Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mad Men "The Milk and Honey Route"

Spoilers ahead.
Of all the characters I speculated might meet their demise in these final episodes of "Mad Men," I never considered Betty - at least not without a time jump a few decades into the future.  Betty always seemed invincible and unchangeable, even when she temporarily lost her looks.  She was surely meant to stay emotionally stunted, and keep damaging her children and deluding herself to the bitter end.  Except she didn't.
Sometime in the past season or so, after Bobby's field trip, but before sending Glen off to Vietnam, Betty developed some empathy.  She long ago grew a backbone - last night Betty expressed exactly what she wanted, took charge of a terrible situation, and refused to compromise her wishes.  However, it's only been very recently that she's stopped lashing out, and has shown signs of more maturity.  And though the supportive words for Sally were late, maybe they didn't come too late to mend fences.  I feel a bit cheated that we didn't get to see more of Betty's transformation over time. 
Stepping back to look at the big picture of Betty's character arc, is this a satisfying conclusion for such a difficult and polarizing character?  A fatal illness seems like such an old-fashioned, melodramatic device, compounded by the irony of the Lucky Strikes probably having contributed to the development of her lung cancer.  But as a catalyst for Betty's seizing her final opportunity to direct the course of her own life, it worked for me.  At first I thought she was being portrayed as too much of a saint in this episode, but upon reflection, she's not. Her instructions to Sally are still all about maintaining her facade. Her decision not to fight the cancer can be seen as a very selfish one, especially considering the impact on Henry and the boys. Is she being a realist about the situation, or is this her final act of stubborn self-indulgence?  In either case, what matters is that she commits to the decision and has made peace with her fate, as she tells Sally firmly that she's not "a quitter."
Fate and luck are the prime movers in this episode.  Betty is struck down by misfortune, but Pete gets an extraordinary windfall, engineered by the wild machinations of Duck Phillips.  Oh Duck, it was good to see you again.  As with Betty leaving on a sad note, I never imagined Pete would come through "Mad Men" with such a happy ending.  Even last week, as I noted that a reconciliation with Trudy looked possible, I didn't suspect that we'd actually see them get back together, or Pete going so far as to sweep her off her feet with the most unapologetically romantic declaration we've ever seen from anyone on this show.  And I don't begrudge him a second of it, because Pete stopped being a resentful, malevolent little brat at some point.  He learned from his many, many mistakes.  He's still far from perfect, of course, but like Betty he finally figured out what he wanted and went to bat for it.  Chekhov's Rifle is nowhere in sight.   
And Don?  Still looking for his future, and stumbling through his past.  His storyline with the broken down car (more bad luck), the motel, and the veterans was a bit of a slog this week.  He's essentially forced to take a detour into his past, and while it's fun to see Don squirm in discomfort, and bits of the bygone midwestern small town milieu, a lot of the developments really felt forced.  There were surely other ways to get Don to interact with Andy and swap war stories that didn't require getting stuck in Oklahoma.  Next to Pete and Betty, Don's storyline this week felt positively sluggish.   
Well, until the end anyway, when he sheds another piece of mental baggage and another significant tie to his life in New York, which is rapidly becoming part of his past.  At this rate Don Draper will be gone by the end of next week, and Dick Whitman will be somebody else, just as Betty and Pete have become other people.  And Sally too, before I forget.  Betty more or less just handed her adulthood with those final instructions.  Would the news of Betty's impending end be enough to get Don to go back to New York?  If he does, will he still be Don when he gets there?
Three former SC&P partners down.  Who will be left at McCann after next week?

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