Going through archives from before and preserving this
Welcome to the penultimate review of The Carousel! Today we’re talking about the penultimate episode. Spiny will review the finale soon, and as you all know Mad Men Day in Wednesday July 19! We’ve called the Day Thread header, and will direct you to any exciting discussions about MM going on that day!
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I’ve only discovered the existence of The Milk and Honey Route: A Handbook for Hobos by Dean Stiff in doing research for this write-up. I couldn’t find too much about it, except it was written in the 30s. I’m surprised there wasn’t some huge think piece written about it at the time, but everyone was probably gearing up for the finale.
It’s not surprising that this episode is named after a book for hobos, considering one of the running themes of the show has been Don’s transient nature, who we find on the road again. And that the show referenced a literal hobo Don met as a child in “The Hobo Code.”
He jerks awake in a motel room after a dream that a cop has pulled him over demanding identification. That’s quite a nightmare for Don, as he’s coming to grips with just who he is and what it’s all about and what he’s done after 2 failed marriages, lots of infidelity, a damaged relationship with his children, alcoholism, and a career trajectory that has somewhat crumbled in the face of a corporate takeover of the agency he built from the ground up he was powerless to stop. Like Don does, he’s taken off again, flouncing from a meeting of McCann’s creative directors in identical shirtsleeves eating identical boxed lunches. (They used to have much better food at those sort of things!)
Don’s handsomeness and ability to fix things comes in handy here. He fixes a few things – one of them a Coca Cola machine (foreshadowing: your clue to quality writing!) and ingratiates himself to the proprietors of the motel in Oklahoma he’s staying at while his car is being fixed. It’s a small town, offering not much but maybe high school sports and church. He gets the hotel’s handy kid, Andy to buy him a bottle, who squeezes him for some extra money. Don doesn’t care, he’s rich and of course sees something of himself in this Andy: Andy is estranged from his family and is determined to make something “more” of himself.
Don gets invited to a night at the local American Legion. Where he drinks and chats with some crusty old coots. He becomes alarmed when he finds out that one of them, Roy fromThe Office , also served in Korea. Roy has no idea about the Don / Dick exchange, but in a drunken moment, Don fesses up about what happened. The guys are sympathetic, until it turns out the money from the American Legion has been stolen. Being the stranger in town – ahem…THE HOBO…he gets blamed for it and beaten up.
Of course Andy took the money. Don warns him that if he keeps it he’ll “have to become someone else.” Don knows the perils of this. He manages to get the money back, and feeling Andy is a kindred spirit, gives him his car, ending up more of a hobo than at the beginning of the episode.
Duck Phillips is back again. He needs one last score to keep him in booze and child support for the rest of the year. LearJet needs a new head of marketing, and Peter DYCKMAN Campbell is just the guy. Duck is such a pitiful lonely figure at this point. Pete resists, he blows off a dinner with LearJet (where he could have made a compelling case to get their account for McCann) in favor of dinner with his brother. Bud Campbell is fooling around on his amusingly named wife Judy, and we see Pete FINALLY getting a clue. He convinces Bud that know amount of fucking around will replace the love of a good woman, and FINALLY realizes what a goddamn gem of a wife he had with Trudy.
In a moment reminiscent of a rom – com, Pete shows up in Cos Cob in the wee hours and gives an impassioned plea to reunite with his family. Trudy is a smart woman, she wonders what will be different, but Pete convinces her that a fresh start in Wichita is just what they need. I’m reminded of Don’s plea to run off with Rachel, but the difference here is that Pete’s owned up to his past. (allow me to point out the metaphor of planes and baggage here) I believe these crazy kids are going to make it.
Betty becomes winded and falls walking up the stairs to class, and is taken to the hospital by some students who jokingly refer her to Mrs. Robinson. She MUST CALL HER HUSBAND, because it turns out she has a broken rib due to lung cancer, and it’s bad. Henry is devastated, Betty is stoic. (Imagine if Betty had been told without Henry, she’d likely keep it to herself)
Betty wants to keep the news from her children, and pretty much everyone else. Betty will never get any parenting award, even in the context of the times, but it’s easy to imagine why she feels this way, especially in light of the fact that she doesn’t want to get treatment. She saw her mother’s last painful months, she doesn’t want her kids to go through what she did.
Henry’s in some denial about this, and visits Sally at school to tell her. Sally hold her hands over her ears. “It’s OK to cry,” Henry tells her, and begins weeping inconsolably. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do, so he brings Sally home. Betty is initially furious about this, but in one of the series best scenes, has a great talk with Sally:
“I’ve learned to believe people when they say it’s over. They don’t want to say it, so it’s usually the truth.”
“Things happen very quickly when people die. Henry’s not going to be able to handle things.”
Betty has rallied, and knows who will rally after she’s gone. Sally is as smart as both of her parents, if not smarter, and in young enough that her cynicism might not get the best of her. the cynicism and depth of feeling are evident in the finale when Sally has to be the one to tell Don her brothers need to be raised by Henry,
Betty writes a lovely yet very Betty- like letter to Sally. She gives clear instructions on what dress and hairstyle she would like to be buried in. But also demonstrates her awareness of who her daughter is, and the world she is leaving:
“Sally, I always worried about you because you march to the beat of your own drum. But now I know that’s good. Your life will be an adventure. I love you.”
Stray observations/ Discussion questions:
-The hobo and travel and suitcase motif has always been a big part of the show. What do you think of how that was handled this episode?
-I can’t get an image, but Betty’s instructions for her burial outfit and hairstyle are very Pat Nixon-ish, and it’s from an event she went to with Henry. There really do love each other!
-Of course someone major was going to die of lung cancer, but I was shocked that it was was both Rachel AND Betty.
-When this episode aired, I was visiting my in-laws with The Boy, who was 8 months old. The in laws don’t watch Mad Men, The Boy had gone to sleep, Mr Rim wasn’t there. I’d already prepared myself for the penultimate episode of Prestige TV to be a zinger. I popped a pill, took some wine to my guest bedroom and emerged an hour later to smoke a cigarette ( I’m the worst) and my mother in law asked why I was crying. I hadn’t noticed, I wasn’t CRYING, I just had tears streaming down my face.
I went outside with some more wine and a cigarette (I’m the worst) and got a text from my good friend:
“Don’t worry, Sally’s got it.”
That was a big help.
-I’ll leave you with this: