As “Mad Men” winds down to its final hours, Matthew Weiner’s aims loom just as cryptic as ever, made more so by the introduction of new characters and the resurfacing of long-forgotten ones. It’s set off a spate of questions: How are all of these people going to factor into the finale? Is he just bringing them back to remind us that they still exist in the “Mad Men” universe?
What was the point of introducing Pima Ryan last week? Did we really need a show that lingered so much on Megan’s mother and introduced her long-suffering sister, only to sweep her away back to Canada? Is Diana the waitress anything more than the latest in a string of women Don’s using to escape his problems? Don was so ready to pour all his energy into saving Diana, completely oblivious to the fact that Diana is just as big of a mess as he is, if not bigger. What is he doing?
Fine. Let’s just go with the idea that nothing and no one ever changes, no matter how maddening it can be to see that conceit play out. We had two appearances this week heavily reinforcing that thesis.
First up: Joan. One of the recurring themes in “Mad Men” is the way the men in Joan’s life continually fail her, something that she’s now extended to her 4-year-old son with Roger, Kevin. Joan is so close to having the life she wants — she’s got a rewarding job that pays her well, and she realizes that she doesn’t want to give it up. But despite everything that she’s been through with Roger and an insecure husband who was so threatened by her that he raped her, Joan still dreams of having a dashing man who will swoop in and make her a Mrs., so much that she’s even willing to give up Kevin to get it.
After a dinner date with her new boyfriend, Richard Burghoff (Bruce Greenwood), Joan attempts to negotiate with her babysitter. She expects the sitter to stay late — she asks for 1 a.m., she gets midnight — and be back the next morning for Joan to be on time for work. As she’s leaving, she hurls a dramatic accusation toward Kevin and the babysitter: “You’re ruining my life!”
When Joan meets Richard in California, she purposefully conceals the fact that she’s a mother. It makes sense — why mention that fact to a one-off you’ll probably never see again, despite whatever romantic fantasies he’s laying out? But when a newly impetuous Richard flies to New York the next day to see Joan, she still doesn’t want to tell him. He has to pry it out of her when he notices Joan checking her watch. Richard is convinced she must be lying about being divorced.
“Where did you tell him you were,” he asks.
Joan finally tells him about Kevin.
With Richard, Joan has reverted to type: he’s another wealthy silver fox who wants Joan to be his good-time gal. A kid, he tells her, just puts a damper on all of that. Even when she’s got her own money, Joan can’t let go of her dream of having a rich, well-to-do husband. Like protagonists in some twisted O. Henry story, Joan offers to ship Kevin off, and Richard offers to take Joan even if she’s saddled with the baggage of her son.
Lovely people, these two.
“The Forecast” also brought back Glen Bishop, the creepy kid played by Weiner’s son, Marten Weiner, who has now grown into a slightly less creepy young adult.
Glen always served to illustrate just how much of a child Betty Francis was and still is. She always indulged his affections to an inappropriate degree, this time putting the kibosh on Glen’s awkward kitchen come-on. When she faces the handsome teenager at her front door, she doesn’t even recognize him. Glen has grown tall and lean, and has traded his disciplined, clean-cut locks for long hair and sideburns. When Betty finds out who he is, she’s visibly taken aback and offers him a beer and tells him about how she’s going back to college for a psych degree. Glen has decided to join the army and go to Vietnam, because well, his grades were terrible.
But later, Don isn’t much better, and we’re left to sympathize with poor Sally, who has to deal with both of her parents yukking it up in front of her friends, thriving off of attention so much that they’ll even indulge teenagers with their preening.
“You just ooze everywhere,” Sally exclaims to Don in exasperation after he spends dinner indulging the advances of one of his daughter’s more sexually precocious friends. Don said he was just being polite before informing Sally that she’ll probably grow up to be just like her parents. Even from one generation to the next, change is anathema, we’ve still got a few episodes to find out if Sally, who might just be the great hope of “Mad Men,” can break free.
“You’re a very beautiful girl,” Don tells Sally. “It’s up to you to do more than that.”