As they say on Mad Men: Jesus [mute]ing Christ.
With the imminent death of Betty Draper, whose last laborious climb up those college steps looked a lot like her ascension into heaven, Matthew Weiner dropped a bomb on his audience as well as his characters. No extended epilogue for Mad Men, no multi-episode equivalent to the elegant pull-back shots that have closed so many episodes. Nope, shit is going down.
Giving a character lung cancer is, in one sense, a logical culmination for a show that has savored the ambience of cigarette-tainted rooms for so long. (The first episode was called “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” but really, it gets everywhere.) But why Betty, perhaps the longest-suffering of its many martyr-like characters? Because as often as she’s seemed extraneous to a show about advertising men and women, and as many opportunities as Weiner and co. had to send her off to live in a nice Republican mansion in Westchester Country and never be heard from again, she’s served as the show’s most persistent link to the world outside of Madison Avenue. In Don’s world, “It’s toasted” is an appealing slogan precisely because of how meaningless it is. But when Betty’s doctor tells her she has months to live, she doesn’t try to parse the words. “I’ve learned to believe people when they tell you it’s over,” she tells Sally. “It’s been a gift to me, to know when to move on.”
Betty’s conversation with her daughter, both in person and via the note she left to be read after her death, strikes a startling note of acceptance, in profound contrast to Don‘s lifelong flight from the truth. She’s been painfully naive and immature for so long, but the Grace Kelly-like blonde bombshell suddenly vaulted past her fellow characters in maturity — or perhaps she’s been sneaking up on it for years, and we never quite noticed.
Although it’s doubtful the series will end on a Sopranos-like metanote — then again, no one saw that one coming, either — its final run has been in large part about the end of the show itself. The partially disassembled offices of what was once Sterling Cooper & Partners in last week’s episode (“Lost Horizon”) looked like a set in the midst of being taken apart, and the featureless grey corridors of McCann Erickson look like a new set built on the cheap. (Don’t open that door; there’s no office behind it.) One thing we know for sure: After next week, Mad Men is dead, and we’re just going to have to accept it. Make sure get that nice blue gown out of the hall closet, and do the hair just right.