Both Betty and Joan get lovely, dignified moments this week, refusing to lower themselves to the sexual gratification of other men. Keeping with the episode’s title and the continued theme of the transience of time in these final episodes, “The Forecast” allows both viewers to marvel at how these women look back at their past missteps to correct the course of a potential future. It is another episode that triumphs its female characters, even the determined saleswoman trying to make Don’s empty apartment presentable.
Regardless, as the matriarchs of the series looked into their past, two of its daring young women tried to predict what could come next. Peggy asks Don to write her yearly performance review, but he wants to focus on what she wants in the coming years. Peggy wants to be a pioneer, with a great job title and able to create a catchphrase that will be mentioned in the opening to her obituary. Her dreams aren’t shallow, but to “create something with lasting value.” Don shrugs her off, but she plays her hand wisely: “Why don’t you write down all your dreams so I can shit on them?” she spits at him, something she wouldn’t be able to do five years earlier. However, there is a mutual understanding stemming from their mentor-protégé relationship. Much of what Don has wanted – recognition, fame – can be mirrored in Peggy. Nevertheless, while he looks similar to how he did at Mad Men’s genesis, she has truly grown.
That conversation about the future gestates in a lunch with Sally and a few of her companions. Before Don drops them off at the bus for their trip, he asks them the same question he posed to Peggy. Sally is still trying to figure out what she wants to be. The other girls answer with confidence of their futures as senators, UN translators and New Yorkers. Sally has seen what her mother and father’s success turned them into, and she is not hungry for that. “I want to get on a bus and get away from you and mom and hopefully be a different person than you two,” she tells her father.
Kiernan Shipka does series-best work here. Not only does she get to curse, but she dissolves into a tough cry during a phone call to Glen and then rages at her father at the episode’s end. The young actor relishes each moment and makes her mark. For an episode about growing up, Shipka’s performance is the most cathartic. Of all of the actors on Mad Men, she has matured the most.
There is deep liberation in how well defined Sally now is. She opposes the war and is gravely concerned for Glen. She still jokes with her mother but has lost her sense of snotty entitlement. She realizes the sexual tension between her parents and people close to her own age and is sick and tired of it. With this episode, scribes Jonathan Igla and Matthew Weiner perfectly encapsulate just how the mores of a decade they have written about for nearly a decade have changed Sally, reinstating her as one of the series’ most essential characters.
The women of Mad Men are searching for a fulfilling future, while Don is left to shrug off an empty apartment. What is in his forecast? Now that Ted has reaped millions, he just wants to live simply. Maybe land a big account, maybe not. Don has his millions (minus the one he loaned Megan last week) and he has the ability to land the accounts Ted dreams of. But where is he going? What is on the horizon for him? Without a home, a woman and a family that respects him, it is no wonder that Don feels so stagnant, unable to get a grasp on writing a company statement without falling back to clichés. When he gives advice to a grasping Mathis this week, he shows a bit of delight thinking back to the old times. The past was filled with success, but what about what’s to come?
“The Forecast” is a remarkable episode that does just what a show in its final lap should do: reflect on the past, apply it to the present and wish for the best of its future. Through focusing on the rich (and richly complex) women of Mad Men, Weiner and Igla (alongside director Jennifer Getzinger) get to the heart of the ways the decade has changed these fine females and how they will keep on changing the times. Several lovely moments from the episode evoke a childhood wonder and nostalgia, from the décor in Sally’s room to the various references to kid programs like Sesame Street and Hanna-Barbera cartoons. When Betty tosses Bobby’s toy gun in the trash, it hits harder than it should: her boy will soon be old enough to go to war. Unlike Peter Pan, the characters on Mad Men have grown up, and “The Forecast” illuminates just how tremendously they have matured over 10 years.