Last week’s episode of Mad Men, “New Business,” had a deceiving title for an outing that seemed firmly focused on exploring characters’ pasts, but this week’s installment is appropriately billed as, “The Forecast.” It’s such a fitting title because the hour-long episode sees many main and fringe characters wondering about the great unknown, the future, and trying to map out some sort of plan. The year is now 1970, and the culture and climate of New York City and America in general is about to change dramatically. Everyone is naturally always thinking about the future, and after healthy helpings of nostalgia the past two weeks, it’s about time to start considering what may lie ahead.
The problem for Don is the same problem he’s always had: he doesn’t know what he wants. Don’s never been one to plan things far in advance. He’s quite impulsive, whether it’s planning eleventh hour business coups or spur of the moment proposals to the secretary, Don always seems to act on a whim. Now at the end of his second marriage, with his career once again secured and his luxurious apartment back on the market, what more can the man want? The dream job, dream wife, and dream apartment weren’t enough to satisfy him. So what will?
Don has to think about the future more explicitly when Roger tasks him with coming up with some sort of Gettysburg Address about what the future may hold for SC&P. After using his trusty tape recorder, which is always Don’s first go-to when struck with a bad case of writer’s block, Don starts asking other’s like Ted and Peggy about what they hope for in their futures for inspiration. Don first visits Ted Chaough, now mustached and seemingly out of the semi-suicidal, existential funk we left him in last year. Ol’Teddy’s modest goals for the future don’t do much to help Don.
Then Peggy comes to Don, all in a huff because she’s been told to fill out her own performance review. Peggy has been on fire at the office lately and wants an honest evaluation, someone to give her approval. Instead of asking the questions on the form, Don tries to mine some ideas about the future out of her. Peggy’s goals are larger and more measurable. She wants to be the first female Creative Director, she wants a big campaign, and she wants to create a catch-phrase or something memorable. When Don challenges her to pitch something loftier, Peggy reveals she wants to create something lasting, to which Don scoffs at, believing advertising to be too fleeting to be lasting. Justifiably, Peggy is enraged. To her, it seems like Don is mocking the plausibility of her goals, but in actuality, he’s really just wondering how she can be so assured about what she wants.
Don isn’t the only one struggling to look ahead. The last half-season ended with Joan rejecting a proposal from Bob Benson, acknowledging that she knew it would be difficult to find a partner given her circumstances (divorced mother of one living with her mother), but she’d rather try than settle for some loveless arranged marriage. While on business in California, she meets a worthy suitor, a wealthy real-estate yuppie who says all the right things a la Roger Sterling minus the complicated history.
She and the gentleman, Richard (Bruce Greenwood), are smitten right away, but things hit a hitch when Richard discovers Joan has a son. Richard is retired, with grown children, and a desire to live his life without a plan. A kid requires a lot of planning and commitment, something that Richard certainly doesn’t want. Joan rightfully prioritizes her child over the tan stranger, but it’s a difficult choice, with Joan realizing that her child will dominate the forecast of her future for years to come. Richard finally comes around to the idea, because duh, throwing away something with Joan is unfathomable, but it’s still a moment that has Joan recognizing the limitations of any ambitions she may have for herself.
Having someone laugh at your plans is difficult, realizing the limitations of your future is even harder, but having no idea at all what lies ahead is harder still. Don sells his apartment at the end of the episode, then looks around the hallway outside like it’s his first time really taking it all in. His look is a mixture of appreciation and pure horror that he’s leaving a place behind that was supposed to be his happily ever after with no plan for what’s next. Someone like Mathis may argue that whatever happens, Don’s looks and charisma will make sure he’ll be alright in whatever he decides, but we know better. Don Draper may just be a successful man without a future.
The Best of the Rest
- Creepy Glen returns all grown-up, slim, looking like Elvis with protruding chest hair, in another example of a character freaked out by the future. Glen decides to enlist in the army in some misguided attempt to right racial inequality, and naturally, Sally is enraged and frightened at the prospect of her oldest friend shipping off to Vietnam. In actuality, Glen is joining the army after flunking out of school and realizing that it may be his only move. What’s more is that he returns to the Francis household not just to say goodbye to Sally, but to complete his unrealized desires with Betty Draper. Glen comes onto Betty after she childishly flirts, feeding off the attention, but she rejects his advance.
- The above display of inappropriate flirting for the sake of attention continues when Don amuses one of Sally’s “fast” friends at dinner. After this, Sally has had enough. She comments during the meal that she has no definite plans and is tired of people asking her what she wants to do in the future, but she does make one plan that she intends to stick with. She tells Don that she doesn’t want to be like her parents, relying on her looks and charms like they do, but Don tells her that she’s already like them, but she has the potential to be more.
- The idea that Don and Betty are just a pretty face is a theme that seems to be eating at the former couple. Don is rattled by Mathis’ exit speech, after he’s fired for getting angry with Don when Don’s advice on how to fix a relationship with an unhappy client doesn’t go over so well. Mathis claims Don has no character and that he only slides by on his looks. Meanwhile, Betty keeps telling everyone who will listen that she’s enrolling in college, in an effort to prove to Henry and most likely herself that there is more to her than her beauty.
- Don also gets harsh words from his realtor, who tells him that his apartment “reeks of failure.”
- Pete is unhappy with Peggy’s work on the Peter Pan Peanut Butter Cookies campaign, but their bickering always has a weird personal feeling due to their complicated history. I’m expecting this will boil over by series end.
- Lou Avery inexplicably lands a meeting with Hanna-Barbera for his Scout’s Honor cartoon. Take that, Stan Rizzo!
- Joan reveals she’s been divorced twice, which means that she must have had an unsuccessful relationship before the beginning of the series that has been kept under wraps.