This comes as a bit of a spoiler, but since the end is truly nigh and if you are reading this blog, then you have some passing connection with at least some things of a pop culture flavor, and the penultimate episode of "Mad Men" would certainly count for that. You remember "Mad Men," don't you? Before there were zombies and revolutionary war spies prowling about Sunday nights on American Movie Classics, there were advertising executives drinking and driving and hopping from bed to bed in a slick recreation of what we all have come to agree was the most alluring vision of the world as it was fifty years ago. And smoking. Did I mention smoking? Lots of smoking.
And that's why I am taking the time to whine about what has been a solidly diverting ride for the past seven seasons. But this? This next-to-last shocker of a revelation? Was it really necessary to kill Betty? I know, if you're not up on this whole "where are they, who are they" tracking for what is happening to which fictional character, then killing Betty may just be a meme that has no actual meaning beyond the sound of the words, but I'm telling you that it matters because of the way it was done: Lung cancer. After nearly eight years of Mad-Time, and nearly a decade and a half of history, it turns out that the one person to succumb to that great gray cloud that hung over this production was Betty Draper, long suffering first wife of Don Draper, who once sold Lucky Strikes with the claim that they were "toasted." Just like the lungs of the folks who bought them. Except that in real life, the actors are smoking healthful blends of herbs that only serve to make the experience we see on screen as more enticing. Who needs Joe Camel when you've got Don Draper? And his lovely wife Betty?
Out of this haze comes Betty, having missed a great portion of the past couple of seasons, being the ex-wife and all, and it turns out that her dream of going back to college and studying psychology is going to be cut tragically short in order to give us all the object lesson that smoking cigarettes will kill you. Fast. In about three minutes of screen time.
As I watched this episode with my wife, I had to clamp down on my impulse to shout at the screen when Betty fell down on the stairs on the way to her next class. She wasn't getting up. This was the classic "something's wrong" moment, the one that she won't recover from and the one that we were shown to justify what would happen so abruptly in the next scene: Doctor's office. Looks bad. Getting worse. No hope.
Of course not. This is the next to last episode of a TV drama, and sacrifices have to be made. But Betty? Why? Addicted to diet pills wasn't enough? Having Don and then Henry for husbands wasn't enough? Dealing with her own twisting psychology wasn't enough? Now she's the sacrificial lamb. Or Camel. I suppose we can only wait a few days to see what crueler fate awaits her ex-husband. Maybe Ken can run over Don with a bigger tractor. Or something. I just don't see how Betty deserved to go - in a puff of smoke.