“It has to get better.”
The ad is all about capturing the future, about predicting future trends and desires and mindsets. It draws you in, displaying image after image of a new life you can make for yourself…if only you had that one product. Because Mad Men is built around the ad, the show’s oftentimes dealt with the future, asking its characters whether they’ll be able to move on and change, whether they’ll be able to answer their own glaring questions: What’s next? What does the forecast of your future say? Is the forecast accurate?
As anyone who’s ever read a forecast knows, a prediction of 70 degrees and sunny can turn into a reality of -50 degrees and snowing. Okay, it’s not that extreme of a difference, but the key point to note here is that a forecast is merely a prediction. It’s based upon what’s already happened and what’s currently happening, but it’s unable to nail the specifics of a perpetually changing future. And that’s exactly what this episode of Mad Men deals with. For example, Joan and her new friend Richard both know what they want to do in the future–the former wants to build that career, the latter wants to happily retire–but in the end, a new path is forged in their lives. Maybe they can find happiness with each other rather than with, for example, work.
Peggy and Don are two characters who have always merged their work and their personal lives, and it’s pretty much the main place they’ve turned to in order to find fulfillment. The performance review scene in this episode is a wonderful moment for Peggy and Don, and the episode’s main theme is summed up nicely when Don asks Peggy what she wants to do in the future. She tells him she wants to be the first female Creative Director–this is similar to earlier in the episode, when Ted says that he wants to “land some bigger accounts”–and he responds by saying: “I’m impressed you know exactly.” We may have certain goals for our futures, but no matter how hard we try, we can never truly predict what will happen.
We see a similar idea with Glen as well, who reveals that he’s joining the army to an aghast Sally. He believes that shipping off to Vietnam is a cure-all of sorts, but there’s always going to be the question of whether or not something will happen to him over there. It’s not quite so simple because you never know what’s coming, and it’s clear that Betty will also feel some of that uncertainty moving forward.
In addition, we don’t know where exactly Sally Draper is going to end up, but it’s easy to see why she acts the way she does throughout this episode. She sees Glen cozying up to Betty and her friend Sarah flirting with Don, and there’s a bubbling pit of resentment that’s fueling her on her quest for independence. “I’m so tired of people asking me what I want to do,” she snaps at the restaurant table, and we can feel the desire to break free, to make a new life for herself sans parental influence.
And well, Don sees that front and center. Mathis’s earlier accusation that Don has “no character” and is “just handsome” plays a role in the scene by the bus, as Don tells her daughter that she’s a beautiful girl, but that that’s not all that she is. He sees that she doesn’t want to be like her parents, and he understands. He doesn’t want that for his daughter either, and Jon Hamm does a wonderful job of conveying that in just one look. As Sally heads off with her friends, he returns to his apartment, an empty look on his face as he shuffles toward an uncertain future. Roger thinks that a “future of the company” speech is going to be a breeze for the man, but those of us who have been watching Don these last seven years know that it’s going to be tough.
And yet, as we move into the final four episodes of the series, I sense that something may be different. Don realizes that he’s empty–that he has nothing left–but he no longer has that empty apartment to wallow in. He gets defensive about it early on with the realtor, and he later tells her that a lot of good things happened there. Were the “things” that happened really as good as he makes it seem, though? Glamming up the apartment for potential buyers is essentially a representation of what Don’s been doing with appearances his whole life, and now, someone’s finally coming to take that veneer away from him. Don Draper must now look to the future–toward possible change–or risk being stuck forever in an empty hallway, looking at the closed door of a life that has passed him by. It may be too late to change, though.
-A review of this show up before 1 AM? I am shocked at myself.
– “Why don’t you just write down all of your dreams so that I can shit on them?”
-The lovely song at the end is Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”.
-Kudos to Christina Hendricks for her work in this episode. My favorite moment of Joan’s: when she’s leaving the apartment and hears Kevin saying bye to her. It’s heartbreaking to watch, and Hendricks nails it.
Photo credit: Mad Men, AMC