‘Mad Men’: Don Gets Stranded, Pete Gets Whole (TV REVIEW)

And then there was one.

But first, let’s have a roaring standing ovation for Mad Men’s penultimate episode, “The Milk and Honey Route,” which somehow managed to one-up last week’s installment in almost every way imaginable. (In case you don’t remember, that episode got 10/10 stars.) Maybe it’s a cop-out, but it’s an understatement that change is the revolving theme of “The Milk and Honey Route.” Change, while ever-constant, doesn’t typically come all at once. And many of Mad Men’s central characters have seen a substantial “growth spurt” over the course of Season 7’s final half.

Peter Campbell — certainly this week’s shining star — is the perfect example. His transformation can be traced back a great deal, but it becomes most visible in “New Business” during a conversation with Don. “You think you’re going to begin your life over and do it right,” Pete said. “But what if you never get past the beginning again?” That poignant examination of one’s existence is profound for anyone, perhaps even moreso for someone like Peter.

This entitled, quick-tempered, power-hungry jerk has truly blossomed into somewhat of a nice, relatable guy. Viewers have watched as Peter becomes far more aware of life in general, especially when it comes to happiness. What used to work doesn’t work anymore. Moreover, what used to work got him where he is now, which is where his more conscious self realizes he doesn’t want to be.

His newfound insight is called into action after a favor for Duck Phillips unknowingly leads him to a business dinner disguised as a job interview, where Peter finds himself in the running for a new job in Wichita, Kansas. This opportunity prompts him to finally act on all his melancholic behavior by re-proclaiming his love for Trudy and asking her to move with him so they can put their family back together.

While it demands being mentioned, Betty’s role in the episode doesn’t need much exploration. It’s both surprising and depressing. For the sake of discretion, let’s just say she receives some life-altering news. Betty hasn’t always been easy to love, but she has grown a lot. That growth is most evident in her ability to actually show understanding, a trait she seemed to grossly lack earlier in the series.

As far as Don is concerned, it seems as if there was some slight oversight last week about his evolution. Don is shedding himself of the man he’s lived as for nearly two decades, a feat that is nothing short of time-consuming. It’s a process; one that looks to be increasingly easy for him to bear, but a process nonetheless.

Car trouble leaves Don stranded in Middle-of-Nowhere, Oklahoma, where he spends his time reading and interacting with a young, wannabe con man. He also drunkenly reflects on his time in the military while attending a party at a local Veterans Affairs Lodge by opening up about the accident that killed his commanding officer in Korea.

Following a series of unfortunate events (one of which hearkens back to Mad Men creator Matt Weiner’s time writing for The Sopranos), Don gets his car back. But the reunion is short-lived, as Don soon decides to hand the wheel over to the wannabe-conman in favor of public transportation. As the baby blue Cadillac pulls out onto the highway, viewers watch one of the most simple and charming scenes in Mad Men history play out: There’s Don, left by himself on a bench, waiting for a bus with nothing but a bag of clothes and a smile on his face.

Anyone who still believes that man goes on to become D.B. Cooper — the man who, in November 1971, hijacked a commercial aircraft midflight, extorted $200,000 and then parachuted from the plane never to be caught — can kick rocks. Because that man, the one genuinely beaming with satisfaction after giving away his last worldly possession, has gained something money can’t buy: his freedom.

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