Mad Men 7.13: “The Milk and Honey Route” Review

Fear of the Future

A Television Review by Akash Singh

NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!

The Milk and Honey Route is a fairly depressing hour of Mad Men, preparing for all of us to say good-bye to one of television’s finest dramas while drowning one of its most prominent characters in literal preparation for death. The milk and honey route is a hobo term from the early twentieth century that referred to a train route bursting with plentiful bounty, made famous by Nels Anderson in his 1931 book The Milk and Honey Route: A Handbook for Hobos. A prominent American sociologist of his time, he studied hobos and urban culture, ostensibly crafting a poignant observation through his studies: “Any railroad running through a valley of plenty may be called a milk and honey line. But this is a transient term; what may be a milk and honey route to one hobo may not be so to another.” Don has been a hobo arguably for the entire series, running around from place to place, from person to person (which, incidentally, is the title of the finale), trying to find a true home for himself, trying to find a place where he can belong as who he is. Whether that remains an elusive odyssey or a triumphant moment of achievement for Don remains to be seen, but there seems at least to be something definitive about that final shot of Don at the bus stop, having given his car away and awaiting the inevitability of whatever came next.

The train of bounty that Don is leaving behind in the Great Plains is the train that Pete is catching, an iconic parallelism to the show’s beginning, where Don was the bright light on the horizon Pete had always run after. Unbeknownst to him, he’s essentially doing the same thing here, albeit through the oddest conduit he could have imagined. Duck Phillips continues this half season of Mad Men’s tradition of bringing back the farthest off characters possible, still a bit drunk and as sleazy as ever (maybe I’m just mixing Mark Moses’s Homeland turn here with Duck, but it works anyway). It’s a bit sad to see Duck still not acquiring his full potential, remaining mired in the mediocrity that defined him for so long with the grim sentence of making it through the winter.

Pete’s story for this hour at least (who knows next week) is defined by a brightness that permeates through the heavy and frankly realistic fear he has of the future. Having secured his position at McCann by keeping a plethora of accounts and even acquiring newer ones, Pete seems absolutely reluctant to risk that job security. But the interview goes swell and Pete even manages to sneak a heart-to-heart with his brother about his many infidelities. Perhaps that was what spurred him to run to Trudy, seemingly earnestly excited about moving to beautiful Wichita, Kansas (?). Trudy at first simply isn’t having any of Pete’s proposition to get back together, but a part of her does seem to yearn for that simpler, more bountiful past. She agrees to give their marriage another shot and maybe, just maybe, the Campbells make it out of this series happy.

Don’s bountiful strange was at first viewing fairly strange, perhaps the result of some choppy editing. Upon a second viewing, it improved considerably, perhaps that is the result of my poor body acquiring some actual sleep. Either way, Don’s car goes awry like so many things this episode and he ends up at a cheap motel in the middle of nowhere, where the delivery tax on bottles of liquor brought by busboys is apparently is one hundred percent. More importantly, Don finds himself at a veteran’s fundraiser. Initially hesitant to say much of anything, lest someone from the Korean War recollect who he is at all, as the evening goes forward he spills the truth about the lighter accident that had killed his commanding officer. 

He stops short of saying he’s Dick Whitman turned into Don Draper, thankfully, but it’s the most open we’ve ever seen him be in a setting that even remotely resembles a room full of strangers. It was thus suitably disconcerting to see him get smacked around with a phone book, the veterans from the night before convinced that he had stolen their money. Don quickly realizes that the busboy had taken their money, who had apparently done so to become someone else, someone like him. Don counsels him against espousing the route that he himself had taken, instead giving him his Cadillac. The shocked boy drives off, leaving behind a broadly smiling man who has given away the remaining shackle that bound him to his previous life.

By far the most depressing figure this hour and perhaps the most tragic in all of Mad Men is Betty Draper, who appeared to have truly reached some semblance of happiness last week. Betty slips and falls on the stairs at college, staying down as she senses that there’s something wrong. Her diagnosis of lung cancer circles not just to her earlier cancer scare back in the series but also the entirety of the story’s beginning, where even the idea of cigarettes killing people was utterly laughable. There is, however, no laughter here as Betty slowly approaches the end of her life, suffering yet through another round of sexist nonsense that was and remains highly prevalent. Her initial visit to the doctor ends him requesting that she grab her husband, as if she as an individual didn’t even have the right to know the condition of her own body. In the latter visit, Weiner frames the camera with Henry having the discussion about her condition as if she doesn’t exist while she is sitting tight there, rigid in the foreground. She knows this and understands it keenly, adding to the ultimate decision she makes about her own life.

Sally has an understandably knee-jerk reaction, accusing Betty of wanting the tragedy of the whole affair. Betty doesn’t retort, noting to her daughter that Betty was a fighter and that she remembers what it was like to see her own mother succumb to death. That is something she never wants Sally to have to see. “I’ve learned to believe people when they say it’s over. They don’t want to say it, so it’s usually the truth.” It’s a sharp observation on human nature, coming from a woman who at last is able to chart her own life forward, ironically at the cruelest and possibly last juncture of her existence. Betty, perhaps surprisingly so, became the character who became the most successful at letting the past go and accepting the future, the change. When Henry screams about what Nelson Rockefeller would do if he were in her shoes, Betty’s yell of “He would die!” rings of all the years of frustration and anger culminating together in a fiery declaration of independence at last. I’m honestly not sure if the character truly deserves this fate, especially with her perfectly satisfying ending last week and certainly part of me feels as if this is unnecessarily abject cruelty. As Betty walks upwards on the stairs, a quiet ivory tinge gives the impression of her transcendence, a divine quality awash in tragedy. Rest in peace, Betty.

“Sally, I always worried about you because you march to the beat of your own drum. But now I know that’s good. Your life will be an adventure. I love you. Mom.”

Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:

+Don’s nightmare of being discovered opening the episode

+Sally in Spain? New spin-off, AMC?

+“I’ve paid you at some point.”

+Henry throwing away Betty’s cigarettes

+The cut of steaks from Don to Pete

+“We’re one and the same.”

+“Close over coffee.”

+“For old times’s sake.”

+Don’s grammar correction corresponding to Stannis Baratheon on Game of Thrones an hour prior

+“It’s okay for you to cry, honey.” Henry’s breakdown her was heartbreaking.

+Sally at the head of the table as the matriarch

+“How do you know when something is truly an opportunity?”

+“I don’t buy or sell. I just distribute.”

+“Always looking for something better? Always looking for something else?”

+“Dad did so.”

+“I think it feels good and then it doesn’t.”

+“I won’t let you give up!”

+“We’re entitled to more…newer…”

+“You’ll have to become somebody else.

+“I have class.

+Betty’s letter was absolutely perfect and heartbreaking. Seeing Sally cry after she read it tore my soul apart.

Brilliant

9/10

Title: The Milk and Honey Route

Written By: Carly Wray and Matthew Weiner

Directed By: Matthew Weiner

Image Courtesy: AMC

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