This review contains spoilers
In the third episode of the swansong of Mad Men, things are looking good in some respects for the eponymous characters, while simultaneously looking incredibly bad. But then again, when have the characters on this show ever been happy?
Line of the week: Why don’t you just write down all of your dreams so I can shit on them? – Peggy
The first conflict of the episode revolves around Don attempting to sell his empty husk of an apartment, which was ruthlessly raided by the Calvets in the previous episode. His realtor is sceptical: “It looks like a sad person lived here”, she sighs, defeated. Well, she wouldn’t be wrong in this case. Selling his apartment seems like the last hindrance for Don to leave his old life behind, having finalised his divorce, and yet the prospect doesn’t seem to leave him bouncing with joy. As he says to himself later in the episode while musing about the future into a recording device: “Let’s assume it’s good. But it’ll get better. It’s supposed to get better.” This achingly seems to relate to Don’s life as well, leaving the viewers wondering if Don will ever truly live a happy life (if you want my bet, it’s probably a ‘no’).
However, this episode’s focal point isn’t the woes of Don, but rather of Betty and Sally. A familiar face returns, whipping up an unpleasant atmosphere, which unfortunately was also the trademark of his previous appearances. This well-known face is Glen, whose infamous attempts at seducing Betty in previous seasons were both pathetic and inappropriate. Compared to his days of being a dumpy pre-pubescent boy, Glen is a blossoming young man now (well-equipped with 70s sideburns), and Sally must look on in dismay as both Betty and Glen descend into a flirtatious jailbait dialogue. However, their profoundly bizarre reunion is cut short by Glen’s attempting to make a formal farewell, as he declares he has volunteered to fight in the Vietnam War, at the tender age of 18. This is a poignant reference to the changing times and shifting attitudes the characters must face, widening the lens from the pivotal characters to show a nation in deep conflict. When Glen returns to the house later to speak with Betty privately, we realise that he has not forgotten his affection for her, and awkwardly tries to kiss her. Yikes. Betty politely shirks away, reminding him that she’s married, which seems like a less important reason than “you’re Sally’s friend”, or “you’re literally a teenager”. As Sally bitterly remarks later, after a painful dinner with Don where another of her friends attempts to flirt with him, she doesn’t want to be anything like her embarrassingly vain parents. You honestly can’t help but agree with her.
Joan also gets her fair share of racy activities, as she initiates a relationship with the tanned LA George Clooney-type bachelor Richard. In these introductory moments, he seems rather unsympathetic and unnecessary to Joan’s story. Truly, she can do a lot better than this burnt orange crisp of a man.
Overall, this episode has it strengths and weaknesses, with the moments between Betty and Glen as stand-outs. And finally, the episode finishes the same way the previous one did: a shot of Don looking wistful, sad, and confused, all at once, while staring into the distance. The showrunners don’t need to spell it out for us, we do realise Don is a mess of a human being, thank you very much.