Previously on Mildred Pierce: Mildred kicked her husband to the curb, got a job as a waitress to pay the bills, and was forced to open a restaurant to win the approval of her dreadful daughter, Veda. She also met and started sleeping with Monty Beragon, and then her younger daughter died.
The camera sloooooowly pans over Mildred’s bare feet, up her body, to her arm, still cuddling Veda as they lay in bed together, spooned up, asleep, apparently the day after Rae’s death. Mildred wakes, takes a second to look over at the empty bed next to Vedas, and holds Veda a little closer.
Later, downstairs, Bert’s sitting at the table, looking like he just got sucker punched, which he did, in a sense. Lucy’s there too. She offers Bert a drink but he gently refuses and then goes and stands in front of the window and stares out. Lucy hustles out to scare up a black dress for Mildred, and Bert turns around, looking lost, and tells Mildred that Rae’s in heaven, because she was sweet and wonderful and deserves to be. Mildred agrees and goes and hugs him.
Upstairs, she lays out clothes for Rae to be dressed in. I think part of the problem with this miniseries is its incredibly slow pacing. The way it obsessively shows every last little detail of everyday life is tiresome. Do we really need a whole scene where a mother lays out clothing for her dead child? It has no bearing on the plot at all, and just slows everything down.
The grandparents arrive with Veda, who once again tearfully asks her mother where she was. Mildred says she was just visiting friends in Santa Barbara, and if she’d known her kid was going to up and die suddenly, she never would have gone. Neighbors start to show up, so the Pierce family goes to greet them.
At the gravesite, we finally learn Rae’s full name—Moira for those interested—as the little coffin is lowered into the ground. And that’s that, I guess. So long, little Rae. Shame you didn’t seem to be as adored as your abhorrent older sister. You deserved better.
Life goes on. Mildred hangs up her black dress and drives to a poultry farm to haggle over chickens prior to the restaurant opening. Then she shops for herbs and vegetables and gets some cash from the bank. Three scenes that I feel we really, really didn’t need. Can we get the story going here?
Mildred arrives at the restaurant, where a couple of waitresses are laying the tables and Wally pops up to show off the lights he managed to install in the pie display case. Mildred’s so overcome by his ability to screw in a lightbulb she offers him free dinner with second helpings.
In the kitchen, Mildred gets to work breaking down chickens and goes into a whole monologue about how much she hates how half chickens are served in most places, and how she’s going to serve her half chickens in pieces. See what I mean about unnecessary detail? She flings off some instructions to the waitress as she works, talking a mile a minute.
Later, all the prep work is done, and all they need is customers. Mildred wanders through her empty restaurant, straightening things that don’t need straightening and looking out the window every few seconds until finally a car pulls up, and a minute later she gets an order for four. Mildred gets to work as jaunty period music cues up.
Once the chickens are in the oven, Mildred goes out to greet the customers and urge them to come back again. Two more customers come in, so Mildred leads them to a table.
In the kitchen, things are moving right along. Chicken is dished, alongside waffles and biscuits and peas and carrots. The dining room starts to fill, and dishes start to stack up in the back. One of the waitresses comes back to the kitchen with an obnoxiously complicated order for “a kid”. Why, whomever could that be? Hilariously, Mildred immediately realizes Veda must have arrived, and she takes off her apron and goes out to say hello to her and Bert. Bert congratulates her sincerely, and then Wally shows up to tell Mildred he did a direct mailing about the restaurant to every name on the old Pierce Homes list. Marketing, how exciting. And then Bert brings up some fire insurance thing, to make this scene even duller.
“Well, mother, I think you’ve done very well, considering everything,” Veda says, hatefully. Gee, thanks.
Mildred responds to that by saying she was hoping this would be something Veda would be proud of. Sigh. What a sad life this woman has—everything she does is just so she can get her kid’s approval, which is so, so wrong.
Ida comes in then, so Mildred sprints off to hug her and show her to a table. Ida says the place is awesome and starts giving her some tips on how to make it better.
Back in the kitchen, Mildred’s hard at work and a waitress comes in and tells her it’s backing up out front. Mildred goes out to ask people to wait just a few minutes. The problem isn’t a lack of tables, from the look of it, it’s a lack of busboys, because there are quite a few empty tables with stuff still on them. Mildred starts collecting plates and takes them back to the kitchen, where one of the waitresses is bitching at the dishwasher for washing plates instead of the soup bowls she needs. Mildred tells her to shut up and start clearing tables, and then the other waitress, Lettie, drops a plate and shatters it, and Mildred realizes the waffles on the iron are burning. It’s all coming crashing down!
Thankfully, Ida comes back to take charge. As she ties on an apron, she tells Lettie to start drying dishes, since she’s useless as a waitress, and then she starts gathering starters for the other waitress. Lucy comes back too and volunteers to help, so Ida grabs her and hustles her out to the floor as Mildred calls after them that everything’s $.85. Oh, inflation. Imagine a time you could get a good, home-cooked meal for less than a dollar, and it wasn’t from McDonald’s.
Things are brought back under control out front and the guests seem happy. An acquaintance pulls Mildred aside while she’s greeting guests and tells her it’s a terrible shame about the dead little kid. Bad timing, lady. Mildred manages to thank her, then hustles back to the kitchen to keep working and stay distracted. As she’s frying away, Veda comes back and excitedly tells her that none other than Monty Beragon has come in to Mildred’s humble establishment. Mildred takes a second to decide whether she should confess to knowing him, then asks Veda who he is. Veda gushes all over about how he plays polo and lives in Pasadena and he’s just soooo dreamy. Bert and Wally come back too to say how awesome it is that Monty’s come in and discuss how he found out about the place. It goes on and on and finally Monty appears and everyone shuts up. Mildred goes to greet him and he asks her why she didn’t say anything about Rae. Uh, who calls up their one-night stand and tells them that their kid just died? He mentions that Veda told him, which is incredibly bizarre. What’s she doing, running around telling everyone in the place about her dead sister? This kid needs to work on her social skills even worse than I thought. Monty presents Mildred with some flowers, and she thanks him before introducing him to Bert and Wally. Then Ida comes in and orders everyone to clear out of the kitchen, quite rightly.
After closing time, the gang, including Ida and Monty, are hanging out in the parking lot, goofing off, smoking, and sounding a little drunk. Mildred comes out and proudly announces they made $46.37. Hang on a sec, that math doesn’t really work out. If everything’s $.85, then to get that amount you’d have to serve dinner to 54.6 people. Eh, maybe that includes pie sales or something. Mildred’s delighted, and everyone congratulates her on her huge success. And indeed, that’s a decent haul for a restaurant of that size. It’s the equivalent of a bit more than $700 today. Well done, Mildred. Someone hands Mildred a drink and Bert drunkenly raises a glass to her. Ida tells her the reviews from the customers were grand and the place is going to be a huge success. Mildred allows herself to bask in that for a minute, then asks Bert to take Veda home so she can drive Ida back.
Mildred finally arrives home to the sound of Veda and Monty having a cozy little conversation in the living room. What’s this now? Monty explains that he drove Bert home, and then brought Veda home and decided he wanted to hang out. With a 14-year-old. Nothing strange about that at all. Mildred, of course, seems to have no issue with this, or with Monty planting a kiss on her daughter’s forehead as Veda’s sent off to bed. Mildred returns to the living room after tucking in her daughter and finds Monty getting comfortable and ordering her to strip, even though she says she’s not much in the mood. She obliges him, though, and once she’s down to her slip and bra, he, uh, starts to toe her. That’s kind of gross, actually. There are some parts of my anatomy I don’t really want a toe that near. It gets Mildred all hot, though, so they start to do it right on the couch.
One bright afternoon, Monty and Mildred tool down the highway in his fancy car and talk about voting for Roosevelt. Monty changes the conversation to Veda, with whom he’s apparently been spending a lot of time. It’s not just me, right? This is weird, that a man in his 30’s (at least) would want to spend all this time with a kid, and Veda is a kid, she’s wearing ruffly dresses and hairbows still. Anyway, Monty thinks that Veda’s piano lessons aren’t good enough, and he recommends a new teacher for Mildred to check out. Mildred pays for his gas and tells him he’s just swell.
Mildred dutifully does as Monty suggests and takes Veda to play for the teacher, Mr. Hannon. She plows through Rachmaninoff and he tells her that her technique is crap and the little bit she wanted to add to the end is lame. He also, awesomely, makes her call him “sir” and to show a little respect, and she does. Mildred, take note. He’s willing to take her on, though, because he senses some talent and intelligence in her, so he asks Mildred to bring her by for lessons twice a week. Veda suddenly bursts into tears and goes running out, so Mildred runs after her and Veda sobs about how happy she is the guy agreed to take her.
Mildred sits down with Bert and talks about how amazing Veda is while he enjoys a meal at the restaurant. She also asks if she can borrow Bert’s parents’ piano until she can afford a grand piano of her own. A grand? Aren’t those pretty huge? Where’s she going to put it?
Whatever. Mildred has a plan to start putting a bit of money aside every month so she can get Veda the piano she totally doesn’t deserve by the following Christmas. She makes him promise not to tell Veda anything about it, then she drives off to some hoity-toity polo match in the lush countryside, where she finds Veda giggling with Monty and his horse amongst the well-heeled polo patrons. Throughout the scene, the Roosevelt “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” speech is being read.
We cut back to the restaurant, where the staff is listening to another speech on the radio: this one about the repeal of Prohibition. Lucy, who’s hanging around for some reason, asks Mildred what her plan is for Prohibition. Mildred plays dumb but we know Lucy loves her liquor and knows a bit about it, so she suggests Mildred install a bar in the restaurant, because people are going to want drinks now, and they won’t like a dry restaurant. Mildred pearl clutches and says she wouldn’t consider such a thing but Lucy says she’ll have to. She offers to run the bar for her too, if Mildred provides the liquor. Mildred’s not excited about the investment she’ll have to make since she’s trying to save for that damn piano and support Monty now too, since his business went bust. He’s so hard up, she says, he has to sell his house. What, the Love Shack? I doubt he’ll get much for that.
Monty and Mildred hit up a bar, where Mildred continues to bellyache about the whole idea, even though, as Monty points out, she gets 80% profit off every drink and keeps her customers happy. What is wrong with this woman? I feel like we’re right back to where we were when she was looking for jobs and deciding waitressing just wasn’t good enough. God, lady, suck it up and do what you need to!
She then starts nagging Monty about how much he’s drinking, and asks if he told Veda anything about the piano, because I guess she won’t be able to afford that now. The two of them leave, Mildred in a right old snit.
Back at the Pierce home, Monty’s stretched out on the bed in a robe, reading the paper while Mildred brushes her teeth and asks him to take Veda to shop for a new dress. These two are just like an old married couple, aren’t they? She also asks Monty to take her kid to dinner, then hands over some money for the food and gas. “Your paid gigolo thanks you,” he says, unnecessarily. Geez, Monty, if it bothers you so much, stop taking the money. Mildred looks hurt and tells him, weakly, that she doesn’t think that’s very nice. She asks him if that’s the only reason he still sees her and he says it’s not, because she’s still the best piece of tail he’s ever had. God! What a dick! Mildred gets rightfully pissed and tells him to go home. He claims he was trying to pay her a compliment and she tells him it was no such thing, before going to pour herself a drink in the living room. He follows her out and tries to say this is just a communication mishap. She hits the nail on the head, though, when she accuses him of being ashamed of her, because she actually works for a living, something he’s going to have to do himself, before long. Monty whines that he’ll go out and find a job (utilizing his no-doubt impressive skill set, I imagine) as soon as he gets his house sold. Mildred calls that the excuse it is and says he wants to keep that nice address in the good part of town and have her foot all his bills as long as he can. Sounds about right.
He grabs her and starts kissing her neck, and because Mildred’s completely pathetic, she gives right in and starts having sex with him in the living room. What does she see in this guy, exactly? He’s got a great body, but his personality and hair equally suck, and he’s bleeding her dry.
By Christmastime, the bar’s been installed in the restaurant and Lucy’s happily pouring champagne for the happy customers. Mildred hands out bonuses to the staff, who start having a noisy party in the back, despite the guests out front. Monty and Veda are at a table (Bert’s sitting separately from them, all alone, poor man) and are making fun of the place, as they tend to do. Mildred defends her noisy staff, but then runs in the back and yells at them to be quiet, thus pretty much justifying Veda’s and Monty’s nasty comments.
Christmas Day. Veda, wearing an absurd amount of makeup, opens a gift of riding boots from Bert and gets all excited. Mildred hands over her own gift—a rather pretty watch. Veda, of course, can’t even pretend to be happy or grateful or anything. Mildred tries to apologize for not having done better, but the phone rings and Veda goes to answer it—it’s Bert, so Veda launches into a ridiculous gush of enthusiasm for the boots that even Bert realizes must have had some ulterior motive. He gets on the phone with Mildred and she says someone must have tipped Veda off about the piano. Bert swears it wasn’t him and rightly says Veda has absolutely nothing to complain about.
Mildred hangs up with him and goes to the living room, where she finds Veda sitting stiffly on the sofa. Mildred tries to make small talk, but Veda just has this to say: “Christ I hate this dump.” I can’t even begin to imagine how my parents would have reacted if I’d ever said such a thing to them. I sure as hell would have lost any lessons I was taking at the time. At the very least.
Mildred tries to keep some humor in a humorless situation and asks if there’s any particular part she hates. Veda says no, just all of it, as she helps herself to a cigarette and tosses the match onto the carpet with a nasty “what’re you going to do about it” look at her mother. This young actress is brilliant. I hate Veda so much. Mildred tells her to put out the cigarette and pick up the match. “Like hell I will,” says Veda. Mildred so clearly has no idea what to do here, and instead of taking the cigarette away, sending the daughter to her room, and forcing her to work in the restaurant for a few weeks to get some perspective, she walks over and slaps Veda, who just slaps her right back.
Jesus. I’m not a parent, but I’m pretty sure if my kid ever did such a thing, they’d be packing up every last gift they just got, including those damn boots, and marching them to the nearest shelter to be donated. And scrubbing pots and pans in the restaurant kitchen for a year. And losing their lessons and any other privileges they happen to have. You can’t take that sort of thing lying down; even I know that.
But Mildred’s a useless sap, so she just stands there as Veda starts insulting their hometown and contemptuously asks if Mildred seriously thinks Monty would ever marry her. Mildred helplessly says he would, if she were willing, but the kid’s got the upper hand now, and she sure knows it. “Stupid, don’t you know what he sees in you?” she sniffs. Right now, I want to put that damn cigarette out in her face I hate her so much. Veda tosses off that it’s Mildred’s legs Monty likes, and Mildred actually has a sensible reaction to that: shock that Monty would say such a thing to her young daughter. Good God, what is wrong with this man? That’s inappropriate on so many levels.
“We’re very good friends,” says Veda by way of explaining why Monty’s discussing his and her mother’s sex life with her. “And I hope I have a mature viewpoint on such things.” And where did you get that viewpoint, young lady? I didn’t know much about the workings of sex at that age, beyond the bare basics, and I’m pretty sure I had access to a lot more information than was available in the early 1930s.
Veda goes on, quoting Monty, who has apparently gone on at great length about women’s legs. Inappropriate! He claims the best legs are found in kitchens, not drawing rooms, and there’s no point taking the mistress if you can get the maid. Wow. Just…wow. Why is he saying these things to this child? What’s wrong with him? And what’s wrong with Mildred that she doesn’t just jettison him? She’s got enough dead weight with Veda.
Mildred finally finds her tongue and tells the ungrateful little bitch that she buys everything for Monty and essentially supports him. She even pays his polo dues. Really, Mildred? His polo dues? Why the hell are you paying those? Oh, right, because you’re a sap. Mildred also, finally, locates her inner mean streak and tells Veda he hasn’t been squiring her around town out of the goodness of his heart, he does it because she pays him to, and he bitches about it all the time. Ha! Mildred tells her daughter that she’s in the exact same position as Monty, living off of Mildred, and she won’t get another cent until she apologizes for every last thing she’s said. Veda roars that she doesn’t have to apologize for anything, so Mildred wrestles her down to the piano bench and tells her daughter that that’s the piano she’ll be practicing on until Mildred’s good and ready to buy her another. Veda squeals angrily as Mildred runs out of the house and takes refuge in the car so she can have a good old cry. Why, exactly, does she love this hateful child so much?
It’s a dark and stormy night, and Mildred’s getting ready to go to Monty’s and end things forever, despite Lucy’s warnings not to go out in such terrible weather. Mildred’s determined, for once, and she goes nonetheless and drives up to a big old mansion. So I guess it’s not the Love Shack that’s for sale. Monty comes out and greets her, surprised she made it on such a night. Interestingly, he parrots a line Mildred said to Veda in episode 2: Sometimes I wonder if you have good sense. Mildred ignores him and follows him upstairs, where Monty actually lives, in the former servants’ quarters.
Mildred starts to be difficult, asking where the other guests are. Monty tells her there’s a pretty bad storm outside and she childishly says she didn’t notice any storm. Uh, ok then. What’s she on about? Monty hands her a drink and indicates she’ll have to spend the night but she grabs her coat and says she’s going home. What gives, Mildred? I thought you risked your neck to come all the way out here so you could break up with this guy. What’re you doing?
She suddenly rounds on him and asks him how he could talk about her legs and say such horrible things to her child. He snorts at her description of Veda as a “child” and tells her that kid knows a lot more than Mildred thinks she does. Things go waaay off the creepy deep end when Monty calmly says that Veda even asked him how many times he usually screws her mom. And he told her. And he sees nothing wrong with that at all. So, just so we have this clear, a middle-aged man is sitting down with a 14-year-old and discussing in detail the sexual relationship he’s having with this girl’s mother. I’m so horrified watching this scene, I almost don’t know what to do.
Mildred, for some reason, reacts fairly calmly to that, whereas I would have beaten the crap out of him and then called the police. She just whines about how he’s filling Veda’s head with all kinds of nonsense and setting her against her mother, even though she was already pretty firmly on that path before Monty came along.
Monty gets nasty, telling Mildred she has no friends (maybe because she’s too busy working to support you to make any!) except for “that bartender.” He says that in the exact same tone one might use to say “that stablehand.” Douche. And Mildred has friends—what about Bert and Ida and Wally? Mildred finds her voice and tells him she has no time to have parties and dinners because she has a business to run. He says that’s just an excuse, and then he goes for some below-the-belt hits and says that he thought she might be a lady, but she clearly wasn’t, because a lady wouldn’t care about all the money she was forking over to keep him afloat, she’d just give it to him. Mildred made him drive her daughter around to get her money’s worth. He swears he’s done taking money from her, so Mildred crumples up a $10 bill and throws it at him. Monry shoves her aside into the sofa and throws the bill into the fire. Mildred gets up and looks at him sadly. Oh, please, woman, just leave.
“All this needs is the crime of rape,” says Monty, coming over and starting to kiss her neck. What? WHAT? What in God’s name is going on here?
Mildred, as she tends to do, starts to melt immediately, and I haven’t wanted to reach into my TV and slap someone who wasn’t Veda so bad in a long time. Mildred, this man is carrying on an inappropriate relationship with your teenage daughter, during which he’s justifying and supporting all of her worst qualities and beliefs. He’s irrevocably poisoning her mind against you and everything you’ve done for her, and on top of it, he’s bleeding you dry and constantly making you feel bad about yourself. How good in bed could this guy possibly be that you’re willing to put up with all that, you pathetic woman? Grow a spine and find another man—there are plenty out there!
Thankfully—and finally—Mildred pushes him away and runs out of the house, ignoring his calls to come back. She rushes into the storm and drives away, but she keeps meeting with some extremely symbolic roadblocks. When she finally finds an open road, all it does is lead her right into a flooded stream. She begins to panic as the car fills with water and the headlights slowly fade.
Later, Mildred is taken home in a police car. Veda comes rushing out to greet her, and Mildred hollowly tells her she’ll have her new piano the next day. Justifying her behavior yet again and giving in. Well done, Mildred. You’re the worst parent ever.