Mad Men: I Had A Plan, Which Was No Plans

Mad Men Episode 7.10
Photo Courtesy of AMC Network

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Cynics might question if the line cited in the headline, which was uttered by Joan’s new beau Richard, is emblematic of showrunner Matthew Weiner’s seemingly in-no-hurry approach to wrapping up the Mad Men universe – or is perhaps his defiant rejoinder to such questions.  Coming the week after his old boss on The Sopranos, David Chase, felt the need to flush out the ending a bit more for public consumption, it’s natural to wonder if Weiner is going to deliver something as polarizing of a finish to this series.

However, a hopeful sign for some kind of concrete resolution at the end materializes in Episode 7.10, The Forecast, when Don’s new assignment from Roger brings his existential crisis to the surface.  A Don Draper who’s facing a situation head-on is always preferable to the one who hides behind booze, affairs or other distractions.  Don is openly starting to question what it’s all about and as such, there can be hope that he’ll discover the answer in the show’s final four hours.

Now that the McCann Erickson mothership has trimmed his sails and diminished his expectations of being a true leader as Bert Cooper once was, Roger has returned to full “hey, you can do this better than me” mode [side note: at no point did Roger reference a new full-on relationship with Marie, lending credence to the notion that her side of that story from the last episode was false].  As such, he fully intends to take advantage of the McCann junket in the Bahamas – but his 2,500-word speech on the future of Sterling Cooper will be passed off to his subordinates.  Of course, Roger makes such a fine example that Ted follows in his footsteps, allowing Peggy to do her own employee evaluation after agreeing to perform those and telling Roger that Don, not him, would be the creative executive best able to handle the futuristic heavy-lifting.

Don seems nonplussed by the request, figuring that a little basic research, including the firm’s initial 1963 press release, might carry the seeds of a forecast about the future of the company.  However, the firm’s resident creative genius is digging one dry well after another and before long he’s flipping through magazines doing their beginning-of-the-1970s pieces hoping to crib some thoughts from there.  Still no luck.  Those around him aren’t helping, either, as Don is unimpressed by Ted’s “grand ambition” to land a large pharmaceutical account and also by Peggy’s ambitions for herself and the firm.  In the latter case, though, Don inadvertently picks a fight, as Peggy found herself wanting a real evaluation and wanted her mentor to deliver it.  However unintentionally, Don’s search for some kind of greater meaning in the project, for himself, for the company, for whatever, hurts Peggy’s feelings as she complains that he defecated on her vision.

Distracted by his quest and his growing dissatisfaction with the inability to find answers, Don has trouble getting fully engaged in a fight between Pete and the copywriters.  Pete is angry that a meeting with clients to work on branding for the new Peter Pan/Tinkerbell cookies deteriorated into chaos, with Mathis dropping an F-bomb on Ed.  Seeking to get out of the company doghouse, Mathis seeks out Don for advice.  The creative director relates a time when he screwed up in a meeting with Lucky Strike and showed up at the next meeting with bravado aimed at Lee Garner, Jr.  The ploy was seen as charming and Don was back in everyone’s good graces.  Of course, someone prone to fumbling moments like Mathis cannot be counted on to execute a sensitive strategy in a sound manner and his subsequent attempt at jocularity alienates everyone further.  He storms into Don’s office, angry about having been removed from the account and having – belatedly – done his homework on the Lucky Strike incident.  According to Roger, Lee Garner, Jr. had a thing for Don and the handsome ad man was forgiven simply for his ability to charm – Don would never say flirt! – his way out of the situation.  Mathis further rages that somebody like Don pretty much has a hall pass for anything by being a handsome, charming empty suit.  By the time that Don fires him, it’s pretty much just a formality after Mathis firebombs that bridge.  But although he tries to laugh it off, the tirade is just one more piece of the puzzle for Don to try to piece together about the universe and his place in it.

The emptiness of his $85,000 (in 1970 dollars!) Upper East Side penthouse, which has remained in its post-Frenchie-looting state, serves as a metaphor, however ham-handed, about a side aspect of Don’s questioning: namely, what exactly he still has.  When the early attempts to sell are unsuccessful, he and his realtor quarrel and point fingers and his defensive reaction when she proclaims that would-be buyers smell “failure” in the place clearly proves that she hit a nerve.  He remains defiant on the point of not buying furniture that is only going to have to move with him, taking the ad man’s stance that those surveying the property need to use their imaginations and project their own hopes and dreams onto it.  His statement, however delusional, at least does not carry the harm of his final conversation with Lane when he is berating the suicidal Brit about how easy it is to start over in life.  So at least that’s progress!  In the end, it’s a surprise when a buyer materializes out of nowhere and Don is left to contemplate where he goes next.  Again, not the subtlest of metaphors about how he and the series resolve the remaining questions, but it does work.

His advice to Sally about becoming more than the beautiful young woman that she is – or, although he couldn’t say it in those words, progressing past the point that Betty ever did or perhaps even the point that he did, if Mathis is to be believed – is on point, however, but she’s too bollixed-up by recent events to digest it properly.  While she is an increasingly confident young woman, she also feels that she’s still in the sexual shadow of both of her parents, as Don appears to flirt with a “fast” friend of hers and Betty is clearly regarded as the Alpha Sexy Woman of the family by old friend Glen when he visits to tell her that he’s going into the Army and, thus, Vietnam.  While Sally uses the recent Kent State shootings to lash out at him, her own words to Don later prove how much she was rattled by Glen’s appreciation of Betty and indeed, she leaves him a message later to profoundly apologize.  Glen comes back later to see Betty and given their past together in Connecticut, there’s a creepy vibe in the air.  Sure enough, Glen, no longer a minor, finally makes his move on Betty and surprisingly, she lets him down in as gentle and humane a manner as humanly possible.  Horrified at the thought that he’s going to ‘Nam simply to impress her, Betty asks what he’s thinking and he confesses that he flunked out of school and that it was the only way to keep his stepfather from evicting him.  Betty genuinely tries to assure him that he’s going to be OK, but they both know that no such promises can be made.  Later, still shaken by fears for Glen’s well-being, she stops Bobby from playing with a toy gun because it upsets her too much.  Right now, Weiner is laughing at everyone who didn’t have faith enough to get down on the 500,000-to-1 proposition about Betty developing a shred of humanity in the final episodes that was no doubt being offered by fine online casinos everywhere.

And now to the aforementioned Joan-Richard angle.  While on a trip to LA to interview job candidates with Lou Avery – making his first appearance since the McCann takeover – she is displeased by the notion that his dealings out there with Hanna-Barbera might be more about his own cartooning aspirations than anything of benefit to the firm, but she is distracted in this thought by her encounter with Richard.  He is a handsome older millionaire, divorced after a long marriage.  Their whirlwind relationship doesn’t appear destined to last beyond her trip, but when he unexpectedly pursues her in New York, they continue their fun.  Given his suspicion that the situation is too good to be true – surely a catch like Joan must be married or have something else wrong – it seems that he’s going to be relieved when her revelation is “merely” her four-year old son, Kevin (by the way, she claims to have been twice-divorced, which is strange, but perhaps a backstory to cover the child having been fathered out-of-wedlock by Roger).  But he’s not relieved!  He’s been there and done that, he tells her, and he’s past the point in life to be raising kids – much less somebody else’s kid, although he’s tactful enough to leave that part unspoken.  Just as Joan’s dealing with the heartbreak, though, he shows up at Sterling Cooper with flowers, remorseful and looking to make it work with her – and Kevin.  She is receptive and as such, she may become the first of the show regulars seeking a happily-ever-after to find one.

What about Don and the rest?  With only four episodes remaining, time’s running out (although this past week’s Justified finale showed how much can be – artfully – jammed into a single episode) for resolution of the different stories, but Episode 7.10 at least felt like progress by lifting Don’s profound life questions from his subconscious to the light of day.  Diana appears to be gone, at least for the moment, and as such perhaps she’s completed her role on the series creatively as one final repository for Don to pour everything into to avoid his real issues.  Remember, he’s already done that once before: in Season 5, when Bert complained that Don was on “love leave,” he was perfectly content to throw himself lock, stock and barrel into a marriage to a woman that he married on the most sudden of impulses.  And the revelation that actress-at-heart-not-ad-woman Megan didn’t fit every preconceived notion that he had of her sent him tumbling into his Season 6 abyss.  So Diana wasn’t “the answer” in the grand sense and in all likelihood, no woman is going to fill that role as he first has to figure out his own issues before joining with someone else.  Don’s earned his sympathy from the viewers, even after a host of unsympathetic actions over the years.  The fanbase, by and large, is rooting for him to find happiness and it seems increasingly that he might, even if it’s just a tiny, torturous hint of it that the audience sees him experience in the end.  If it goes down that subtly, surely David Chase will be proud of his old associate.

 

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