20th Apr2015

‘Mad Men 7×10: The Forecast’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“They love the lobby, but the emptiness is a problem.”

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Mad Men very nearly pipes in a cymbal crash after Don’s real estate broker delivers her withering assessment of his empty penthouse.  What she’s talking about, of course, is Don, and there’s no shortage of people lining up to inform him that he’s a smooth, good-looking huckster with a hole for a heart, a “two-bit gangster” like Faye Miller’s father.  Don defends himself, claiming “A lot of beautiful things happened here.”  Throughout the episode he remains hopeful that the future will be better, that there is a bright new world on the horizon.  He just doesn’t know what it looks like.

Assigned to write a speech about the future of Sterling, Cooper & Partners(so that a drunken Roger can deliver it to equally drunk McCann executives at a corporate retreat in the Bahamas), Don instantly repurposes the assignment into an attempt to divine what comes next for himself.  If figuring out where to go and what to want in life is a test(or a performance review), then Don’s going to do what Don does best: cheat.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t like the answers he gets by looking over people’s shoulders.  Quizzing everyone he comes across, he reacts with incredulity and skepticism to Peggy’s assertions that she wants fame and a shot at changing the world, with bored disgust to complacent Ted Chaough’s dream of landing a big pharmaceutical account, with veiled disappointment to Sally’s assertion that she’s tired of people asking what she wants to do.  At every turn he meets the banality of the exercise, the push for a gas station, not a space station.

“Do you ever feel like there’s less to actually do, but more to think about?” Don asks Ted.  Ted’s entire life appears to occur under anesthesia now, so he just shrugs and looks pleasantly bored.  Unsatisfied, Don leaves to go spin his wheels.  The camera literally rotates clockwise over him, counting down to a future he doesn’t understand, one magazines can’t sell to him, one nobody can explain to him or show him his place in, while he ruminates on Gettysburg and reflects that things are supposed to get better, that they have to get better.

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Don gets slapped in the face with his own beauty repeatedly over the course of the episode.  “Whenever people pay attention to you — and they always do — you just ooze everywhere,” a disgusted Sally tells him at a Greyhound station.  She’s referring to both her parents, skewering Don for paying attention to one of her underage friends and Betty for basking in a ‘Nam-bound Glen Bishop’s obvious interest.  Don angrily assures his progeny that she’s just like them, that their connection is inescapable, but before her bus leaves he softens and adds that it’s up to her to be something more than beautiful.  The usually amiable Mathis is a lot more direct and a lot less analytic in delivering his pre-firing kiss-off to his boss.  “Roger said that Lee Garner, Jr. was in love with you,” he sneers at Don.  “He said you had to be in every meeting so he could daydream about jerking you off.”  He reduces Don’s life and work to being good porn for a randy millionaire.

Betty provides her own dark, if oblivious, commentary on the privileges beauty affords.  Giving a cautionary-with-a-side-of-knowing-wink piece of advice to Sally, about to depart on a school trip with a passel of girlfriends, she reflects fondly on her own experience in the same program.  “We would try to break all the light bulbs in the halls,” she says, “in our hotels.”  Sally looks disturbed.  The idea of destroying first to destroy, second to see if the destruction can be carried off without consequence, is so quintessentially the act of a beautiful person.

It’s worth taking a moment here to establish that Jon Hamm and January Jones are unequivocally two of the most attractive people ever to hide paintings of themselves in dusty attics where, presumably, the artwork ages while the actors are free to pursue lives of sin and debauchery.  Seriously, just look-

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-beings.  Damn.  And speaking of beautiful people, Joan steps into the spotlight for a whirlwind romance that begins in Los Angeles and then, in New York, morphs into something altogether stranger.  The man she meets, Richard, is wealthy enough that buying property in Manhattan means nothing to him.  He has no attachments whatsoever and describes the conscious cutting of the strings that defined his life, the dissolution of his marriage and his retirement from his career, with evident relish.  When Joan reveals she has a son, though, the good humor turns off right quick.  “This is not how I saw this,” he snaps. “I have a plan, which is no plans.”  Richard is an aging void, a vision of the Don of Christmas Future grasping and clutching at a life that, just like him, is easy, alluring, and empty.

It’s unclear to me whether Joan’s offer to send her son away so that Richard will find her palatable is real or else a complex psychological feint of the kind Joan specializes in.  Her frustration with her living situation seems real, and so does the hunger she feels for the life of an account executive, the drinks, the power, the ridiculously wealthy suitors.  The purgatory of domestic life and the urge to flee it can inspire in people is certainly par for the show’s course.  Maybe Joan wants a little French Toast out of life, not just skim milk and grapefruit.

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There’s a springtime melancholy to ‘The Forecast,’ a sense of mingled hope and desperation in the air.  When Don’s apartment finally sells in the episode’s closing moments(to a young pregnant couple, no less), he’s left standing outside the door while Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” plays him out.  He suggested strategy after strategy to his broker, feeding her lines really intended to sell himself much in the way he frantically tried to package himself for Sylvia Rosen in Season 6′s ‘The Crash,’ but in the end he’s left without any idea of what finally did it.

The secret, of course, is that it doesn’t matter.  There is nothing behind that door, no great secret hidden in the young couple’s decision to buy Don’s memory-freighted apartment.  A vision of the future, one that brings with it excitement and the will to change and live authentically, isn’t something you can steal.

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