Previously on Mildred Pierce: Mildred opened her first restaurant, to great acclaim, and started raking in enough cash to keep Veda somewhat satisfied. She also allowed Monty to start a seriously inapproprate relationship with her young daughter, and when she finally wakes up to that (and to how totally insufferable he’s making her kid), Mildred breaks up with him.
Jaunty music brings us to the coast, where waves crash, seagulls wheel, and Mildred and Lucy arrive at a large clapboard house to scope it out as the next outpost of Mildred’s fast-growing waffle house empire. Lucy approves, even though she wonders if Mildred’s stretching herself a bit thin, financially, having already opened a second place in Beverly Hills, run by Ida. Mildred wants Lucy to run the new beachfront place, and after some persuading, Lucy agrees, as long as they don’t do chicken. She knows people don’t come to the shore for chicken, so they’ll come for surf ‘n turf instead, which Lucy apparently invents right then and there. I’ve never really understood the great appeal of surf ‘n turf. I’ve never looked down at a plate and thought “you know what this lobster really needs? A steak!” I mean, how much saturated fat and cholesterol do you really need in one dish?
In Beverly, Ida reports success, success, success! to Mildred. Everything’s coming up roses! And now she’s looking at a fourth spot with Wally, who wants her to consider incorporating so nobody can sue her and take everything away. She agrees, then climbs into her chauffeured car (my, we have come up in the world, haven’t we?) and heads home, where all-grown-up Veda’s gone from dirty blonde to redhead and is pounding away on the grand piano.
Mildred goes to lie down for a bit, but she only gets to relax for a few minutes before the phone rings and the concerned noises Veda makes into it draw Mildred out of her bedroom. Turns out Veda’s piano teacher had an aneurism and it isn’t looking too good. Veda gets all upset, and Mildred comforts her.
And things went from bad to worse for the piano teacher: he’s dead, and the mourners are now dispersing from the gravesite. Mildred and Veda take a minute to lay some roses on little Rae’s grave. Mildred chatters a little bit about the kids being named by some astrologer, but all Veda says is “You were in Santa Barbara that day.” Mildred plays dumb, asking her what day she’s talking about. Oh, Mildred, don’t be daft. You know very well what day she’s talking about.
In the car on the way home, Veda and Mildred discuss Veda’s options for future piano tutelage. Veda doesn’t think any of them will hold a candle to the late Mr. Hannon, but she finally admits there’s one man, a conductor named Treviso, whom Hannon admired. Mildred offers to give him a call.
Veda and Mildred meet with Treviso, who reminisces about Hannon for a bit, then invites Veda to start playing. She doesn’t get very far before he silently signals for her to stop by closing the lid over the keys. As she tends to do with piano teachers, Veda runs out, crying.
At home, Veda runs to her room, observed by, I think, Lettie, who looks pretty different now she’s ditched the braids. Mildred pounds on Veda’s door for a minute, then finds a spare key in a drawer and lets herself in. Veda gets all melodramatic about how her life is over and her whole life is pointless and she’s just no good because she’s just from Glendale, and nobody good ever came out of Glendale. She gets in some nice insults directed at her mother too, of course, and of course, Mildred stands there and takes it. Sigh.
Later, Mildred carefully prepares a dinner tray for her sulking teen daughter, complete with vase of flowers. She takes it into the bedroom, where Veda’s asleep, and carefully sets it down on a table.
The next day, Mildred shares the whole story with Bert over the phone, and they agree that something’ll come along for Veda. The girl in question starts playing the radio loudly, so Mildred hangs up with Bert and goes out to the living room, where she turns down the music and starts chattering to Veda about how talented she is and how beautiful she is, and just how marvelous Veda is all around. Veda doesn’t respond, so Mildred tries enticing her to throw a party at the Laguna Beach Mildred’s. Veda’s not interested. Oh, Mildred, just let her have her sulk and get over it! Stop trying so hard!
Mildred heads into the kitchen, where Lettie gives her some straight talk: Veda doesn’t want to see her Pasadena friends, because she was once Hannon’s star pupil, and now she’s nothing. Mildred doesn’t get it because they’re her friends, and she can’t just sit by and let her cut herself off. Lettie, awesomely, suggests she do just that—leave Veda the hell alone and let her get over it on her own. Amen, Lettie. When did you get so cool?
Mildred’s Laguna Beach is hopping. There’s quite a crowd there, and a cook grilling steaks out in the yard. Mildred takes a walk around with Lucy and they marvel at how well things are going. Sometime later, as Mildred’s touring the dining room on her own and chatting up the customers, Veda arrives with a group of friends and heads right to the bar. Mildred goes over to say hi and notices that Veda’s wearing an impressive new fur coat. Veda compliments Mildred on the new place, but she’s using a cigarette holder to smoke now, so we know she’s truly evil. Mildred asks about the coat, saying Veda really should ask before making such an extravagant purchase. Veda pouts and begs and Mildred lets her keep it, naturally, so Veda rewards her by introducing her friend, Elaine, an actress who lives in Beverly Hills. She doesn’t introduce any of the boys they’ve come with, and those boys now bust up the party by suggesting they go somewhere else, so they all head out. Once the kids are out of earshot, Lucy sidles up to Mildred and tells her that Veda’s been hitting up Mildred’s restaurants a lot, always with Elaine, and a lot of different men. Mildred say’s they’re just young and having fun, but when Lucy walks away, she starts to look worried.
That night, or, rather, very early the following morning, Mildred lies awake in bed, waiting for her daughter to come home. She finally hears a car pull up outside and goes into the living room, where she peers through the window and sees Veda stumble out of a nice car driven by a very inebriated young man. I notice Veda’s no longer wearing the fur coat, or carrying it. It’s disappeared to points unknown. Veda comes into the house and goes to her room, without noticing Mildred secreted away in the shadows.
Once the sun’s up, Mildred finds Veda hanging out in the backyard with a magazine. She gently brings up Lucy’s concerns, and Veda gets all bratty about it, saying Mildred was the one who wanted her to get out with her friends. She sighs like she’s all put upon and reassures Mildred that there’s nothing to be alarmed about. And by the way, she’s thinking about going into the movies. Mildred’s all excited by that idea and totally thinks Veda’s going to be a star.
At Mildred’s, Original Flavor, one of the waitresses pokes her head into the kitchen and tells Mildred that a Mrs. Lendhart is there to see her. Mildred doesn’t recognize the name, but I sure do. I knew Hope Davis would be back! Mildred goes out to see her (it’s early in the day and the restaurant is closed and empty). As soon as she spots the woman, Mildred recognizes her and blanches slightly. Mrs. L. introduces herself and says she’s sure they’re “going to work out their little problem splendidly,” before wondering where she’s seen Mildred before. Mildred plays it off and the two ladies sit down together. Mrs. L says she’s there to discuss their children: her son Sammy and Mildred’s daughter Veda. Mildred doesn’t have any idea what’s going on, so Mrs. L reluctantly fills her in. Seems Sammy met Veda at a party at the Lendharts’ home (remember, Mr. Lendhart is a director), because Veda was being considered for a part. The two kids fell hard for each other, but according to Mrs. L, Sammy never had any intention of marrying Veda. Oh, ho, sounds like someone didn’t raise a gentleman. Veda, it seems, did think they were going to be married. Mrs. L is not at all on board with the idea of her precious boy marrying down so far, which gets Mildred’s hackles up. Mrs. L makes it clear that Sammy will be cut off if he marries Veda. Mrs. L accuses Mildred and Veda of using tricks to blackmail Sammy, even sending police to their door in the middle of the night. Mildred’s flabbergasted and calls for a waitress arranging napkins nearby to clean up a spill underneath one of the tables. Mrs. L threatens to have Veda arrested and prosecuted for blackmail if the harassment continues. Mildred asks the waitress if she heard that, and the waitress hesitantly repeats back the gist of what Mrs. L just said. “You remember that, in case I need you,” Mildred tells her. Wow, look who grew a serious pair. Too bad they shrivel and vanish whenever Veda’s around. Mrs. L looks all, “well, I never!”
That evening, Mildred returns home and calls for Veda, who isn’t there. She settles down in the living room to wait for her, and finally Veda shows up. Mildred sits her down and asks just what’s going on with little Sammy Forester. According to Veda, Sammy and the Lendharts were the ones who really wanted the boy to marry Veda, she never had any intentions along those lines. But he was so sweet and everyone was encouraging, but then suddenly they changed their tune, and Veda’s been left holding the bag. Mildred takes a minute to clock what Veda just said. Yep, you guessed it, Veda’s all kinds of knocked up. Mildred starts to quietly freak out, but then pulls herself together and tells Veda they’ll go talk to Wally and find out what their legal options are. Veda admits she already talked to Wally (red flag!) and he’ll be coming by the next day to tell them what they should do next.
Wally informs the Pierce mother and daughter that Sammy comes into his money when he hits 21, and it’s a very sizeable amount, so really the Lendharts are concerned with protecting it. Mildred doesn’t care about the money and isn’t interested in a settlement—she wants Sammy to do the right thing and marry her daughter. She’ll have him arrested if she has to. Wally tells her that he took Veda over to the sheriff’s office the previous week to swear out a warrant against Sammy on a morals charge, and a couple of officers went to his house and found out he’s taken off for parts unknown. Mildred’s incensed that all this has been done without her consent. Veda shrills that this is about her, not Mildred, and all she wanted was to protect Mildred from being unhappy. Mildred’s pissed, though, and doesn’t want to be kept in the dark anymore. Veda takes control and shows Wally out, telling him she wants a settlement. He says a jury will meet in the morning to help settle a number. They need a whole jury for that? Isn’t it usually just a couple of lawyers for each side? Mildred shouts that she wants Sammy to be arrested, she doesn’t want some lousy payoff. Veda hustles Wally out the door, promising to see him in the morning, but Mildred’s riled and goes to the phone, saying she’s calling the sheriff, and if he can’t do anything, she’ll hire a private detective to track Sammy down. Veda flies off the handle and wrestles the phone out of Mildred’s hand, saying she’s not interested in marrying Sammy at all, she just wants the cash.
It’s at this point that Mildred finally realizes that Veda really was just trying to shake down Sammy and his family down the whole time. Veda’s not even pregnant, that was just the ace up her sleeve. Mildred, for some reason, can’t believe Veda would be so heartless and devious. Jesus, Mildred, how long have you known this girl? I’ve only known her a few hours and I’d believe in a second she’d do this. She’s evil!
Veda claims she was just following mummy’s lead, because it seems Mildred got herself knocked up and then married Bert in a hurry, and Veda assumes it was because of the money Bert had back in those days. Mildred tearfully asks why Veda didn’t come to her, if there was anything she needed or wanted. Veda gets nasty and says she wanted the money so she could get away from Mildred and her pie wagons and her chickens and grease and Glendale. Mildred looks like she’s been slapped, but she recovers impressively and tells Veda she’s lucky she found out about this little scheme when she did, because if not, Veda would have found herself out of there a lot sooner than originally planned. “You don’t make those decisions anymore,” Veda sniffs. Um, yes, she does, Veda. She owns the house you live in. She can kick you right the hell out into the street if she wants, and she should. Go ahead and get away from Glendale, if you want to so badly. Mildred screams at her to just get the hell out and Veda tearfully calls her a witch and a shrew, stamping her foot like a child. Go, Mildred!
Later, after calming down for a while, Mildred returns to the living room, where she finds Veda whirling around, grabbing her things. Mildred asks her where she’s going, but Veda leaves without answering. Good riddance.
Mildred returns to Laguna, where she takes a barefoot walk on the beach, alone at first, but then accompanied by Lucy. They talk a little while about a fancy new restaurant moving into Laguna, just a mile down the road. Mildred sighs that it’s serious competition, but at least it means they’re doing something right. Lucy tells her not to worry about it and Mildred admits she’s not worried about the restaurant. She is, of course, worried about Veda, from whom she’s had no word in months. She’s heard, through Bert, that she’s living in Hollywood. On what money? Lucy tells Mildred it might do Veda some good to fend for herself for a while. She sure needs some kind of dose of reality, that girl.
Back home, Mildred pours herself a lonely drink and settles down to listen to the radio, which immediately starts spewing out “The Way You Look Tonight.” Of course. One of the most overplayed wedding songs ever is now going to depress the hell out of me. Mildred traverses the living room and finds a framed photograph of young Veda and Rae. Oh, how I miss cheery little Rae right now. Mildred weeps into her scotch for a little, then tries to do some work, unsuccessfully. Finally, she grabs her coat and heads out.
She drives to Hollywood, presumably, and pulls to a stop outside a large, white building. After a short wait, another car pulls up outside the building and disgorges Veda. The (male) driver tells her she did a great job, and she thanks him before heading inside, without even noticing Mildred’s there. Mildred smiles sadly, glad to know her girl’s safe. She watches as lights go on in Veda’s apartment and Veda starts pulling the curtains shut. Veda pauses, and seems to notice Mildred’s car there, so Mildred steps on the gas and gets out of there.
The next morning, she wakes, fully dressed, in Veda’s bed, tragically surrounded by her daughter’s abandoned clothes. The phone starts ringing and she stumbles out to answer it. It’s Bert. She says she found some things of Veda’s she thought she might want, so if he has plans to see her soon…actually, could Bert call her? Mildred falls to pieces, crying, telling him she has to know what Veda’s up to.
Bert soon shows up on Mildred’s doorstep with a magazine advertising Veda as the “recommended listening of the night.” Apparently, Veda’s become a soprano. Who knew? And she’s being trained by Treviso. She’s been performing on afternoon shows on the radio, but now she’s going to be performing live, on a big show. Bert’s sure Veda will call Mildred to tell her about it, but Mildred’s not so sure. So, he suggests they make a night of it and listen to the show together. Awww. She gives in, suggesting they head out to Laguna to listen.
The two show up at the restaurant and Lucy sets them up at a table outside. A couple of busboys set up a radio nearby and they turn on the show. Mildred actually clutches her heart when she hears Veda speak. Finally, she starts to sing, and she’s quite lovely. Mildred looks almost transported, and about halfway through she can’t take it anymore and gets up and walks out to the nearby pier. She watches the waves crashing onto the rocks as the song finishes on a seriously high note.