The ending of “The Forecast,” the fifth-to-last episode of “Mad Men,” found Don Draper only a few feet from where he’d been the previous week: Instead of standing in his empty apartment, he was just outside the door, the camera pulling away as he realized just how little he had left. But that wasn’t the only reason viewers might have experienced a sense of déjà vu. That shot, with Hamm slowly coming to terms with the shambles he made of his life, took me back to the end of “Waterloo,” the end of the seventh season’s first half, where Don went from the triumph of the McCann buyout, which allowed him to keep his job and profit handsomely, to a musical reminder from the late Bert Cooper that “the best things in life are free” — those being exactly the things that Don doesn’t have. Let’s compare the two, in handy GIF form:
Perhaps, more to the point, compare both of those to the end of “The Strategy,” the episode just before “Waterloo,” which seemed to indicate that Don had found a surrogate family with his colleagues at Sterling Cooper & Partners, with a little help from Burger Chef.
Where Don’s surrounded by life at Burger Chef and at least a few stray office workers at Sterling Cooper, outside his apartment he’s utterly alone. You can see it sink in as Hamm looks briefly up and then down, perhaps contemplating his real estate agent’s parting worlds: “Now we have to find a place for you.”
As Bright Walls/Dark Room points out on its Tumblr, “Mad Men” is working the theme of Don’s isolation pretty hard. Take a look at the final shots from “The Forecast,” “New Business” and “Severance,” the first three episodes of season 7’s second half.
No wonder we keep seeing versions of this image from “Waterloo” at the head of this post, with Don staring off into space, the self-assurance swagger gone from his face — an image that “Mad Men” has repeated with striking consistency ever since the pilot. Hamm has a way of letting his facial muscles go slack and the fear take over, always reminding us that underneath Don Draper’s confident exterior is the terrified Dick Whitman, who fled his childhood and the Korean War and has never stopped running.