You would think that slowly watching Megan Draper turn into Season 1 Betty Draper would teach us all to sympathize with poor Betts.
When we first met Megan, she was a bubbly, sunny font of positivity and creative ambition. She had an active, buzzing social life, a good job, a carefree relationship to her own sexuality, and an active, curious, creative mind. She wanted to act. She told Don she loved to paint, and sing. Failing that, she wanted to work in an applied creative field, like advertising. She was model beautiful, stylish, vibrant and independent.
Before she met Don, Betty was an independent, Seven Sisters educated model living and working in the city. She shared a tiny apartment with several other girls, lived modestly, and hopped from modeling job to modeling job. She had a creatively and emotionally charged relationship with a designer in Italy, to whom she served as muse. She traveled. She spoke, as she loves to remind us, Italian.
Betty met Don while shooting an advertisement for the furrier where Don worked. “Why wait for a man to buy you a fur?” was the ad copy, written by Don. Yet it was Don who bought Betty a fur, shortly after the shoot, to woo her. Betty quit modeling almost immediately thereafter. Five years down the line and she was a sniping, bored, emotionally and psychologically unstable housewife.
We have seen Megan follow the same sad trajectory. We have watched her career fall at Don’s feet, only to be propped up by his industry connections. We have seen her dive, dance, drink, and flail for his attention and affection in every conceivable way. We have seen Don withdraw from her, shut down, disappear, cheat, ridicule, and abuse her. The exact same way he treated Betty.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that Megan is slowly turning into Betty. Early in their marriage, Megan was a nonsmoker; she opened up the car windows and coughed when Don lit up. A season later, she was a devoted, impulsive smoker, puffing almost as constantly as Betty, and always reaching for a cigarette at the drop of any emotional hat. Don calls her on the phone with bad news,and the first thing Megan does is reach for her pack.
Megan has also shifted from an ebullient, child-loving step mom into the same kind of brittle, detached parental figure Betty was (and is). When they met, Megan was a Maria von Trapp-level angel, singing to the children in French (like Betty, Megan is a polyglot) and cleaning up spilled milkshakes with a reassuring smile. Since last season, though, she has been cold and removed from the children, and even disparaged Sally for being “screwed up”. Now she has zero interest in them at all.
Megan’s career has torpedoed. Where once she was ambitious and tenacious, she is now desperate, hungry for any role, begging and fuming in parking lots. She’s getting haplessly drunk and sexually desperate. She’s telling Don he should just stay away. She’s becoming unhinged by her own insecurity.
Sound familiar? If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice this is the same pattern of desperate, lonely behavior that defined season 1 Betty. Betty whose hands went numb and crashed her car, Betty who held her emotions in until they caused her to puke, Betty who sauntered around the house in a bikini, vying for Don’s eye, Betty who accepted any affection she could get, whether it was from a 9-year-old who wanted a lock of her hair, or a pilot in a random bar who just wanted to screw in the back room.
Now look at this week’s Megan, standing coolly in the doorway, facing Stephanie. Megan who used to be all smile and hugs and open, friendly encouragement. She looks Stephanie up and down and icily pronounces her “beautiful”, her insecurities poking out like shards of glass beneath her skin. She forces herself to hug this woman, this relic from Don’s past, but it’s stifled and perfunctory. She tries desperately to be warm and welcoming, like when Betty used to host Don’s colleagues, but her face winces with sadness. When Don calls, she observes again that Stephanie is beautiful, egging Don on. She makes the pregnant, famished young women a steak. In season 1, when Roger dropped by the house unannounced, Betty gave him her steak. She went hungry. She sulked the whole night and next day.
It’s no coincidence that the scene between Megan and Stephanie immediately follows Betty setting up for a dinner party at Henry’s. Betty used to force herself to entertain for Don’s sake, dressed herself up in bright, flouncy dresses, made pleasant chit chat, and then descended into a despairing, drunken mess the next day. Megan, too, is on the verge of collapse. She makes underhanded, hurt comments. Don didn’t tell Stephanie that Megan is an actress. Betty used to remind everyone that she used to be a model, you know.
Finally, at the first sign of threat (Stephanie’s comment that she “knows everything” about Don), Megan lashes out in pain. She launches a conniving little ploy to get the girl out of the house and away from her wandering husband. She makes herself out to be innocent. When Don asks her where Stephanie went, she plays the fool. Megan is hurting, and lost, and she’ll take whatever small, pathetic, petty wins she can get. Just like season 1 Betty, Megan is taking passive aggressive pot shots at innocent pigeons.
We are watching Megan dissolve – in sanity, in independence, in her sense of self – the exact same way that Betty dissolved ten years ago. The culprit in both cases is the same. If that doesn’t give you massive pangs of sympathy for 1959 Betty (and even 1969 Betty), I don’t know what will.