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When Betty Met Sally: On ‘Mad Men’s Finale

May 18, 2015
Director: Christopher Bell. Courtesy of Coco Knudson Photography
Parks and Rec
Betty & Sally Mad Men

It’s always so striking to me how things in life come full circle, how we inevitably return to the point at which we started. Many things may have happened in between the start and the finish, and yet the universe has a funny way of making sure we remember where we began. I started watching Mad Men my freshman year of college. I have always been a television fiend and the fact that Men was a historical series really drew me in. I’m aging myself a tad, but this was before Netflix got really big so, I ventured out to my local FYE and purchased the first two seasons of the show on DVD. By the time I’d returned home for the summer, DVDs in tow I was obsessed, and like I’d done with The Wire, One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek before, I got my mother hooked as well. We’d lay for hours in her bed watching episode after episode. I was weary from my first adventures in NYC and she was exhausted from her endless doctors appointments that often included chemotherapy and radiation. So we laid there together, transported from 21st century Chicago to 1960’s New York. Our troubles were real and would soon become even more daunting. But in those endless hours, on those warm summer evenings we could forget. Don Draper’s world was slowly unraveling and the people closes to him; both family ans colleagues were getting swept away in the fall-out. We were captivated by the characters who lived and loved during that pivotal moment in our country’s history. Through them, we saw the assassinations of our nations leaders. We experienced the first moon landing, the Civil Rights Movement, and the beginning of the Women’s movement.

I grew up in a home with only two television and no cable for a majority of my life. Though I’d watch season three on-line and at school, I purchased the third season and brought it home dreaming of another summer snuggled with my mama. But this was not to be. She never finished season three of Mad Men and she never saw any of the seasons that came after. But, I’ve stayed the course. Nearly five years later, I’ve seen all 92-episodes of the series.

In the second to last episode of the final season, it’s revealed that Don’s ex-wife Betty Francis is dying of terminal lung cancer. Not yet 40-years old, she has three children and seems at last settled in her life. After leaving Don because of his lies, controlling nature and constant philandering, Betty seems to have figured out who she is.  Her husband Henry adores her, she and Don have called a truce, and she’s gone back to school to get her Masters degree. Betty hasn’t been the most sympathetic woman, but she’s was a true and whole character; flawed and desperately seeking happiness.

After collapsing on the hall steps at her school, Betty finds out that she’s dying. Though her husband and teenage daughter Sally beg her to seek treatment, she seems content in facing the end of her life. She wants to forgo treatment, proceeding as normal while doing the things that make her happy. She explains to her daughter,

Sally, I’ve learned to believe people when they tell you it’s over. They don’t want to say it so it’s usually the truth.

With Henry crippled with denial and Don off wherever he was, Betty placed a great deal of trust and responsibility on 16-year old Sally. In a conversation that was eerily similar to one I had with my own father in January of 2010, it was Sally who tells Don about Betty’s grim prognosis.  It is Sally who cancels her trip to Madrid, it’s Sally who comes back and forth from school to try and normalize things for her little brothers and comfort her mother. Throughout the entire series we’ve watch Sally and Betty butt heads, challenging one another as the traditions of the 1950’s gave way to the baby boomers; the free spirits and new thinkers of Sally’s generation.  In a letter to Sally that includes her final instructions Betty writes,

Sally I always worried about you because you marched to the beat of your own drum. But now I know that’s good because your life will be an adventure. I love you, mom.

As I wiped the tears from my cheeks, I thought how strange that Betty and Sally find themselves in the end, at the very place where I began.

 

xoxoxo Chocolate Girl in the City xoxoxo