Mad Men’s next to last episode starts to wrap up the stories of some of its characters and sends Don on another new adventure.
Other characters are present, but Pete and Betty are highlighted in Mad Men‘s penultimate episode. Pete comes into the office where he runs into Duck Phillips. Pete’s happy at McCann-Erickson. After Joan left and Don disappeared, Pete saved a lot of the business that they could’ve lost. Pete’s afraid that being seen with Duck will give people the wrong idea about him. However, Duck wants Pete to pitch him for a recruiting position at Learjet. It turns out that that’s a lie. Duck has tricked Pete into a job interview for Learjet. Despite Pete insisting that he’s happy at McCann, Duck continues to push him through the interview process. Pete goes along with it because he hopes that he can sign Learjet for McCann, but the interviews actually go well. As the interviews go further, Pete’s interviews call for his wife to be present. He reaches out to Trudy, who he’s been getting along with recently, to be his date for the interview dinner. She rejects Pete, basically telling him that she doesn’t remember their time together fondly. Pete bails on the interview but, without his permission, Duck manages to spin the whole thing to his advantage. Duck convinces McCann and Learjet to buy Pete out of his contract and to give him a great new job offer. Because of the seemingly supernatural nature of his new opportunity, Pete realizes that working for Learjet represents an opportunity to start over and try again, both in his career and in his personal life. He goes to see Trudy in the middle of the night and makes an impassioned speech to her asking her to come back. Turns out Pete’s luck may be miraculous, because she actually says “yes” to him and their family is reunited.
Betty has started attending college classes. After running into a young coed she falls on the stairs and ends up cracking a rib. When she goes to the doctor, she finds out that she has advanced and aggressive cancer. In typical Betty fashion, she reaches for a cigarette when she gets in the car to go home. Henry takes her to a specialist and is adamant about finding a way for Betty to beat the cancer, but Betty has a different idea. Betty seems to be resigned to her fate, so Henry goes to get Sally and asks her to talk Betty into looking into treatment. Betty doesn’t want to talk to Sally at first, but eventually comes to her in private. Betty tells Sally that she’s not giving up, but rather knowing when she’s beaten. Betty plans to live out the remainder of her life normally and doesn’t want to drag Sally to have to watch her die like Betty did with her mother. Betty gives Sally an envelope with instructions to be carried out after her death. They’re seemingly superficial things like what dress to bury her in. Sally reads them when she gets back to school as Betty returns to college. However, the letter also contains some parting words of love from Betty to Sally.
Don found himself in a motel in the middle of the Midwest and is calling in to his family remotely. When his car breaks down, he’s forced to seek refuge at a little roadside motel while his car is being fixed. While he’s there, he gets sent to a fundraiser with a bunch of veterans at the VFW. Don’s obviously worried about someone finding him out, but he gives his name and rank and is welcomed to the party with open arms. After a long night and a lot of drinks Don (I guess it would be appropriate to refer to him as Dick Whitman at this moment), tells the story of about how he killed his CO (the original Don Draper). He leaves out the part about stealing his CO’s identity, but he seems to be getting along with them. Later that night, the vets burst into Don’s room and hit him upside the head with a phone book. The money from the fundraiser was stolen and it looks like Don did it. The culprit is actually a young man named Andy, who works at the hotel and has been running errands for Don. Don gets Andy to return the money but doesn’t let anyone know that it was actually Andy who stole it. Don gives Andy a ride out of town and actually decides to give the kid his car, telling him not to waste this opportunity.
Other things that happened:
- Don wakes up from a dream about a police officer pulling him over, presumably having finally found him out for being a fraud.
- The college students who leave Betty at the hospital leave her under the name “Mrs. Robinson”, a reference to the novel/film “The Graduate” and the accompanying eponymous Simon and Garfunkel tune.
- Pete has dinner with his brother Bud in order to talk to him about evaluating opportunities. They talk about their father and Pete ends up calling him on having an affair with his wife. The point is that the Campbell men are always looking for the bigger and better things, but it’s not worth losing some things over.
- Sally believes that her mother won’t get treatment because she “loves the tragedy”. Pretty messed up thing to say to your dying mother.
- The episode ends with the song “Everyday” by Buddy Holly.
I think we all knew that someone significant was going to die before this season of Mad Men ended. I definitely wasn’t expecting that person to be Betty. Even though she wasn’t actually killed in this episode, she was basically given a death sentence by the doctors. More importantly, we got to see the immediate family (including Betty) react to her death. That part of the episode was a huge gut punch. I loved the way that the different characters had when they heard the news, particularly Sally’s “earmuffs” pose.
The most uplifting part of the episode was Pete’s storyline. I feel like things kind of came out of left field for Pete. Normally, if only by his own belief, he seems to be getting the short end of the stick. For a character like that, this is a really unexpected end. Not only did he get everything he wanted, but it pretty much fell into his lap despite him actively running from it. The one thing he did try to get was Trudy. The show has been laying the groundwork for those two getting back together this season but it still seemed kind of easy. All it took was for Pete to come swooping in and finally say what Trudy wanted to hear. Maybe it was the case that she’s just been playing hard to get for a couple of years, but I didn’t really see it that way. That being said, I do think it was a nice way to wrap Pete and Trudy’s story. Mostly because both of those characters seemed to be floundering a little without each other.
I thought Don’s character had the most entertaining story of the episode. I think this was the show’s way of wrapping Dick Whitman. That fear of being found out has been an on and off issue for Don throughout the series. In this episode he gets to finally tell someone else the story of what he did and unburden himself of that weight. Don also got the chance to make up for his life as a con-man by trying to prevent a kid from going down a similar path. With everything he did in this episode, it felt like he could actually kind of close the door on that chapter of his life. Especially when he decided to take the fall for Andy. That told me that he didn’t need to be liked by the guys that he bared part of his soul to. Instead, he took ownership of being the con-man that he is and used his already tainted persona to help someone else.