She’s back: Sally Draper! In fact, last night’s episode was all about parents and children, of both the literal and metaphorical varieties. Titled “The Forecast,” presumably referencing both the prognostication Roger assigns Don to write for a high-level McCann meeting and all that kids represent, it largely succeeded at sidestepping baby boomer generation gap clichés. Instead, in a beautiful mess of an episode whose dialogue sometimes got a bit too self-consciously sage for its own good, Mad Men took a more uncomfortable path to examining what selfish, narcissistic parents do when their children get in their way — and what happens when those children grow up enough to recognize their deep flaws.
“The Forecast” brought us the two best scenes of the year, so far. The first was the return of Glen Bishop, now a decidedly grown-up young man. He shows up on the Francises’ doorstep, with a dead-eyed stoner chick in tow, ostensibly to see if Sally wants to accompany them to Playland. In reality, of course, he’s there to see Betty, who hasn’t seen him since he was a pervy child and she rejected his juvenile advances.
So much is contained in what is basically a three-way exchange, with Glen’s female companion there just to confuse us about whether it’s Sally or Betty he’s trying to make jealous. “You look so different,” Betty says. “You look exactly the same,” he replies, in a line that reflects his continued attraction to her but also calls back to the way her generation, and particularly Don and Betty, doesn’t change with the times. Everything that passes between Betty and Glen is legible in their facial expressions — her shock at how quickly he’s grown up, his desire for her approval (not to mention desire), how young his attention makes her feel.
And then it comes out that Glen has joined the army and is about to ship out. He says, explicitly, that he wanted Betty to know — though he hasn’t seen her in years and Sally knows he shares her own antiwar stance. On the surface, it’s this revelation that sends her running to her room. Really, though, she seems at least as distraught over her mother’s open flirtation with Glen, a suspicion that’s somewhat substantiated when she calls his house later, in tears, to apologize.
In the Francises’ foyer, Glen talks a big game about his political reasons for enlisting: “What about a bunch of Negro kids dying, while we sit at home getting stoned?” he asks Sally. When he returns to take one last stab at getting with Betty before leaving, though, he confesses that he’s neither renouncing his privilege nor being a hero; he flunked out of college, and joining the military was the only way to get his dad off his back. While avoiding the unnecessary ridiculousness of Glen (who, remember, is played by Matt Weiner’s kid!) bedding Betty, Mad Men works a few more subtleties into this interaction. First, there’s the brilliant moment where Betty is narcissistic enough to imagine that Glen enlisted solely to impress her. There’s also a faint glimpse, here, of bad parenting writ large — which is to say, America’s bad parenting of a whole generation of kids, encapsulated in a father sending his son off to die rather than supporting him through tough times.
Betty’s flirtation with Glen is echoed — perhaps too explicitly — in a too-quick sequence near the end of “The Forecast,” where Don takes Sally and her friends out for dinner before dropping them off at the bus station. (They’re heading off on a trip that — perhaps too heavy-handedly — surely symbolizes Sally’s impending independence.) Hypersensitive after watching her mother and Glen, she sees Don responding to one girl’s advances and pounces on him. He and Betty are just the same, says Sally: “When anyone pays attention to you, and they always do, you just ooze everywhere.” Not only does she want to be different, but she never wants to see either of them again.
Curiously, he replies by (again, perhaps too explicitly) twisting what Mathis told him upon getting fired for attempting a Don Draper trick (don’t worry, we’ll get to “work children” in just a sec) into advice: Sally, he says, is very much like him and Betty in that she’s “a very beautiful girl, except you need to be more than that.” If anything, this moment is a reflection of how poorly Don understands Sally — who is, unlike her parents, an almost pathologically genuine person.
The daughter Don knows better, Peggy, also looks to him for some parenting in the second great scene from “The Forecast.” While he’s setting up Mathis (who may actually be his work grandchild?) for failure and flailing in his own assignment to predict the future (symbolism!), Ted is supposed to be performing employee reviews. But, surely in part because of their history together and maybe also in part because he seems to have kind of given up, Ted just tells Peggy to write her own.
This, of course, infuriates her. “I want to have my performance reviewed,” Peggy tells Don. “I’ve had quite a year.” At first, it seems he’s trying to get her to help him out with the prognostication: “What do you see for the future?” he asks, and obviously that’s the week’s big question. Peggy talks about becoming the first female creative director, goes on for a while about coining a catchphrase, and settles on wanting to “create something of lasting value.” Don, who has become both an advertising lifer and someone who no longer believes his work has any meaning, asks, “In advertising?” Peggy exits with a line that could just as easily have come out of Sally’s mouth: “Why don’t you just write down all of you dreams, so I can shit on them?”
What’s happening here is fascinating, and it speaks to the ambivalent successes of feminism. Unlike Don and (to an even greater extent, because he was born into the business) Roger, Peggy appreciates her professional success. At least for now, she finds fulfillment in work. She knows that, had she been born a generation — or maybe even a few years — earlier, she would never have progressed out of the secretarial pool. Now, she feels both lucky to be where she is an ambitious about climbing even higher. The thing is, once she gets there, she’s bound to learn what her male elders and superiors have slowly found out: that work won’t redeem them, that advertising in particular is not the place to look for meaning. This isn’t to say that Peggy, or women in general, would have been better off vacuuming carpets and popping Valium at home; it’s just that freedom under capitalism is never quite as liberating as you want it to be.
Though she’s older and has taken a more convoluted path to success, Joan is in roughly the same boat as Peggy — grateful to be where she is, largely because she’s a woman who spent so long being underestimated. On a business trip to California, she meets a man named Richard, who wanders into the office and is perfectly comfortable lying about who he is to spend some time getting to know her. The truth comes out, supposedly, that he’s a rich developer. They spend a lovely night together, with Richard painting pictures of the trips they could take together if she’ll just blow off work. “I need to work,” Joan protests. “So you have mouths to feed?” he asks. “No,” says Joan, who really is rich enough that she could just retire. “I just finally got the job I’ve always wanted.”
Richard soon shows up in New York, ready to sweep Joan off her feet. And that’s when she confesses that she has a four-year-old son. Within hours, he calls it off: “I’m done with that part of my life,” he says. “I have a plan, which is no plans. You can’t go to the pyramids — you can’t go anywhere.” They go their separate ways, and Joan is crushed. But by the time he shows up at her office with flowers, she’s resolved to send Kevin away. It’s a shockingly selfish decision, one that recalls both Peggy giving up her baby and Sally shipping off to boarding school. Yet it’s also weirdly understandable. These women — these mothers — have all been so wronged, and still they’re the ones left to clean up the messes men like Don and Roger and Joan’s horrible ex, Greg, make. Why should we expect them to behave any better than the men who have taken such horrible advantage of them?