by Meredith O'Brien (Moms in Pop Culture & Politics)
*Warning, spoilers ahead from the Mad Men season finale.*
First and foremost let me say this: I'm a huge Mad Men fan. I frequently blog about it and review each episode the day after it airs. Perceived its fourth season, which just concluded this past week, as exquisite, thought-provoking and brilliant. But I've got two problems with my beloved show's most recent season:
I hate that Betty Draper Francis has been turned into an unlikable villain who was afforded no truly relatable moments. Plus I'm supremely annoyed that it appeared as though in the season finale Don Draper impulsively proposed marriage to his 25-year-old, bikini-wearing secretary (in season two Don scolded his ex-wife, saying her bikini made her look "desperate") instead of getting engaged to his girlfriend Dr. Faye -- the professional consumer researcher and someone who's much closer to Don's age -- based on how well each woman handled his kids.
First the Betty problem: During the series' first three seasons, Betty was a tragic, sympathetic character, the trapped songbird in a gilded cage, the betrayed wife of the philandering Don who put up with his lies about his serial cheating and even about his very identity. Clearly damaged by her childhood - where her mother taught her that her good looks, never mind her college education, were crucial to her success in life - Betty was a rather cold parent with her children. She once pulled her daughter Sally by the ponytail and shoved her into a hall closet after she caught her smoking a cigarette. She told her eldest son that "only boring people are bored," suggesting he bang his head against a wall if he had nothing better to do. She essentially ignored her children's emotional needs, only dealing with them when they inconvenienced her, and frequently urged the kids to "go watch TV" in times of tension while she chain-smoked and drank wine. But you always knew that inside, Betty was struggling. She was given a full story so viewers could understand, though not necessarily excuse, her behavior.Then this season came along, picking up a year later after Betty had divorced Don and married an older Henry Francis only to learn that things weren't working out the way she'd hoped they would. The change hadn't made her any happier. But instead of showing, with any degree of depth, what Betty's life was truly like now or explaining what was going on inside her head, Betty became a one-dimensional maternal horror show, forcing food into Sally's mouth in front of her new husband's family during Thanksgiving dinner, making her daughter gag, then pinching her as she dragged Sally away from the dining room table.
Do you pay attention to how the mom characters are portrayed on your favorite TV shows? Loathe the so-called "mommy wars" on which the news media love to focus? Each week, Meredith O'Brien's Moms in Pop Culture & Politics column provides a reality check on how TV shows, movies, and the media depict moms. A longtime journalist and mother of three, Meredith O'Brien formerly taught journalism at the University of Massachusetts, is the author of A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum and writes the Picket Fence Post blog for GateHouse Media. Follow Meredith on Twitter: @MeredithOBrien.