What do you want to be when you grow up? That’s what Don’s really asking Peggy in this episode, and what everyone else is asking themselves.
“The Forecast” is an episode about children turning into grown-ups, and grown-ups acting like children. In some ways, it’s about grown-ups living the way a child might imagine that adults live. Don eats donuts and vending-machine candy for lunch and never cleans up the drinks he spills on the carpet. Lou dreams of turning his comic strip into a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Mathis might have to wash his mouth out with soap for saying a dirty word. Meanwhile, Sally is signing checks. Glenn is drinking beer. Sally’s friend is flirting with Don, who’s old enough to be her dad. All of them, young or old, are children pretending to be grown-ups. But, as we’ve learned from the agency’s new client, Peter Pan, it’s different when you know you’re pretending. That’s what separates the adults from the kids.
In some ways, the 1960s was a time when the entire country grew up, even as it got younger. After the post-war baby boom, the youth movement took over, and America wisened up, as the boys’ club gave way to a more diverse playing field, and Sally’s girlfriends could finally grow up to be senators and U.N. translators. So it makes sense that Don’s story should ultimately become Sally’s, that his decline should dovetail with her becoming “a different person” than him. Her speech reminded me of something Rachel Cusk recently wrote about being a teenager:
“Adolescence, it strikes me, shares some of the generic qualities of divorce,” Cusk wrote. “The central shock of divorce lies in its bifurcation of the agreed-upon version of life: There are now two versions, mutually hostile, each of whose narrative aim is to discredit the other. Until adolescence, parents by and large control the family story. The children are the subject of this story, sure enough, the generators of its interest or charm, but they remain, as it were, characters, creatures derived from life who nonetheless have their being in the author’s head… But it is perhaps unwise to treasure this story too closely or believe in it too much, for at some point the growing child will pick it up and turn it over in his hands like some dispassionate reviewer composing a coldhearted analysis of an overhyped novel… I wonder how much of what we call conflict is in fact our own deserved punishment for telling the story wrong, for twisting it with our own vanity or wishful thinking, for failing to honor the truth.”
No one could sum up those observations better than Sally and Betty. When they talk about an upcoming class trip, Betty imagines Sally’s experience as a sequel to her own, though we already know that Sally’s idea of acting out goes way beyond staying up too late and breaking a few lightbulbs. And when Glenn comes to the door, both Betty and Sally see him as the romantic lead in their story–until he tells them he’s going to Vietnam. You could argue about who is the real adult here between mother and daughter. Sally’s response is more honest, but Betty’s is kinder. Either way, it’s heartbreaking to hear that Glenn’s risking his own life just to make his dad proud. He can act like a grown-up all he wants—politely introducing himself to the housekeeper, valiantly announcing that he’s fighting for his country, drinking that beer—but in the end, he still views his life as his father’s story. He’s still just a kid.
NEXT: From children to adults as children