A few months ago, while I covered a fundraising event, I had the opportunity to speak with a few beat journalists. They were covering the event for their papers and we spoke about all things pertaining to writing. One of the men shared this belief that writing and being a journalist/blogger seems to keep you in this perpetual cycle of constantly seeking validation for what you do. That no matter the skill or quality of a piece, you’re constantly seeking to validate your worth as a writer, not just for yourself but for others, in continually delivering article after article. The sentiment kept on creeping back as I watched Sunday night’s (May 10th) episode of “Mad Men” – “The Milk and Honey Route.” Don Draper (Jon Hamm) seems to be seeking validation for everything he’s done and all the choices he’s made. A man unhappy with his success, with “feelings of restless dissatisfaction despite trappings of industry success.” (Matthew Weiner script notes on exhibit at the Museum of Moving Image, Astoria, NY)
“We knew we’d catch up with you eventually.”
Don is on the road. It’s nighttime and he gets pulled over by a police officer. The cop asks Don for his license and registration and after a few words are exchanged, the officer tells him that “We knew we’d catch up with you eventually.” Don then wakes up, in a foreign bed, and we immediately realize he’s still traveling across America. He’s been sending postcards from each state to his daughter, Sally (Kiernan Shipka). With a bag of clothes from Sears, he heads to a motel run by veteran character actor Chris Ellis in Kansas, after his car breaks down.
The words the cop speaks to him are more telling and haunting to Don Draper than you could imagine. The idea of Don’s past catching up to him “eventually” has plagued him throughout his life. He’s on the run, seeking a way out of the life he’s trapped himself in, and currently trying to leave behind his life as an ad man following his sudden departure from McCann Erickson. The feeling of the past catching up to you has permeated this season as we saw Don candidly speak of his broken home and childhood in the season premiere (something he would never have done in the past) and spend a night with veterans at a legion hall during his stay in Kansas. While the men reminisce over their experiences in the military from past wars, Don shockingly recounts the story of how he accidentally killed his CO during the Korean War. He tells his new friends that he dropped his lighter which led to an explosion – “I killed my CO. We were under fire and fuel was everywhere, and I dropped my lighter, and I blew him apart. And I got to go home.”
The American Legion holds a collection for one of the vets since his home burned down – a total of $500 collected. The money disappears and later on in the night the vets return to Don’s room to attack him. They believe he stole the money as he was contributing throughout the night, figuring he’d only take back the money at the end. Truth be told, it wasn’t him. The kid working at the motel was the one who stole the money. There’s an intimidating moment afterwards when Don encounters the young man and confronts him on the theft. He tells the kid that stealing is not a path that he wants to go down as it will lead to him living a life of lies and having to be someone else. I’ve read a few people say this was one of the weaker moments of the episode, but I loved it.
Ben Travers of IndieWire had this to say: “Don is done with advertising. In what was a stronger implication than was read last week, Don’s departure from McCann Erickson was a permanent one. He’s forfeited his partnership and is now free to be “on the road” for as long as he pleases. That being said, tonight’s title indicates an arrival in paradise soon (and for viewers, at least, “soon” now means next week, as the series finale finally arrives). Taken from the Bible passage when God speaks to Moses through a burning bush (telling him to take the Israelites to the “land of milk and honey”), Episode 13’s title implies this was Don’s passageway to a land rich with opportunities. He’s been wandering the desert long enough (or trapped in Dante’s eighth — fraud — and ninth — treachery — circles of hell, if you’re still keen on interpreting that symbolism). Now it’s time to escape, and we couldn’t be happier to see where.”
The scene of Don feeling at home and comfortable with the men at the American Legion showed us that he could be happy. His slow move away from keeping a fortress of secrets about his past has opened him more to others. The men understand him and take him in, if only momentarily. They beat him with a phone book later and reject him (sadly, it’s under false pretenses.) While Don could walk away feeling as if he ultimately can’t trust anyone on the road, he knows that this is not the case. The moment plays out like a Bible story (just as the title suggests as pointed out by Ben Travers) as it finds Don traveling across the land and meeting a man (or men) with ill intent.
I’d also like to point out that in researching this episode, “The Milk and Honey Route”, that the title is actually taken from this book.
It’s even more fitting when recalling “The Hobo Code” from earlier episode. (Season One, Episode 8) For those interested, here’s a look at the actual hobo code.
Don eventually gives the young man his car and in a way gives him an opportunity to a life that he was never given. The young man immediately takes the keys and drives off while Don happily waits on the side of the road for a bus. It’s one of the first times we see Don as genuinely happy.
Don has sought validation for his childhood, his relationships, his work, and now, more so than ever – his life. It was perhaps the most satisfying moment when he’s with the boy and gives him his car. In the penultimate episode of “Mad Men”, we finally walk away feeling as if everything might be okay for the role Jon Hamm has breathed so much life into – Don Draper!
“The Milk and Honey Route” is a five star episode. “Mad Men” airs its final episode next Sunday, May 17th at 10 pm on AMC. Check your local listings.