Mad Men: “The Milk and Honey Route” Season 7 Episode 13 Review

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Mad Men seems to be toying with us quite a bit before it sails off into the sunset. The show’s second to last episode was devoid of Peggy, Roger, and Joan. But what we did get was rewarding in its own right.

A funny thing about these final episodes is the lack of finality for most of the characters. Sure, SC&P is no more, but the remaining players are all branching off into new directions, starting new journeys of love and labor. Or they’re just driving aimlessly looking for whatever comes next.

But “The Milk and Honey Route” swiftly took Betty’s future away from her. She’s felt like a disease infecting everyone around her since she and Don split. And now she’s the one who’s sick. Of all the characters who chain-smoked throughout the series, it’s Betty who gets lung cancer.

It’s a testament to the show’s complexity that the first thing I felt upon this reveal was guilt. Betty may have acted like a child throughout the series, but her recent endeavors have felt a lot more grown up, like a high schooler moving on to college. There was potential. Underneath all her cruelty, she did in fact love her children, even as she fought for them to be different people.

With the cancer having already spread, she has no longer than a year to live, but she’s going to do what she’s always done, accepted the facts and moved on. Henry isn’t quite ready to say goodbye, bringing Sally home from school to convince her mom to fight to stay alive. The conversation they shared in Sally’s bedroom spoke to the rocky relationship these two have shared since Sally matured. As Sally puts it, Betty loved the tragedy of it all, but her mother reveals a wisdom to her that, when finally spoken aloud, could change how we perceive Betty’s actions throughout the entire series. She hands Sally a letter and tells her to open it the second she knows she’s gone.

Then, Betty ascends a flight of stairs to her class, powering through the pain as she always has, forcing a smile when it feels the most wrong. Meanwhile, Sally reads the letter from her mother, the only child to get one, where Betty admits her mistakes as a mother, but also that she’s grown to admire Sally’s rebellious nature. It’s a difficult yet beautiful moment that feels true of any teenager that’s bumped heads with a parent. It is a defining moment for both characters, the type of moment you hope for when a series is ending.

The mood of that final scene was clearly a goodbye to Betty, meaning January Jones likely won’t be in the series finale, unless she makes a Bert Cooper-esque appearance. And I can’t imagine a better ending for the character.

Don, of course, is continuing his tour of the country and unaware of all of this. He’s got his own problems elsewhere. He stays at a motel in Kansas after his car breaks down, eventually being coerced into a veterans benefit get-together with the owner. He doesn’t say much to the former men in uniform until he’s told a story that is darker than his. For the first time, Don tells his war story in a setting where people understand. The show tricks us into thinking this may be the only place Don can feel at home without having to craft an identity.

But these people don’t turn out to be Don’s people. He has money, they don’t, which creates a social divide that leads to distrust. When the benefit money goes missing, he’s the first one accused. He gets it back from the sly kid who keeps smuggling him alcohol, gives it back, and drives off with the kid. After seeing something of himself in the kid, he gives him his car and waits at the bus by himself. We’ll have to wait until the finale to see where the bus takes him.

Betty and Don’s redemption arcs carried over to one Pete Campbell as well. Unlike the former Drapers, Pete may just have a chance to get Trudy to trust him again. Their relationship has been civil and supportive in the past couple of episodes, just like their marriage was before Pete got caught up in the world his job forced him to be a part of.

But Pete has grown a lot in the past few years. Not only did he seem to learn from his divorce, but also Don and Megan’s. He sees the opportunity for he and Trudy to start over and be happy again and he goes all in. This may be the most admirable Pete has ever been, to the point where I found myself rooting for Trudy to say yes. She did, but we’ll see if it sticks.

“The Milk and Honey Route” was deliberate in its lack of certain major characters. It’s a tough creative choice for a penultimate episode, but the time spent here, particularly with Betty and Sally, delivered some truly rewarding moments. This was an episode about second chances (or third or fourth in a lot of cases). Betty with a few nuggets of wisdom reinvents herself as a mother before passing. Pete has one last chance with the woman he loves to not be a prick. Don’s journey is full of possibilities of what his new life can be, but he’ll soon have to make a decision on just how much of his old life he wants to keep. No pressure, but there is just one episode left. Grade: A

By Matt Dougherty

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