HomeTelevisionTV Recap: Mad Men, 'The Milk and Honey Route'

TV Recap: Mad Men, ‘The Milk and Honey Route’


Major Spoilers Discussed.

The Milk and Honey Route PLOT SUMMARY:

Don (Jon Hamm) continues his trek across America, but car trouble lands him in a sleepy town in Oklahoma. He shacks up at a local hotel, where he befriends a young hotel worker, and eventually finds himself at the local VFW hall for a night of drinking. Betty (January Jones) takes a spill at school,and is then given some grave news — she has terminal lung cancer. Henry (Christopher Stanley) confides in Sally (Kieran Shipka) in order to get Sally to convince Betty to seek treatment. Duck (Mark Moses) returns to con Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) into taking an interview with Learjet.

Cameo Central: Alison Brie returns as Trudy Campbell for another extended cameo. Mark Moses made an uncomfortable return as the oft-drunk Duck Phillips. While Don is on the road he encounters two war veterans – one played by Barney Miller star Max Gail and ‘Roy from The Office‘ – David Denman.

Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC
Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

Favorite Performance: This is an absolutely tough call, because this episode was full of brilliant performances. However, January Jones really stole the entire episode. She’s always portrayed Betty Draper perfectly, and tonight was no different. Betty has been often vilified for her stubbornness and her coldness, but tonight her ability to dispassionately accept her terminal fate in order to spare her family made us all love Betty tonight. Being able to dissociate her emotions from her decision and putting her family first makes you really admire this character. Henry claims it was because Betty ‘loves the tragedy’ while Sally initially admits her mom is just stubborn. Yet, we find out through her very straightforward mother/daughter talk with Sally, that she is accepting her fate because she watched her mother suffer and die, and it truly hurt her. It hurt her so much that she will take the hit for her family, to spare them the hurt. Jones’ straightforward, matter-of-fact delivery, and the conviction she carries about her was perfect, absolutely perfect. Who knew that we could not only feel bad for Betty Draper, but we could see her as a good mother, a good wife and a strong individual.

The Little Thing We Loved: Sally placing her hand on the back of a weeping Henry was a great moment. It’s a moment of fragility from a typical stoic, often chauvinistic man. This was a really nice touch for the Henry character as he’s been pretty one-note since he and Betty got married. It was also a great moment for Sally, who officially accepted the mantle of being the woman of the house — taking the emotional responsibility of the entire Draper/Francis family on her young shoulders.

The Supporting Scene Stealer: Jon Hamm was brilliant in this episode, but still couldn’t touch January Jones. Hamm has been the constant of the series, always delivering strong performance after strong performance. This is why he’s usually not included in the performance categories of these weekly reviews — he’s always great, so why keep talking about it? Tonight, however, we saw some different shades of Don Draper. He saw him open up about his wartime past, we saw him back in small town America, and we saw him guiding a young man, not unlike his former self. Hamm just delivered on all cylinders. His scene where he throws the hotel worker on his bed, and says, “I could kill you!” was powerful as hell. That entire scene where he tells this kid not to end up like him was great, not because of the anger in his words, but it’s a scene where Hamm finally conveys Don’s own self-disgust in a sober manner. There was no long sob story, no alcohol fueling his thoughts, no staring into the middle distance — this was a stone cold admission. As previously stated, Jon Hamm always delivers strong performances, but tonight he showed us a new wrinkle in Don’s self-loathing, and self-discovery, and he just nailed every nuance of it.

Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC
Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

The Best Part of the Episode: Pete’s speech to Trudy was an expected yet totally unexpected occurrence. Sure, there were hints tossed around. A few episodes we really saw the sparks fly when Pete and Trudy had to confront that ridiculous private school headmaster. However, all that was tempered by the mere fact this is Mad Men — and people don’t get a happy ending. That being said, seeing Pete profess his love to Trudy was just an absolutely sweet, sincere moment. Trudy was absolutely justified in everything she said — Pete has never given her (or us for that matter) 100% pure, honesty. There’s been rampant infidelity combined with Pete’s grating, condescending, elitist, pricky, selfish attitude. Yet, during this scene we got the most honest Pete Campbell we’ve seen in seven seasons. Vincent Kartheiser and Alison Brie have always had great chemistry (even during their most contentious scenes), and seeing them falling back in love was heartwarming. Kartheiser gave one of the best performances he’s ever given in the series. This may be his last big moment in the series, and he killed it. Pete Campbell was the series’ biggest villain, then he became the series’ whipping boy, then the series’ comic relief, so to see him sincere, honest and dare we say ‘real’ was a complete left turn for this character that was executed marvelously.

The Part We Could’ve Done Without: Don leering at a bikini-clad woman by the pool actually kind of creepy.

Final Thoughts:  Happy Mother’s Day, Mad Men style. Wow, that was just an absolute gut punch. Hours after this episode has aired, I’m still feeling the shock of this massive bombshell. Who saw this coming? If you did, then go buy a lottery ticket. Jokes aside, this plot twist was not a necessary twist for the series finale of Mad Men. It wasn’t needed at all. The writers could’ve easily wrapped a bow on Betty when she officially enrolled in college. With that being said, bravo to the writers of Mad Men. This was the kind of bold, risky move that put this series on the map. Remember, no one’s ever truly happy on Mad Men. Why? Because this show is about life, and life isn’t fair, nor is it a fairytale. It’s life. And this, sadly, is what happens in real life – people are struck with terminal illness at a moment’s notice. The portrayal of this bombshell was perfectly executed by January Jones, Kiernan Shipka and Christopher Stanley. They all embodied fear, strength, and bewilderment, all the emotions that course through one’s veins during moments like this.

From a narrative standpoint, this blows all theories out of the water, particularly my one about Roger Sterling (John Slattery) being the one who dies.  And that’s what this show does, it shatters all your expectations — in good and bad ways.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC
Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

The Don storyline was interesting. Who didn’t think he’d be recognized at Dick Whitman, especially at the VFW meeting. It seemed painfully obvious that it would happen, hell you could tell Don thought it was going to happen. When it didn’t, it allowed for Don to make his grave admission in public to a group of fellow veterans. Of course, the fall out of that, being beaten up by those vets was a little bit of stretch, but you understand why it’s happening. It felt almost Hemingway-esque how those two scenes played out drowned in booze, bravado, shame, fear, and rage. Where Don goes from here as he’s now carless is anybody’s guess.

The Pete storyline, as mentioned before, was expected, and gladly acceptable. It’s nice to see the longtime heel of the show end up happy. Of course, this could all change, but for now let’s all bask in the one major positive of this episode — Peter and Trudy are reunited.

Predictions: This is literally anyone’s guess at this point. Could we see a flash forward to Betty’s funeral? Possibly? Will we get a death bed scene (or scenes) with Betty featuring Sally and Don? That seems a bit cliche, but it’ll be brilliant without a doubt. Will some characters be totally shafted by the finale? Oh, absolutely. Will we have some sort of open-ended, ‘that’s it?’ ending to this entire series? This writer is definitely leaning that way. Remember, this series is about the lives of these characters. These characters are alive in the world of Mad Men, and that world does not end when the series does. In theory they’ll live their lives out for as long as their lives allow. Will we have a montage of where everyone ends up? Maybe. We’ve pretty much sewed up Joan’s future — out of McCann, in the arms of a new man, and with plenty of money to support her family. We’ve seemingly put a bow on Pete. He’s leaving the aristocratic, old money of Westchester County, and heading to the Midwest with his family.

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

We have not wrapped up Peggy, unless you count her stumbling into McCann as her finale scene. There has to be a big send off for her, being she’s been an integral part of the series. Maybe we see something with her and Stan (Jay R. Ferguson)? Ted (Kevin Rahm) seems to have melted into the McCann machine, and that’s the last time we’ll see him. We really haven’t say farewell to Harry Crane, but do we really care?  Then there’s Roger who we last saw playing the organ while Peggy roller skated around the office. We’re going to need at least one final one-liner from the silver fox before he goes.

Then there’s Don. What the hell happens to Don? Does he return home? Does he leave the world of advertising? Does he ever get Diana? Do we really want them together? Does he kill himself? Does he just go on being Don? From some reason I can see us fading to black focuses in on Don’s face, staring that Don stare, and we’re all left thinking, ‘Seriously?’ But you never know, this series has fooled us many of time, and I’m willing to be fooled one final time.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Mad Men airs Sundays on AMC

Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He is beyond excited that Pop-Break will be six years old in 2015 as this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He can be read every Monday for the Happy Mondays Interview Series as well as his weekly reviews on Law & Order: SVU, Mad Men and Hannibal. His goal, once again, is to write 500 stories this year (a goal he accomplished in 2014). He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.

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