Another amazing episode has led us to the finale with all the beauty, poignancy, and precise storytelling that has been the calling card of this series. What's becoming more beautifully evident however, is that by telling such a real story with such psychological accuracy, that Mad Men is telling a deeply human story and one that can't help but reflect Christian truths.
We find Don calling Sally from the road, somewhere in Kansas after seeing a two headed cow in Wyoming and headed south. Don rolls through Oklahoma but encounters car trouble which leaves him stranded at a small town motel. Here in the motel he is stripped of so much. He is no longer confined by his job, his romantic relationships, or his money (he has left possible millions at McCann by walking out), even his car has broken down and he is left with only himself. Here he is alone with his own heart and conscience and the pride which he has clung to for so many years is finally gone.
Not only has he been stripped of the outer worldly idols he has chased for so long, he is willingly choosing this simplicity, this poverty. He may notice a foxy bikini-clad mom at the pool, but he isn't acting on or feeling the usual instinctive lust for conquest, he is living chastely. (I notice the glaring lack of the virtue of obedience, but I don't think it's far behind, check with me next week.)
How interesting to think that Don Draper, the quintessential man of his era - the sexual revolution - a man who has lived with sexual abandon, become professionally successful, wealthy beyond his dreams, envied by all, yet in order to understand himself and this deep yearning for true meaning he is drawn back to the very basic spiritual tenants of poverty and chastity. His road to conversion, or to finding true meaning to his life, is being explored through these two evangelical counsels.
Don also encounters a teenage boy, Andy, who is clearly on the path to becoming a huckster and general con man very reminiscent of Don's own youth. Don at first humours him, but when Don is accused of stealing money from the local veterans Don confronts Andy's criminal efforts with the cutting plea to leave town so he doesn't have a place he can never return to. Don is explaining how even though he thought he could get away from the pain and troubles of his childhood by becoming someone else, not being able to return to a place, to your roots does leave one with a heavy burden.
But Betty! As a character much maligned and disliked for her cold and vain childishness it is somehow fitting that she get a tragic ending, not because I wished her any harm, but because her character was so well-drawn that the drama of her demise seems apt.
Betty is wheezing her way around college, still catching the good-looking boy's eye, and again lung cancer rears it's ugly head. Don has already lost Anna, his pseudo-wife, to lung cancer, and as Don has been a creative head of companies who made fortunes from selling cigarettes, it's an insight into the moral complications of corporate America. Betty doesn't collapse in hysterics however, she remains true to her character of approaching her diagnosis with a grim acceptance. Sally and Henry are rightly shaken and desperate, yet Betty still remains so true to her character neither dissolving into a puddle of sentimentality, nor becoming the fawning mother comforting her child in need. It's a testament to how realistic this show is, and how psychologically astute the writers are to make these characters so true to what life really looks like.
The tragedy of Betty being fitting, we have the surprising happy ending for Pete Campbell. Pete and Trudy's relationship has always been one that aspired to Don and Betty greatness. The viewers see that the sacramental bonds that remain between Betty and Don also remain between Pete and Trudy. Pete is caught off-guard as Duck Phillips lands him a prime job with Lear Jets, he'll keep his SC&P buyout millions, while being able to start again in Wichita. He only has to convince Trudy to forgive him, to risk trusting him again and put faith in his change of heart being sincere.
I found Pete's change of heart a realization of his past behaviour and what it's consequences have really been. Pete has tried to do whatever it takes to get to the top, follow his sexual prowess in affairs, let his marriage fall apart, tried to live the lie of divorce healing all ills and being true freedom. It's at dinner with his brother that he shows such insight into the folly of his past ways. He has been doing what he has been doing not because he was assured he was making good choices but because his father did the exact same thing and that's the only example he has had in life of what it means to be a man. I thought it was especially touching how this short conversation between brothers was enough to get his brother to get up and cancel a date with a woman who was not his wife.
After so many years of seeing Pete as the little shit of the office, I was caught off guard with how genuinely happy I was for Pete and Trudy's reuniting. Pete wanted to be Don, but now he's shown that he's found the personal insight much earlier in life than Don. He's now ahead of Don in realizing what really matters in his life enough to risk his pride and ask his wife to take him back, to rebuild his fractured family, to begin again with integrity. That's not to say they'll have a fairytale second marriage, but it does show so much hope and beauty in the power of marriage as a lifelong tie that bonds people together.
Who ever thought I'd be crying happy tears for Pete?! Not me!!
The Milk and Honey Route" may just be the desert where Don is finally finding God. He may finally be making choices that facilitate discovering the truth about himself, his family, and love. And if my hunches are right, the final episode will involve self-sacrifice, obedience, and redemption for the man who has looked for meaning in his life for a long time.
Ah!! Guys! I'm so excited and full of emotions for the finale!
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