Mortality has never been far from “Mad Men’s” mind, but with only four episodes to go — or “THREE EPISODES LEFT” until the finale, as AMC’s panic-inducing ads put it — there might as well be a countdown clock in the corner of the screen. Longtime viewers have bristled in these last few weeks at time squandered on new characters like Mimi Rogers’ pantsuit-wearing photographer and Diana the Waitress of Doom, resentful of every minute that’s not squarely devoted to the show’s core characters.
As I suggest in my recap of “The Forecast,” an episode explicitly concerned with the thorny question of what happens next, Matthew Weiner now appears to be actively messing with the audience’s desire for closure. Every time a new character, particularly a love interest, steps into the frame, we start to wonder: “Is s/he the one?” Will Peggy end up with Brian Krakow? (Probably not.) Will Don and Diana walk off into the sunset. (Pretty definitely nope.) Will Joan find happiness with Richard Burghoff, the real-estate developer she meets in “The Forecast”? She had better, because I swear, Matthew Weiner, if you hurt my Joanie, I will find you.
“Mad Men,” it bears emphasizing, still has a lot of time left: Four episodes is roughly the running time of “The Godfather.” But if things keep heading the way they are — far from a given, given the show’s penchant for life-altering twists — Weiner’s conclusion will be an open-ended one, if not as notoriously open as the one his mentor David Chase gave “The Sopranos.” Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff mused after last night’s episode that “Mad Men’s” real finale might have been the midseason closer “Waterloo,” and that “The End of an Era” is more of an extended coda: “The Forecast” may be concerned with predicting the future, but Roger assigns Don to write him a “Gettsyburg Address,” a speech that was manly concerned with memorializing the dead.
Joss Whedon is fond of saying that as a writer, he doesn’t give audiences what they want, but what they need. That seems to be the route Weiner is taking in “Mad Men’s” final stretch. A final encounter between Betty Francis and Glen Bishop probably wouldn’t have been on my checklist for the last few episodes, but it was a powerful moment for what it revealed about how both of them had grown — so much that Betty didn’t even recognize the young man whom she once related to as an emotional equal. (The way people felt about their exchanges seemed to largely parallel their take on the episode as a whole: Some found it stilted and heavy-handed; I was moved almost beyond words.) It’s extremely unlikely that every one of “Mad Men’s” characters will end up with a happy ending, or an ending of any kind. The show has, among other things, taught us to distrust those frozen moments where it seems like everything’s right with the world — they never last. We’re coming to the end of a story, but not their lives, and “Mad Men” is likely to be very clear on the difference between the two.
Reviews of “Mad Men,” Season 7, Episode 10, “The Forecast”
Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture
It feels less like an extended climax that’s building to some sort of cathartic release than an extended postscript or summation or gradual ramping-down, rather like the structure of a typical Sopranos or Mad Men season (climax in the penultimate episode, dénouement in the finale) writ large. There’s also something to be said on behalf of a show going out in a manner consistent with what we know about its creative character. Mad Men was always aware of what viewers wanted but always seemed disinclined to satisfy for satisfaction’s sake. And it has always existed in a storytelling space that’s somewhere between the linear-plotted, novelistic serial and a collection of self-contained short stories that happen to involve a lot of the same characters but are mainly interested in exploring a related set of situations, propositions, or themes.
Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly
“The Forecast” is an episode about children turning into grown-ups, and grown-ups acting like children. In some ways, it’s about grown-ups living the way a child might imagine that adults live. Don eats donuts and vending-machine candy for lunch and never cleans up the drinks he spills on the carpet. Lou dreams of turning his comic strip into a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Mathis might have to wash his mouth out with soap for saying a dirty word. Meanwhile, Sally is signing checks. Glenn is drinking beer. Sally’s friend is flirting with Don, who’s old enough to be her dad. All of them, young or old, are children pretending to be grown-ups. But, as we’ve learned from the agency’s new client, Peter Pan, it’s different when you know you’re pretending. That’s what separates the adults from the kids.
Molly Lambert, Grantland
Rachel was “Mad Men’s” equivalent of The Sopranos’ “the Russian” — a plot thread left dangling but believed to be tied up according to the laws of TV and Chekhov’s gun. But “The Sopranos'” lack of definitive closure on the Russian was just another microcosmic plot variation on a major theme: the lack of definitive closure in life. It was that refusal of neat solutions that made the show unlike anything else on TV, that made it resemble reality. The characters resisted growth, made progress, and then backslid. Mad Men is the same way. (Perhaps eight years of watching Don Draper exhibit the potential for growth and then fall back into old bad habits has been frustrating for viewers, but imagine how hard it’s been for Sally Draper, who’s been putting up with it for 16.) Matthew Weiner finally brought back his Chekhov’s gun, so we shouldn’t have been so shocked that he fired it at us. What did we think would happen, that Don and Rachel would ride off into the sunset together? As fucking if. It’s the era of the New Hollywood ’70s downer ending. It’s a decade of great romantic comedies, like “The Heartbreak Kid” (1972), “Shampoo” (1975), and “Annie Hall” (1977), whose couplings end in failure.
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter
We’re in a place in the “Mad Men” evolution where Don is voicing his existential issues and concerns. He’s openly questioning the future — but he’s very optimistic about it. Even with Diana, he was the one prepared to do the saving, not the one who needed to be saved. When he talked with Ted and with Peggy about the future, it was with a sense that this job and this life it gave him weren’t enough — that something bigger and better is out there, and damn if he doesn’t look like he wants to experience it. It’s the most upbeat Don has been in a while. I like that forecast. I’m not sure I believe it won’t rain.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
In an earlier year, “The Forecast” would feel like a perfectly acceptable third episode of a “Mad Men” season. With so little runway left in the season, and series, it almost feels designed to suggest a show that’s as uncertain about its future as Don. I’m assuming Matt Weiner does have more of a plan than his protagonist — last year’s episodes also felt a bit aimless at this point, and then we got “The Strategy” and “Waterloo” — but for the moment, it feels just a bit like Don standing in the hallway outside the apartment, having once again gotten what he wanted, but with absolutely no idea what to do next. Don theoretically has many decades ahead of him to fill with God knows what. “Mad Men” has a month. Each can be terrifying in its own way, but I have more hope for the show to make its remaining time satisfying than I do for its hero to do the same with his.
Ben Travers, Indiewire
Clearly, Mr. Draper is out of ideas. He can get through the day-to-day fine, but “what’s next” is a question haunting him as much as it haunts his audience. As eager as we all are to see him explore the concept of moving on instead of asking how (though some viewers seemed fed up with the Diana-lead version of that journey), “The Forecast” hinted at a finale without answers. Don never finished his assignment for Roger. He turned on Sally, calling on her to accept herself for who she is, but he did so without knowing himself. For a show asking such big questions, can a satisfying conclusion be found in the unknown? “The Forecast” explored that answer for better or worse, and after, I think we’re all hoping for better.