Oh god, you guys. It’s the second last episode of Mad Men. I have withdrawal already. Is that a thing?
Since we’re rounding down to the finale here, “The Milk and Honey Route” only focuses on Pete, Don and Betty this episode (I expect the last episode will revolve around Peggy and the rest of the ragtag SC&Pers). This recap is a little long, but there’s so much to talk about at this stage in the game.
The episode begins with a dream Don has about being pulled over by a cop when he’s driving down the freeway at night. “We’ve been looking for you for a long time,” the cop says before Don wakes up. Does the cop mean Don Draper or Dick Whitman, and is that who Don is in search of too?
Betty is having issues climbing the stairs at school, and when she falls, the doctor terrifies the shit out of me by saying it’s more serious than a broken rib. He refuses to talk to her about her own health until her husband gets there, and when Henry finally arrives, the doctor breaks it down to Henry while Betty sits stunned in the other room. Turns out, it’s advanced lung cancer.
Henry is swift and businesslike and insists Betty starts treatment right away, while Betty is obviously having some issues trying to process all this. She doesn’t want to tell the kids, her family, or anyone, and she doesn’t want to start on any of the rigorous treatments that could extend her life. I know some people will be confused with this line of thinking, but it’s something I completely empathize with because I have a similar reaction to personal tragedy a lot of the time. I understand not wanting your suffering to become a public focal point.
Meanwhile, Duck Phillips, that asshole dog-abandoning alcoholic, is back. Apparently he’s there to help McCann replace Don, which I guess confirms that Don is out of the picture. He’s trying to strike up some shady deal with Pete that has something to do with Pete pitching on behalf of Learjet with him for McCann.
On the road, Don’s Mustang starts making clanking noises. The gradual degradation of “Don Draper, Fancy New York Ad Man” is speeding up. He’s forced to stay at an adorable hotel while his car is repaired and is offered homemade roast, a scene intercut with a shot of five-star restaurant steak served to Pete’s potential new client. The guy is way more interested in Pete over Pete’s company, and it becomes more of a job interview than a business pitch dinner. Duck drunkenly calls him from a pay phone somewhere and compliments him on getting the Learjet guy’s attention, and that he’s been invited for a follow-up dinner.
Meanwhile, the lights go out in Trudy’s kitchen while Pete eats pie and stars into his plate. Pete asks if she’d pretend to be his wife at this upcoming Learjet dinner for “old time’s sake.” She kills the plan with kindness when she remarks that she’s jealous of his ability to be sentimental about the past, and she remembers things as they were. Point taken, Trudy–we remember when Pete was a huge douchebag too.
The hotel proprietor offers Don a few days’ stay free if he fixes the Coke machine, and Don stares at the thing like it’s an alien, suspicious of this cutesy small-town even more. He visibly struggles with admitting to his military past at the veteran’s event and bonding with all these grizzled old guys. Things become even more awkward when another guy who used to serve in Korea is introduced to him.
At one point during the night, after hearing a World War II vet tell a strange tale, Don starts speaking up. “I killed my CO,” Don says, out of nowhere, almost to himself. “I dropped my lighter, he blew up, and I got to go home.” No one cares. They pat him reassuringly on the shoulder, and start shouting for more beer and singing old war songs. That night, though, they break into Don’s hotel room, hold him down, and beat him around the head with a phone book. Their charity money’s been stolen, and they think Don took it. It’s a dimly lit and eerie scene, and I definitely expected it to escalate further, but they leave him bleeding on the bed instead.
It’s pretty obvious to us, and to Don, that the bellboy kid stole the money. Don convinces him to give it back and get the hell out of town, saying “If you take it, you’ll have to become somebody else. Trust me, it’s not what you think it is.”
Pete, meanwhile, skips the dinner and instead asks his brother for advice about opportunities and how to know if you’ve discovered a good one. He’s talking about his career, but Pete’s brother thinks of a different opportunity (he’s a philanderer too). They muse over why they’re constantly dissatisfied and surmise it’s because their dad was like that too. “I think it feels good until it doesn’t,” Pete says, which is as good a summary of Pete Campbell’s character as any.
Duck pounds on Pete’s door and says he came up with a great excuse for Pete’s absence at the dinner: Pete was so insulted by the offer, he blew off the meeting. Instead of being mad, the Learjet guy offers Pete the whole shebang and a job at their Wichita headquarters. Even the head of McCann thinks it’s a great idea.
Pete rushes to Trudy’s house in the middle of the night, proposes to her and asks for her and Tammy to come move to Wichita with him. Trudy says Pete never lost her love, but he lost her trust and she’ll never allow him to hurt her again. These are the things Trudy wanted him to say to her two years ago and she’s right–it is unfair that he’s springing this on her when she’s caught off guard. I don’t know how much faith I have in this being a “happily ever after” scenario, but it’s certainly a more mature and rational Pete who admits they can’t forget the past, but are entitled to a new future.
Going back to Betty’s storyline, Henry shows up in Sally’s dorm room and drops the cancer bomb. He also wants Sally to talk some sense into Betty and get her to start doing the treatments. “It’s okay to cry, honey,” he tells a struggling Sally, before bursting into tears himself, while Sally awkwardly comforts him. I’ve never much cared for Henry, but it’s legitimately heartbreaking to watch this moment. Sally goes home with him, but Betty’s not an idiot. She knows why Sally would show up unannounced.
“I’ve learned to believe people when they tell you it’s over,” Betty says, as she explains to Sally why she won’t go for treatment. She won’t let Sally see her mother die like Betty saw her mother die. She hands Sally instructions for what happens after she dies and tells her she’s going back to school in the morning. It’s cold and it’s weird, but its pragmatic.
The next morning, Betty goes back to school as well, all smiles, while Sally reads the instructions Betty gave her. It’s some basic stuff about internments, the dress she wants to be buried in, the lipstick she wants and how she wants to do her hair. She tells Sally that while she worries about how independent and unconventional she is, she’s proud of her because her life is going to be filled with adventure. (It’s really unfair that you aired this episode on Mother’s Day, guys!)
Over in Kansas, Don drives the kid I was telling you about somewhere, and gives him the money and the keys to the Mustang. Don then sits on a bench with all of his possessions in a bag, ending off the penultimate episode of the series with nothing and no one. He’s starting fresh, just as Pete is, smiling at the possibilities of a bleak and uncertain future like Betty is smiling in the face of death.
- I think this is the only time we’ve ever seen Pete’s kid. She’s super cute.
- Sally’s reasoning for why Betty won’t seek treatment is that “she’s addicted to the tragedy.” I think this is an unfair assumption, but probably not totally incorrect.
- That’s three down, three more to go. The SC&P partners are dropping off like flies.