Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 13: The Milk and Honey Route

The last shot of the episode shows Don sitting on a bus bench with nothing but a small bag with his belongings. He's left behind his career, his job, his new apartment, his car, his old life.  If he were planning his death, relieving himself of all his possessions and falling off the grid would be the way to do it. But it's not Don who's leaving us.  

Cigarettes have been front and center of Mad Men from the first moment of the first episode.  We saw Don Draper, dapper ad man, smoking one of his Lucky Strikes as he was scribbling ideas of how to sell cigarettes now that the Surgeon General would no longer let him promote their health benefits.  Four-out-of-five dead men smoked your brand is not a great way to sell the product.  He asks Sam, an older "busboy" at the restaurant, why he smoked what he smoked.  "I love smoking," he told Don.  What about the health concerns in Readers Digest?  Sam chuckled.  That wasn't going to stop him from smoking.  

And it didn't stop Don from smoking and selling cigarettes despite the mounting evidence against their safety.  He would just reframe the issue - Lucky Strike's aren't poison, they're toasted.  Even after Don lost the Lucky Strike account and wrote the damning letter, even after he met with those who were trying to spread the word of the dangers of cigarettes, even after he had coughing fits, he kept smoking.  And yet it was Betty, beautiful, impeccable, invulnerable Betty who ends up felled by those cancer sticks.  

Her father Gene tried to get her to stop smoking, back in Season 2.  But Betty has been as tied to cigarettes as Don, from the memorable shot of her standing in the backyard, cigarette dangling from her painted lips, as she opened fire on her neighbor's birds to the scene of her lighting up in this episode even after the doctor gave her the horrible news that this life-long habit would be a life-shortening one.  We've been on Don death watch since he had his physical in Season 3 and we were looking in the wrong direction.

Betty stayed the same Nordic ice princess to the bitter end. She was raised to be beautiful and that's all she's ever known. She was not going to lose that.  As the reality hit her, she jumped over every stage of grief and went straight to acceptance.  Her time was coming to an end - she probably felt that way as every birthday added another candle.  She joked with Don last week that she might be getting old, but he'd always be older. But for beautiful women, especially back then, losing their youth and allure was not a laughing matter and enduring the effects of aging was its own kind of death.  Back in Ep. 1.06 Babylon she spoke of her fear of losing her beauty.

Betty no longer has to fear that.  She will be, like Marilyn Monroe, eternally young and beautiful.  She knows how her story will end and she accepts it.  The only thing she fears is putting Sally through what she went through, watching her mother slowly succumb to death.  And this she can do something about.  She will live out the rest of her life on her terms.  She will emulate her daughter - who marches to her own drum.   Isn't death a great adventure in its own way? 

Betty will live and die how she wants and no one will be making any more decisions for her.  She may be invisible to the doctors, but she will be heard.  She has the power and control over the rest of her days.  She writes up instructions and gives them to Sally because she knows Sally will make sure things are taken care of.  She raised that girl - the strong, self-assured, independent young lady who speaks her mind.  

And what of Sally? She's only 15 and at boarding school, this is an awful lot to put on her shoulders. She had to be strong when Henry broke down in tears and when her mother told her it was up to her to make sure her wishes were carried out after her death.  We saw how she mothered little Gene and took Betty's place at the kitchen table.  Will she feel obliged to take that role or will Henry (and/or Don) fill the void?  Betty has never been a candidate for Mother of the Year - Sally wished her dead less than a year ago - but her loss will be felt.  Alone in her room with the note from her mother, Sally broke down in tears.  She was given a gift by Betty - to discover that her mother understands her and appreciates her for the person she is.    I hope we see Sally again so we know she's going to be okay.

Pete Campbell may have lived half his life, but he wants something more for the second half.  He's come to a deep understanding of why he's behaved the way he has in the past - never being satisfied, always searching for more.  He now sees how that caused him to lose so much - his wife, his marriage, his family.  But Pete has always been an optimist, a bit of a Pollyanna. Maybe it was the silver spoon childhood, but Pete always seems to land on his feet no matter what.  Professionally and financially, things are great for Pete.  But he has no one to share this with, not the person he wants anyway.  So while he could give up, mope about what was, he's decided to take a chance at happiness in his personal life. 

Pete was one of the few Sterling Cooper transplants to land on their feet at McCann and his upwards trajectory seemed likely to continue there.  But his old friend Duck Phillips shows up with a new plan, a new direction.  Duck is not the most reliable person and who knows what his real plan was.  He claimed to be there to help McCann find a replacement for Don, but his clear intention seemed to be matchmaking between Lear Jet and Pete.  He's been trying to get Pete an aviation client since Season 2.  So he puts together a convoluted plan to get Pete in the same room as the Lear Jet executive.  He sees them as two Ivy League peas in a Brooks Brothers designed pod and knows that they will become fast friends.  Then all he has to do is suggest to Pete that maybe Pete's life does not have to stay on the road he's on, maybe there's a chance to change things.  Why not have it all?

Pete has a number of conversations that, when pieced together, form the basis for his ultimate pitch to Trudy.  First is his conversation with his brother Bud, a leading contender for the most delusional man in New York, who thinks he's a chick magnet.  But the gist of the conversation is Pete wondering why they do what they do (the feeling dissatisfied, the cheating) and why they can't change.  The next conversation is with Duck who convinces Pete that he's a superhero with unlimited powers and potential, but that it might not last forever.  He's hot and he should ride the wave he's on.   Finally, he goes back to Trudy.  Their conversation earlier (where he asks her to join him for the dinner business meeting and she declines) was the warm up for this one.  He knows she's been hurt by him, she's suspicious and wary and won't ever trust him again.  But he also senses that the hurt comes from a place of love, not hate.  And so he talks to her, about finding their own Shangri-La, their own utopia, just the three of them.  Pete's always wanted to be the creative guy and make the winning pitch and this time he does.  We can start over, move forward and not repeat the mistakes of the past.  He lost her trust, but he's afraid of losing her love and will never do anything to risk that again.  He knows she still loves him and he had always loved her and only her.  They can be a family again.  

All that's left is for Don Draper to continue his cross-country trek to find himself.  Part two of his "on the road" experience takes him through the heartland of the country and he checks in with his kids as he makes his way.  He's relaxed and not without plans as he describes his itinerary to Sally - which route he's taking, what towns he'll be going through.  They have a nice, relaxed conversation as he gives her advice on the meaning of money while talking about this and that.  It's a sweet, normal moment. 

All we know about Don's plan is that he's continuing west and heading to the Grand Canyon.  His plans are derailed when car trouble leaves him stuck in a small town in Oklahoma. There's nothing to do there but wait for his car to get repaired and read whatever paperbacks Andy the maid/bell hop can track down.  Don takes an immediate interest in this boy who reminds him of himself. Young, good looking, uneducated but entrepreneurial, and stuck in a town going nowhere. Don makes himself useful around the motel, fixing things including the Coke vending machine that is a clear reference to the life he left behind.  Yes, Don Draper should be working on Coca Cola, but on their account not on a broken down dispenser.

He has enough time in Oklahoma to watch some old TV (The Flip Wilson Show, with special guest Redd Foxx) and to read popular paperbacks (The Godfather, Hawaii and The Andromeda Strain).  He also takes a dip in the pool, after noticing the shimmering body of a lady lounging alone with the book A Lady in Rome looking out of place in Nowheresville, USA.  He makes small talk with the hotel owner and gets himself invited to a Legion meeting of local veterans.

Don is an easy mark as the Caddy-driving man who overtips for booze and book deliveries looks like someone who'd make a hefty contribution to the cause (paying to repair someone's burned out kitchen).  The men at the Legion Hall swap war stories and drink, not in that order.  Don awkwardly informs the others that he was a Lieutenant in Korea and then is scared to find a fellow Korean War vet is there and wants to make his acquaintance.  Don is relieved when it turns out the other man didn't know him - their tour of duty didn't overlap over there.  A mixture of alcohol and brotherhood, and, perhaps, a need to unload this personal baggage, leads Don to admit to some of what happened in Korea.

He tells the men that he killed his commanding officer, which does not faze men who have confessed to far worse.  He then makes it clear it was an accident, but that doesn't matter.  All that matters, the men all agree, is to get home, to get out of there.  And so Don's given a blessing/pardon/release of guilt from these fellow vets.  The camaraderie of the night is capped off by a rousing rendition of "Over There."  But within hours, allies become foes as those same men storm into Don's room, accuse him of stealing the money raised that night, beat him up and steal his car.

Don quickly deduces that it was the wannabe small-town crook Andy who stole the money and probably framed him as well.   He gets Andy to give him the money back, so he can square things up with the hotel owner and get the hell out of town.  Again, as with Diana, he gives this kid more attention than he deserves, trying to keep him from making the same mistakes Don made.  He tells him to start over, learn some goddamn grammar, and get his act together.  A life of conning people will only leave him sad, scared and alone.  He gives Andy a head start by not ratting him out and helping him leave this place for a fresh start.  Then he gives him the keys to his caddy.

Don stays behind on the bus bench, to continue his pilgrimage down the Milk and Honey Route. He looks happy while we hear Buddy Holly singing that "Every day it's-a getting closer" and the promise that "Love like yours will surely come my way."


Don's last line to Betty was "knock 'me dead, Birdie."  How many of us saw that sentence and thought "dead Birdie?"  I'll be honest - it never crossed my mind!  In the same exchange she teased him how she'd always be younger than him and now that fact turns into a sad prediction.  But these weren't the only signs.   We had "Bye Bye Birdie" in Season 3.  And Betty smoking while shooting the bird(ie)s in Season 1.  Just how long ago was this planned? We all thought the Chekov-ian instrument was Pete's rifle when all along it was that ever-present cigarette. 

It's natural to go back and look for every hint or foreshadowing of Betty's cancer, to take things out of context or shoehorn them in now as a sign.  Back in Ep. 3.04, her father tried to stop her from smoking, telling her: "You're just like your mother.  I don't like watching you commit suicide."  In Ep. 4.12, Geoff Atherton (when talking about how grim things were for the firm financially) was told by Roger Sterling:  "Listen, Doctor, we know there's a black spot on the x-ray.  You don't have to keep tapping your finger on it." Later, in the letter than Don famously pens "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco" he wrote of no longer pedaling cigarettes and that from here on out he'll ”know what I'm selling doesn't kill my customers." 

In Ep. 7.2 Day's Work after a fellow student's mother died, Sally said: "I'd stay here till 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground."  Later, Don tells Sally that he doesn't like her going to funerals and Sally says "it was awful.  Sarah's mom was yellow, she's wearing this wig" and Don  says "I hate that you got to see that."  But then he adds "Life goes on."  How did we miss this foreshadowing? 

Betty had a cancer scare back in Season 5 Tea Leaves when a node was discovered that turned out to be benign.  This was in 1966 and then Betty turned to Don, somewhat hysterically, worried about her kids and herself.  She needed to hear Don tell her everything would be okay and it was.  Back then, Henry resented her reliance on Don and kept him in the dark when they got the good news.  This time she turns to Henry with the news, yet does not rely on him or anyone else.  She decides what to do and how to handle it.  Last time she was scared of the prospect her children would be raised by Henry's stern mother or Don's wife Megan, but she doesn't seem to worry as much about the kids' future without her.  While Betty has been a frustrating character she had shown growth and comfort in her own skin and that makes her death seem even more unfair. 

In that episode, Betty connected with an old friend who did have cancer and asked her what it was like.  This conversation likely stayed with her and informed her decision not to fight:
"Well, it's like you're way out in the ocean alone and you're paddling, and you see people on the shore, but they're getting farther and farther away.  And you struggle because it's natural.  Then your mind wanders back to everything normal. What am I gonna fix for dinner? Did I lock the back door? And then you just get so tired, you just give in and hope you go straight down."
The title of this episode comes from the book "The Milk and Honey Route" by Dean Stiff (Nels Anderson).  It is a parody of Andersen's book "The Hobo" written under a pseudonym.  Anderson was a sociologist who studied the homeless in the Depression Era and filled this "Handbook for Hobos" with hobo terminology and a humorous take on how to live life on the road.  The last passage is particularly relevant to Don:
"The road the real hobo follows is never ending. It is always heading into the sunset of promise but it never fully keeps its promise. Thus the road the hobo roams always beckons him on, much as does the undealt card in a game of stud. Every new bend of the road is disillusioning but never disappointing, so that once you get the spirit of the hobo you never reach the stone wall of utter disillusionment. You follow on hopefully from one bend of the road to another, until in the end you step off the cliff."
The Legion hall meeting, and its aftermath, had two callbacks to previous episodes.  First, we  had the group singalong which was reminiscent of the Father Abraham singalong in Ep. 6.09 The Better Half when Don went to visit Bobby (and Betty) at camp.  Second, we had Don beaten up in a hotel room in Ep. 307 Seven Twenty Three after he hangs out with people he should have avoided, 

Pete tells Trudy he never loved anyone else and I don't know if that's true.  He did tell Peggy that he loved her and he and she did seem to have a very strong connection. But I do believe that he wants to be a family with Trudy and Tammy and that he'll do his best to be a better father and husband this time around.  He's a sincere guy who tries to do the right thing, and sometimes he's gone astray trying to act like he thought he was supposed to.  Maybe now that he knows to stop trying to be his father, he can be a better man.

Who would have thought that Duck would be Pete's guardian angel.  The job is great, but that's not what Pete got out of Duck's return to his life.  Duck's confidence builder - and his insight that Pete was on a roll - was what helped Pete focus on getting what he really wanted.  Not just the job, the title, the money but everything.  All those signs of success and someone with whom to share it. 

When Don learned of Anna Draper's cancer diagnosis in Ep. 4.03 The Good News he was furious at her family for accepting the specialists prognosis and deciding on no treatment.  He wanted to step in and make sure that they weren't missing something, that everything that could be done was done.  I wonder how he would deal with hearing the news about Betty?  The circumstances are different.  Betty is not in the dark and has made her own decision, others aren't making it for her.  And with Henry's money and clout, there's no question that she has available the very best specialists.   We'll know in a week if we see him learn of her diagnosis or whether there's a time jump to later on, perhaps even after Betty has died.


Cop: You knew we'd catch up with you eventually.

Don:  You have no idea about money.

Duck:  One month and you're already the mayor.

Henry:  That quack has some nerve scaring you like that.

Don:  Let's take it a night at a time. I'm an optimist.

Mike Sherman:  I told Duck I was looking for a real knickerbocker.  Right schools, right family.
Someone who can rap his ring on the table and let everyone know they're with a friend.
Pete:  Well, I'm flattered.  But I'm afraid Duck Phillips has tricked me into a job interview.

Doctor:  It's aggressive and it's very advanced.  I wish there was better news.

Henry:  What do you think would happen if Nelson Rockefeller got this? 

Betty:  He would die! 

Henry:  You're a very lucky woman.  You have been your whole life.

Don:  I was in the advertising business. 

Pete: Well, then, how about for old times' sake?
Trudy:  You know, I'm jealous of your ability to be sentimental about the past.  I'm not able to do that.  I remember things as they were.

Hotel owner: I'm going to tell you in advance that I know we seem like fine people, but I've been a little dishonest.

Pete: How do you know when something's really an opportunity?

Bud:  Banking is a road.  You just stay on it. 

Pete:  Why? Always looking for something better. Always looking for something else. 

Pete:   I think it feels good and then it doesn't.

Duck:  You’re on one of those magic—we used to call it a trend. You know, because of the graph where the line just goes up

Duck:  Who's going to win the World Series this year? 
Pete: I don't know.
Duck: You are. Because you are charmed, my friend. ... I've been there. It doesn't last long.

Vet: You just do what you have to do to come home.
Don:  I killed my CO.  We were under fire.  Fuel was everywhere.  And I dropped my lighter.  And I blew him apart.  And I got to go home.
Vet:  That is the name of the game.

Sally:  He doesn't know you won't get treatment because you enjoy the tragedy. 
Betty: Sally, I've learned to believe people when they tell you it's over.  They don't want to say it, so it's usually the truth.

Betty:  And I don't want you to think I'm 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.

Pete: Because its origins were supernatural, I realized that its benefits might be as well.

Pete: We're entitled to something new. I want to start over and I know I can.

Pete:  I said it ten years ago and I'll say it again. I do. 

Pete:  Say yes with your voice, not just your eyes.

Don:  You don't know anything about me.  I could kill you right now. 

Don: I know you think you know how to hustle, but this is a big crime, stealing these people's money.

If you keep it, you'll have to become somebody else.  And it's not what you think it is.  You cannot get off on that foot in this life.

Henry: Why are you doing that?
Betty: Why was I ever doing it? 

Betty: I love you. 

Don: Don't waste this. 

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