So much of “Mad Men” is about the past and the great lengths to which its characters go to escape their own. However, with only four episodes left -- after Sunday’s “The Forecast” -- the outgoing AMC series is pivoting to explore something far more delicate: the future. The problem, though, for Don (Jon Hamm) and many of the other faces around SCDP, is when you spend so much time looking over your shoulder at where you’ve been, it can be hard to see where you're going.
After Megan (Jessica Paré) raided Don’s apartment in the last episode, the ad man was looking to sell the property and move on to somewhere new. Unfortunately, his realtor was having trouble finding a buyer for the hollow space and blamed the failure on the lack of furniture and sense of life in the apartment. Don said that should make it easier for prospective buyers to imagine themselves with their own things there, but that was ironic considering when Don was tasked with imagining the future -- in the form of a “Gettysburg Address” style speech for Roger about the future of the company -- he did not know where to begin.
Though Don’s looming letter felt like small potatoes compared to the moving and shaking going on in the storylines of some of the other characters in this episode, it did put him at the center of some of the hour’s best scenes -- having a cryptic conversation with Ted (Kevin Rahm), hearing Peggy’s (Elizabeth Moss) declarative vision about her own future goals, moderating a sibling-like debate between Peggy and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and advising, then firing Mathis (Trevor Einhorn).
Elsewhere, it was clear Don was not the only one struggling to see the road ahead. Joan (Christina Hendricks) -- on a business trip to Los Angeles -- met an older, handsome businessman, Richard (Bruce Greenwood), and the two hit it off. However, when Richard -- a divorcé whose plan is to have no plans -- found out Joan has a young son, things got rocky. Joan has been trying to settle into the role of the powerful, independent businesswoman all season and her son -- a consequence of the sins of her past -- was getting in the way of her progressive life. It was heartbreaking to watch her scream at her babysitter for “ruining her life,” knowing the real target of her words. Richard did show up toward the end of the episode vowing to give the relationship a try though, so there may be hope for Joan.
There is no question, though, that the episode belonged to Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka), who made her long overdue return Sunday when Glen Bishop (Martin Holden Weiner) paid the Francis house a visit. Glen came to let Sally know he was headed to Vietnam, a decision that infuriated the budding liberal, but impressed her mother (January Jones), who was rendered speechless after coming face-to-face with Glen for the first time in years.
The Betty/Glen relationship has been on hold for a few seasons now, but it came back in full force after a palpably tense reintroduction later resulted in the young man making a pass at the married -- albeit to a different husband now -- Betty. It turned out Glen, like his older counterparts, was struggling to figure out where to go with his life as well and had only enlisted because he flunked out of school. He had hoped -- and been led on by Betty’s inappropriate flirtatiousness -- to gain her affection and approval for his choice, but left just as lost as before.
Sally was none too pleased at the way her mother was acting with Glenn and was equally disgusted when one of her friends who came on to Don while out for a farewell dinner ahead of the girls' departure on a road trip. Later, before boarding the bus, she levied some harsh criticism at her father, accusing him of vanity -- the same claim Mathis made before being fired -- and vowing to get as far away from him and Betty as possible to “become someone else.”
That wounded Don. His constant quest for reinvention has resulted in a daughter who could end up abandoning her past -- namely Don -- just as easily as he abandoned his when he became Don Draper. Don told Sally she was very much like her parents -- a rare admission from Don that the past matters -- and it was up to her to be more than just a pretty girl.
However, Don needs to worry about his own future just as much. After seven seasons of trying to craft the right exterior image hoping -- like he did for his apartment -- people will just see what they need to see, he has carved out quite a hollow existence for himself. When his apartment sold at the end of the episode he was left standing outside alone, in an almost identically framed shot to the end of episode 9. Don has always been trying to bury the past, but once the past is left behind for good, the only thing remaining is the future.
For critics who have been frustrated that “Mad Men” has not more aggressively steered towards a conclusion thus far in the final episodes, this felt like the darkest-before-the-dawn moment for whatever resolution that character will reach. What does the future now hold for Don Draper? Your guess is as good as his.
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