“We knew we’d catch up with you eventually.”
The phrase “for old time’s sake” is repeated several times in this episode, and it’s an apt thing to say in a series that largely revolves around the past. As the show moves toward its final hour, its characters are dealing with the past in one way or another, whether that means bringing up feelings of nostalgia or finally letting go of your past or looking back on an unfulfilled life. For all the differences in motivations and in mindsets of these characters, the past is the force that unites them all, that informs who they are in the present and who they’ll be in the future.
The episode focuses on three main storylines–Don’s, Pete’s, and Betty’s–and it does a wonderful job of both tying them all together and making them distinct from one another. For example, Pete’s been going down Don’s path the entire series, but here, he finally finds his own milk and honey route. He finally realizes that his feelings of unfulfillment can be filled by a loving family, by something other than his work, and he wakes Trudy up in the early morning hours in order to give her his own “Carousel” pitch. It’s a beautiful and genuine moment, and I say it’s his Carousel pitch mostly because its main feeling is nostalgia; as Trudy says, “I’m jealous of your ability to be sentimental about the past.” In Pete’s earlier scene with his brother, he mentions that people are “always looking for something better, looking for something else”, and he asks: “How do you know when something’s really an opportunity?” He comes up with the answer to his own question, though, when he seizes the opportunity to move with his family to Wichita. He realizes that the “something better” he was looking for was right in front of him this whole time, that being successful in his current career path would mean leaving another life un-lived. “I want to start over, and I know I can.”
And in the end, “you do what you have to do to get home.” It applies just as much to Pete as it does to Don, and this coupled with the Wichita overlap really drives home the parallels between the two characters. They’ve made similar choices throughout the series, but in the end, it’s Pete who finds his family, who ends up with others while Don sits alone at a bus stop. Of course, the neat thing here is that Don cracks a smile at the end unlike any that we’ve seen before. Why? He’s finally let go of his past. From the beginning of the episode, we see just how afraid he still is of getting caught, of having his past slip out, and it ends up being he himself who reveals that he killed his CO. The cat’s finally out of the bag, and he further cuts ties when he gives Andy the keys to his Cadillac. After warning the kid that “if [he keeps] the money, [he’ll] have to become somebody else, he hops out of the car, sits down on the bench, and smiles. What a wonderful connection to “The Hobo Code”, and what a beautiful image at the end. Nice to meet you, Dick Whitman.
Of course, there’s also the sadness that still comes with seeing how alone he is. Don, Betty, and Sally began the series as the stereotypical “perfect family”, but now, that’s certainly not the case. Now, the dynamics are completely different, and Betty realizes that Sally’s personality is good for this changing world. In one of the most heartbreaking scenes the show has ever produced, Betty’s letter is played over a scene of her climbing the school stairs, and the words hit incredibly hard: “I always worried about you because you marched to the beat of your own drum, Sally. But now I know that’s good. I know your life will be an adventure.” Betty finally had a chance to make a life for herself, a life free of the societal expectations that made her who she is. However, life is cruel, and her future is ripped away from her in one fell swoop. This is Betty at the end of her life, imparting some final words of wisdom and experience like Don does with Andy. This is also a Betty who will keep up appearances until the bitter end, who will be Betty until she takes her final breath. It’s summed up wonderfully by a small exchange between her and Henry at the end of the episode:
“Why are you doing that?”
“Why was I ever doing it?”
-On the grade: I dunno. I can never really explain my grades.
-What a wonderful Mother’s Day storyline.
-Bored drummer at the veterans party is the best.
-That’s David Denman, aka Roy from The Office, who plays Jerry Fandango.
-Wonderful closing song, as always. It’s Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”.
-Yay, Don and Coca Cola!
-One more episode left, folks. It’s been a pleasure. Share any predictions/hopes for the finale below. I suspect we’re done with the Campbells and Henry/Betty for the most part, and we’re definitely going to be getting sendoffs for characters like Joan, Roger, Peggy–kickass final image last week, though–and of course, Don. I hope Don either 1) is revealed to be D.B. Cooper, 2) transforms into Pete, 3) eats everyone, or 4) punches Harry in the face. I have confidence Weiner can pull this off.
Photo credit: AMC, Mad Men