Archetypes: Television: Review: ‘Mad Men’ (2015): ‘The Archetypal Significance of Betty Draper’s Death’



‘Mad Men’’s penultimate episode was titled “The Milk and Honey Route,” evoking a place or time where the sweetness of creation coalesces into a destination of fragrant bounty. Instead, the x-ray of Betty Draper’s (January Jones) aggressive, terminal lung cancer only suggested piles of gray, foul-smelling cigarette ashes contaminating the notion of paradise.

Archetypally, though, a death sentence for Betty was the narrative way to go. In her day, women with family money attended prominent colleges in the hopes of marrying men who, with generations of wealth buoying them up, could become powerful and reliable breadwinners. In that era, lots of projections ensured that gender roles were clearly defined.  Women disowned their earning genes and projected fiscal matters onto their husbands. And husbands were relieved to project all emotional matters – such as remembering birthdays, buying gifts, soothing egos and dealing with upheavals tied to raising children – onto their wives. Divvying up human nature like this didn’t necessarily bring wedded bliss, but it was neat.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) wedded the woman befitting the Don Draper who wanted to advance at any cost. In marriage, he was in the world, and Betty stayed at home. However, because of what she brought to the table in the way of beauty and culture – the reason Don married her – she was a conduit to her husband and his identity.

The split of these two entities in the Draper marriage and many others of that era – earning power vs. emotions – is part of an ancient cyclical balancing act. For about 2,000 years of the Piscean Age, people who wanted access to the sacrificial Christ-figure prayed to the Virgin (Pisces’ opposite sign of Virgo) to intercede on their behalf. In other words, you often got to the male through the Feminine.

Betty, by virtue of her place in time, was a go-between for Don, who now seems well on his way to completely shedding the mantle of his alter-ego. So, there’s every reason to eliminate her – even though she  is divorced from Don – as a functionary tied to bolstering the stolen, false identity of her ex-husband, as part of an exchange of projections.

Emptying the proverbial ashtrays, by getting rid of Betty, seems to give more room for a finale in which a potential phoenix rises from the fetid dust.

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