Matthew Weiner has mentioned several times over the course of this final season of Mad Men that his main characters (Joan, Peggy, Pete, Betty, Roger, and Don) would get their own goodbyes, and that their endings would be the natural progression of their characters. In other words, they would feel right. Betty Francis Draper got what appears to be her ending this week. Though it was heartbreaking, it’s hard to argue that it didn’t feel right for the character. Given how much the characters on Mad Men smoke, someone had to get lung cancer at some point, and it’d make sense that it was Betty, who we almost never saw without a cigarette, and who even smoked while she was pregnant with her third child.
It makes sense, too, in light of the fact that Don Draper made his career on the back of tobacco and Lucky Strike, of whom Don wrote when he decided Sterling Cooper should quit advertising tobacco:
For over twenty-five years we devoted ourselves to peddling a product for which good work is irrelevant, because people can’t stop themselves from buying it. A product that never improves, that causes people illness, that makes people unhappy.
It’s a fitting but an unexpectedly sad ending for Betty Draper. Not always the most beloved character on Mad Men, she finally came into her own this final season. She was content in her marriage. She had carved out a new path for herself. She’d even become a less selfish mother.
It makes sense, however, that she wouldn’t battle her inevitable death. Betty Francis has always had high regard for appearances. In fact, she divorced Don not because he was a philandering alcoholic, but because she found out who he really was (Dick Whitman) — the high-society man she thought she’d married. It’s why she ended up with a well-regarded man like Henry Francis, why she forced Sally to eat food she was being served at Thanksgiving dinner the first time she met Henry’s mother, even if it resulted in Sally throwing up at the table.
Betty Draper has always been characterized by good manners, etiquette, and appearances, and that’s the way she has chosen to die: With dignity and composure. She wouldn’t think of letting it interfere with Sally’s school. She doesn’t want to trouble her sons. It even makes total sense in that regard that the letter she’d leave Sally to open upon her death was as much about goodbye and I love you as it was about what she should wear at her own funeral, how her hair should be styled, and where she should be buried. It’s all about keeping up appearances until the very end for Betty Francis, and though you could see that as a sign of vanity or shallowness, it’s hard not to respect how much she clung to her principles. In the words of The Dude, “At least it’s an ethos.”