Monday, May 14, 2012

"Mad Men" Fumbles

Last week on Mad Men Megan Draper seemed to be declaring her independence from her job and her marriage. She wanted to follow her childhood dream and to become an actress.

At the same time Pete Campbell was starting a new love affair with a woman who had formerly been a Gilmore Girl.

All in all, it made for excellent television.

This week, we got Betty Draper at Weight Watchers.

All in all, it made for tedious television.

When you take your eye off the ball you are likely to fumble. In this case the “ball” is the unity of action.

I will not offer a review of the episode, because Maureen Ryan has said what I wanted to say, and has said it brilliantly:

I don't care about Betty, and at this point, I never will. "Mad Men" clearly wants us to care about this child-woman's evolution from petty, spoiled suburban matron to fat, petty, spoiled suburban matron to slightly less fat, petty, spoiled suburban matron.

And also, in lines that echo what I was trying to express in my review of the first episode of “Girls,” Ryan writes:

It's not the job of a storyteller to make me like his or her characters, and I'm not asking to like Betty. It's the job of a storyteller to make me interested in what happens to his or her characters. I'm not interested in Betty. This show, which is so fascinating and so fantastic in so many other ways, has dropped the ball in this regard. Betty simply bores me, especially when the show puts her at the center of an episode full of ideas that are not particularly fresh or creatively realized.

Of course, a character may be bored beyond reason. But, if I am bored by the character, because the character's troubles are extraneous to the story line, I will lose interest. As Ryan succinctly explains, a viewer has to care about a character, even when the character is suffering from terminal ennui.

I am highlighting Ryan’s review because it will most likely be the exception to the rule. Most other reviewers will probably love the show. They will go to great lengths to demonstrate the transcendent value of all the lit crit they took in college. They will provide a multitude of reasons why it all holds together. And they will explain what its deep meaning is.

Despite it all, Ryan is right. It’s long past time that anyone should care about what happens to Better Draper Francis.


LordSomber said...

Yes, it is not hard to dislike or become bored with Betty's character. But as mother of Don's children, she will always have some presence. In this episode (and probably many in the future) she is the thorn in Don's shoe, even by proxy.

Her relationship with the kids will always affect Don's relationship to the kids. And Megan's. And thus, Don's relationship to Megan.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Still, I don't quite see what Betty's trips to weight watchers had to do with Pete's dalliance or with Megan's newfound independence.

I was thinking of storylines, which the show often leaves hanging...