Mad Men: was Betty's return a Sopranos-esque "f*** you" moment?

In sports -- particularly in the NFL -- there exists the phenomenon of the "coaching tree." A head coach is hired and he brings along a group of assistants. These assistants then go on to become head coaches themselves, and carry to their new teams elements of their mentor's "system." In football, the most well known example of this is the Bill Walsh coaching tree. Walsh begat Mike Holmgren, who begat Andy Reid, who begat John Harbough, and so forth.

Television works in a somewhat similar way. Writers are hired to work on a particular show and when they're finished with that show they move on to shows of their own. In certain ways, David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, is the Bill Walsh of this generation's showrunners. Terrance Winter wrote dozens of episodes of The Sopranos and went on to head up Boardwalk Empire. Matthew Weiner joined The Sopranos staff in the show's fifth season, and when it wrapped up he went on to helm Mad Men.

Much like the way Bill Walsh's disciples brought the West Coast offense with them to their new teams, Chase's proteges -- like Weiner -- brought element's of Chase's style with them to their new shows. One of the things Weiner seems to have learned from Chase is the big "F*** You" moment. Chase was seemingly mildly obsessed with the way audiences and the media perceived The Sopranos. When fans and critics thought characters or story arcs would zig, Chase zagged. His ultimate F*** You moment, of course, came in The Sopranos' finale.

The final moments of "Made In America" have been debated and dissected for five years now. Chase can deny that the show's last shot was aimed at his critics and the audience all he wants, but the fact that there is still a controversy surrounding the episode is proof that the ending was perceived by many as a big middle finger. It was as if Chase were laying claim to Tony. This is my character and my show, I'll end it any way I damn well feel, he seemed to be saying.

Matthew Weiner is following in Chase's footsteps when it comes to the audience's perceived ownership of Mad Men and its characters. Weiner is going to do whatever he wants with Don and the rest of the gang, critics be damned. This is particularly the case with Betty. Last season, it was as if the writers were going out of their way to turn Betty into a monster. Fans came out in droves against the former Mrs. Draper as she became more malicious and nasty at each turn. At a certain point, Betty stopped being the cheated upon, lied to, manipulated ex-wife and morphed into a blonde she-devil devoid of all humanity. It became virtually impossible to sympathize with her.

After being absent from the Season Five premiere, Betty returned last night. And, to me at least, her return felt something like an F*** You Moment. It was like Weiner was telling the fans, "Hey, you guys who made such a big deal about Betty's descent into 'monsterhood', try this one on for size."

Betty's fat now and she might have cancer. That is the reality that Weiner presents to the audience. This leaves the viewer with two options: either they can sympathize with the new super-sized version of Betty or they can't. If you choose to sympathize with her, you are almost condoning her awfulnss last year. If you don't sympathize with her, you are turning your back on someone who might ultimately die fat and miserable. Either way, you as the viewer are left feeling f***ed.

By Lucas High

About the author

Lucas High is a man on a mission. That mission: to watch television for a living. Drop him a line at lhigh2@gmail.com, on Facebook and on Twitter at twitter.com/LucasHigh.

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1 Comment
On: Tuesday, April 3, 2012
TheVodkaParty said:

It was great to see Betty back, even if she had lost some of her edge. She’s a compelling character and the storyline of her medical issue had me involved (no spoilers here). The period detail was again magnificent from every satin frock to every madras print to every cocktail in every glass. I’ve been archiving original, early-60s party recipes on my blog and love the real Mad Men-era flare of the swinging vintage hors d'oeuvres and cocktail recipes. Even if you can’t duplicate the fashion, you can party in authentic Mad Men-style. Here’s my guide to throwing the perfect 60s vintage cocktail party: http://thevodkaparty.com/how-to-throw-an-authentic-mad-men-era-cocktail-party-the-inside-skinny/

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