April 2, 2012 at 9:34 AM ET
Following a Betty Draper/Francis void from "Mad Men's" season 5 premiere, January Jones returned to the small screen in a big way on Sunday.
The episode, directed by Jon Hamm, focused significantly on Betty's weight gain. Most critics and viewers are in agreement that the storyline was drawn as a result of Jones' real-life pregnancy, though a hefty -- and possibly ill -- Betty also opened up a new door in her character's development. Upon learning that there was a tumor on her thyroid, Betty called upon ex-husband Don Draper (Hamm), rather than her current husband, to express her fear of leaving their children motherless. In the end, the tumor turned out to be benign and Betty was quickly back to her old sharp-tongued self.
"For those who have always had issues with Mad Men’s frosty mommy, the sight of a hefty Betty -- dare I say an ugly Betty, even though she still looked very pretty with a bit more meat on her -- was a terrific schadenfreude opportunity. But it didn’t last long," wrote The Washington Post's Jen Chaney.
"Kudos to the writers for finding a way to work January Jones’ pregnancy into the story that’s a little more cerebral than having her carry a bunch of large bags," said Paste magazine's Bonnie Stiernberg. "Instead, they’ve got Betty struggling with what’s undoubtedly her worst nightmare -- the loss of her looks. The episode opens with her kids unable to zip her into a too-tight dress, followed by a shot of Don breezily zipping Megan into her dress as they get ready to go out and woo the Heinz folks. It’s a telling image; Betty’s no longer the glamorous, young wife brought along to smile at her husband’s business associates."
In stark disagreement, HitFix's Alan Sepinwall described Betty's storyline as the "weakest one," noting that "Having a female character get fat is one way of dealing with an actress pregnancy you don't want to write into your show."
"Because January Jones is so slender to begin with, and didn't pack on that much weight, the show apparently had to resort to some of the makeup tricks they used on Elisabeth Moss during Peggy's pregnancy late in season 1, plus a non-pregnant body double for the bath scene," he continued. "I get that it's an awkward position to be in, story-wise, and Betty having another baby so soon after Gene would not only complicate her life but go against the suggestion here that Henry and Betty's sex life tapered off not long after they moved out of the Ossining house."
E! Online's Christina Dowling seemed to enjoy seeing a new side of Betty, writing: "While there is a possibility of a fatal illness, we see Betty soften. Hug her kids, be nice to her husband, and even weep. Alas, a season-long arc of Betty becoming a saint was not meant to be. But hopefully the residual effects of her near-death experience will carry forward."
In addition to the usual recaps and reviews that find their way into the blogosphere following each episode, viewers took to Twitter to make cracks about the latest storyline.
Comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted: "So many of the 'Mad Men' characters seem unhappy, even though none of them have AIDS yet."
"Girls" creator Lena Dunham wrote, "My dad honestly thinks the reason Mad Men took 17 months off was 'so they'd have time to plump up January Jones!'"
Producer Damon Lindelof claimed to have learned a lesson from his evening of television. "Between 60 MINUTES expose on sugar and the last scene of Mad Men, that's pretty much the end of Sunday Sundaes at Chez Lindelof," he wrote.
"Starting a Mad Men inspired rock band? May i suggest the name 'Fat Betty Draper'?" quipped Twitter user @FrankIero.
"Oooh Fat Betty, Bam-a-lam. Ooooh Fat Betty, Bam-a-lam," joked @rachelrusch.
"America wanted it to be malignant too, Betty," wrote @JohnNess.
Referencing Jones' controversial comment, in which she admitted to eating her own placenta after giving birth, @Chet_Cannon said: "Betty Draper looks like she ate about 100 placentas."
One thing's for sure: Betty came back with a bang.
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