Mad Men – The Milk and Honey Route
This week’s Mad Men episode followed the stories of three characters – Betty, Pete, and Don. Grab your hanky, because it’s an emotion rollercoaster. Let’s begin with the hard hitting, tragic news about Betty.
In this week’s episode, Betty is diagnosed with lung cancer. The doctor says she has maybe a year to live. They can try to treat it, but all any treatment will likely do is prolong her life a few months. Henry initially reacts in the way he always reacts, trying to think of names of big doctors he knows, trying to think of who may know the most cutting-edge treatments, basically trying to figure out what political connections he has that may help. In frustration with Betty over her apparent surrender to the disease, he yells, “What do you think would happen to Nelson Rockefeller if he got this?” To which Betty responds, “He would die!” An acknowledgment and acceptance of the truth before Henry is ready to do the same.
One of a few touching scenes this week was Henry visiting Sally without Betty’s knowledge. He urges her to come home and try to get her mother to agree to treatment. “Your mother is sick. She has lung cancer, and it’s very advanced.” Sally turns from him, tears fill her eyes, and she puts her hands over her ears as if she can shut out the tragic truth. Sally fights her tears as he continues talking and he finally tells her it’s okay for her to cry. As she turns and looks at him, still fighting the tears, he breaks down. Sally is as shocked as we are when he, Betty’s rock and historically a man of strength, leans forward, puts his head in his hands, and cries. Sally looks at him in shock for a moment, then hesitantly places her hand on his back in comfort. “Jesus, what am I going to do?” he cries. A great scene with the two of them. Two people who seem tough, breaking down together and trying to comfort each other.
When Henry spoke with Sally about her mother’s illness, he told her he doesn’t know if Betty is refusing treatment because she’s stubborn or because she’s vain. Sally later accuses her of not doing it because she enjoys the tragedy of it all. But the truth is, as Betty tells Sally, that she’s “learned to believe people when they tell you it’s over. They don’t want to say it, so it’s usually the truth.” She tells Sally that she watched her mother die and won’t put Sally through that. Then she tells her this decision doesn’t make her a quitter. “I fought for plenty in my life. That’s how I know when it’s over. It’s not a weakness. It’s been a gift to me. To know when to move on.” Indeed she has. Betty has constantly fought for one thing or another in the show. She has had as many ups and downs as any character and finally seemed to have gotten her life together. This was tough to see.
Betty gives Sally a letter to open “the minute you know I’m gone.” Of course, Sally opens it sooner than that. In the letter, Betty tells Sally she loves her, if not the only time, one of very few times we’ve seen her do that. Sally clutches the letter to her chest and cries and many viewers cried right along with her.
Pete Campbell has a more pleasant story. Through some finagling by Duck Phillips, who is still fighting a losing battle with alcohol, Pete lands a job with Lear Jet. They give him a million dollars because that’s what he’s losing by leaving McCann-Erickson. He’ll be moving to Wichita (where Don is in the beginning of this episode – Pete is still following Don) and will have jets at his beck and call, relationships with celebrities – everything he’s ever wanted and more. Except Trudy and Tammy. He goes to Trudy and woos her. He wants to start over and swears he has learned his lesson and will never hurt her again. At dinner with his brother a couple of nights before, he told his brother he didn’t need to keep looking for something else, something different. When his brother talked about his own cheating, Pete said, “I think it feels good, and then it doesn’t.” Perhaps he has changed. Although, as Duck said right before his drunken exit, “It doesn’t last long.” Pete is as high in his life as he has ever been. Will he make the best of it and live happily ever after? Or will he do as so many characters on Mad Men have done and repeat old mistakes? We’ll never know. But Pete and Trudy have always had great chemistry and they both beamed with happiness when she agreed to move with him and try again. It was the high point of the show.
Don’s story was not particularly high or low, although there was one scene I found painful to watch. The episode began with him dreaming about being pulled over by a policeman. They’ve caught up with him. They’ve been looking for him for years, and they’ve found him. His secret is found out. This touches on the question everyone is asking – will he resume his real name and begin a new life as Dick Whitman? He has fled his life as Don Draper and the guilt of the lie upon which he built that life keeps eating at him. How is he going to end up dealing with it?
After waking he gets back on the road and has car trouble. He ends up staying at a small motel while his car is fixed, they have to order the part and it will be a few days. The husband of the owner is a war vet and Don joins him for a fundraising dinner the town veterans are having for one of their own who had a fire at his home. Don sweats for a minute at the dinner when he is introduced to another man who served in Korea. He lets out a sigh of relief when it turns out he was home before the other man arrived in Korea. He also tells part of his story at that dinner, after many drinks. He tells them he killed his CO when he dropped his lighter in a fuel covered area, causing an explosion. He tells them, “I got to come home,” but doesn’t tell them about his assumed identity.
The scene I found difficult to watch happens in the middle of the night after the dinner. There’s a young man in this episode who is very much like a young Don Draper. He’s looking to get rich and doesn’t care what his parents think about how he does it. He’s a con man. He gets Don to pay him for little favors while he’s staying at the motel. Don sees him for what he is and throughout the episode and, in an effort to help Andy avoid going down the road he has, gives him advice he wishes someone had given him when he was Andy’s age. Andy steals the donations from the dinner and leads everyone to believe Don did it. A bunch of the vets, all very drunk, barge into Don’s room in the middle of the night and slam him across the face with the phone book and throw accusations at him. He claims innocence, but they don’t believe him and tell him he has until morning to return the money.
When Andy shows up the next morning, Don pushes him onto the bed and tells him to give him the money, pack his things, and leave town. When Andy denies it, Don pushes him. Andy finally confesses but says he can’t leave town without the money. Don gives him a speech about how stealing that much money is a big deal and if he doesn’t make it right, he’ll have to take on a new identity and run from this mistake the rest of his life. He tells him that kind of life is not what he thinks it is. Don should know.
Well in the end, Andy gives him the money. Don turns it in without telling the motel owner’s husband that Andy is the guilty party. As he leaves the motel, Andy stops him and asks for a ride to the bus stop. Don tells him to get in.
Then the end of the show. They reach the bus stop, and Don turns off the engine and hands the keys to Andy. “Don’t waste this,” he says and gets out of the car and takes a seat on the bench at the bus stop. He has, with this one act, given Andy a chance at a decent future and freed himself of his last possession that ties him to his identity as Don Draper. “Everyday” starts playing as Andy drives off in a brand new Caddy and Don smiles.
Here is the scene where Sally reads Betty’s letter to her.