I Dreamed a Dream
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
What’s your dream? When you are daydreaming during the day, when you’re sleeping at night, or whatever in between, what are those great desires you aspire to garner above all else? And one day, when you find out that you have achieved what you set out to achieve, how do your dreams manifest that reality? Do they remain the same? Do they change? Or do they simply die? In other words, what is the forecast for the future? Arguably the weakest episode of Mad Men’s final season, The Forecast is nevertheless a solid installment that spends a decent amount of time centered around Don’s attempts to figure out what type of future is out there for him (perhaps a bit too much time). He’s at a juncture of his existence where all of the material wealth he had ever hoped to acquire now lay at his feet but the satisfaction has escaped him. The final sequence of last week with Don standing in his empty apartment, void of Megan and any furniture to speak of, spoke enough volumes about the emptiness in his life. To revisit those sequences in such heavy doses felt unnecessary, as if Mad Men wasn’t sure that its audience had received the message and understood it to boot. But the final shot was perhaps worth it – Don staring at the door to an $85,000 apartment (I fainted for a moment and then rewinded the episode at that number) that was now closed to his presence.
Don selling his apartment brings those questions of his usual existential crises to the forefront and it is this storyline that perhaps any other that largely brings out this particular script’s weakness. The primary strength of Mad Men is its writing that manages to be evocative of the quandary that is the human emotional experience with a subtlety so subtle that it almost becomes invisible. In those moments, the writers explicitly trust their audience to delve into the depths themselves. That powerful subtlety is lost at several moments throughout this episode, with a particularly painful exchange occurring between Don and his realtor, Melanie. She has a beautiful little line of “It’s so lonely” that spoke volumes simply because of how much history lies within those storied Manhattan walls, history that has passed right in front of our eyes. Her dialogue of “It looks like a sad person lived here” and “This place reeks of failure” were by their very design scripted to be poignant. But their poignancy is lost in how they hammer their audience over the head with the importance of their messaging, as if we might for a moment forget how alone Don has become. The camera zooming in on him as he tries to think of how to complete Roger’s task of drafting a statement about the future of their company is enough.
Joan is introduced this hour through an interrupted phone call home and her inspired breakfast of skim milk, grapefruit, a pot of coffee, and some French Toast (I’ll take that, with oranges substituting for the grapefruit). Her dream was to be in entrenched in a position of respect and she has at a partnership and an office right behind her. Bob Benson had once made her an offer of marriage out of the sake of security, but she had rejected it. Joan had compromised many times in her life for her position and work, but at that juncture she finally felt comfortable enough with her place in life that she no longer had to consider such a massive compromise. She meets a man by the name Richard, played by the fantastic Bob Greenwood. He’s charming, smooth, and instead of being threatened by Joan’s independence, he’s attracted to it. For a moment he almost seems like a wrench thrown in by Matthew Weiner that is too good to be true. Partially, as it turns out. Richard is hesitant about Joan’s child not purely because he isn’t fond of children. He suffered through a twenty-two years long marriage because he didn’t want his children to be raised in separate homes. Joan receives that coldly, sarcastically remarking as Richard visits her afterwards that if he wants her to abandon her four-year-old child, she’ll do it. She has the job and the independence. What she wants is for someone to share the rest of her life with, but that comes with her child, who is clearly and understandably non-negotiable. He acquiesces.
Joan knows what she wants and lays it all out on the table. Don is in an opposite position. Finding his creativity ebbing away, he tries to latch onto a greater semblance of self from others. Peggy is the first candidate (so to speak). In what clearly became less of a performance review than a way for Don to muse about his own supreme lack of awareness, Peggy has definitive ideas of where she wants to be, what she wants to be. She wants Don’s chair at the very least, to become the very first female Creative Director of the agency. She wants fame, to create something of lasting value and honestly doesn’t know beyond that. She sounds like a more definitive Ted, but there’s nothing wrong with what she sees for herself. She has goals in mind and she is working her absolute ass to achieve them. Knowing every piece of your trajectory isn’t necessary to gain an insightful and satisfactory life experience. None of what Peggy says is enough for Don and she sees through to the abject selfishness that lies at the core of his questioning. “Why don’t you write down all of your dreams so I can shit on them?” she snaps in one of her best lines ever, storming through the door through which Mathis would later arrive. Mathis is having difficulty with an account and he asks Don for some advice. The problematic aspect to this is that Mathis is no Don, for better and for worse. His advice comes from his perspective and Mathis never translates it into his own worldview. The meeting as expected goes disastrously and Mathis puts Don through the ringer for it. Don is defensive, pointing out Mathis’s own mistake for trying to be him when he’s not. “You don’t have any character. You’re just handsome. Stop kidding yourself.” Mathis retorts. He’s fired immediately, of course, but the cloud of disarmament on Don’s face is revelatory. Is that true? he seems to be thinking to himself. Is that all I’ve been? The dreams come crashing down, waiting to be rebuilt.
Sally steals The Forecast, with a cautious line from Don sending her forward into her future. She begins with a genuine motherly bonding session with Betty (with the sass included) and meeting eighteen-year-old Glen and his girlfriend Paula. It’s an innocent enough interaction at the beginning, changing quickly when Glen re-introduces himself to Betty. Sally notices the flirtation with disgust and the kicker arrives soon thereafter. Glen is off to join the military, cloaking himself in the bull**** that he’s doing so because poor black children from having to go fight that war (later to Betty he says he’s doing it because he’s the actor who gave the dullest performance for his nation that week). Sally rightfully isn’t having any of his crap. But later that evening the full gravitas of what Glen is walking into and she tearfully calls his number and leaves a message, hoping he hears it before he leaves.
“You can’t control yourself, can you?”
“But it doesn’t stop you, and it doesn’t stop mom. Anyone pays attention to either of you, and they always do, you just ooze everywhere.”
“You know what I’m going to write down as my dream? I want to get on a bus and get away from you and mom and hopefully be a different person than you two.”
“You are like your mother and me. You’re going to find that out. You’re a very beautiful girl. It’s up to you to be more than that.”
Sally’s feelings of disgust at Betty and Glen resurfaces in the most uncomfortable of manners, through Don no less. At a dinner with Sally and her fellow teenage travelers, a teenager named Sarah makes several flirtatious passes at Don, who to be fair, handles it decently enough as he tries to center the dinner conversation on what the girls want to do with their lives. But Sally has reached a limit. She wants her future to be as far away from Betty and Don as possible so she can become a different, perhaps better person. Don doesn’t lash out to his credit, instead trying to explain to her that no matter how far she runs, a bit of Betty and Don will always be there with her. As he notes in the exchange above, Sally is a beautiful girl but it’s truly up to her to make sure that she becomes something much more than that. It’s hard not to notice echoes of Mathis’s earlier accusations about Don’s lack of character seeping into his conversation here. Perhaps in that moment of understanding Don Draper has unlocked a new door to the future. Now all he needs to do is find it.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The Gettysburg Address
+“Space station?; “Gas station.”
+Lou and Hannah Barbara; Is he going to run after his true dream?
+“I was looking for my optometrist.”
+“I’m going to miss you.”
+“Weren’t they still colonies?”
+“Let out of a cage…”
+“A lot of wonderful things happened here.”; “Well, you wouldn’t know it.”
+“Hell, I’ve built a lot of things. But I’ve also cut a lot of things.”
+“I just finally got the job I’ve always wanted.”
+“There’s less to actually do, more to think about.”
+Ted’s greatest desire is to land a pharmaceutical account
+“Biggest accounts? That’s your greatest desire?”
+“Will I be here at all? Now could be anything?”
+“How are things in Paradise?”
+“Should I pick you up there or at home?”; “I’ll see you there.”
+The vending machine returns with a vengeance!
+“Well, you’ve obviously grown into a fine young man.”
+“Let’s assume it’s gone get better. It’s supposed to get better.”
+“Do I really have to explain that?”
+“Just tell him I’m sorry and I want to say good-bye. He has to call me. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to make you cry.”
+“I wasn’t going to spend the night under any circumstance.”
+“You’re such a disappointment.”
+Kevin’s “Bye, bye” after Joan’s angry outburst was adorable and heartbreaking.
+The World’s Fair
+“That’s exactly what I said.”
+“They have all the comforts of home.”
+“Please don’t tell me you did this for me. I couldn’t live with myself.”
+“You’re going to make it, I’m positive.”
+“Write it down, or you’ll forget.”
+“When I watch television, the commercials are my favorite part.”
+“I just want to eat dinner.”
+“I’m sorry, mother, but this conversation is a little late.”
+“I’m actually going back to school myself.”
+“You were gonna join the movement! You’re gonna die, for what?”
+“Don’t listen to Jane Fonda here.”
+“Just remember those kids are going to be the same age as the ones you’ll be murdering in Vietnam.”
-The Glen/Betty subplot was exceedingly superfluous, not least because Glen and Betty have less chemistry than two pieces of chalk. It’s also fairly creepy.
–“I know something happened to me but I feel safe because I know you’re mine… I know you know me. I know you know the man that I can be.”
Title: The Forecast
Written By: Jonathan Igla and Matthew Weiner
Directed By: Jennifer Getzinger
Image Courtesy: Post Media Canada