a Republican politician. Then again, I do not even know if Betty will ever become the type of “liberated” woman that many seem to demand that she become. But I refuse to make any assumption on how Betty’s life will turn out. That would take a great deal of arrogance or hope on my part.

And I believe there is nothing wrong with wanting another man in one’s life. Of all the divorced or separated female characters on the show managed to move on with new men in their lives. Helen Bishop’s new paramour ended up creating resentment within her son, Glen. Mona Sterling had already found someone new by (3.02) “Love Among the Ruins”. Last season’s (2.06) “Maidenform” revealed that Duck Phillips’ ex-wife was about to remarry. That Betty would hook up with Henry Francis does not seem all that surprising, considering their history in Season Three. The question remains on whether Henry will prove to be another Don Draper who ends up treating her as a trophy wife. Some fans seem to assume that will happen. Frankly, I have no idea. In some ways, Henry seems a lot like Don. In other ways, he seems different from Don. In the end, I believe that only Matt Weiner knows how this relationship will turn out.

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