What I love about Betty’s depression is that there isn’t a firm reason for it. Many TV shows would say, “Oh, she had a controlling first husband” or “She had a bad relationship with her mother” or “She’s stifled by her life as a housewife.” Mad Men says it’s all of those things, but it also says that there’s something undefined about it. Betty will never be whole. She’s always going to be looking for a magic fix that won’t come, and even Henry—who really does love her unconditionally—is someone she’ll push away in bitterness, just because she doesn’t know many other ways to relate to people. When the series started, it seemed like Betty was going to fill the show’s “housewife becomes feminist” role, but she didn’t really do that. Instead, she increasingly became isolated, both because of things others did to her and things she did herself. She was miserable, and maybe she’ll always be miserable. The show teases us with the idea that she’ll someday become a “better” person, as if that means anything, but I think it’s clear, now, that she won’t, at least by the standards we’d like to put on her. Nothing will ever quite fill the hole.
This kind of reaction is not uncommon, for Skyler in particular and for women – often wives – on top-drawer TV dramas in general. Characters like Skyler become targets of vituperation unimaginable to their male counterparts, most of whom engage in vastly more destructive and immoral behavior every episode. By failing to indulge every whim of the the male antiheroes around whom their shows are built, the women become obstacles to those men getting exactly what they want when they want it at all times, which is the core fantasy of antihero fiction. Cold cunning, ruthlessness, rage, self-interest, a propensity for physical violence – we gender these unheroic characteristics as male, and celebrate them; passivity, bitterness, grief, emotional enmeshment, a knack for attacking and deflating egos – we gender these unheroic characteristics as female, and loathe them. Skyler White, Betty Francis, Megan Draper, Catelyn Stark, Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, Carmela Soprano: On the sole count of “being women,” Fan Court finds you guilty as charged.