Don Draper, as well as his fellow partners, continue last week’s theme so aptly summed up with the Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is?” in this week’s episode. Not many Mad Men episodes have as explicit a framing device as Roger’s assignment to Don to give their corporate masters at McCann a “Gettysburg Address” about the future of the firm, but as the show winds down it certainly seems appropriate to have Don asking the big questions, of himself and the people around him.
It’s striking how steadfastly Don has clung to his look even as everyone around him gives in to the spirit of the times; not only does he still keep his hair short and Brylcreemed, he just refuses to give up on that fedora; if the character makes it to the 2010s, he’ll probably still be wearing it when the fashion comes back around.
My eye also kept getting drawn to Don’s advertising awards on the wall in his office; Ad Man of the Year or whatever for 1957, 1958, and 1959. That suddenly feels like an awfully long time ago, and Don’s perfunctory effort around the office now (he can barely be bothered to sign off on other people’s ideas) underlines that. When Mathis gets in trouble for trying to emulate Don after an embarrassing outburst in a client’s meeting, he calls Don out on being an empty suit, a pretty face who could never have succeeded (or gotten away with so much) if he weren’t so handsome. Don doesn’t really argue, and when Sally calls him (and Betty) out for preening at the attention of teenagers, his advice to her—“You’re a very beautiful girl, it’s up to you to be more than that”—along with his casual admission last week that he’s vain, suggests that Don Draper may finally be at least coming to grips with who he is.
I’m starting to wonder if the finale won’t be something as simple as Don walking into a therapist’s office.
Alan Sepinwall of HitFix zeroes in on the episode’s theme:
Early in “The Forecast,” Don gets into an argument with his realtor Melanie, who can’t be bothered to conceal her disgust with her client. As they study the barren living room tableau created by Marie Calvet’s thievery, Don insists that it’s a selling point, because potential buyers can more easily imagine their own furniture in the space. Melanie dismissively wonders if he’s ever sold an apartment, and in a later conversation suggests, “this place reeks of failure.” Don again shrugs off her contempt and says, “I have a good feeling about things.” In a way, Don is proven right, since Melanie winds up selling the place at the asking price. But that empty apartment — and Don’s reaction to realizing he’ll be moving out of it within 30 days — serves as a reminder that limitless possibilities can be far scarier than a life filled with pre-existing furniture and all the rules and regulations that come with that. Tasked by Roger to write a proposal of SC&P’s future, Don realizes he has no idea what that might be. He tries at different points to pick the brains of Teddy and Peggy, and at one point even asks Meredith to dig out the press release announcing the formation of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce — a sad admission that Don’s eight-year-old ideas could be more forward-thinking, or simply better, than anything he can dream up now. Professionally, he has everything he thought he ever wanted — money, power and, thanks to McCann, stability — but no more of a plan going forward at work than he has on the home front.
Molly Lambert at Grantland looks at the “Gettysburg Address” conceit in relation to the show itself:
Don’s Gettysburg Address (and writer’s block over it) is a stand-in for the show. Matthew Weiner has to sum up eight years of a project in only a few more episodes? He’s supposed to top everything he’s done so far with some kind of an incredible surprise reversal that will blow everyone’s mind and provide water-cooler banter for decades? He is expected to outdo the Sopranos finale as engineered by David Chase, the Don Draper–experienced mentor to Weiner’s Peggy Olson? Success tends to be fueled by rejection. While hyper-successful people are always striving toward some new marker of achievement, they also rarely tend to be happy people. One might even find that as you get older, your priorities shift, that your teenage dream is not your midlife dream. Then again, you might make like Richard and realize that all you really want is to explore the world like a backpacking college kid. The reason ambition never satisfies is because it obscures the moment, and you have to be here now. There is no totemic item or personal achievement that will unlock this kind of enlightenment, just the buildup of wasted years that were in retrospect filled with promise. Don, you’re free! Go to the pyramids, Don! I’ll meet you and Sally there in 1978 for the Grateful Dead show in Giza! All the years combine, they melt into a dream.
The A.V. Club’s John Teti likes how the episode highlights Don’s self-delusion:
Contentment is a position of stasis for Don, and he is determined to craft a narrative of ascent. “We know where we’ve been,” he says into a dictating machine. “We know where we are. Let’s assume that it’s good. Imagine it gets better. It’s supposed to get better.” It makes sense. Simply draw a line from point A, the past, through point B, the present, and extend it to reach point C, the future. Yet Don struggles to build on this straightforward framework, and that’s because of the flawed premise at its heart: “Let’s assume that it’s good.” See, it’s hard to chart a trajectory to point C when you’re fudging points A and B. Throughout the episode, Don compulsively insists that the past and present are hunky-dory. When he asks Ted to speculate on the future, he hastens to add, “I mean, it’s good as it is, but is there a scenario in which it’s better?” And when the real estate broker accurately points out that Don’s place has an aura of sad failure, Don snaps, “A lot of wonderful things happened here.” The remark invites the viewer to take a mental inventory of “wonderful” things that happened in the apartment; it is a line designed to make you come up empty, just as Don does in his own mind. Don will have trouble seeing the future as long as he deludes himself about the recent past. At the same time that he’s trying to summon a vision of triumphant ascent, the reality of “The Forecast” paints a picture of Don’s slow decline. The Peter Pan pitch shows how his creative role has become perfunctory and thoughtless. He scorns a slogan that appeals to peanut butter lovers’ love of peanut butter, complaining, “Jesus, love again?” The formula he pioneered has become trite. “We use it all the time,” Pete shrugs. Don convinces himself that his ultimate choice for the tagline—“One Tink, and you’re hooked”—is better. It’s not, but it’s different enough for Don to pretend that progress has been made. He does that a lot in “The Forecast.”
Calling this episode “the strongest episode of this half-season so far and the first episode of the batch to feel like classic Mad Men, Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff looks at the episode’s last scene:
There’s been a lot of talk in the last few weeks about whether Don can actually change as the series reaches its endpoint. But I think that talk is mostly wrongheaded, and “The Forecast” proves it. Don, see, has already changed, because he’s come to realize that there’s no demarcating line in his life between Dick Whitman, the man he was, and Don Draper, the man he became. He is both. He will always be both. The realization, slowly but surely, has been aided by two women in his life — Peggy, whom he took on as a mentee and learned so much from, and Sally, who has questioned everything he knew to be true about himself, because she’s his daughter and that’s what children do. As “The Forecast” concludes, Sally throws at Don a version of the life he actually led — the one where he took a train far, far away from the people who raised him and the brother who missed him. But he answers with the cold realization that it didn’t matter. He is Dick Whitman. He will always be Dick Whitman. But that might be just what he needs to be in order to be the father his daughter needs. You can’t escape your past. You can’t escape your parents. You can’t escape yourself. You are a series of shards or fragments, and you will never reassemble yourself if you try to leave too many of them out. Don, thank goodness, is finally realizing this. It could make all the difference.
And Tom and Lorenzo see this episode as Don finally, truly, for real this time hitting rock bottom:
This week, there are three women in Don’s life – and they all think he’s full of s—. “This place REEKS of failure” says Melanie the real estate agent, exhibiting the kind of on-the-nose personal assessment that becomes second-nature to accomplished salespeople. “Why don’t you tell me all your dreams,” Peggy says acidly, upon realizing that Don’s in another of his tiresome nihilistic moods, “So that I can s— on them?” “I want to get on a bus,” says Sally, who’s had it up to here with both of her inappropriately attention-seeking parents, “And get away from you and Mom, and hopefully be a different person than you two.” But despite our only semi-serious attempts to shove these character assessments into some over-riding theme, it wasn’t just the women in Don’s life who were shining a light on the sadness of his life. Mathis got in such a good burn that it pretty much stands as one of the most honest and direct assessments of Don in the history of the show: “You don’t have any character. You’re just handsome. Stop kidding yourself.” There it is. Possibly the worst thing Don could have ever heard from another person; the purest confirmation of his deepest fears about himself, laid bare by an underling who hasn’t even known him all that long. It would be one thing if Peggy or Roger said something like this to him, but the fact that someone like Mathis, for whom he’s had little regard in the relatively short time he’s known him, can so effectively sum up who Don is and just how flawed he is means that the product Don’s been selling all this time has finally expired on the shelf – and everyone can smell the rot. Even worse, people he barely knows at all can take one look at him and sum up his entire life in a few sentences. “It looks like a sad person lived here,” Melanie the realtor says, “And what happened to him? He got divorced, spilled wine on the carpet and didn’t care enough to replace it, not even for himself.” Notice how exasperated but unsurprised she was to find a naked, passed-out Don. In the short time he’s known him, she’s gotten used to this kind of behavior. We tweeted last night that it took Betty ten years to figure out what that realtor did in just a few meetings, but our point wasn’t that Betty was clueless; it’s that Dick Whitman simply can’t keep up the Don Draper facade anymore. The Dick-ishness is seeping through. Don Draper created dreams; Dick Whitman s—s on them. Don Draper was a legendary Manhattan sex god; Dick Whitman hits on teenage girls. Don Draper had everything – and deserved it; Dick Whitman has nothing – and it’s all his fault. It truly feels like we’re at the end of Don’s story and he knows it.