As soon as Joan ordered the French toast, I knew this would be a good one. Goodbye, wan waitress who is stuck on the past! Hello, Don Draper who’s curious about the future! Don spent this lively, vivid, entertaining episode roaming around, interrogating people about what comes next. Ted, what’s your life’s ambition? Peggy, what’s the rung after this one? Sally, what will you be when you grow up? Meredith, which World’s Fair prediction seemed most prescient? Roger has asked Don to write up a vision statement for the future of the company that Roger can deliver to the McCann honchos at a retreat in the Bahamas. It’s supposed to be grand, ambitious, inspiring, and bold. “Gettysburg Address, got it,” Don replies.
But the assignment turns out to be a hard one to crack. Don has spent so long wondering if the agency will survive that he is not sure what to dream for now that it’s on solid footing. And his colleagues’ visions—Ted yearns to land a pharmaceutical account; Peggy to become creative director, then coin a “catchphrase”—seem blinkered. When Peggy says she wants to create something “of lasting value,” Don scoffs. “In advertising?”
And yet, despite this grim view of his chosen profession, Don has a “good feeling about things,” or so he tells the straight-talking realtor who is having trouble moving his sad, wine-stained pad. And Don does seem assured throughout this episode, even as he casts about for his thesaurus and struggles with his assignment. He knows how to handle a client meeting gone bad, how to apologize without groveling, how to con Ted into doing his work (or at least, the best way to try). He’s taking an unusual bird’s-eye view, and he has the calm of a man who sees opportunities on distant horizons. For the first time, I wondered if Mad Men might conclude with Don leaving the ad business and the firm—and not on a stretcher.
This episode was called “The Forecast,” and it fundamentally revised the classic Mad Men view on how the past and the future relate. One of the themes of Mad Men’s first few seasons was “This never happened.” That’s what Don tells Peggy when she gives up her baby, and what Don’s life represents: An utter severing of past and present, of Dick from Don, of pain from savoir faire. “A little glamour, a little hope”: Don has been applying this formula for decades now, spinning fictions that turn himself from a fixer-upper into a covetable penthouse.
But then Sally proposes trying this move in their confrontation at the Port Authority. Fed up with both Don—who’s just indulged her friend’s flirtatious cigarette shenanigans—and Betty, who stood frozen, girlish and spell-bound when she realized that the lanky hippie in her foyer was Glen, she declares: “You know what I’m going to write down, for my dream? I want to get on that bus, and get away from you and mom, and hopefully be a different person than you two.” No such luck, Don retorts: “You are like your mother and me, and you are going to find that out. You’re a very beautiful girl. It’s up to you to be more than that.” The sense here that one’s origins are destiny—that you can’t just walk away from the past and leave it in a billowing ash heap behind you—was striking, and new.
The confrontation between Don and Sally also got at another issue in this episode: How far charm and beauty can get you in this world. Don’s advice to Mathis on how to make things right with the men from Peter Pan went hilariously awry. What works for debonair Don escapes poor, sweet, potato-faced Johnny. And the strange, transfixing interactions between Betty and Glen pitted a pair of charmers against one another. Glen, hung up on his blond neighbor lady since childhood, is hoping his enlisting will earn him a tumble with Mrs. Draper. And Betty does brighten at Glen’s attentions, eagerly letting him know that she’s no old lady; she’s about to become a student too. But in her final scene with Glen, Betty proves to be “more than that”; she’s flattered, but her narcissism and need to be desired don’t overpower her instinct that screwing Glen would be the wrong thing to do—and not just because she’s married. And when Johnny tells Don: “You don’t have any character. You’re just handsome. Stop kidding yourself,” Don looks defiant, not dejected. I think Don wants to be “more than that,” too.
There were a few other dreams deferred and pursued here. Lou is still peddling his military monkey comic, and we’ll see whether Joan’s new beau ever makes it to Egypt to see those pyramids. It was nice to see Joan indulging some fleshly pleasures, beyond what can be ordered up from Bergdorf or room service. It’s also awfully tidy to have two fresh men lined up for our two favorite Mad Men dames, Joan and Peggy, just as we come down the home stretch. I wonder if the Mathis ouster will put the kibosh on Peggy’s fledgling romance with his brother-in-law—or whether that’s fizzled already, because Peggy was too busy with Don’s thesaurus.
How about that beer,