Over at ThinkProgress, Alyssa Rosenberg offers an optimistic take on Betty Draper Francis’ hopes for season six of Mad Men:
“You go to college. You meet a boy. You drop out. You get married. Struggle for a year in New York while he learns to tie a tie and then move to the country and just start the whole disaster over,” Sandy, the teenaged violinist who’s been living with Betty and Henry Francis, tells Betty over a midnight snack during the first episode of the sixth season. Betty’s reaction is telling—not anger, precisely, but frustration. “That’s an arrogant exaggeration,” she tells Sandy. But it’s also the first time someone has but the trajectory of Betty Hofstadt’s life, with all of its disappointments and wasted potential, in an actual context and acknowledged to her that her choices are shaped by larger expectations, rather than simply telling her that she’s a selfish, immature brat. Lots of fans dislike Betty, whether she’s been Draper or Francis. But Betty’s story in the season premiere left me hoping that Mad Men might finally be recognizing bigger plans for her, that just as Don’s found himself at sea and Peggy and Joan have, through very different means, found places for themselves in the changing world, the sixties might finally reach Betty Hofstadt deep inside her cellophane prison.
. . .
What this means, and whether Betty will continue to look for Sandy, or return to the kind of surrender to the easiest route that’s always been her trademark, remain open questions. But the fact that they’re posed at all gives me hopes for this season, and for Betty. Of all the characters on Mad Men, Betty, for all of her initial privilege, has had the longest road to travel towards self-actualization. She has none of the freedom that accrues to Don as a man, none of the independence that comes from working to support herself decently that’s empowered Joan, none of the identifiable talents that propelled Peggy out of the typing pool and into Freddy Rumsen’s office. Her only value is as an ornament, her only skills in attracting men. Betty’s been trained to be oriented outwards, and she has to learn to identify her own desires before she can even begin to pursue them. I don’t know what Mad Men has planned for her. But I’m as excited to see if Betty will experience a more radical makeover than the kind that can be purchased in a salon as I am to finally learn if Don Draper is the man falling stylishly and fatally out of a skyscraper window.