After sitting out last week’s “Mad Men” season-five premiere , Betty Draper (January Jones) returned on Sunday night looking, well, a bit different. And that new look has been dominating the water-cooler conversation on Monday morning (April 2).
The normally svelte and sexy Jones was pregnant with her now-six-month-old son, Xander, during filming and, rather than write her pregnancy into the show’s story line, series creator Mathew Weiner and the show’s writers decided to saddle Betty with an unexpected plot twist: They gave her character a significant weight gain and a major potential health crisis to help explain it.
To some, the cancer scare subplot immediately made Betty, who is known for her chilly demeanor and questionable mothering skills, more relatable. “Did you watch Betty Draper’s cancer scare on #MadMen last night?” @LHJHealth Ladies wrote. “Who else has been in that boat?”
Others saw the newly remarried Betty Francis’ weight gain and ensuing depression over her looks as penance for years of awful behavior. “Betty Draper totally deserved to get fat,” @saintjools tweeted.
Early in the episode, Betty’s weight gain was contrasted with the physique of ex-husband Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) new wife, Megan. We see Betty’s kids struggling to zip her into her dress while Megan easily slips into a cute frock. The juxtaposition marked a major turn from the Betty fans have come to know (if not love).
“Kudos to the writers for finding a way to work January Jones’ pregnancy into the story that’s a little more cerebral than having her carry a bunch of large bags,” PasteMagazine.com cheered. “Instead, they’ve got Betty struggling with what’s undoubtedly her worst nightmare — the loss of her looks.”
Later, when Betty goes to her doctor seeking diet pills, she learns she has a lump on her thyroid. The health scare forces her to seek out Don — not her current husband, Henry Francis — to reveal her fears about leaving her children motherless. It was a rare moment of vulnerability and concern from the typically frosty Betty. It did not, however, last long. After a few nail-biting and introspective days, Betty gets the all-clear and, characteristically, views her positive diagnosis not as something to celebrate but instead as evidence that she is “just fat.”
It was good while it lasted, according to E! “While there is a possibility of a fatal illness, we see Betty soften. Hug her kids, be nice to her husband, and even weep. Alas, a season-long arc of Betty becoming a saint was not meant to be. But hopefully the residual effects of her near-death experience will carry forward.”
By the episode’s close, the transition to the new Betty is complete, as she shovels ice cream into her mouth to the tune of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” from “The Sound of Music.”
“Man Men” fans seem pleased that the acclaimed drama’s show-runners, writers and Hamm, who directed the episode, finally gave the underused Jones something to do. “Still fixated on fat Betty Draper, almost 12 hours later,” @kate_fried wrote. “Genius move, Matt Weiner.”
What did you think of Betty’s weight gain on “Mad Men”? Let us know in the comments below.