The title of this week’s episode, “The Milk and Honey Route,” has obvious connotations to prosperity from our good ol’ friends Moses and the burning bush. Obviously on a grand scale the Mad Men focuses on the advertising bubble of prosperity often closed to minorities, women and those without privileged backgrounds (unless you lie about it). On an individual level the title also applies. Betty has courted this route only to recently discover it doesn’t always provide happiness, whereas Pete discovered that the milk and honey route could offer more on a personal level than hedonism. Another meaning I came across for ‘milk and honey’ was a horrible ancient Persian method of execution whereby a poor person would be tied down, force fed milk and honey until they got covered in their own diarrhea and attracted bugs. Usually they would die of some combination of dehydration, starvation and septic shock. Talk about too much of a good thing.
Too much money and not quite enough love led Betty to live a life circumscribed by fear. Betty lived most of her life guided by the fear of living outside of societal expectations. Only recently has she been able, with the support of a husband capable of love, to somewhat confidently return to college and pursue psychology despite knowing she would never actually use it for much of anything. Betty is no Peggy, trailblazing in a male- dominated world to make a name for herself, nor is she Joan, formerly accessing power by leveraging her sexuality as the ultimate means of male control. Still we have seen her reach a sort of Zen moment over the course of the past season where she can listen to what she actually wants and enjoy herself. And then we she finds out she has aggressively malignant lung cancer. Betty has achieved all she realistically ever would – a successful family, getting called Mrs. Robinson by a bunch of teenage boys and pursuing a college degree for her own pleasure. The artfully slow zoom onto her face as she hears the news suggests a profound sadness, but not one that would destroy her as I believe it would have season one.
Henry brings in Sally to convince Betty to seek treatment, but Betty confidently asserts herself to both saying that not fighting cancer is a choice she made out of power over her life – not out of weakness. Betty doesn’t comfort Sally, of course, but in a letter Sally was meant to open after she dies Betty does offer two sentences on her hope for Sally’s future. Don’s prescription that Sally would end up like her parents is probably true, but not entirely in the way he intended. Sally showed Betty’s strength this episode when she instinctually filled the maternal role for her younger siblings when Betty fled the kitchen, but unlike her parents she has the confidence to extend her feelings outward and use Don’s charm to follow her passions. The best thing Matt Weiner has done here was leave Sally’s options open so we know nothing more than that her life will be the “adventure” Betty praises in her letter.
Pete of all people seems to also have grasped how to access his emotions capping off a months long reconciliation with Trudy this episode. For much of the season Pete has been on the backburner due to his complete comfort with transition from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to McCann. His confidence in himself stands in contrast to most of the other characters on the show and as a result he seems to have finally internalized that he doesn’t have to indulge in adultery and alcoholism to be in advertising. He now has consideration for his family that startles in its sincere intent, if not its successful execution. When Tammy gets a bug bite this episode he tenderly puts toothpaste on it, finally showing his commitment to his family instead of just spewing hollow words. His personal journey came to a head this week when he turned up at Trudy’s at 4 AM and pulled out moves no one thought he had, wooing her into reuniting with him for life in Wichita. Sure Trudy likely desired a return to good standing among the upper crust by unifying a broken home, but their kiss this episode was, ahem, something.
Beginning in “Lost Horizon,” Don ventured away from the milk and honey of advertising to the point where when asked what he did this episode he responded, “I was in the advertising business.” Don ends up in a rural motel after driving west seemingly without a destination in mind, and news of Don’s financial success spreads quickly among the residents. After donating $40 ($249.13 today?!) at a fundraiser, Don gets framed for stealing $500 ($3,114.21!!) because town residents think he would only have donated so much if he knew he would be getting it back. Talk about too much of a good thing.
Red herrings were strewn about this episode about what, if anything might pull Don out of his existential funk such as his skill at fixing various things around the motel which could reconnect him with his blue collar roots. But the real focus was on Don admonishing the real thief of the fundraiser money, a young man who worked at the motel cleaning rooms. Don corrects the kid’s grammar and advises him against the hustler life because, as Don knows well, once you start the con game it can set the tone for the rest of your life. By the end Don leaves the young man with his car and everything in the glove compartment, which the young man accepts without looking back. The final shot of the episode leaves Don at a rural bus stop with nothing more than a plastic bag and a casual flannel outfit in lieu of his trademark suit. With one episode left and Don hell-bent on minimalism and fleeing his past, in the final episode Don is bound to be either naked on a commune or dead. My advice for anxious viewers is hope for the best – but expect the worst.