"It can be greeted with terror or joy, a tantrum that says 'I want it the way it was,' or a dance that says, 'Look, something new!'" - Don Draper, on "the future." Love Among The Ruins (S3E2)
For someone who has become a millionaire several times over by selling aspiration to the masses, when Don Draper is handed what you would think is a paint-by-numbers assignment by Roger Sterling to write a speech articulating his view for the future of the company, Don hits a dry well. Ted's big hope is to land a pharmaceutical account and Peggy aspires to Don's seat as Creative Director (a point that has him sit up a little higher in his chair with pride), but when he glibly dismisses Peggy's desire to leave behind something of value, she writes the entire conversation off as one of his sour moods, a bait and switch where she exposes herself and he pockets that information without reciprocating.
The Forecast, the tenth episode of Mad Men's seventh season, differs from the prior two episodes, which had an ethereal, almost dream-like aspect to them. Don's fast, but odd "relationship" with Diana (the Sad Waitress) could have easily led to Internet speculation that this whole half-season occurred as a hallucination, or a vision Don has just as he is about to leave this Earth. But in The Forecast Don's feet are more firmly placed on the ground if his heart and soul are not entirely there.
In keeping with his theme of reinvention, a million dollar check will not suffice to reboot Don Draper 3.0 (or is it 4.0? At this point, most of us have lost count), he must also unload the penthouse apartment he and Megan moved into when they married. Of course, he can't be bothered with details like having the carpets cleaned or staging the massive family room with anything but the deck furniture. For someone in advertising, he is more than happy to critique the poor sales job of his real estate agent, but his half-assed effort to sell his apartment is on par with the just-enough time he spent with his sons blending milkshakes, sticking around just long enough for other people to finish the job.
When it comes to things Don does care about, he is a little more assertive. His attempt to mentor Mathis ends poorly, with the young man misreading the room both in apologizing for an outburst to a client and in confronting Don for the failure. On his way out the door after being fired, Mathis kicks Don in the shins, dismissing an old war story about Don resuscitating himself before Lucky Strike as nothing so much as revisionist history, his presence with the closeted executive Lee Garner a product of his looks, not his acumen. It is not surprising that Don is not well-suited to mentorship. Like a great athlete who is easily frustrated by coaching lesser talent, the fairy dust Don sprinkles on clients can only be appreciated by wunderkinds like Peggy, not run-of-the-mill types like Mathis.
That Mathis is even given any airtime is of a piece with the rest of the half-season's motif of providing what seems like a disproportionate amount of time to bit players and long ago characters. This week, Glen Bishop reappears to let pen-pal Sally know he's shipping off to Vietnam, but it is only when he returns to the Francis mansion once she's gone that he discloses to Betty that his enlistment is a way to cover up his flunking out from school and, in the balance, getting the respect of his step-father. It is a sad little storyline. When Glen notes that Betty looks the same, he accidentally stumbles on a larger truth. What he probably meant as an offhanded compliment is literally true. If you last saw Betty Draper in Ossining in 1963 and then ran into her as Betty Francis in Rye in 1970, it would appear as if time stood still. Her future, which she pins on returning to school, may or may not occur, but an entire decade has passed her by.
Meanwhile, Lou Avery is still around (who knew?) darkening the sunshine of SC&P's West Coast office while Joan meets a mystery man during a visit to the company's left coast outpost. Richard is a wealthy, older man with a recent divorce under his belt and his children have been raised and are on their own. Joan shades the truth during their brief tryst assuming she will never see him again, but when he pursues her to New York, she comes clean, which does not sit well with him (his wide lapels didn't sit well with me, but that's another story). Ultimately, Richard expresses interest in being in Joan's life, even with a child (and a live-in mother, not to mention a groovy babysitter) in tow.
But like Diana, Richard's introduction is a bit of a head scratcher. I mean, if Joan wanted to shack up with a rich older man who was going to pay lip service to his willingness to be in a small child's life, the boy's actual father is working down the hall from her. And as viewers, what are we to make of the steady stream of new plot lines even as the sands in the show's hourglass continue to dwindle? If this entire half-season is a sort of coda for the show, with Waterloo its actual ending - of the partners getting filthy rich and the entire crew falling under the McCann banner - that is fine so far as it goes, but I would have hoped for either a more concentrated story line (Pete has barely been present this season even though he is one of the "core four" from the firm) or something completely out of the box, like an entire half-season of flash forwards to random years that closed each character's loop.
Ultimately, for a guy who, when we met him, told Rachel Menken that love was something created by guys like him to sell nylons, as Don has aged, the future does not look like something to be greeted with hope and excitement. While Don is temporarily uplifted by Sally's friends, who have a powwow over Chinese food about their hopes and dreams, she has one "fast" friend, who clumsily flirts with Don and embarrasses Sally. Sally lashes out at Don as she boards a Greyhound bus, thinking he was tempted by her seventeen-year old friend, but she misread the situation. It is no matter, it is understandable that Sally wants to get as far away from her parents as possible. She has seen and heard them do awful things and has not received what anyone would consider strong parenting. If she had any doubt, Don's tepid wave as she boards the bus and the fact he does not even stick around to watch it pull out of the terminal pretty much confirms her entire critique.
Meanwhile, the episode ends on another forlorn image of Don. The penthouse apartment he was so eager to dump has been sold and he has thirty days to clear out and figure our what his future holds. Given that time and the place he is in his life, is not a comforting thought.
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