How Mad Men Is Wasting Its Best Season Six Storyline

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
May 8 2013 9:59 AM

Where's Betty? Why Mad Men's Treatment of Its Best Storyline Is Driving Me Crazy

Mad Men (Season 5)
Where are you, Betty Francis?

Ron Jaffe

Where's Betty at? Where's the housewife, Weiner? Where's Betty? That's all I want to know.

If, in the matter of Betty Francis and Mad Men, I'm starting to sound like The Wire's D'Angelo Barksdale, hollering at drug kingpin Stringer Bell about the fate of his dead friend, it's for a reason. This season of AMC's vaunted period drama about ad salesmen and the women they irritate started off by giving Don Draper's ex-wife one of the most potentially compelling plots she's had in years. She'd become friends with talented young violinist, a girl named Sandy, who was living with the Francis family before she ran off to California to pursue some vague sense of '60s liberation. What an opportunity! A chance for Betty to break free of suburban housewifery, and perhaps get caught up in the women’s liberation movement! The show hasn't said a word about it since.


This season, Don started an affair with his neighbor Sylvia. Pete Campbell split up with his wife Trudy. Peggy Olson bought an apartment, or maybe even a whole townhouse. What started as a plan to take the company public turned into yet another corporate realignment for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, which merged with Ted Chaough's agency for a shot at winning Chevrolet's business.

But in all this maneuvering, the total lack of resolution of Betty's initial storyline has been conspicuous. All of these other subplots affirm the fundamentally unchangeable nature of the characters involved. Don will always cheat. Pete will always be basically right about other people, whether he's condemning Don for blowing up the firm's relationship with Jaguar or condemning his father-in-law's hypocrisy after they run into each other at a brothel. (And he’ll always shoot himself in the foot while pointing it out.) Peggy, who gave up her dream neighborhood on Abe's recommendation and lost her independence in the new merger, will never quite get what she wants.

But Betty's reaction to Sandy, her teenage boarder, promised something entirely different. It was sexual—in a disturbing bit of role play, Betty suggests that she and her husband attack the younger girl. It was also intimate. Sandy and Betty talk about the marital and professional expectations to which young women are held, the pressure on women to be beautiful, and Sandy's fear that she isn’t good enough to pursue a career in music. Later, after Sandy runs away, the self-absorbed Betty actually ventures down to St. Marks Place, into a filthy squat, and helps a bunch of hippies cook goulash in the hopes of learning where her boarder went. And when she tells the young men who question her motives, “I came here because I’m looking for somebody that I do want. I did not throw her away,” it almost sounds like Betty is talking about herself.

While I know a lot of Mad Men viewers have come to hate Betty over the years, I'd rather watch the story of her belated awakening, her fight for an almost wasted life, than see Don redeem himself via his brilliance yet again. So where's Betty, Weiner?

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and



The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 2:05 PM Paul Farmer Says Up to Ninety Percent of Those Infected Should Survive Ebola. Is He Right?
Business Insider
Oct. 22 2014 2:27 PM Facebook Made $595 Million in the U.K. Last Year. It Paid $0 in Taxes
The Eye
Oct. 22 2014 1:01 PM The Surprisingly Xenophobic Origins of Wonder Bread
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 10:39 PM Avengers: Age of Ultron Looks Like a Fun, Sprawling, and Extremely Satisfying Sequel
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 2:59 PM Netizen Report: Twitter Users Under Fire in Mexico, Venezuela, Turkey
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.