This week on Mad Men, Matthew Weiner Don faces the impossible task of summing up the past ten years and imagining a future that seems both plausible and hopeful. With the miserable jerks who make up most of our beloved cast, that’s easier said than done. Luckily, the costume department helps us keep track of everyone’s possible future with a handy-dandy color code!
OK, so by now we all know that Don Draper is a man constantly trying to escape his baroquely Freudian wet dream of a past by imagining a better future and selling it to other people. That’s why he’s so good at advertising. Advertising is about imagining a future in which you are better, smarter, happier—and when we first met him, Don was fantastic at imagining that future. But over the past few seasons, he’s been increasingly weighted down by his past, which became spectacularly clear in his disastrous Hershey pitch.
The show gives us this quick vending machine shot to remind us of Hershey, and then it surrounds Don with more subliminal reminders for the rest of the episode.
And so we meet our first color theme of the night: brown = Hershey = the past. So. Much. Brown.
Yes, it’s 1970, and yes, that was a great time for incredibly ugly earth tones, but this is a disproportional amount of brown even for 1970. Brown is the color of tragic whorehouses and army desertions; brown is the color of Dick Whitman. Don Draper is all about the future.
Remember how Don abruptly started wearing blue shirts this season? It’s a new thing for him—he spent the entirety of the ’60s in his classic crisp white shirtsleeves.
But it’s the ’70s now, and blue is the color of the future, so by god, Don will wear blue.
And look who else is thinking about their future! Peggy abandons her Hershey brown in favor of hopeful blue to have a heart-to-heart with Don about the future. Girlfriend knows exactly what she wants in life, which is why I vote her Most Likely to Succeed of all the show’s characters.
This shade isn’t new for her—Peggy has always turned to blue sheaths when she wants to be decisive, like when she left SCDP and when she dumped Ted. But unlike those all-business navy sheaths, the pastel stripes of this frock have some sweetness and whimsy to them. Here’s hoping Peggy’s future has the same. After all, she deserves it after putting up with Don’s crap for all those years.
Meanwhile, Joan spends the episode changing in and out of a series of ever-dreamier blue ensembles.
Look how glamorous she is in this floaty teal negligee! Seriously, how is it possible to be this beautiful first thing in the morning? Is Joan secretly a Disney princess?
She cleans up all right, too.
So granted, this Elle Woods-y number is obviously not blue, so it doesn’t fit our blue vs. brown theme, but doesn’t Joan look killer in it? Check that belt that makes her look even more hourglass-y than usual.
Her new friend Richard is certainly checking her out.
Richard’s pretty cute, and he’s smart enough to be instantly taken with Joan, but I don’t know about a man who wears ascots and gold jewelry. Look at all that blue on him, though. He’s a man who thinks about the future constantly—and for him, the future is freedom. “I had a plan, which is no plans.”
So he charms our Joanie into breaking out her most futuristic blue dress for their date. Like, Star Trek level futuristic.
Joan is wearing the sky wrapped around her curves. Not only does she look smashing, but she’s also embracing the idea of the future that Richard is selling her. This is the blue of space travel, of colonies on Mars, of unlimited expansion and total freedom. This is the blue of a future with no responsibilities: the perfect expression of Don Draper’s ultimate fantasy.
But of course, that kind of completely free future doesn’t really exist, and especially not for Joan.
Whenever Mad Men puts Joan in a green dressing gown, you need to immediately remember the look on her face as she stood in a different green dressing gown, staring into the mirror, right after the tryst with Jaguar.
Joan is rich and successful now, but that success came at a cost, and it’s one she’s reminded of every day.
She carries that green reminder with her into the next day, along with her hopeful blues.
That playful little polka dot pattern on her blouse is awfully sweet. No wonder Richard saw the light and came crawling back to Joan, even after she committed the cardinal sin of (gasp!) having a child.
Speaking of children! Betty sure is being inappropriate with one. You remember our dear friend Glen, right?
He’s all growed up, Neville Longbottom style!
That outfit screams “It’s 1970!” but, well, it is 1970, so why not? It also emphasizes how stupidly young you would have to be to embrace such hideous trends. Glen’s about to join the army (quoth Sally: “Are you fucking stupid?”), and he’s still carrying that never-not-creepy torch for Betty.
Who is all about that, because Betty constantly craves affection and has no sense of appropriate boundaries. Betty spends the episode in white and yellow florals that emphasize her role as the domestic Angel in the House, the ideal suburban housewife, the pinnacle of Glen’s Oedipal fantasy. Great Outfits, Terrible Decisions: The Betty Francis Story.
Betty Francis. Stop that. That is a child. That is Matthew Weiner’s child.
That is your daughter’s pen pal, Betty.
Ultimately Betty decides not to go for it with Glen, not because he is a literal child but because she’s married. Unfortch, Sally has already had to live through the trauma of watching them awkwardly flirt. And then she has to live through the same thing with Don.
Yeah, so after spending the episode unsuccessfully brainstorming ideas about the future (he even goes so far as to pick Meredith’s adorable empty brain), Don is ready for the easy ego boost of turning on his DILF charm with a bunch of nubile young teenagers. Sally is completely and rightfully disgusted.
She’s spot-on when she identifies one of the only things her parents have in common: “Anyone pays attention to either of you—and they always do—and you just ooze everywhere.” Both Don and Betty are fantastic at advertising themselves, at turning themselves into the product that other people think will make their futures better, smarter, happier. Don is the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, suave and smart and cool and maybe a little haunted but in a dapper way, and Betty is the Angel in the House, interestingly tragic and domestic and beautiful. They’re great at projecting those imaginary futures, and they love and crave the attention that it brings them. But they’re terrible at the follow through. They have no idea how to actually create the futures they promise.
Sally knows this, and she swears that she will never let it happen to her. But look what she’s wearing.
Sally is stuck in the Hershey brown of the past. She is what her parents made her, and when Don tells her, “You are like your mother and me. You’re gonna find that out,” there’s a good chance that he’s right.
The episode closes out with Don, having at last successfully sold his sad empty apartment of failure, facing a future he cannot imagine, the hopeful blue of his shirt almost completely swallowed up by the Hershey brown of Dick Whitman’s past.
What do you think, YKYLFers? Does Don Draper have a future, or is he going to go full Dick Whitman on us? Is Joanie ever going to get the happy ending she deserves? And when is Peggy going to break out a badass blue pantsuit and school everyone with her sheer awesomeness?