Lost in the Movies: Mad Men - "The Forecast" (season 7, episode 10)

Mad Men - "The Forecast" (season 7, episode 10)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review another episode until the series finale. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on April 19, 2015/written by Jonathan Igla and Matthew Weiner; directed by Jennifer Getzinger): As a quintessential midseason episode, "The Forecast" takes stock of where things stand but is unable to glimpse where they are going. Indeed, that's the very theme of Don's low-key storyline which lends the episode its title; Roger assigns him to write a "Gettysburg address" to be delivered (by Roger, not Don) at a Bahamas retreat for McCann. The story has no real outcome because Don can't for the life of him figure out where they'll be in a year or, worse, where he even wants to be. A performance review for Peggy turns into a withering interrogation of her own careerist ambitions ("Why don't you just write down all of your dreams," she finally snipes, "so I can shit on them"). A conversation with Ted, who has mellowed into permanently checked-out bliss at this point, reveals nothing more than bigger and better clients on the horizon. Sally, on the other hand, fears the future; if her friends have childlike big dreams she only wants to prove that she can shake off her parents' legacy. "You are like your mother and me," Don asserts while sending her off on a twelve-day cross-country bus tour. "You're beautiful. It's up to you to be more than that."

Sally is concerned not just after watching her "fast" friend Sarah (Madison McLaughlin) flirt shamelessly with her dad but also when she sees Betty warm up to a fully grown Glen on his first visit to the Francis household. This observation only further complicates her reaction to Glen's news: he has enlisted, and plans to go fight in Vietnam motivated by a convoluted mixture of newfound patriotism and concern that poor minorities are shouldering the burden while wealthy whites party at home. Sally reminds the fickle eighteen-year-old that not so long ago he was vowing to join the antiwar movement before she flees up the stairs. Later she calls his mother on the phone to apologize, pleading that Ms. Bishop pass her regrets to Glen before it's too late. It's Betty, however, who bids the final farewell. Glen shows up when she's home alone and awkwardly tries to embrace her in the kitchen, but she shuts him down, firmly if politely. He reveals that he only joined the Army to assuage his stepfather's wrath after flunking out of college. Betty takes the young man's hand one more time, as she did when he was a boy, and assures him that he's going to make it out.

In California, Joan initiates a romance with Richard Burghoff (Bruce Greenwood) after a mistaken identity meet-cute in the L.A. office. He follows her back to New York; a wealthy retired real estate mogul who got divorced after his kids left home, Richard is the kind of guy who can pursue a fancy as far as he likes. He's dismayed, however, by Joan's parenthood, just the type of dead weight he's trying to shake off after a lifetime of such obligations. Still, there's a draw. He shows up to SC&P the next day with flowers, an apology, and a vow that he's going to buy property in the city and welcome her - and her family - into his life. Joan, it seems, is the only character who can answer Don's inquiry with any optimism. As for Don himself, he gets entangled in a creative department dispute when Mathis embarrasses himself in front of clients, asks Don's advice for how to put them at ease, and then stupidly follows Don's advice. This results in removal from the Peter Pan campaign and, after a confrontation with Don, termination. To hear Don tell it, he's just better at pulling off the "I'm not the asshole, you're the asshole" bit than Mathis is. To hear Mathis tell it, Don isn't better, he's just "handsome" - and it didn't hurt that Lee Garner, Jr., the subject of Don's story, was in love with him. This plays out neatly in the conversation Don will have with Sally as she sets off on her adventure.

And then at home...Don finds out he doesn't have a home anymore. His realtor Melanie Davis (Rachel Cannon) has been on his case all episode to spiff up his depressing digs, to which he's retorted that she needs to get better at her job instead of blaming him. To their mutual surprise, she gets a couple to sign on and cheerfully tells Don it's time to find him a new place. Maybe now he'll have something to write about.

My Response:
I'm not sure if this will be Glen's last episode (I suspect we'll see him one more time, if not as the focus of whatever sequence he's in), but if so it's quite the send-off. Always one of the strangest characters in Mad Men, his status as the creator's son providing a further level of meta significance, he's able to draw Betty out in a way no other character could. In some moments a magnet for her immaturity, at other moments - like this - he instead calls forth her maturity. And in intriguing fashion, the exit of this very young character complements the introduction of the much older Richard. One man is trying to shake off a lifetime of accumulated responsibility and discipline, the other is awkwardly trying to assume such values in an archetypally masculine way without ever having really been exposed to that himself. I've noted Igla's ability to carefully set stories and characters off of one another in the past, and this episode is no exception. Incidentally - I don't know where else to put this - the year is finally confirmed in "The Forecast." Initially it's unclear if Don's 1970 magazine covers are referencing the conclusion or upcoming kickoff to the new year/decade (or if they're old or new). But Sally references Kent State, placing us at least in mid-1970 if not later. For whatever reason, I can't retain a strong impression of the weather but Sally is not in school, and Glen has just flunked out, so I'd guess it's summer. Due to the year if not the season, however, "The End of an Era" conveys an autumnal mood.

Ostensibly about the future, "The Forecast" is most notable for its farewells. Getzinger, in her last of nine episodes for the series, is a pro at this sort of thing (her previous outings include the breaking point for the Draper marriage, Don discovering that Anna is dying, Anna actually dying, and Sally's loss of innocence when she discovers her dad with Sylvia). This time, goodbyes - some quite significant - are exchanged between Glen and Betty and Sally, Sally and Don, Don and his apartment (perhaps the most surprisingly poignant of all), and oh yes, Don and poor pathetic Mathis. Mathis was never really one of the show's core players but the idiosyncratically nebbishy persona he developed over the past few seasons has cultivated some affection. Although there's plenty of reason to believe his choices were avoidable blunders every step of the way toward his termination, there's still a heroic quality to his defiant departure. As firings go, Mathis' is the anti-Burt Peterson (I found myself cheering him on, honestly; to quote Joan, "I just root for the underdog"). On the other hand, the stern advice Don offers is not necessarily mistaken: it's the same advice he gives both Sally and his realtor, and is similar to how the confused Glen envisions his own stoic sacrifice as well as how Joan grapples with Richard's surly disappointment.

The episode is all about characters dealing with the hand they're given, often with an old-fashioned get up and get 'em grit. This general principle is redolent of an old-fashioned American self-conception that many believed was already extinct in 1970 but which would hang on and become resurgent under Reagan (although arguably, in other ways, it was the eighties that provided the true death knell to this ethos, not with the anticipated subversion of "tune out, turn on, and drop out" but rather with the sneak attack of "greed is good"). But if Don above all is willing to offer this advice, he hasn't yet figured out how to apply it to his own success story...the one that Melanie describes as reeking of failure. Everyone has moved on around him. Peggy's cheerful, grounded ambition has no room for his existential angst, Roger has returned to genially motoring through his life, Sally is off to tour the country and shake loose her parental dead weight, Betty is going back to school to pursue a passion Don never understood, Megan is permanently lost in Hollywood with a check for a million bucks (and all of Don's furnishings), and even old rivals Ted and Lou appear content with their lots in a way Don can't relate to (Jim Cutler, oddly enough, is nowhere to be seen). As we saw in previous episodes, the Rosens have settled back into their marital arrangement and Rachel has departed for whatever awaits Don himself eventually. He's as stable as he's ever been and far more alone.

Don, of course, is far from obsolete; if anything, everyone else wants his opinion, his help, or - even in a negative fashion - his attention. But whether or not he can scratch their itch, they can't scratch his. What's much worse is they no longer seem to care much about it. The delight of this episode's title for the viewers, if not the characters themselves, is that we really can't tell at all what's on the horizon. That's an exciting place to be with four episodes to go.

Next (active on February 14, 8am): "Time & Life"Previous: "New Business"

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