Last week on Mad Men, Don Draper came home to an empty apartment, and that evocative final image of him standing amidst the desolate white floor stands as both a metaphor for Don’s whole existence and a lead-in to the life dilemmas that many characters face in “The Forecast.” That ending begs the question: When we strip away the material things in life, then what do we have left to show for? What of our accomplishments have lasting value through life? Since Mad Men has never been particularly concerned with plot mechanics, these last few episodes haven’t exactly felt like the typical build-up to a series finale, but “The Forecast” shows that the series will go out on its own existential and occasionally mystifying terms.
Don’s “evaluation” with Peggy crystallizes these themes in the clearest possible way when he asks what her goals are in life. The answers she gives seem rigidly adherent to the usual goals of job advancement: become creative director and create a catchphrase and/or ad that lasts. But when taken into context in her role as a 60s woman, these answers take on greater meaning; becoming creative director might feel like a hollow and impersonal answer, but not for a woman looking to prove herself in this time. Don’s flippant reaction only proves this further. Meanwhile, Don doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a future outlook. With Megan gone and his apartment sold, where does the elusive Dick Whitman go from here when everyone else seems to know their way?
Even Joan, who has dealt with the difficulties of being a woman much more than Peggy (as well as being a single parent living with her mother), finds a glimmer of happiness in her new relationship with Richard, played by quintessential “that guy” Bruce Greenwood. Richard serves as a counterpoint to the repulsive men she often encounters, particularly the sexist clients she and Peggy dealt with in the mid-season premiere, and in Greenwood’s hands he’s able to sell his flirtations as good natured and playful rather than sleazy. Introducing new characters this late in the game is a tricky proposition (Don’s relationship with the waitress hasn’t quite solidified as an engaging addition) but Greenwood and Christina Hendricks’ palpable chemistry helps to sell Richard as a vital piece of her story. This is definitely her story, not one that’s intrinsically linked to a man, and Joan’s pained hesitation as she says goodbye to her son speaks volumes about her situation.
Romantic affection sometimes finds itself in strange and uncomfortable corners on Mad Men, which was made ever more apparent by the reunion between Glen and Betty. Glen, with his new 70s get-up complete with sideburns, has hit a point in life where the way to find meaning in it is by joining the army, while Betty finds direction by returning to college as a psychology major. Their relationship has consistently been one of the oddest and yet more interesting ones in the show, one that has faded into the background over the years only to resurface here. Betty knows how wrong Glen’s feelings are for her and yet she still plays along with it, perhaps for her amusement, but her rebuff feels like the last note for the two of them.
On a similar subject, Don finds himself treating Sally and her friends to dinner, where one of her friends takes a singular attraction to him. Like Betty with Glen, Don plays along without crossing any lines (although who knows with his libido) and gives Kiernan Shipka the opportunity for her best Sally stink-eye. She truly does take after her mother (although January Jones’ piercing glares remain the gold standard), and as Don tells Sally, she has more in common with her parents than she realizes, no matter how much she tries to distance herself from them. It’s that inexorable tug and pull between the past and the future that’s at the heart of Mad Men and its characters, which will no doubt continue to play into their journeys as they reach the end (or new beginning) of the line.
EPISODE RATING: 9/10