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Damn it, Matt Weiner. You made me cry over Betty. Not only that, but you made me wish that we could have learned a bit more about Betty throughout the season, now that we know her time is coming to an end. Damn it.
I’ve never been a big Betty cheerleader, but I’ve never actively disliked her character. I’ve certainly bemoaned episodes that featured more Betty than necessary, especially once Don and Betty were divorced and Don’s only real link to her was through the kids. But in light of the developments in “The Milk and Honey Route,” I get it now. I understand that we needed to see Betty grow, or at least see her path continue to diverge from Don’s in a meaningful way, to really understand not only Don’s presence in their marriage, but to also understand who Sally is and who Sally may grow to be (as for Bobby and baby Gene, I think we can safely say we will never know them).
Betty has, throughout the series, spent most of her time on screen as a representation: the doting homemaker, the troubled housewife, the overbearing mother, daddy’s little girl, the fallen woman. She has been a chameleon in the truest sense, on a series that is full of people who pretend to be what others want them to be. The interesting thing about Betty, when compared to the other characters, is that each person she becomes is someone who grates on the audience. When she refused to hear grandpa Gene’s funeral wishes, we’re annoyed because she isn’t accepting a dying man’s last request (scenes that pay dividends in “The Milk and Honey Route”). But, if we took a moment to put ourselves in her shoes, I can’t imagine that many people would want to hear their beloved parent discuss death. I certainly wouldn’t. Betty may have put on the consistent facade of the bored housewife or the dutiful mother, but she was only human. And I think that has been something we, as an audience, have overlooked when watching the show (and I include myself in this as well).
So, seeing Betty face her mortality with calm acceptance was truly amazing to witness. This character, who has consistently searched for perfection within her life, handled life’s ultimate disappointment with grace. She accepted death was inevitable and opted to go quietly. Perhaps she was a bit too detached (if she had made it a bit further into that psych course, she likely would have recognized it), but her acceptance of her death was just amazing to watch (and, perhaps there was some longing for drama, as Sally claimed, but I think there was a great deal more zen to her reaction than vanity). And that letter to Sally. Wow. Sure, she was a bit vain in her requests, but I can give her that at this point. But that last paragraph. After seven seasons of seeing Sally chafe against Betty, and seeing Betty unable to understand her daughter (and this new era), an expression of love. She really saw Sally for all these years, appreciated her, and loved her, even if that might not have been clear throughout the series. Just a gorgeous moment.
But the death of Betty will also have major repercussions on the story of Don Draper. While part of him still loves her (as we saw with their scene in the kitchen a few weeks back), we can all see that Don is enjoying his lack of responsibility. Don has no one, at least from his perspective, who needs him. He is on a journey to discover himself in a world with no responsibilities. Heck, he left millions on the table to walk away from his old life. This is a guy who doesn’t want to go back to New York. But Betty’s death means he will have to. He will have to be a father again. A real father, not a father who comes and goes as he pleases. We haven’t ever seen Don as that figure in his kids’ lives. Since we only have one episode left, I don’t know how much of this will happen (perhaps Don will shirk this responsibility as well, who knows). But Don’s magical trip out west is about to come to a screeching halt.
Since I spent so much time musing on Betty, I only have a bit of time for the major Pete developments in the episode, but they certainly deserve some dissection as well. Pete Campbell is an interesting character, much in the same way Betty has been. He’s certainly never going to be the hero of anything, but somehow he has managed to land on his feet after all this time. He was a complete cad (and not a charming cad like Don or Roger were), destroyed his marriage, and nearly destroying his career several times over. He, like Betty, was always looking for the next best thing. He was never content simply to be. But, now, for the first time in as long as I can remember, he seemed to have found his niche. He enjoyed working for McCann (unlike so many of the SC&P partners). While he certainly still had feelings for Trudy, he was there for little Tammy, and seemed ok with the state of things. So, when Duck swooped in and destroyed the status quo, I was actually worried we might see Pete melt down again.
But I was happy for him. A strange feeling, I know. But I was happy to see him get Trudy back (although I’m not entirely certain it was earned within the story, but, ok) and happy to see him move out of New York. This older and wiser Pete is run down. He’s unhappy, despite having everything he wanted career-wise. And he’s damn lucky Trudy was willing to take him back. Wichita will do him good. I also like the touch of irony to him getting in on the ground with Lear, considering the role airplanes have played in his storyline throughout the years. And, knowing the fate of Lear, man, Pete is going to be richer than he ever dreamed. So, Pete Campbell gets to go out on top. Good for him.
Considering how heavy the episode was on Pete and Betty, I presume this means it was the swansong for both characters on Mad Men. With this in mind, I have to think next week will focus mainly on Peggy and Don (always a good thing), since they are the only characters without a clear end point. That doesn’t mean I don’t think additional characters will dot the screen (clearly Roger has to appear, one last time, right?), I’m thrilled at the thought of spending the Mad Men‘s final moments with its heart and soul.
— I actually didn’t realize until the episode was over that Roger, Peggy, and Joan were missing. That is how compelling the episode was.
— I’m not entirely sure what to make of Don’s run-in with the locals. Yes, it’s a chance for him to share his deep secrets with strangers, but the attack following seemed a bit literal in terms of punishing him for his past. It just seemed a bit out of place to me in the scheme of things.
— Don sitting at the bus stop in the middle of nowhere was a nod to North by Northwest, so take that for what you will.