This week’s “The Forecast” has no mention of weather, but it does give us a great view of where the characters of Mad Men see themselves in the coming years and whether the future America will support those dreams.
The seventh season has not been a good one for Don as the potential and hope for rebirth after coming clean about his past and cutting down on the alcohol has fizzled, leaving a lonely Don with no intimate relationships. Still, Don as a cis white man has the timeless sort of privilege, which means that Don is the only one limiting his future, yet for most of the other characters in this episode a conservative society limits their potential.
Consider that the baby boom is widely thought to have ended due to the introduction of the birth control pill in 1964 that allowed women to control whether or not they got pregnant. As we have so far seen this season, Joan struggles to find love as a single mom to a toddler and receives waves of sexist remarks on her appearance. Women had no control, and although the times they are a’ changing on Mad Men around the turn of the decade, Joan well as Peggy, Sally and Betty all traverse difficult waters this week when considering their futures.
Don can delude himself into thinking that he’s just a brilliant idea man, but when Johnny Mathis proposes that Don’s success could be due more to him being an attractive charmer than he being New York’s most brilliant creative. Early on this episode Don intercepts a pitch for Peter Pan peanut butter Tinkerbell cookies where he instantly identifies the misuse of love in the ad that kid’s wont get and parents won’t bother to look at. This is the Don we are used to seeing with an innate understanding for creative, but we also have to parse the role of Don’s knowledge of people on a smaller level. Don gives Mathis a line to make up for a gaffe during a client meeting something to the effect of, “I’m surprised you had the balls to set foot in here after you embarrassed yourself yesterday.” It doesn’t go well for Mathis because Don can pull that kind of language off. Mathis can’t.
Peggy had to fight tooth and nail to even attain the deserved position of copy editor and the same with Joan, but Don’s already fragile sense of self got another shake with the semi-realization of privilege. This episode Peggy even admits to Don during a performance review that she aims to be SC&P’s first female creative director and even “create something of lasting value,” to which Don responds with mild amusement. Although Peggy storms out of the room at Don’s impertinence, that statement indicates to me that fundamental difference between her and Don that will bode well for her in the future – Peggy has hope for her personal future while Don has always just been able string the words together just right. By the end we catch a quick glimpse of Don looking at magazines’ predictions for the 1970 where we get the impression Don accepts, or at least acknowledges, this world is moving on without him and his good looks and charm might not carry him through to see 1980.
In a New York Times interview with philosopher Anthony Appiah, he mentioned that “the oppressed often have a deeper understanding of the lives of their oppressors.” Although he was speaking of the disparity of current US race relations, writers Jonathon Igla and Matt Weiner give Joan particularly an insight of how men work that is not reciprocated. Joan runs into a silver fox this week during a meeting in Los Angeles who just happens to extremely rich, but scoffs at the idea of dating something with a young son. He even has the gall to say at least he brought it up before he slept with her a final time. Joan’s frustration with her son erupts when she tells him “you’re ruining my life” because at this time Joan sees a limited scope for the happiness of a besmirched older woman. Yet in one of Mad Men’s few touching moments, her new beau Richard actually admits he was wrong and apologizes!
Although I’ve painted a few pictures of how Don’s cis white male identity affords him a sort of timelessness, but Sally’s friend Glen Bishop reappears and provides a contemporary counterexample to the privileged white male – the Vietnam War. Don Draper drastically changed the trajectory of his life by stealing a new identity during the Korean War and now 18 year old Glen concocts a scheme to join the army. Even though we haven’t been keeping up with Glen’s life is has been progressing, in fact he has a new stepdad who disapproves of him. Glen cites his stepdad’s pride at him joining up as motivation, but we quickly see that he and Betty still share the same uncategorizable connection from when Glen was a child.
Salon had an interesting theory that Glen was the only true man on Mad Men due to his consistent emotionally sincerity but it is great to see Glen give Betty some line he probably picked up from a movie that he will be content while away knowing that he has someone (wink, wink) back home who loves him. Betty doesn’t deny that connection, but rebuffs him by saying she is married leading to one of the most powerful scenes in the season, and maybe even the show, where Glen solemnly exits without even a superficial thread of comfort. Imagine that sort of scene playing out a million times over during the same period and we can begin to appreciate the turmoil of the late ’60s and ’70s.