Season 7, Episode 11, ‘The Forecast’
First off, this can’t be ignored: How brilliantly insane was that scene between Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and the dean of that school? It started off fairly mundane: Pete and ex-wife Trudy (Alison Brie, making a welcome return as usual) were peeved their daughter didn’t get into an illustrious school every generation of the Campbells have been in for centuries. The dean however isn’t only unmoved by their entreaties; he’s openly hostile due to a Hatfield-and-McCoys-style rivalry between his family, the McDonalds, and Pete’s. It even winds up having them allude to absurd events in the past, building to Pete winning the line of the week with the wonderfully never-explained, “The king ordered it!”
The scene is not just a series of nonsequiturs; Pete and the dean are among the last generation to really care about such deep-rooted ancestral matters. They’re a dying breed, perhaps even moreso than SCP itself, who this week effectively got the quasi-death knell. The big news this episode was that the lease to the pretty SCP offices — their home since the fourth season — had mysteriously been cancelled. What no one told them was that they were being absorbed by McCann-Erickson, their overlords, who had owned them but allowed them to exist as their own personable entity. Everyone assumes this means they’ll be dissolved and everyone, or at least most of them, will lose their jobs or be forced to conform to a major corporation.
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A lot of the talk in this back stretch of “Mad Men” episodes has been what the very, very, very ending will be (hopefully just like this), but much more constructive — and far less maddening — has been trying to figure out what tone it will go out on. When this half season began, it seemed like a dirge: Don Draper (Jon Hamm) was pursuing a depressing relationship with a waitress (Elizabeth Reaser) even more self-destructive than him, somehow. He was being consumed with existential dread, realizing he was slipping into a void of insignificance. But the tone of the show kept falling back over into fairly broad comedy, like having Megan’s steamroller of a mom Marie Calvet (the always welcome Julia Ormond) arrange to have Don’s entire apartment cleaned out, just to avenge her daughter’s broken heart.
With this episode, “Mad Men” has found a balance; it’s downer-funny, or funny-downer. The rock stars of SCP finally spring back into action, trying to repeat one of their greatest glories: the penultimate episode of season three, where they pulled an “Ocean’s Eleven” on their British overlords — who also were going to dilute their talents — and first recruited their team then basically stole themselves from their bosses before anyone was the wiser. Here, they try to do that, and they think they’ve hatched a pretty sweet scheme…only for the crusty McCann-Erickson boss to inform them they were simply wrong, they’re going to be more rich than they realized and, besides, they never had a chance for escape anyway.
The boozy celebration that follows is a drunken mix of happy and defeatist, them embracing their absorption into a bigger beast that will nip at their unique talents, but only out of weariness. This is the future, where the companies get bigger and bigger and the personalities conform to the whole. The kings of SCP might have even thought of themselves as artists, but now they’re just business people, raking in piles of dough without having, they’ll feel, fully earned it. But what can you do? In the parlance of our own times, the revelry at the bar is one big \_(ツ)_/¯, and the chaotic/mutinous floor meeting that closes out the show just whacks the viewer over the head with the realization, though these guys are about to become even more successful, they’re done. Hell, even Joan has a dude.
Token stray observations:
— Speaking of done, what a way to go out for Lou, the old school a—hole type who terrorized the first half of season seven. He sold his stupid right-wing comic strip to a Japanese company, and he calls Don from the L.A. office for a final kiss-off. “Enjoy the rest of your miserable life,” he says, then hangs up the phone with an epic “heh heh heh.” Maybe I liked Lou all along?
— Just to go slightly deeper into what I said at the top of this recap, Kartheiser has turned into a comic king of “Mad Men.” Pete used to be a top player; he isn’t any longer, but he has been a top player when it comes to silly one-liners and getting too worked up over things that don’t really matter. And Kartheiser has become second to John Slattery at nailing these lines.
— Speaking of Slattery, Roger now has a devil-may-care attitude now that goes along with that unsightly ’stache. The night’s second funniest moment — after, again, “The king ordered it!” — was the four secretaries lining up in Roger’s office as he finished up a call. He laughs heartily, hangs up, then deadpans, “You’re all fired.” (They weren’t.)
— Stan’s ascot. That is all.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge