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'Mad Men' recap: On forecasts, endgames, butterflies (and Carla, too)

Don Draper is thinking hard about the future.

Don Draper is thinking hard about the future. But...what does he see? Credit: Jordin Althaus/AMC

So, get me 2,500 words on the future of "Mad Men." A nice little Gettysburg Address. Doesn't have to be science fiction -- just about hopes and dreams.

Our hopes and dreams, for how this will all end.

Only four weeks left. (Is 2,500 even enough?)

“Four-score and...We know where we've been, where we are. Let’s assume that it's good, getting better, supposed to get better…” Those are Don Draper’s halting and not quite convincing words, spoken to himself, as he lays sprawled on his office couch, staring at the ceiling in Sunday's "The Forecast."

With this episode,  "Mad Men" tied us back into the deep past, mostly its own deep past, as a means of tying us into that imminent, fast-approaching future. Did I already mention that future -- the series' finale --  is just four weeks away?

 "The Forecast" employed one (at least one) past episode to hint at the end -- "Tomorrowland," the fourth-season finale. Both shared the same general idea -- as in, what's next? - but explored under obviously different circumstances.

They were also full of that gnawing sense of an unknown or unknowable future, too. Maybe it's a future full of promise or maybe full of dread. A case can be made for either outcome although this being “Mad Men,” better to place more chips on the latter.

Meanwhile, by the end of “The Forecast,” the door closes on 17B. Doors are the enduring metaphor of "Mad Men." One closes, another one opens somewhere. (Or maybe one closes and nothing else opens -- either of those outcomes is possible, too).

Because we and our beloved “Mad Men” are now in the homestretch, "The Forecast" -- like the last two episodes-- was gravid with meaning. Every word, smile, sigh, declaration or door seemed freighted with signficance. We’re all just like Don now, staring up at that ceiling, looking for answers, thinking we might see some, but probably -- or possibly -- not seeing anything except a bunch of tiles.

But “The Forecast” was also freighted with a sense that we -- and Don and Peggy and Roger and Joan -- have all passed this way before. That’s because we have. The last time we saw Glen Bishop -- Marten Weiner (son of Matthew) -- was in "Tomorrowland." [I should add here, "one of the last times..." A reader reminds that he has popped up since, although I think only superficially, and in one istance, I think only by phone. But thanks to my careful reader for the clarification.]

 Banned from seeing Sally (by Betty), Glen shows up at the Ossining house anyway, while everyone is packing for the move to Rye . Carla (Deborah Lacey) allowed him in, but on the way out, Glen bumped into Betty.

In her fury, she abruptly fires poor Carla.

The firing of Carla, by the way, forced Don to bring Megan (Jessica Pare) to California, so she could babysit the kids instead. While there, he asks her to marry him, using this fairly famous “Men” line: "Did you ever think the number of things that had to happen for me to get to know you...what does that mean?"

 Megan looks dumbfounded. (What the heck is this guy talking about anyway?)  Don then proposes, gives her the ring -- the same one Anna Draper had left him after her death.

That ring? The very one Megan handed back to Don in last week's episode, "New Business."

In other words, the reason we all got to this very point in the first place (the marriage to Megan, then the divorce, and finally Sunday’s sale of an empty apartment) was because of Carla.

Poor Carla -- whose only sin was to let Glen in to say goodbye to Sally. (Betty was furious for her own strange reasons, some of which were distantly/creepily reflected Sunday night too.)

 Okay, that’s only slightly facetious: But everything in "Mad Men," and everyONE, plays a part, large or small. It's the Butterfly Effect applied to an entire series, leaving us exactly where we were all supposed to end up -- in the case of "The Forecast," with Don's penthouse sold, and the doors closed firmly, emphatically behind him.

Which brings us to "The Gettysburg Address." Because nothing is left to chance in this interconnected butterfly effect-beset world, there's a reasonable assumption that it too has some sort of gravid meaning too.

Maybe or maybe not: "Mad Men" plays with a lot of ideas, but doesn't necessarily play a lot of word association games. (Yes, there is that animatronic Lincoln who recites the Gettysburg Address at Tomorrowland, but let's file THAT association under "overthinking.")

In fact, it could be simply an instance of looking for meaning where none exists. A cigar’s just a cigar, a famous speech just a famous speech. Roger -- being Roger -- asks for a Gettysburg Address on the future of McCann -- something glib, pithy... don’t think too hard, Don, just make ME look good.

Sure, it’s an invocation of a singular moment in American history to talk about the future of an ad agency, McCann-Erickson. (Plus, it wasn't "2,500 words," but 278 words -- and ran about the length of a commercial too).

On that one obvious level, Roger's casual off-handed request is both funny and absurd -- a longstanding "Mad Men" specialty, and a Roger one, too.

But Don takes it seriously, probably too seriously, which naturally forces us to ask why he does. One hunch: Because "Mad Men" has always refracted its characters' lives through history.It's a powerful device that makes those lives at once more trivial and more meaningful. (Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated? That Heinz -- or Topaz or whatever -- campaign still comes first! Get me 2,500 words on the future of Mccann! Make it a Gettysburg Address!)

But they're all game pieces moving around a vast gameboard, unaware of the forces -- or rules --moving them around, or when those rules will abruptly change.

They all pretend they have control, more so now than ever after the largess of McCann, and that theyhave dreams too. But those are just more illusions wrapped in illusions. They have no clue what will come next, what will change everything in an instant, or what will clarify their true nature -- as a Zippo lighter during the Korean War clarified the nature of one Dick Whitman.

The Cuban missile crisis, JFK's assassination, the King assassination, and Vietnam have all "happened" during the course of this series, but they also happened while the characters lived their lives -- changing those lives in subtle or profound ways.

Preparing for his own (or Roger's) momentous speech to the various McCann divisional presidents assembled in the Bahamas, Don asks for that old press release announcing the formation of SCDP back in 1963 (the centennial -- incidentally -- of the Gettysburg address).

He later gets down to work: "Four score and seven years ago..."

Don then takes that line as his own cue to think about the future, but abruptly stops when he realizes he can't even begin to process the present or the past. It's Don’s old and enduring conundrum -- what's the  meaning of life when he can't remotely begin to understand his own?

How can he possibly understand where McCann will be in a year or two? How can he know where he’ll even be living next week, or with whom. (How could Lincoln have known that his 278-word address would be the most important in American history? )

And so it all circles back to Don, as usual, or back to our current obsession about the imminent end of a singular series, and why we care so much.

Or why I do. Sunday's "The Forecast" was just another reason why. It was a sly wink at our obsession and a sly wink at its own various obsessions, too.

It was also a reinforcement of the “Mad Men” Doctrine -- don’t bother trying to figure out the future, or what's next, because a butterfly just might beat his or her wings somewhere and change...everything.

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