With only four more episodes until the end of the world of Mad Men, Don Draper and those around him find themselves in precarious situations. The future is a scary, scary place, and it looms large in the lives of creator Matthew Weiner’s characters. Let’s take a quick look into some of the major players and what their futures might hold.
What does Peggy want? Well, funny you should ask. She wants to “create something of lasting value,” she tells Don in an informal performance review session. Don, being the buzzkill that he currently is, mocks this answer. “In advertising?” he scoffs. Don can’t imagine anyone being happy in this work, but Don ain’t anyone. He’s just Don, absorbed in his strange and distorted world. Peggy, on the other hand? Well, she’s talented and more and more confident with each day. She just might go out and create that something. She still has an inner drive, to be better and make something of herself. The Dons of the world are dying out, but the Peggys are right there waiting to take over.
Betty is ready to go back to school and have a life outside the household, but first she has to fend off the advances of young men like Glen. She and Sally can have real, friendly conversations now, and she even lets Bobby stay up to watch The Brady Bunch. Things are looking up for Don-free Mrs. Francis, with almost no trace of her past life as Mrs. Draper to be found.
First things first, someone needs to find Pete a new barber, or maybe a good wig guy. Pete is trucking along, still consumed by the world that has left Don disillusioned. Sooner or later, Pete will find himself fighting for power with Peggy and Joan and others who don’t fit his vision of the corporate power structure. Years ago, Pete came into the ad world seeing Don and Roger and assuming he would be them one day. The landscape, however, is changing, and Pete has shown no signs of being able to adapt.
Can’t say I thought I would be including Glen, who has not been much of a factor on the show in a long, long time. But then BOOM, there he is, overwhelming Sally with his newfound hotness and semi-seducing Betty (!) with the profundity of his imminent deployment to Vietnam. Glen puts on the brave facade of a patriot, but really he’s scared little boy, going halfway around the world to avoid the problems down the street. Glen walks into the Francis household confident and manly and sideburned but leaves shaken and resigned to a murky fate. The complex morality of the 70s, am I right?
Sally is PISSED, y’all. Dad is a relentless womanizer even when he does not mean to be, and Glen is a flip-flopping tool of a corrupt political system, so of course she’s going to drop an F-bomb or two and lash out. I have a sneaking suspicion that Sally’s fate will tell us a lot about the show’s final statements, but that being said I have no idea what that fate will be. A generation of men like her father have led the world to this point, where young men die for questionable causes and women have to claw their way to the top or anything near it. Sally doesn’t know what to do, but for now 12 states in 12 days will have to do.
Mustachioed and complacent, Roger seems content with cushy executive getaways and riding out the future on coattails of the past. An embodiment of World War II-era masculinity, Roger will essentially die with the show, unable to adapt to a rapidly changing, increasingly diverse world and workplace.
Oh yeah, this guy. He can be such a bummer. Now he’s got a daughter angry at him, low-level employees scorning his lack of character, and a realtor telling him his barren place “reeks of failure.” Roger tells him to go out and get people excited about the future of the company, but he can’t do it. Not easily anyway. The future, the future. “It’s supposed to get better,” he tells himself, hardly believing a word. But there he is, pushed out of his apartment, nobody there to comfort him or affirm his unyieldingly alienating lifestyle. Everyone else at the company wants fame and fortune and legacy, but he knows he need more, and he knows he can’t find more while stuck in the world that has created “Don Draper.” He can still woo a table of high-school girls, but even Sally sees right through him. “You just can’t help yourself,” she observes, before getting on a bus and speeding out of his life. “You’re just handsome,” Mathis fires at him. “You have no character,” he says. People are doing fine without Don Draper, but Don can’t do the same. He needs the identity he’s created, and he needs to escape it. But escaping is proving mighty hard, and time is running out.
I cannot wait to see what the final month of Mad Men holds, but at the same time I wish it would never end. Just as Don finds himself staring into an unpredictable abyss, so too does Weiner, tasked with sending a beloved cast off properly — or at the very least in a fascinating manner. The fates of all the supporting players will tell us a lot about the transitions of the ‘70s and how Weiner views them, but really it comes down to Don’s fate to define the show as a whole. At a crossroads between the America of old and the one becoming what we know today, Don stands perched, the dimming beacon of American masculinity looking for something more in a world suddenly giving him less and less.