Monday, May 18, 2015

Going Mad: "The Milk and Honey Route"

[Rambling Side Note Intro: So, I messed up internet. Instead of being strapped to my laptop typing away about Mad Men last week, I enjoyed the sunshine and went away over the weekend. Ooops. The following is now entirely behind, and somewhat irrelevant to those watching along with the show as it airs on television, but there are still so many feelings to get out about, "The Milk and Honey Route". It just can't be skipped. So here we go - I write the following about the penultimate episode, completely knowing the future, while those hippies singing "I'd Like To Buy The World A Coke" continues playing on repeat in my head...]

"You knew we'd catch up with you eventually."

Those words may have been said by a police officer to Don in a dream he was having, but it turned out to be related to more people than just Don. In a shocking turn, that bad omen also significantly applied to another character that has been on the show since episode one.

While everyone was hypothesizing about Don's end - will he die, will he jump out of a window, is he really Walter White? -  no one was keeping their eye on Betty.

Over this string of new episodes, Betty's plot lines were shifting to a point where everything was going her way. She was back in school (something she desired), plus, after numerous years of tension following their divorce, Don was back to calling her affectionate nicknames like "Birdie" and they were both all smiles in each others presence.

Because I wasn't donning my pessimistic hat while tuning in for this episode, there had been absolutely zero time scheming up thoughts that something bad had to happen to Betty in order to counteract all the positive vibes that had come into her life.

It seemed like Don and Betty's scene together in Betty's kitchen during the previous episode was her goodbye. Their moment together felt very final and would have been a pleasant farewell for her character. [By the by, if "Pessimistic Hats" were an actually accessory, they would be in the shape of Eeyore.]

So, that scene did turn out to be a farewell, but a different kind. It was a goodbye to the past, before the future got a little more dim, or just real, whichever floats your boat.

Really, who could have guessed that things would take a turn for the worse? Probably the person who was borrowing my "depressing thoughts hat" for the night!

It was such an upsetting turn that I felt just like that little girl who picked flowers right before being blown up by a bomb. Okay, so maybe that's a little dramatic, but still, you catch my drift.

In the first couple scenes of this episode, Betty struggled to make it up a flight of stairs. She's a youngish woman and it's been years since her last hit of Reddi-Wip, so of course I couldn't help but yell out loud in my living room to anyone who would listen, "Why in the heck is Betty so out of shape!"

The answer was surreal: Betty was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

Mad Men is famous for nailing the 60s to a tee. Most notably, how everyone smoke and drank to their hearts content. With that in mind, the fact that a character was diagnosed with lung cancer wasn't as shocking as who the death sentence was given to.

To be honest, Betty was never my favorite character. She was enjoyable from time to time (shooting birds, becoming "Fat Betty" and thus my soul sister), but she never was featured as much on the show after divorcing Don, and instead made her way to becoming part of the supporting cast. Since she was only in scenes for a couple minutes at a time (aside from a few episodes here and there), it seemed like that was just how her story would continue.

Even though she was pushed to the background, Betty, being the ex-wife of the central character Don, was always a continual force on the show, even when she wasn't physically in scenes. She was part of the story that made Don who he is! She was one of the originals! Hearing about her diagnosis was a totally unexpected circumstance and an all time devastating moment in any television series I have cared about.

Even if you didn't like that character, it was difficult to not be shocked. Creator/director/writer extraordinaire, Matthew Weiner, probably moved her to a bit part on purpose, just so the impact would hit that much harder.  That dude really knows how to deliver one heck of a punch.

It wasn't just the discovery of Betty's ill health that was heartbreaking, it was all in the way she handled her situation. Betty's sense of strength was on display like never before. She didn't want her children to know she was sick and only wished to continue on with life. It was then left to the people around her to fall apart instead. Henry was severely distraught and with no one else to talk to, drove up to Sally's school. He went against Betty's wishes and told Sally everything.

Betty was angry to find that Sally left school with Henry and showed back up at their house. So much so, it at first appeared that she wouldn't even look Sally in the face. Really, this whole situation seemed cold on Betty's part, but it turned out it was with good intentions. While her young sons remained in the dark about the situation, Betty came to Sally with a rather adult responsibility - Betty gave her a letter that detailed specific instructions to follow after her death.

What a terrifying  job for a teenage girl. Sally, still in probably a mixture of disbelief and dread, handled it all with such an adult manner. Betty trusted that Sally, over Henry, would be able to keep it together. Betty then instructed Sally to go back to school - she had watched her own mother die and didn't want Sally to experience life with the same dose of reality.

These two have never been close and what's sad, this situation is what will bring them together, because if not now, when?

Overall, these moments with Betty are what people will most remember about "The Milk and Honey Route". So much so, I found it difficult to concentrate much on the other two main stories.

Still, between Pete reconciling with Trudy, and Don getting punched by some drunk vets in a hotel room, there were many other moments that made this episode just another in the non-stop endless greatness that is this series as a whole.

This episode really kept the shocks going. After referring to Mr. Campbell as "Creepy Pete" for the entire series, by the end of this episode, he was far from a creep, and was actually more like "Cheery Pete". He totally redeemed himself, won Trudy back, and somehow became the voice of reason. It's kind of nuts.

Fitting his new, breezier state of mind, Pete was pondering throughout this episode why it is that everyone is always seeking out something better. Why can't we just be happy with what we have? After all this, it is rather comical then that he ended up leaving McCann Erickson for a luxurious private jet company. But I think it was for different intentions than greed (even though "Greedy Pete" does have a nice right to it...). For him, he needed to seek out something better in order to have a fresh start and get his life to a point where he respected and appreciated Trudy. Which he did, and though surreal, you can't help but hope it all works out for them.

Because I can't help but dig deeper, a simple search of the episode title draws out other connections to this idea as well. "Milk and honey" are referenced in the bible, specifically to do with the "the promised land" - a place that has everything you will ever need.

Those "needs" will be different for everyone. Pete's new outlook on life is definitely the promised land for him. Betty's acceptance of her terms in life and decision to continue on going to school is the best version of that mythical life she will get [Betty's letter to Sally being read out loud over the scene of Betty once again slowly climbing those school steps at the end of the episode, was an utterly powerful, Steel Magnolias level crying moment]. Don on the other hand was still out searching for that "milk and honey".

In the final scene, Don gave his car away (beside money, his last big material object) and sat down at a bus stop looking off down the road. At that moment, all he had was a plastic bag full of clothes, an envelope of money, and nothing left but time to think about where he could go. If only he knew what was happening back home.

Until next time. 

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