Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
The very title of this week’s episode underlines its chief fixation: the future in all its myriad forms.
In “The Forecast,” everyone at SCD&P winds up peering into the murky mists of yet-to-come, even though just about everyone has been simultaneously transferred back into their childhoods. This episode made me flash on the classic Twilight Zone tale “Kick the Can” — memorably remade by Steven Spielberg in 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie — in which a posse of old-timers get to be kids again for a night, but unlike that bittersweet story, the adults of the Mad Men universe are a bunch of brats, forcing the children to make like adults; that’s no surprise, given that this episode unfolds against the escalation of Viet Nam, that great robber of childhood (and children).
Indeed, the concept of age in general seems to be scrambled in this episode. Adults scold each other like interchangeable pairs of parents and children. Adults act like kids, kids act like adults, all while some kids and adults almost hook up. Basically, it’s a “dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria” kind of episode. Well, I’m exaggerating, but there’s no denying the “time is out of joint” feeling you get seeing Sally’s former flame Glen Bishop walk into Betty’s foyer as a strapping young man ready for war. Glen, played by showrunner Matthew Weiner’s son Marten Holden Weiner, has Betty drooling the moment he walks in. Betty even offers him a beer. (The drinking age in New York in 1970 was 18, but damn — the last time she saw him, he was a kid.) Later, Glen comes back to find Betty alone. He makes a move that Betty (thankfully) rebuffs, but they still nevertheless share a tender moment.
All of this calls back to Glen’s earlier attraction to Betty; remember him staring at her in the bathroom and later asking for a lock of her hair? You’d think such behavior would frighten off an adult, but Betty has been so starved for attention that she gladly accepts it from Glen — though she stops short of accepting his more overt advances. Over at Vulture, the eminent Matt Zoller Seitz says that this show is filled with characters “shading or omitting key facts about themselves, or lying, or endorsing the act of lying, to keep potential happiness on the hook.” I’d say this is one of those moments. Again, Betty is starved for attention, and even her fleeting moment of flirtation with Glen in the foyer is flattery enough to keep her happy for days, though she balks when it comes to actually consummating her attraction, whatever it may be; I think Seitz puts it best when he describes it as “yuck-tastic.” (I’ll come back to this notion of balking and consummating later, when I talk about Joan’s storyline.)
Betty’s near-encounter with Glen is echoed in the Don storyline, when he escorts Sally on some kind of class field trip, even joining them for a dinner that unfolds a lot like one of Dr. Indiana Jones’ lectures — a lot of young women swooning over a handsome older man. But because this is Mad Men, the caddish Don basks in the attention of Sally’s 17-year-old friend Sarah right in front of his daughter, who later calls him on it. “Anytime someone pays attention to you or mom, you just ooze everywhere,” Sally says, playing the role of the adult and scolding Don, who has the fucking temerity to grab her arm and scold her back with the standard refrain of shitty, aimless, idea-less parents everywhere: He reminds Sally of who he is. “I’m your father,” Don says, calling on a tautological truth like it somehow grants him authority over Sally, who’s quickly outstripping him as a moral being. Don’s attempt to ape the behavior of an adult is almost as embarrassing as Sarah’s at the dinner table, when she lights a cigarette and asks Don what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Don gets scolded by another kind of child later in the office from staff writer Mathis (Trevor Einhorn). As with a lot of Don’s underlings, Mathis takes on a childlike aura in Don’s presence when he comes to ask his advice for how to salvage a bad client meeting. (Even Einhorn’s boyish looks add to the parent/child illusion.) Don presents his retrograde advice — a one-liner that would be more appropriate for a Don Rickles stand-up act — and Mathis delivers the line, which (unsurprisingly) goes over like a lead zeppelin. Mathis storms into his office to yell at Don, even shouting at Meredith to leave. Heck, this scene feels more like a squabbling couple, with Mathis telling Meredith (the “child”) to leave. As with Sally, Mathis calls Don on his intellectual bankruptcy: “All you are is handsome,” he says, stopping Don cold and causing him to shift gears in the argument. (Side note: To be fair to Don, I think he presented Mathis with two possible lines to use at the meeting, and Mathis picked the worse one.)
The “dogs and cats living together/adults become kids” imagery continues when a bickering Pete and Peggy corner Don by the candy machine, and if I’m not mistaken, the candy machine is a converted cigarette dispenser; y’know, the kind with the pull-handles along the bottom you used to see in the lobby of Red Lobsters? Don does his best to play parental peacemaker, but he comes off more like the usual absentee landlord he is as a father. He’s all bluster, offering one of his by-now-trademarked one-liners masquerading as advice, as opposed to any kind of real emotional investment.
But remember, time is out of joint in this episode, and Don joins most of the cast in looking ahead. Roger assigns him to write a speech about the future of the company, telling Don he needs a “Gettysburg Address”; a curious metaphor to use. Roger says he needs 2,500 words, or about 10 times the count as Lincoln’s austere speech, which he delivered in the aftermath of that bloody battle, and it’s strange that Roger would ask Don to emulate a relic from the past in a speech about the future — but all the same, it’s fitting. Lincoln was looking across a blasted hellscape of war when he gave his famed address, just as Don (and everyone else on the planet) was about to see in southeast Asia. (Images of war and doom litter the landscape of Mad Men, of course.)
Don also performs informal interviews of both Ted and Peggy (for his Gettysburg address), positioning himself as their defacto mentors, a title that Peggy more readily accepts than Ted, who trades mild barbs with Don. (“Roger asked me to write that speech first,” Ted taunts, barely raising his voice.) Don asks Peggy and Ted to imagine their best and brightest future. Both give very Don-like answers — come up with a great new campaign, land a big new account — and in both cases, their answers leave Don wanting. “That’s it?” he asks, disappointed they can’t (or won’t) see the bigger picture beyond their own careers.
This inability (refusal?) to see the future is an almost meta quality to these final few episodes, which moseyed along with Mad Men’s usual “we could give a fuck about narrative drive” attitude, much to the consternation of fans. Seitz noted this quality:
“Early consensus seems to be that this was another wheel-spinning hour from a series that seems blithely unaware that it’s ending very soon.”
(Totally random side note: Did I spot Don holding a piece of paper at arm’s length to read it this week? Is his eyesight going?)
(Second totally random side note: I know I always go to Seitz’s recaps for this show. Don’t worry; I read others, but some of ‘em are slow to post. I’m looking at you, Tom and Lorenzo!)
Earlier I promised to circle back around to the notion of “balking and consummating.” This episode gives us another wonderful guest star in Bruce Geenwood (Thirteen Days, Star Trek) as a silver fox who blunders into SCD&P’s Los Angeles office and Joan’s bed. Like any good Mad Men character, Joan elides over key details of her life — her child, her multiple divorces, that she lives with her mom — so she can enjoy herself with Greenwood’s good-natured retiree. But when time comes for them to “consummate” their relationship in the sense of carrying it beyond a few good boinks, both she and Greenwood’s character balk. Happily, Richard comes to his senses and apologizes, giving us our first glimpse of what life after Mad Men might look like for Joan … assuming the showrunners don’t decide to whack her for no reason.
And let’s not forget about the episode’s framing device: Don’s increasingly empty and Don-less apartment. Once again, Don is a kid in the face of his scolding realtor, who castigates him for not furnishing his apartment so she’d have an easier time selling it. (Hilariously, Don had been making due with his deck furniture, which Megan’s mom had somehow neglected to boost in last week’s episode. Very college freshman of you, Don.) Don tries to reclaim his intellectual relevance by suggesting she weave a Draper-esque fairy tale to sell the place, but unlike most of the women in his life, she’s not an extension of his subconscious; so therefore, she’s more a creature of the actual, physical world. She tells Don the apartment “looks like a sad person lives here,” and that it “reeks of failure.” It’s a bracing accounting of his life to date, though after she finally manages to sell the place, her demeanor changes as she steps into Don’s personal space and fixes his collar in a way that at once feels maternal and come-hither.
Par for the course for this episode, I guess.
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.