About two-thirds of the way through Mad Men episode 7.10, The Forecast, Mathis delivers the quote of the week, thrown spitefully at Don: You don’t have any character, you’re just handsome, stop kidding yourself. Later, Sally throws spite at both her parents for being attractive, for loving attention, and for playing off their looks.
In the end, though, Don proves he’s much more than a pretty face. Don’s realtor,
Melody Melanie, is unable to sell his apartment. She says she’s using everything she can, and significantly, in the moment she says it, she gestures at her own body. Don has her describe her best prospect, and he gives her a fantasy she can spin for them, a ridiculous confection involving Frisbees and castles. Then he explains why the story will work. When we next see Melanie, the story has indeed worked, she’s shocked to say that she has signed this couple.
Don wants a future. He wants meaning. He wants to be more than a pretty face, and throughout the episode he seems to be pretty sure he isn’t. Ironically, though, Don is incredibly competent in virtually every scene. He does a good job breaking up the fight between Pete and Peggy. He gives Mathis good advice, although Mathis bungles it. He is avuncular and warm with Sally’s friends.
Don’s work is abstract these days. We are seeing the office function mostly in the background. Don hears about meetings he doesn’t attend, hears about work he didn’t create. “Do you ever feel like there’s less to actually do but more to think about?” he asks Ted. Ted is more hands-on, more involved with the day-to-day work. We’re seeing this from Don’s perspective, though, and he certainly seems to be floating above the office’s functioning, thinking about the future, the forecast, the problems he must solve, without actually being there.
With Peggy, Don does what he almost always does—use her to his own ends. She wants a performance review, he uses her as one more test subject for his analysis of the future. Because the analysis has to be “what’s next?” The future, for Don, has to be more.
Don Draper: If I leave this place one day, it will not be for more advertising.
Roger Sterling: What else is there?
Don: I don’t know, life being lived? I’d like to stop talking about it and get back to it.
In Season 1, Don saw a future that wasn’t about advertising. And yet…and yet when Roger asked what else is there, Don opened with “I don’t know.” He didn’t know in 1960, and he doesn’t know in 1970. What else is there?
He asks Meredith to find the press release from the founding of SCDP to help him create the forecast, because that was a time when he was captivated by a vision. But now? Every vision is just a stepping stone to the moment you realize that there has to be a what’s next.
In Season 5 he said “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” As Don has gotten older, he’s seen those moments accumulate, and each of those moment is just a little bit empty. So he keeps asking Peggy, “And then?” Not to torment her, but because he doesn’t know.
Is Don really running from the emptiness of the future, or from the past? In the office candy machine, Don sees a Hershey bar. It’s a reminder of the past, both of his boyhood, and of his failures at SC&P. I couldn’t see what he selected, but it wasn’t the Hershey bar. At the end of the episode, Don has finally freed himself from the past represented by his apartment, and he’s suddenly grief-stricken. He suddenly has an unknown future, and it freezes him to the spot. “It’s supposed to get better,” he says, but it hasn’t.
Joan is trapped by a different past, in the form of a four year-old boy. She loves Kevin, and she loves her life, but she can’t be the kind of free spirit Richard (a very orange Bruce Greenwood) asks her to be. Her life as she has lived it ties her down, the decisions she has made are decisions she must live with daily. It is not a coincidence that this is almost word-for-word what Don told Mathis, nor that after Mathis spit out at Don that he shouldn’t apologize, the very next moment brings Richard apologizing to Joan.
This is the real future, after all; living with the consequences of your decisions. Most futures are a lot like Glen’s—you make a mistake, or a rash decision, or find a quick solution, and that changes your life, and there you are.
There’s definitely a sense in this half-season that story lines are being resolved. Bring back Glen. Give Joan a romance.
I was amused by Betty’s reunion with Glen; not recognizing him, then transfixed, then flirting. Unfortunately, when he returned for a second visit with Betty, it didn’t come off well. Marten Weiner isn’t a skilled or experienced enough actor to pull off the complex mix of bravado, desperation, passion, self-importance, and immaturity needed in the scene where he grabs Betty for a kiss. Instead, it was just stiff and awkward. I wondered for a moment if it wasn’t a daydream of Betty’s, since it seemed so unreal. Still, the scene served as an answer to Don: What’s the future? It’s the thing you fuck up, and then you spin a fantasy about how it’s going to be great, and turn that into your future. That didn’t last long for Glen, so I hope he comes home okay.
Some additional points, courtesy of bullets;
- Wow, if Peggy continues to see Stevie, that’s really going to be awkward.
- It doesn’t make sense to me that Joan, who spends so lavishly at Bonwits, Henri Bendel, and Lord & Taylor, is still living on 12th Street, nor that she uses a babysitter instead of a real nanny.
- I spent time in the Port Authority bus terminal in 1970—that’s exactly how it looked.
- The minute Melanie walked in, I thought “real estate agent.” It’s kind of amazing how they all look alike.
- Bert Cooper’s painting, the Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, is visible in Roger’s office
- Kevin Harris is watching Sesame Street, a brand-new show that premiered November 10, 1969. Kevin and Roberta are the same age.