The best episode of the season so far put everybody firmly on the path to the finale. And while some of it was heartbreaking, the rare scenes between Roger and Peggy showcase a great and largely unexplored pairing. They could have been rollerskating and drinking for seven seasons and we all would have been better off for it. Our Mad Men team took a break from dividing up the accounts to take a look at “Lost Horizon”.
I talk about this show with several people in my office, and this was the episode where everyone finally agreed that the back half of the season was firing on all cylinders. It reminded us of all the very best episodes in the history of the series and we’re all hopeful the last two hours of Mad Men will meet the same high standard. There’s also rampant speculation that Don is either driving straight to California, never to be seen in New York again, or that he’s going to die by falling from a skyscraper, like in the opening credits. I’ll let EJ get into those ideas (if he sees fit) in his examination of the Don-centric parts of the hour.
I was most impacted by the harsh treatment Joan got in this episode. While the hour started with Peggy not yet having an office at McCann, receiving a plant because she was mistaken for another one of the secretaries, and seeming the entire time to be unsure about her place at the new agency, it was Joan who got blindsided after a relatively smooth initial transition. She was first seen receiving a warm welcome from two female copywriters, who came to say hi and not so subtlely pitch to get on her business. Feeling pretty confident, she went into a meeting with Dennis–one of the jerks who’d harassed her when she and Peggy pitched the idea of Topaz pantyhose going the department store route–wherein they needed to call all of her clients to advise them of the agency change.
Apparently having ignored the briefs Joan spent all night writing for him, Dumb Dennis asked the Avon client–who is wheelchair-bound–to go golfing. When Joan took him to task for the mistake, he refused to accept responsibility, even accusing her of using the expression XXX, thereby making his gaffe no big deal. He then told her he thought she’d be more fun before he left her office. Joan thought she’d have an ally in Ferg Donnelly, but she clearly did not get the memo that he is played by Paul Johannssen, the guy who created the despicable John Sears on 90210. (You remember John Sears, the upperclassman who charmed college freshman Kelly Taylor like crazy but then practically raped her? What a doll.) Between these two characters and the sleazeball dad he played on One Tree Hill, someone’s found their acting niche!
Ferg is only too happy to help, because he sees an opportunity for himself. After talking to Dennis and explaining that Joan needs to see it from his side (“Dennis has a wife and three kids. He’s not going to work for a girl.” Gross.) he tells her that “From now on, no one comes between me and your business. Double Gross. After receiving a bouquet from him with the enclosed card that said simply, “pick a weekend”, and not wanting to take boyfriend Richard’s approach of calling “a guy” to, I guess, break his kneecaps, Joan strolls right into Jim Hobart’s office to take care of things. But his nice guy facade quickly drops when he thinks some broad is telling him how to handle his business. He flat out tells Joan her little stake means nothing. The additional implication being that her little accounts don’t mean a whole lot to McCann either.
She offers to take the $500,000 she’s owed and go, but Hobart isn’t going to make it that easy. He offers her 50 cents on the dollar to never see her face again. Not losing her cool, Joan threatens to sue and name drops the ACLU and Betty Freidan in the process, but Hobart barely flinches. She says she’s not negotiating and he tells her to get out. It’s a damn powerful scene.
The next day, Roger is waiting for her when she arrives, acting almost as if nothing has happened. He encourages her to take the proposed settlement, and what I was most upset by was that, even as she was holding a picture of their son in her hands, he didn’t just offer to give her the other half. The guy owes her at least that much for all she’s endured. But Roger, in many ways, has turned into a much bigger disappointment that Don. Don Draper could be called a lot of things, but it’s hard to imagine that if he’d ended up in the same position as Roger that he’d leave the mother of his child twisting in the wind. Hell, Betty and Megan are proof of that. And Don was the only one who truly considered Joan’s feelings regarding the Jaguar incident, regardless of the fact that his epiphany that he needed to stop her came too late. Roger has turned out to be little more than a really witty coward.
More proof of that lies in the fact that he’s clinging to the SC&P offices, clearly afraid of what it means for him to have lost the family business to a huge corporation. Roger has had everything handed to him when it comes to his career and his money, and he’s lived a pretty consequence free life, if you factor out the heart problems and the daughter who ran away to join a commune. He hasn’t really had to answer to anyone in a long time, and he’s not relishing the idea of going to work at McCann. So, he’s putting it off by playing an organ in office, like he’s The Phantom of SC&P (full credit to EJ for that one!) He’s discovered by Peggy, who definitely thought the place was legitimately haunted for a hot minute. The two stragglers proceed to get drunk on sweet vermouth, reminisce about the Good Old Days and have a really nice chat. We don’t get to see these two together very often, so this was great. The best, of course, was the sure to be iconic scene of Peggy roller skating around the empty offices while Roger played the organ. That was perfect.
The next day, while Roger’s off selling Joan out, Peggy struts into McCann as we’ve never really seen her. Sunglasses on, cigarette dangling from her lips and a poster from the late Bert Cooper’s office that shows an octopus pleasuring a woman tucked under her arm. There’s hope for women in advertising yet, and that hope is named Peggy Olson. If Don wasn’t off road tripping with hippies through middle America, he’d be pretty proud of his protege.
There’s always been a bit of a Joan vs. Peggy aspect to this show. Joan has always known just how to use her sexuality to her benefit while Peggy has always downplayed hers. Right now, Peggy is on track to be more successful while Joan is constantly punished for her outward appearance. It goes all the way back to when she was raped by her future husband Greg right in the Sterling Cooper offices. Whether she knew she was doing it or not, she tried reclaim that part of herself by sleeping with the Jaguar client, but it backfired when all of her sacrifice has ended up with her not getting the respect or the job she has earned. Like Peggy said to Stan last week, everyone makes mistakes. Women should be allowed to walk away from them just like men do, but that is not often the case. The sad part is they’re both equally worthy of advancement. Joan’s been running the joint since she led focus groups for Belle Jolie cosmetics and helped Harry launch the broadcast media department but got passed over for a man. She’s more than qualified at this point, but Peggy’s quieter approach is the one that is more likely to pay off in the short term. No man feels threatened by Peggy the same way they do by Joan.
I might have said this before, but I don’t think splitting up this final season was especially effective. I mean, it gives us one more episode total, and it means that the show didn’t end a year ago. And I get that AMC wanted another year out of their prestige show and give it some award season distance from the Breaking Bad finale. But I don’t think the larger season really got its momentum back until tonight. That’s a small thing, because other than right now, we’re going to watch Mad Men on DVD or Netflix and one episode will just flow to the next. Just imagine if this episode had come five weeks after they struck the McCann Erickson deal, rather than a year later. We wouldn’t have had time to get our bearings with all the big changes, as opposed to having all that time to accept the new status quo.
So. Myndi’s right about Ferg Donnelly, but there’s very little that’s funnier to me than somebody who incorrectly gets credit for being a great impressionist. Ferg’s take on Don made me laugh so hard and I was disappointed when he turned out to be a garbage person.
We didn’t see much to indicate how Pete, Ted, and the supporting cast are handling the move. I love that Harry Crane is so excited about it, though. He spent most of the series hanging on by a thread, and then he missed out on that partnership by few minutes. It would be nice to see something work out for him. Yeah, I’m still rooting for Harry even after his sleazy turn with Megan. I loved that Shirley actually just quit, though. She recognizes that the advertising industry is lagging behind the rest of society in terms of progress and finds a healthier environment. And it’s not just her race that leaves her on the outside. Poor Joan got that nasty reminder this week. I’m surprised at how excited I am for Shirley that she got out in time.
So, the episode’s title is “Lost Horizon”. If you’ll recall, Don watched the movie of that title in the season premiere. The full-season premiere – last year. Not the midseason premiere. This is not as confusing as I’m making it. Anyway, this is what I said about it in the recap of that episode.
“When they fall asleep on the couch, Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon is playing. It’s about a group of people who, surviving a plane crash, find themselves in Shangri-La, an idyllic valley where everything seems to be perfect. (It came up occasionally in relation to LOST, particularly the bit where the Island cured people.) The lead character gives up paradise to return to his old life, which is what Don did when he left Anna for the second time. Also worth noting – “Shangri-La” has come to mean “Utopia”. And if you’ve rewatched Season One recently, you may remember Rachel Menken telling Don that Utopia refers to a place that can’t possibly exist.”
At the time, California seemed to be the paradise that Don had to give up – it’s where he was happy with Anna Draper. He nearly moved back there when New York got to be too much. He proposed to Megan there. But he left California. Once to start a new life in New York, and once to cling to that old life even though his wife remained. But now, with Don headed ever west, we have to consider the possibility that he’s heading back there to stay. Last week, the McCann Erickson offices were referred to as “advertising Heaven”. Well, Utopia doesn’t exist. Don has to leave that dream behind.
(And frankly, it’s amazing that Rachel Menken is still such a powerful figure on the show, even now. Between this and the final season of Sons of Anarchy, Maggie Siff is really good at motivating the action on shows where she’s no longer a cast member.)
Don seemed profoundly uncomfortable at McCann right up until he walked out. Guys trying way too hard to buddy up to him, the insistence that he should lose the jacket and get comfortable, even the weird little detail of the bologna box lunch. This isn’t his place. It seemed so weird to see him as just a face in the crowd in that huge Miller meeting. And then the Miller guy started describing their audience like the Dollar Store version of Don Draper. I don’t know if I’m supposed to jump to this conclusion, but I love the idea that Don’s “Carousel” speech became such a legend that people were inspired to try and pull off their own version of that. Bunch of knock-off Dons running around now.
Now, I’m terrible with New York architecture. I can recognize the Flatiron Building (because that’s where they put the Daily Bugle in the Spider-Man movies) and I assume everything else is the Empire State Building. So I panicked a little when Don stared out the window and I thought I’d have to identify the landscape. But that wasn’t important. It was the plane! He was watching that plane and realizing that, like Rachel said, he missed his flight. I don’t even think he got up and left with the intent of finding Diana. He just had to leave and he could figure out the reason later. And look how happy Ted is – I’m reading that as genuine support of Don. Ted wants the guy to find his bliss.
And he’s not coming back. I say this not only because there are only two episodes left, but because when he goes to Diana’s ex-husband’s, he gives himself a fake name. This is before Google. Nobody has a smart phone. There’s no reason not to be Don Draper except that he’s done being Don Draper.
I’m not even convinced that Diana made such an impression on him that he had to find her again in order to be happy. It’s more important that she’s a person who understood him on some level and there are very few of those left. They’ve all moved on or cut ties. And we know that Don needs somebody there to help him start a new life. Anna Draper helped him figure out who to be, building his life around Betty helped him become the Don we know and love. He needs somebody to be there as he builds a new life, and Diana is the only one left.
(Also, it’s a little surprising that so many people have tried to track her down. Elisabeth Reaser is very attractive, but as a character, Diana is pretty dour. How many guys seek out the next of kin of the emotionally distant waitress/prostitute?)
Interestingly, Diana’s ex-husband takes a moment to witness to Don and it struck me just how little this show has dealt with religion. Really, since Colin Hanks’ arc in Season Two, it hasn’t been an issue. And obviously it’s not something every show needs to deal with, but it seems weirdly absent in a show that spends so much time grappling with Big Ideas. (Maybe Matthew Weiner had his fill from his time on The Sopranos.)
I loved seeing Bert Cooper again, even if he was just the product of Don’s exhausted imagination. He’s still a delight. And Don picking up a shady drifter at the end terrifies me. It didn’t go well last time he picked up hitchhikers, and I don’t see any way that this can go well. But either way, I don’t think there’s any chance he’s coming back. The rest of the characters have seen Don for the last time. I hope I’m wrong, for the sake of his kids at least, but I think he’s headed straight to California.
Myndi mentioned the idea that the man falling in the credits is supposed to be Don. It’s a popular theory that the show will end with his suicide. There’s a Twitter joke about how all series end with the thing that happens in their opening, which is why Friends ends with everybody dancing in a fountain. But that aside, I’ve been thinking about that and after eight years of watching those opening titles, something finally struck me this week. That guy doesn’t jump. He falls because the building disappears around him. Sterling Cooper is gone and Don’s in freefall. At least the titles end with the man sitting on a comfy couch. If we’re supposed to extrapolate anything from that, I’d like it to be that Don loses everything but still ends up OK. That’s what I’m hoping, at any rate.
We’ll see you next week. Only two episode left, and we’re not at all ready.