Last week’s Mad Men episode “The Milk and Honey Route” takes us on winding and complex emotional journey. Most of the action and interactions center on events and relationships outside the hallowed halls of McCann-Erickson, but they surely will reverberate back to Madison Avenue.
This Mad Men episode brings us face to face with death, provides glimpses of rebirth of spirit and reveals a cleansing of past sins on a path to the future. Leading into the series final episode we know the apparent fates of a few of our Mad Men. (Well, maybe.) An almost rich Joan is untethered, free and in love. Peggy is gearing up to be a creative rock star at McCann-Erickson. A relatively rich Pete is ready to go legit on the client side, shed the agency business and rebuild his family life away from New York City. Roger continues to be an enigma with a murky future at McCann and his romance and enchantment with Marie Calvet is volatile and unpredictable. Don is decidedly AWOL from McCann and is seemingly not troubled that he is leaving behind a few million dollars. Don is set on casting off most of his excess emotional baggage and possessions but we still don’t know where he is headed.
Very sadly, Betty gets hit hard with a diagnosis of terminal breast cancer and prepares for her end-of-life journey. She is stoic, and determined not to take extraordinary measures to prolong her life. Henry crumbles, and Sally is devastated about her mom and coming to grips with an unexpectedly different future. There is a wonderful and poignant moment when she reads a note from her mom: “Sally, I always worried about you, because you marched to the beat of your own drum. But now I know that’s good. I know your life will be an adventure. I love you, Mom.” So, in many ways we know a lot about the future of some of the Mad Menbut where it all will finally lead is still a mystery. I believe the big disruptive moment will come when Don finds out about Betty. the trajectory of his life and others is likely to change dramatically.
The McCann takeover of SC&P is hitting some major speed bumps with Don’s “walk-off” and Joan’s departure. On the positive side, Peggy and Ted have settled in, and Pete seems to be thriving in his new environment until Pete meets Duck Phillips at McCann and things change. Pete sarcastically asks if he’s helping to replace Don and Duck says, “I’ve done it before.”
Duck also can’t comprehend what would motivate Don to leave a few million bucks behind at McCann. As it turns out, Duck’s ultimate goal is to seduce Pete into leaving McCann to join one of his clients, Learjet. Pete is very concerned that his meeting with Duck could signal discontent with McCann and jeopardize his standing with Jim Hobart. It’s clear that Pete has found his “happy place” on Madison Avenue.
Through Duck’s persistence and maneuvering, he arranges a meeting with Mike Sherman from Learjet and Pete plays hard to get. Pete’s disinterest turns into a dogged persistence by Mike to land Pete. Before Pete can say Wichita, Duck has already negotiated a $100K salary and set up another meeting for Mike to meet Pete’s wife. Trudy resists and Pete blows off the dinner. Through some brilliant maneuvering Duck is able to get Mike to offer Pete nearly a million dollars and also have McCann negotiate a favorable severance deal for the account. All that money, access to “jet-set” travel at his disposal and a new start on the client side are just too good to pass up. But Pete needs Trudy and Tammy to be with him.
He persists with Trudy and closes the deal when he says, “Pick out a house and be my wife and family again.” Sold. Goodbye NYC and hello new beginning in Kansas. This is truly a transformation for Pete. For the past 10 years he has been a rather self-centered, manipulative, slippery, NYC obsessed malcontent. Now he’s reconciled his marriage and is becoming “responsible” executive making his home in the heartland.
Pete’s departure will exacerbate an already tenuous situation for McCann and further diminish any remaining benefits of their SC&P takeover. Other than Roger, there is no one from SC&P’s management to service their clients. Clients rely on familiar, trusted counterparts at their agencies for stability and service. When the key people disappear their accounts invariably jump ship as well. When added to the client revenue loss from conflicts and the defection of their coveted creative superstar, there may not be much value left for McCann. Of course, we still haven’t heard from Roger about his intentions, but it’s not likely that he will play a white knight role with any of the clients or with Don.
Don’s version of his “Easy Rider” trek across the country has certainly been interesting and perplexing. It’s clear that the father he travels the more worldly possessions he discards and the more demons he confronts. After his car breaks down, Don is forced to stay over at a motel in Kansas. That eventually leads to his meet Andy, a hustling drifter and night of camaraderie and bonding at an American Legion Hall. Don meets Jerry Fandango, who also served in Korea, and they tell personal war stories.
Don lets down his guard and admits to killing his Commanding Officer. “I blew him apart…and I got to go home,” he says. Then Don is falsely accused of stealing the Legion’s donation funds ($40) and gets knocked around and told he can’t have the keys to his car until he returns the money. Don confronts the real thief, Andy, the money is returned and Don hits the road again. Andy has the balls to ask Don for a ride to the bus stop which takes a surprising turn. Don pulls up to the bus stop and instead of tossing Andy out of his car, Don tosses his keys to Andy and says “Don’t waste this.” As the dust from the departing Cadillac clears, we see Don sitting alone on the bus stop bench with some clothes and necessities packed into a Sears shopping bag. Rather than look pathetic there is a calm, contented smile on Don’s face.
Mad Men has taken its final turn in the road and I am eagerly and sadly waiting to see what is on the horizon.