Et Tu, Betty?

The Modern Loss TV club, a.k.a. Rebecca and Gabi, dissects the big ‘Mad Men’ news, and looks ahead to the series finale.

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Betty Draper Featured

Betty considers her options. (Photo courtesy of AMC)

Along with the rest of the country, we curled up on our sofas at the end of a balmy Mother’s Day to watch the penultimate episode of “Mad Men.” And yesterday morning, along with the rest of the country, we turned to Gchat (spoiler alert: If you’ve somehow managed to avoid reading details, the following will change that!):

Rebecca: So. Mad Men. Bye-bye, Birdie.

Gabi: And we get this news on Mother’s Day. Nice, Matthew Weiner.

Rebecca: Kind of a twisted move, airing it after the whole country had mothers on the mind. I could barely sleep after this episode. So much got under my skin. Mostly, the scene when Sally reads her mother’s letter and learns where Betty’s favorite gown is hanging. I thought, wow, B, finally you’re expressing a little warmth for your daughter, passing on an heirloom she can give to her own daughter, and maybe a tiny bit of closure. But when I realized they’re just instructions on how to make her look beautiful in the casket, I thought, poor Sally is going to be pretty fucked up from all this.

Gabi: That letter was so disappointing. I was hoping for something more, well, motherly. As in, what you’d expect a dying mother would want to pass on to her daughter: A favorite powder blue chiffon dress, perhaps, or some words of wisdom. Or the kind of sentimentality that requires real courage to say (or write). But I guess it would be unfair to expect something so un-Betty of Betty just because she’s dying.

Rebecca: Yeah. As my dad used to say, what can you expect from a hog but a grunt. But at least she’ll look fetching in the casket.

Gabi: Indeed.

Rebecca: Not to completely skewer the poor woman. She did toss Sally a bone by admitting that marching to the beat of her own drummer was actually a good thing, and that’s something Sally can hold onto. Yet I always watch these scenes from the perspective of someone constantly wishing she had more time with her own mother to get advice, hear more stories… My mom died suddenly. I had zero heads up. Zero time to seek “closure.” I’d do anything for just one minute to ask or tell her many things.

Betty Draper letter to Sally

Dear Sally, I love you so much — JK, please bury me in the blue chiffon thx! (Screengrab: AMC)

Gabi: It’s awful, isn’t it? I experienced very sudden loss, too. Sometimes I imagine (or dream about — know what I’m saying?) what it would have been like to have had a chance to say goodbye. I’m sure that’s brutal in it’s own way, too. … But about that scene in Sally’s bedroom: I found myself wondering if by refusing treatment, Betty really thinks she’s doing what’s in her children’s best interest. She tells Sally about watching her own mother’s decline, and wanting to spare her that. Or maybe, B just wants to die on her own terms, and is rationalizing her decision.

Rebecca: Yeah, I get that it’s about the way Betty wants to die, and I respect it. But my heart hurt for Sally when Betty visited her in her bedroom (rather ghostlike) and didn’t even touch or kiss her. I was like, “oooh, girl, you are going to be dreaming of this encounter for the rest of your life, wishing it had ended differently.”

Gabi:  I’d venture to say that Sally’s going to be OK. There’s warmth and depth and a strength to her that tells me she’s so not her mom. I was struck by the affection she shows her younger brothers when she comes home from boarding school. And how she tries to convince her mother to seek treatment, telling her “I’ll be there with you” or something to that effect.

Rebecca: Love your optimism. I do have hopes of Sally one day finding an awesome partner who takes care of her a little bit in life, and Don mellowing out enough to do daycare pickup for his grandkids. That is, if he doesn’t end up hijacking a plane. So ok, can we please talk about the scene where Betty’s doctor told her she was dying? Oh, I’m sorry — the one where the doctor told her HUSBAND she was dying? I’m fully aware that we’re watching depictions of how “things were done” 40 years ago, but still. Can you imagine being treated as though you weren’t important enough to directly receive news of your own impending death?

Gabi: I found it so, so difficult to watch the doctor give the diagnosis/prognosis to her husband, as if she weren’t sitting in earshot. Brutal and freaking infantilizing. Meanwhile, what do you make of Betty’s determination to return to school (coiffed and dressed up, no less) after finding out she’s dying? Her husband seems confounded by it.

Rebecca: Well, I guess, what else is she gonna do? Her daughter is out of the house. Her sons don’t get home til 6 pm with all their after-school activities. Her husband is busy power brokering. She can wait out the clock at home in an enormous, empty house like her own mother probably did or just keep on keeping on with a stiff upper lip. She’s finally living in spite of the fact that the main man in her life doesn’t agree with her choices. I’d love to think that if faced with such limited time, I’d continue pursuing whatever gave me pleasure til the end. Of course, you never know how you’ll react until you’re faced with a situation yourself. But watching her reaction was certainly food for thought for me. So for that one, good on ya, Betty.

Gabi: Yeah, it gets back to how determined she is to die on her own terms — doing what she finds fulfilling and, you know, keeping up appearances. I mean, she asks to be buried in a ball gown. I think there’s a sense that a terminal diagnosis changes something essential about someone, that it scrambles priorities. But knowing the end is near, maybe, also makes us more authentically ourselves. OK, those are my deep thoughts the day. Now I’m just wondering how this is all going to end. There’s been so much speculation Don will die in the series finale. That seems somewhat less likely now that they’re killing off Betty. But who knows. It’s not like Matthew Weiner is afraid of the dark.

Rebecca: On that note, while I love “Mad Men,” I seriously need something lighter now. You’ve finally convinced me to embrace “The Kardashians.” I’ll be over next Sunday.

Gabi: You bring the green juice.

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