Revisiting old friends, Part 1: Mad Men

As part of my relaxing and enjoying new found freedom there were so many new things I wanted to read and watch. On my list were many films from the IMDB Top 250 list, with so many books that I was looking to become invested in. Instead Suite Francaise has remained untouched and I have delved back into Life of Pi and Mad Men. On the weekend I’ll talk about Life of Pi, but now I’ll look at the first season of Mad Men (SPOILERS below.)

In fairness, I had been meaning to re-watch Mad Men. Now on its seventh series I wanted to go back to the beginning and see all the moments that had resulted in this final batch of episodes (by the by, I really enjoyed last Sunday’s episode, which reminded me of probably Mad Men‘s most widely praised episode, series 4’s The Suitcase). I’ve flashed through the first series, seeing a few of the best moments for me in the process. The cut from Ken teasing Paul about his play to the party performing it, Peggy and Pete’s strange relationship. The abundance of Trudy. Don talking to Harry about the Carousel. Joan.

However, I didn’t realise that I missed season 1 Betty. Now, in season 7, we only get glimpses of Betty; in series 1 barely an episode goes by where January Jones doesn’t show. She’s a more detailed character simply as a result of being there more often, more nuanced, and her sense of frustration, dulled when not encountered regularly, shines through. That she doesn’t know why her hands shake, why she is unsatisfied, was half explained in her recent episode where she visits the farm with Bobby – she thinks she needs to be a housewife, that “they’re [the children are] the reward”, but that just isn’t the right place for Betty to be. Some men and women thrive from being at home all day, looking after children and tending the home, but Betty Draper (or Francis) is not one of them. That she thinks she can’t be anything else (a result of society and her upbringing) is depressing, and the episode where she tries to return to modelling but is thwarted by Don and his head-hunting competition was so sad to watch – this blow to such a person’s confidence meant she wouldn’t be able to try again, her self-esteem is just too low. Her taking it out on her neighbour’s birds was thrilling yet upsetting to see.

Also, seeing how Don was able to manipulate her, especially through his contact with her psychiatrist made me pity Betty even more. When Betty found out, my heart broke. Yes, she’s self-centred and can be childish, but she also isn’t allowed to grow, constantly controlled on all sides (which is still true to an extent now, with Henry trying to temper her conversation on politics in the fifth episode of series seven).

One further note: Betty is constantly being derided as being childish, but what character in Mad Men is not childish at some point or the other? Don making Roger throw up after he flirts with Betty, like a child annoyed that someone played with his toy. Pete all. the. time. Betty is a constantly ridiculed and sometimes hated character, but, rewatching the first series, I can’t understand how she isn’t seen as sympathetic – she is stuck in the wrong time period and confined by its boundaries.

Have you seen Mad Men. Let me know what you thought in the comments.

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