The main plot was handled well enough that I didn’t care about the rest.
There was always a sense, as the show wound down, that someone would die. Bert already did, but he was older and had lived a full life. But I didn’t really count on the victim being Betty, and I was impressed with how well show creator (and episode co-writer and director) Matthew Weiner handled it. Betty has always been a divisive character, because viewers would get restless when too much time was spent away from the office. And January Jones is not a fantastic actress. But within her limits, Jones did quite well as the unlikeable but beautiful Betty. And this episode played to her strengths and was consistent with her character.
Everything about the handling of her illness felt right. Betty’s fall and broken rib. The doctor insisting on her husband Henry’s presence, and the brilliantly shot scene of them discussing her fatal lung cancer diagnosis, while she sat in the foreground, not even being addressed. Henry discusses aggressive treatment discusses options, slaps away her cigarettes (which are implied as the cause of her illness, a bit of a sore subject with me given how common lung cancer is even among nonsmokers) but Betty is withdrawn and has no interest. Henry drives to bring Sally back from school, hoping to persuade her to talk to her mother. Instead, she ends up having to comfort him. Upon her arrival, Betty stalks off. Sally immediately makes up a lie, so as not to alarm her brothers and to avoid having to talk much at all. But she immediately takes on the role that she may have to play soon, and holds her youngest brother.
Betty’s scene with Sally is brief but important. Betty isn’t wallowing in tragedy, as her daughter suspects. She’s being pragmatic. The prospect of misery and suffering for an extra few months seems pointless to her. Betty knows she can count on Sally. Henry is a wreck. Don is gone. There are arrangements to be made. They seem like typical Betty in many ways, as her concerns revolve around what dress she wants to wear after she dies. But they are practical things, and Betty trusts Sally to handle the details when she is dead and things move fast. She has experience with this. Betty explains her seeming icy calm in a way that made sense to me, and certainly that made sense for Betty. The final scene, in which Sally reads the letter, is as thoughtful and perceptive as we have heard her talk about her daughter. Betty seems to understand Sally better than Sally realized, and she tries – in her way – to provide comforting, hopeful final words.
The rest of the episode is about Don, who fulfilled my guess about not coming back, and Pete, who is given a better sendoff (if that’s what it is) than he seems to deserve. Don is in Oklahoma, just driving around the country. His car is in the shop, and he’s not doing anything anyway. He’s haunted by a fear of getting caught, as the series revolves back to its origins of Dick Whitman’s assumed identity. I have always found this far less interesting than Weiner, and the apparent attempt to wrap up this story by having Don cast off “Don Draper” is both clever and kind of pointless. The man has three non-adult children, a wife who will soon be dead, and he’s driving around casting off his possessions so he can reconcile with his true self – or something. Perhaps the finale will change my mind, and make me see this walkabout in a different light. The last few episodes have been pleasant surprises, so I’m not ruling anything out, but the mysteries of Don’s past stopped interesting me a long time ago. So it’s a tough hill for me to climb. As for the particulars of the plot, well, I guess we get to be reminded that all the bastards don’t live in New York City. And yes, I guess we’re supposed to be struck by Don’s drunken confession at the VA event that he killed his commanding officer (and the vets not caring about that). But I’m of the Bert Cooper “Who Cares” school of thought.
And speaking of not living in New York City, guess who else may be headed west? Pete, with Trudy, as an executive at Lear Jet working in Kansas. Now Pete and Trudy are repellent characters. It’s a tribute to Vincent Kartheiser that I like him even a little bit. I believe Pete wants to get back together with Trudy, and to be with his daughter, for now. It doesn’t really seem sustainable, them living in Topeka (even with a jet to fly places). I wasn’t really sure about the point of this plot, aside from giving Pete an ending and emphasizing that what’s left of the old gang is going their separate ways. That part is fine, because it’s true.