This review contains spoilers.
7.10 The Forecast
What happens next? Don Draper was canvassing opinion in this week’s future anxiety-themed episode of Mad Men, and failing to find a satisfying answer. While 1970 America was asking itself what the new decade meant, its fictional analogue in the sharp suit was staring out of a window pondering the same question.
No matter who Don asked to do his “what we want from the future” homework, nobody could provide him with a good enough answer. The man signing million dollar cheques and sitting in an office decorated with awards scoffed at their material dreams of bigger accounts and personal fame. “And then?” was his repeated refrain. When you’ve got the dream job, made the cash, bought the Jaguar or the Hershey Bar or whatever it is that men like him have been selling as happiness for decades. What happens next?
Beats us. Sat here in the future looking back at Don, we could give him a list of who’ll be President and who’s going to win the World Series, but we still can’t answer his real question: what’s the point of it all?
That’s always been this show’s question (poor Peggy with her naïve “This is supposed to be about my job, not the meaning of life” protestation. You’re a Mad Men character, doll, every conversation you have from your morning coffee to your cab ride home is about the meaning of life.) and somehow I don’t think it’s getting answered in the next four episodes.
That’s not to say Don isn’t moving towards something in these final instalments. More properly, he’s moving away from something. The Forecast left him in much the same position as this time last week, just a few feet away. No longer standing bemused and alone with nowhere to go inside an empty apartment, Don was standing bemused and alone with nowhere to go outside an apartment he now has thirty days to vacate.
We’re currently watching Don on a slow-moving conveyor belt taking him away from the life we’ve spent seven years watching him build, tear down, rebuild, and tear down all over again. If he keeps going at this incremental rate, the finale’s closing scene should just about get him to standing bemused and alone with nowhere to go outside the building’s lobby.
I jest. The gradualness of Mad Men’s goodbye is something to be praised and savoured, not mocked. When too many great shows (Deadwood, we hardly knew you) have to do the TV drama equivalent of throwing their characters out of moving cars thanks to premature cancellation, Mad Men is saying farewell properly. There’s no concertinaed action this half-season. It’s all being taken as slowly and with as great an attention to detail as it ever was.
That much was evident from this week’s painterly direction. Director Jennifer Getzinger’s eye for a tableau rivals even Matthew Weiner’s season openers and closers (you’d expect nothing less from the woman who helmed The Suitcase) and The Forecast was full of beautiful compositions. Joan standing in the early morning L.A. sun, Melanie framed by the patio doors of Don’s “sad man” apartment, Sally stood in the middle of the most inappropriate psychosexual attraction since Cersei Lannister realised her twin brother was kind of hot… Freeze-frame whichever you like and there’s an image that’ll sustain hours of analysis.
Igla and Weiner’s script too, was characteristically dynamite. I’m a sucker for symbolism, I know, which meant all that talk of dreams, prisons and cages was a feast.
As was every single scene between Don and Melanie. Those apartment-selling exchanges were so subtext-laden they were A-grade Mad Men, so pure that Walter White himself could have cooked them up. “The emptiness is a problem” Melanie told Don. You think? This show’s been telling us that five times every sixty seconds since 2007.
(Where, incidentally, did Don hire his realtor? “Hello, yes, is this Gnomic Insight Real Estate? I’d like someone to sell my metaphor, I mean apartment”).
Melanie’s entrance was the latest in a series of playful deceptions on Mad Men’s part. Never knowing how much time – or how many of Don’s women – have passed between episodes, the sight of a Betty-alike blonde with her own key bringing in the morning newspaper could have signalled a whole new romantic subplot for Don. Not so. Like the mink coat foreplay that turned out to have an audience in Severance, Melanie was soon revealed to be just a business associate and another route in to the show’s ongoing discussion about how to sell things.
A little glamour and a little hope was Don’s answer to that, both of which Joan experienced during her LA trip. Is Richard the millionaire property developer going to be what Joan’s future brings? Perhaps little Kevin (who seemed to be the real intended recipient of that frustrated tantrum) isn’t “ruining [her] life” after all.
Potentially curtailing his was Glen Bishop, about to ship out to ‘Nam, and back for one last illicit meeting with the woman who’ll surely provide the erotic blueprint for the rest of his life. These two connected back in season one because both were neglected kids (him literally, her psychologically speaking). “You look exactly the same” Glen told her this week, and how true that is. While the rest of the show’s women moved away from full-skirted florals into mini-dresses and even trousers, Betty still dresses as the same doll-like Ossining housewife she was in season one. Witness Betty’s pride at telling Glen that she too, was going to college in the fall, and it’s clear her arrested development hasn’t progressed any.
That’s something that hasn’t escaped Sally about either of her parents, both of whom are essentially unloved children. “Anyone pays attention to either of you – and they always do – and you just ooze everywhere”, she told Don. Declaring her dream for the future as getting the hell away from them and becoming somebody different ironically showed her to be more Don Draper’s child than she’d like to admit. There aren’t enough buses in the world to truly get away from your past, Sally. Make your peace with it and stick with Senator Carol. She’s going places.
Which takes us right back to the beginning. Where is Don going? Last week his dialogue kept leaping out of the show to remind us that “it’s almost over”. This week he was repeatedly asking “what comes next?”. He has a good feeling about things, he says. After this many years fed on Mad Men cynicism, can we say the same? Your move, Don. We’ll be watching.
Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, New Business, here.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.