Don Draper, who lives only in the moment, with no past, is tasked with outlining the future.Mad Men … Joan and her new man Richard.
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“What does the future hold?” That’s the question Don asks over and over in The Forecast, but he’s not having an existential crisis, or groping, like a man in a suddenly darkened room, for the edges of his own mortality. He’s been given a task for which he is the absolute wrong man, and he’s going to find some way to sell it.
Roger has received an edict from McCann on high to outline a vision for the future of the firm, and he can’t do it because he’s going away on a boozy Caribbean trip (that’s his future, but he probably won’t be able to remember much of it when it’s over).
Ted was his first choice to sip from this poisoned chalice but he begged off, pleading cold sores and a different burdensome task – performance reviews (HR people of the world take note: they sucked in 1970, they suck now). Don’s simply the lucky mug who found the cup in his hands when the music stopped.
So the man who lives only in the moment, the man with no past, is the man tasked with outlining the future. All the accusations that Matthew Weiner is being a little schematic as Mad Men winds down come home to roost here, but you can either roll with it or resist. I choose the former.
So how does Don go about this task? He asks everyone else what they think the future looks like.
It’s brilliant, and not schematic at all (well, only a little). Advertising is all about using market research to tell the client what he or she already thinks but can’t articulate, in a way they never would have imagined. And no one is better at that than Don. As Ted puts it, “You’re much better at telling a story than I am”.
Ted’s own vision of the future is bigger and better accounts. “I’d really love to land a pharmaceutical,” he tells Don, who looks mildly horrified at the narrowness of his ambition. Clearly Ted’s existential crisis never got on the plane back from Los Angeles.
Peggy takes the question seriously, even though she’s come to Don to talk performance reviews (Ted has told her to write her own – see, HR people, see; the whole thing is a sham – and she demands the real thing because she’s had “a really big year”.)
Don is amused by her earnestness, then opportunistic. “What do you see for the future?”
“Is that on there,” asks Peggy, thinking maybe this whole performance review thing isn’t quite as pro-forma as she’d imagined after all.
Peggy says she wants to be the agency’s first woman creative director. To land something huge. To create a big idea, a catchphrase.
“So you want fame,” Don says and she concedes that yes, maybe she does.
“I don’t know.”
“Yes you do.”
“Create something of lasting value,” she says, casting her eyes down sheepishly, either because she’s admitted the thing she’s been hiding from herself or because she knows it’s a lie (it’s impossible to tell which – and maybe it’s both).
“In advertising?” smirks Don.
That’s it. Peggy is furious.
“Why don’t you just write down all of your dreams so I can shit on them,” she says.
It’s the best line of the episode, and one you might want to write down yourself just in case you need it for your own performance review.
Meanwhile Joan is being courted with a tantalising glimpse of an alternative future of her own, thanks to a fling with a retired real estate mogul in LA.
He’s divorced and determined to enjoy life; she tells him she’s divorced too.
“Boy, did he blow it,” he says.
“Yes he did,” she says, laughing, smiling, basking in the fact that someone, finally, sees her for what she is.
But does he? Richard (Bruce Greenwood) has a fantasy of Joan, and it’s all about the way she looks. He wants to take her to a resort so he can see her in a bathing costume; he’s delighted when she suggests he meet her at the restaurant, because then she can “make an entrance”. She’s a picture, only there’s a few inconvenient truths that don’t sit so well within the frame he’s constructing. The fact she works (even if it’s because she wants to, not because she needs to); that she lives with her mother in a small apartment downtown; that she has a four-year-old son.
“I had a plan,” he rails when she tells him all this. “It was no plans!”
The next day he apologises, flowers in hand. “I was a cad,” he says.
Joan tells him she’s been thinking about what he said, and she’s realised she has to choose, and so she’s sending her son away. “I like you too.”
He’s shocked, which is her intention. He says he’s going to buy a place in New York. By the way, where do you live?
“Oh,” he says, aghast. “I’m not going to buy property down there. I’m going to get a place in a nice neighbourhood near the park and you’re going to visit. All of you. I don’t want to be rigid. It makes you old.”
He’s seen the future, all right, but not all of it. If he’d bought a slab of the Meatpacking District in 1970 rather than a sliver of midtown he’d be richer than Croesus now. Of course, he’d also be dead.
Or at least very old and wrinkly.
That’s where we’re all heading, of course, and it’s the unspoken thing on everyone’s mind: the passing of time and what it does to our bodies, our faces, which for the likes of Don and Betty are also their fortunes.
Betty is surprised when Glen Bishop (Marten Holden Weiner, son of series creator Matthew), the weird creepy neighbour kid who asked her for a lock of her hair in season one, pops in to visit. “Sally, aren’t you going to introduce your friends,” she says, ignoring the hippy chick in the foyer but practically devouring the little man in front of her.
Sally and Glen share a knowing smile.
“I’m Glen Bishop,” he says.
“My goodness. How old are you?”
“You’ve changed so much.”
“You haven’t changed at all.”
There’s so much heat between these two you could barbecue a leg of lamb in the foyer, if only Sally would get the hell out of the way so they could start making all kinds of weird inappropriate love on the tessellated tiles.
Later, Glen comes back when Sally’s out, and tries to make that little dream a reality. He’s off to Vietnam, and a quick roll with Mrs Francis-nee-Draper “is the only thing that would make it all worthwhile”. He doesn’t get what he came for, but she does take his hand and put it on her face, giving him a small incandescent flame of hope, desire, longing and memory to carry with him through the jungles. And maybe to make her own beauty immortal, in one devoted mind at least. Just so long as he can stay alive.
Back in the office, hollow man Don is called big time by John Mathis (Trevor Einhorn), one of Peggy’s junior creatives. Two of them have argued over a line in front of the client. Pete wants them sacked. “A word beginning with F was used,” he tells Don. “Have you ever heard such a thing?”
No one is getting fired, Don says. “It was a crime of passion.”
The foul-mouthed creative takes this to mean Don is an ally. He knows he’ll have some advice about how to deal with it. And he does.
Don tells him a story about having messed up in front of Lucky Strike, and handling it by telling the clients he was “amazed to see you two have the balls to come back in after the way you embarrassed yourselves”. A heartbeat’s pause, then laughter all round. Ice broken.
Don also tells the young tyro he might try turning up to the meeting with a bar of soap and offer to wash his mouth out.
The doofus takes the Lucky Strike option. It doesn’t go down well, and he blames Don for giving him bad advice.
“Take responsibility for your failure,” Don snaps at him. “That account was handed to you and you made nothing of it because you have no character.”
“You have no character,” Mathis shoots back. “Stop kidding yourself. You’re just handsome.”
Clearly, this final season is going to be all about Don being called out. Over and over people are pointing to the fact he is all surface, no depth. He’s suffering from a severe case of veneer-ial disease.
Sally calls him on it too, when he takes her and three school friends to dinner in a Chinese restaurant before they get on the bus that will take them across country.
Sally’s friend Sarah is a 17-year-old flirt monster. “When I watch television the commercials are my favourite part,” she tells Don, drawing on the cigarette she’s just taken from his packet.
He doesn’t bite – though who knows what might have happened had Sally not been there – but his daughter is unimpressed all the same.
“You can’t stop yourself,” she tells him. “And neither can Mom. Anyone pays attention to you, and they always do, you just ooze everywhere.”
She’s right, and Don knows it, but he thinks she’s only seeing half the equation.
“You are like your mother and me, and you’re going to find that out,” he tells her. “You’re a very beautiful girl. It’s up to you to be more than that.”
And that’s really the question mark that hangs over the future, isn’t it? Will Don Draper ever find the core of humanity that would make him more than just a pretty face?
As the episode ends with Don standing outside the apartment he’s just sold, Roberta Flack’s ode to beauty, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, plays on the soundtrack. It’s a song about a love that lasts forever. Don should be so lucky.
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