There is something deeply off about the direction Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron) has taken in Glee's third season. Quinn was introduced as a stock mean girl in Season 1, but in Season 2 grew into a fleshed-out character rivaled only by Rachel Berry as the show’s rightful leading ingenue. But then, toward the end of Season 2, things changed. Fabray turned mean, really mean. And then, in a bizarre episode during which she squared off against Lauren Zizes for Prom Queen, she was revealed to be a complete fraud: A fat, gawky girl who'd undergone plastic surgery to look like the beautiful and popular cheerleader she had become.
Uh, okay. Sure. We bought that. (Not really.) But then things just grew weirder, and darker. She came back to school in Season 3 with Manic Panic hair and piercings, and smoked beneath the bleachers like some Pink Ladies castoff from a touring production of Grease. She snarled and grimaced and lit pianos on fire with cigarettes. But that was nothing: Next, she set upon her plan to steal her baby back from Shelby, the adoptive mother. Yuck. Everyone hated that plotline, but the show kept moving forward with it anyway. Quinn planted evidence around Shelby's house to make Shelby look like an unfit mother. You know—typical high school girl stuff. If there’s a moment of redemption in store for the character, the writers haven’t yet hinted at it. Quinn has quickly become one of the angriest, meanest, and most unlikable characters on TV.
Remind you of anyone? The last time I can recall someone being this wholly unsympathetic on a primetime series (and not villains, but characters we were once meant to root for), it was Betty Draper on Mad Men. Betty was never the warmest of mothers, but she wasn’t a monster either—that is, until Season 4, when Matthew Weiner re-imagined her as a miserable, selfish, frigid woman whose approach to child rearing involved either snapping at them while smoking, or ignoring them completely. Vulture edited this video that illustrates the point:
There have long been rumors that the reason Betty Draper became such a horrible character has as much to do with January Jones as it does with Betty. In a post entitled, “Why do the Mad Men Writers Make Betty Draper Such a Monster?” Vulture writer Emily Nussbaum threw out a few theories behind the transformation, including the fact that Jones might just not be a good enough actress to find the sympathetic colors to her character. Of course, there were also whispers that Weiner had some kind of personal issue with Jones, and this was his way of getting back at her.
I think those are unfair and unfounded, and undermine Weiner's talents as a TV writer. Still, both cases—the mean-ification of Betty and Quinn—really have to make you wonder: What are the actual motives that drive producers to turn their beautiful, leading women so ugly on the inside?