Don asks himself some tough questions as Vietnam comes into focus
Mad Men returned for its final stretch two weeks ago with Peggy Lee’s classic “Is That All There Is?” but the song — which Mad Men creator Matt Weiner once considered making the show’s theme song — was even more suited for Sunday’s episode, “The Forecast,” considering how many times characters seemed to ask that question.
Don isn’t in great shape since Megan took all his furniture (and a million dollars) last week. Roger’s making comments about his appearance, and his real estate agent (whom you might recognize from ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat — don’t tell Jessica Huang she’s got some competition selling properties) is having trouble selling the place because it “reeks of failure” and sadness. That wine stain on the floor is the mark of a man who cares so little for himself that he doesn’t even bother to clean up.
When Roger tasks Don with writing a speech about the future of the company for a corporate event, Don uses the occasion to take stock of his life—and struggles to come to any conclusions. “It’s supposed to get better…” he trails off into a dictaphone during one brainstorming session. What, exactly, is supposed to get better? What should he be striving for at this point in life? He’s been pondering these questions since crashing Rachel Menken’s shiva. There, her sister told Don that his former flame had “everything” she wanted in life before her death. All Don knows is that whatever “everything” means, he doesn’t have it—or, at least, it wasn’t what he thought it was.
When he’s not helping Mathis navigate a pitch meeting gone bad, Don looks to his co-workers for clues about the meaning of life. Don inquires about Ted’s vision for the future, but he’s disappointed to learn Ted dreams of little more than landing pharmaceutical client. When Peggy asks Don for a performance review, he decides to pick her brain and see what he can learn from her goals. She wants to be the company’s first female creative director, but Don pushes her for more. She wants to leave her mark on advertising; she wants to create a catchphrase; she wants fame. She wants “to create something of lasting value,” she says, but Don isn’t satisfied with that answer as it doesn’t do anything to solve his own crisis. Peggy believes he’s belittling her dreams with his questioning, though, so she storms out. “Why don’t you just write down all of your dreams so I can shit on them?” she barks.
Don faces even harsher words from Mathis, who lashes out at Don after incorrectly following his advice and damaging the client relationship beyond repair. Mathis tells Don he lacks character, only gets by on his looks and doesn’t know when to admit he’s wrong. Don promptly fires him, but he also seems to actually hear him. The first words out of Don’s mouth aren’t a knee-jerk defense or an outright dismissal, but rather, an almost humble so-what: “Everybody has problems,” he says.
While Don continues his search, Joan gets what looks like the first happy ending of the finale episodes (though with four more to go, that’s obviously subject to change). While on a business trip to the West Coast, she meets a man named Richard who’s wandered in into the L.A. office by mistake. They flirt, and the charming encounter leads to a more passionate one back in her hotel room that night. The only problem is that Joan doesn’t mention her four-year-old son when she and Richard swap divorce stories. “So you have mouths to feed?” Richard asks about why she’s working. “No, I just finally got the job I’ve always wanted,” Joan grins.
It’s not exactly a lie—she is filthy rich, remember?—but Richard doesn’t take it so well when he visits her in New York and Joan decides to tell him the truth . Richard, you see, wants to travel the world and live his single-again life without plans or commitments—taking care of a small child stands in the way of that. Joan recognizes this the next morning, too, when she’s frustrated by a scheduling mix-up with the babysitter and shouts, “You’re ruining my life!” as she walks out the door. Ostensibly, the remark was directed at the babysitter, but the pause between the outburst and the sweet goodbye she gives her son suggests Joan wasn’t sure whom her anger was directed at. Fortunately, Joan doesn’t have to choose between romance and family, as Richard shows up at her office with flowers and the offer to be apart of her and her son’s life. Is that all it takes for Joan to find the love she dreamed of?
Back at the Francis residence, the Vietnam War comes into focus after being in the background so far this season. Betty and Sally are paid a visit by a grown-up Glen Bishop, who’s rocking some serious 1970 sideburns, as well as some serious sexual tension with Betty. But as Sally quickly learns, there is something more upsetting than the sight of your friend and your mom having a moment in front of you—having that friend tell you he’s enlisting in the army. Or worse—that your friend could be enlisting because of your mom. That’s what happens one afternoon when Glen appears in Betty’s kitchen to make a move on her and tell her she’s the reason he’s enlisting.
Their relationship has always disturbed me, and Betty takes a little too long to reject his advances on account of being married (come on, Betty, you can’t think of any other reasons to say no?). But it’s thanks to Glen that we get the episode’s most moving scene (Sally’s tearful goodbye phone call), so perhaps we should feel grateful to get something out of Glen that didn’t result in a hardcore case of the heebie-jeebies.
Thinking about whether Glen was going to live or die reminded me just how open-ended the fates of Mad Men characters might be in the end. Unless there’s a flash-forward in the works, we’ll never know if Glen survives the war and comes back for Betty. We’ll never know in what ways Sally will follow in her parents’ footsteps, as Don warns will happen in the bus station. Heck, we might not ever see Don figure out the questions he’s been wrestling with this whole time. The episode ends with Don coming home and walking in on his real estate agent, who has found a buyer for his apartment, to their mutual surprise. Just like that, the place is sold. Just like that, Don’s untethered from his belongings and his baggage with Megan. And just like that, he’s left with a look on his face that seems to wonder: Now what? Is that all there is?