Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x10)

What is a forecast? It's a prediction of the future based on current patterns, a theme that ran throughout this weeks episode aptly titled "The Forecast." Everyone is worried about the future--the company's future, their own individual future, the future of those around them. But more to the point, no one (well, almost no one) knows their future nor could even halfheartedly accurately predict their future. Most of the characters this week couldn't articulate their future if their future stood before them stark naked and dancing. When they think about the future, they get tongue tied, they seem to focus on one singular thing instead of thinking broadly (well, again, almost everyone) or they end up realizing that the future is bleak and scary and they have no place in it. This weeks episode was easily the best of the arc so far (the return of Sally at long last does a lot to solidify that, honestly) but it also hammers home themes I've been dissecting all along--Don Draper is almost over and done. His story--the advertising and sexual god who had everything and deserved to have even more--is almost over and Don knows it. He simply can't go on because there is no future for a man like Don anymore. The future belongs to Peggy and to Sally, and all Don does is crap on their dreams and make them uncomfortable. Don is literally charged with writing the future and he's stumped. He has no future and he can't see one for the life of him. Grab a horny teenager (that will make sense if you watch the episode) and let's go!

There are really three main stories this week--Joan, Betty/Sally, and Don. Let's start with Joan. Our favorite sashaying red-head's future should look bright; she's moved up in the world as a partner and an account manager. Joan gets to fly to LA and conduct interviews and have people fall at her feet, something our Joanie has always loved. But, take a look at Joan's life as she is living it. Does it seem like the life of someone who is thinking about the future? At this point, Joan is loaded, making more money than she's ever imagined, and she's still living in that tiny little apartment in the village with her mother and hiring a teenage flower child to watch her four year old. Joan also hasn't been out in the social world much lately, from what we've seen. Joan was the fun loving girl who enjoyed going out and meeting men and being admired. And now, she comes home to a mother, a son, and nothing else. But more to the point, Joan isn't trying to change her situation. She hasn't bought a new house; she goes to work and comes home. That's her present and her future. And then Joan meets Richard, a smooth talking handsome guy who wants to admire Joan and all her best assets. For a little while, Joan gets to be in her glorious past--the hot to trot woman who doesn't live at home with her mother and son, who isn't divorced, but looking for Mr. Right to sweep her up off her feet and take her to a whole new world. It's exactly what Joan of season one and two would have wanted--the man, the money, the adventure. Joan is so stuck in the past with Richard that she more or less neglects to tell him about her son and mother. That all comes crashing down when Richard learns about Kevin and almost instantly doesn't want a future at all with Joan. He's done all that stuff; he wants the grand and glorious adventure. For Joan, it's a reminder that her own future is now tied to Kevin, her son. She can never have a future that isn't linked to Kevin; she doesn't get to run off or be whisked away by the handsome stranger. Not anymore. Joan's story was one of the more positive of the three this week since Richard came to his senses and decided that he wants Joan--baby, mother, and all. Will it work for her? Possibly. Joan just needs to remember that Kevin is not ruining her life (ouch. Harsh, Joan) and hopefully Richard will live up to his promise to accept her.

Easy there, Mrs. Robinson. So this was easily the most disturbing story of the night. What does the future look like for Betty and Sally? It looks like dead children in Vietnam. Specifically, it looks looks like their old friend Glenn Bishop dead in Vietnam. It's interesting how the two Draper/Draper-Francis women react to the news that Glenn is shipping out. For Sally, it's one of her oldest friends going off to probably die for a cause that neither she (as our resident Jane Fonda) nor Glenn really believe in. For Betty, it's the potential death of someone who she once mothered and "wifed" and is obviously having a very sexual attraction to, even years after their first encounter because Betty will always see herself as a princess-child and never more so than when Glenn comes a-knocking. For Sally, the future is bleak because it means growing up and learning some hard truths (your friends might die; you could turn into your parents). For Betty the future is bleak because it means there is one less person in the world who will find you attractive and want you. And doesn't that just sum up Sally and Betty to a T? The relationship between Betty and Glenn has always been super squicky because he idolized her as the perfect mother and she adored the attention Glenn gave her as both the so-called perfect mother (um, no, think again Betty, dear) but also the perfect mate, a fairy tale princess who would give him a lock of her hair and she would be his forever. Did you notice how often Betty touched her hair in this final scene between the two? She's remembering when all Glenn wanted were her gold tresses. This was a pretty awkward moment but Betty, like Betty does, doesn't stop it because it's wrong morally; she stops it because she's married and therefore they can't do it. Her vision of the future isn't about what is right and wrong, but the here and now of potentially getting caught (something that probably titillates Betty secretly). And then there is Sally who is watching her mother, and then later her father, be enamored of teens and basically be sick and sad people and decides that she has had enough of both of them. She wants to be someone different. Good for you, Sally.

Which brings us to Don, the man who's creative genius was so defined for the entire run of the series that it's a truly sad note that here, at the end of the series, he can't even write a 2500 essay on the future. A high school project in the most remedial sense and Don has nothing to say. Isn't that the ultimate theme of this last arc: Don has nothing left to say. He's not creative anymore; he's neither captivating nor charismatic nor charming nor any other adjective you can come up with to describe the late great Donald Draper. He is an empty vessel whose employees can see right through him whereas before no one could suss him out. Don used to be a genius at selling himself and what he sold was mystery and allure. Remember that great line from season one? "He could be Batman for all we know." Nobody knew how to crack the enigma that was Donald Draper; but now everyone can see through his facade and well coiffed hair. Like Mathis tells him before he gets fired, "You have no character. You're just handsome." That's exactly it. Don isn't a real person; he's a facade, an ad for the American dream but ultimately empty and devoid of meaning. But Don is handsome, could speak well and he was a creative genius and that fooled a lot of people; but not anymore. Don's future is dark, dank, and and totally imaginary. Everything around him is rotting to the core--his genius, his family, his facade and even his house. A real estate agent who barely knows him managed to get a read on Don's personality in a shorter time than it took both of Don's wives! The agent tells Don that his entire house reeks of failure and that it looks like a sad person lives there. And, of course, she's right on both accounts. Don cannot hide who he is anymore and the inside bits of him that he once kept tucked away and hidden are oozing out like so much sludge. And the worst part? I think Don recognizes it too: "We know where we've been, we know where we are...it's supposed to get better." But it doesn't get better does it, Dick? You can't start over and you can't hide your flaws; in the end you have no character.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Forecast

--I didn't mention it in the proper post, but of course, who is the one person who can see the future and is excited by it? Peggy Olson. She wants more than advertising. She wants to create something of lasting value. Oh Pegs. You are the anti-Don Draper. It's lovely to watch. I know I say it every week, but you're gonna make it Peggy.

--Every single line Sally uttered was my line of the night, but to pick a few: "This conversation is a little late. And so am I." "All I want to do is eat dinner..." "Anyone pays attention to either of you – and they always do – you just … ooze everywhere.”

--Betty is positive that Glenn will make it and live through Vietnam, so naturally he'll die.

--Don flirting with the teenagers was a whole new level of creepy.

--Nobody has time for Meredith's nonsense. It's hilarious.

--No ex-girlfriend this week, but there were still "three women" in Don's life--Sally, Peggy and the real estate lady. And none of the three liked him nor had time for his nihilistic mountain-of-crap. 

--3 episodes to go. Will Don live through the end?

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