The Topsy-Turvy World of Mad Men’s ‘Forecast’

"Let's act the hell out of this scene." "Okay!" Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC

Mad Men's final installments have so far been marked by an air of unease, of displacement and disorientation. "Want to hear something spooky?" Ken asked in "Severance." In last week's "New Business," everything was an emotional repeat. We've said this all before, but it didn't feel cruel then. Last night's episode, "Forecast," took things in an even more ominous direction, with scene after scene, idea after idea, reversing and warping the natural order of things. Something's amiss here. Maybe everything. Children aren't grown-ups and grown-ups aren't children, and yet "Forecast" gives us both of those things. 

Don and Betty each have a moment of flirtation with someone who's basically a child, and it's gross and wrong to watch them regress. Betty fixes her hair for Glen and touches her waistband like she's at a camp dance, and Don insists Sally's friend, Sarah, is a "fast girl," and that he didn't want to embarrass her. Glen is 18, and Sarah's 17, but they're framed here as kids, as friends of Don and Betty's own kid. And yet they both behave in comically inappropriate "adult" ways, ways that actual grown-ups don't really act, but that seem like mature things to do when you're that young. Go ahead, beg for a beer, Glen! That's a grown-up thing to do, with your grown-up sideburns and your grown-up patriotism. (And not for nothing, the perverse truth that children fight wars instead of go to Playland.) Sure, bum a cigarette, Sarah — but if you start laying on the compliments any thicker, the restaurant is going to have to charge you for extra sauce.

Sally herself subverts the kid-adult paradigm by calling out this behavior exactly: She's one of very few people to ever even try to hold her parents accountable for their behavior, and her critique is incredibly perceptive. She spots that Don and Betty are both very easily enchanted by people paying attention to them, the exact thing her parents can't or won't or don't know how to do for her. Maybe Sally could just write a Dear John letter, like those kids in the theoretical Tinkerbell cookie commercial that fuels this episode's advertising drama. Wait, Dear John letters are not a kid thing. At all! Neither is the line, "One Tink and you're hooked." Of course the product at the center of this week's episode is Peter Pan. And of course we see Peggy and Pete in their own squabbling children roles. Hell, even Lou Avery's hard at work — on a kids' cartoon.

The sense that everything's gone topsy-turvy extends beyond this child-grown-up reversal: There's a pervasive sense of wrongness throughout the episode. You're not supposed to write your own employee evaluation. And yet Peggy's somehow supposed to. Mathis should know by now that no one can pull off "Don" except Don, yet he tries (and fails) anyway. "Is Mrs. Draper here?" Glen asks. "Oh, you mean Mrs. Francis." This was your apartment, but right at this very second, it's suddenly not yours anymore — go wait in the hall. Write the Gettysburg Address, Roger instructs Don, but, you know, ten times longer and about visionary commercialism. "That's not what I said," Joan's new love interest Richard tells her. "That's exactly what you said," she replies. Don put his money in the vending machine before checking if it even had what he wanted. Everything's out of order, everything's backwards — don't worry too much about how traveler's checks work. You are the you that's not you. Are you handsome, or do you have character? Or, as Don hopes, in Sally's case, can you be both?

Don suggests that Sally write down what she wants to be. "Because when you get older, you're gonna forget," he says. Did he write down advertising? Sarah asks. "I didn't know what advertising was," Don admits. So what did he write down? Is it any wonder that Captain Imagination over here can't forecast the future? The guy can't even acknowledge the past. Of course Don's plagued by the worry that "this" is it — he can't see all of what "this" entails. He's looking in the exact wrong direction, just like everyone else in this episode. The answer isn't ahead of you, Don. It's behind you. It's all around you. It's everywhere you're not looking.