Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 12: Lost Horizon

"This was a helluva boat."

Growing pains are to be expected, especially when going through a change as big as having your company taken over. The move from Sterling Cooper to McCann has been smooth for some and rocky for others.  While it now seems inevitable that the great big agency would eventually win out and gobble up its smaller rival, having put if off for so many years and now seeing what that reality looks like, it's hard not to wish they had fought a little longer.  At least, to wish that they weren't so complicit in their own company's demise.

The focus of this episode is on the four main characters - Don, Peggy, Roger and Joan - and how this move is impacting their lives and their future.  For them, the move to McCann Erickson is not the utopia they were promised.  But not everyone is miserable at McCann and some have indeed found (using the title's reference) Shangri La. Pete could not be any happier.  Ted is on cloud nine.  Harry is looking forward to having all the toys that McCann have to work with.  For them the transition has been seamless and a little exciting.

As the episode opens, we see Don in a new elevator, having to get used to his new office on the 19th floor as well as learning new names of his new office-mates. His trusty secretary Meredith is on top of everything and making sure he stays on schedule and in the right office.  She also saw to it that his personal items - including Anna's old ring - survived the move.  She even manages to come up with a design for his new apartment which he loves.  Everything is bright and shiny for Don in his new professional life as "Don Draper from McCann Erickson."  He is the white whale that Jim Hobart finally snared, the one who's going to make his mark on the firm.  He's going to bring things up a notch. 

Peggy did not have an office ready when the move was finalized and, with an astute understanding of office politics, she knew not to move into until  a space suitable for her status opened up.  It was a giant game of chicken and to her credit, Peggy did not flinch.  When they tried to put her in with the secretaries rather than get a copywriter's desk, she balked.  When they delivered her flowers along with the other "girls," she stood her ground. She stayed behind at Sterling Cooper, trying to get Ed to knock out one more pitch to Dow before they handed the file over to its new agency.  Ed is on his way out - he wasn't taken by McCann and so far has no other options.  But Peggy is all business and she wants to keep working, providing Dow the work they already paid for.  She also keeps the door open to working with Ed again in the future.  All this while she feels her own future is up in the air.

The delay in moving to McCann gave Peggy time to have a rare one-on-one with Roger Sterling and their scenes together were priceless.  She found him, ominously playing scary music on an organ.  And in some ways, the empty offices were akin to a cemetery.  The ghosts of the recently deceased Sterling Cooper was all around them.  Roger claimed he needed help getting the last of his things, but Peggy correctly noted that Roger did not need help but an audience.  He needed someone to acknowledge the significance of this moment.  Someone to say goodbye with him.  And someone to give him the push he needed to move on.

In a nice meta moment, Peggy mentioned this was probably their most involved and intimate interaction and it made us wish there had been more.  They poured drinks, got a little sloshed, and reminisced.  And then, in the most ridiculous moment since Roger dropped acid, he played the organ as Peggy skates on by.  It's surreal and silly, maybe a kitschy call out to fiddling as Rome burns.  But their home is now a gutted ghost town and they have to leave.  They can put off the inevitable goodbye only so long.

Roger has the most trouble saying goodbye to the place that bore his name. He walks around the gutted cadaver of what once was his pride and joy.  It was a little like being there for your own funeral.  That sentiment was echoed in Roger referring to his floor at the new agency as "a nursing home."  It is hard for Roger not to see this transition as the beginning of the end, and end now in sight.  He regrets what's happening, yet does not take responsibility for being the one to put this into motion.  Roger felt as if he had no choice, to save Don he had to do something.  But by saving Don he ended up losing everything else. 

Joan's fears from the meeting with Jim Hobart in the last episode were realized in this one.  Her first interaction was with two women copywriters who were eager to get on her good side and we saw Joan in the position we're used to seeing her in.  Confident, cocky, in control and a little intimidating.  But things quickly went downhill from there as the new reality of what being in a huge boys’ club conglomerate means for her. The first account man put on Avon was a jerk - unprepared and disrespectful.  He was not prepared to cede control nor to be talked to like he was an underling. 

Joan went to Ferg Donnelly and lodged a complaint about the account exec.  He promised to step right in and take a personal interest in her accounts.  But what he really wanted was to have a little fun, a "good time.  He'd be happy to work very closely with her, if she gets his drift.  Wink wink. Joan was hit by the old one-two punch of gender politics.  The first man wouldn't work with her because he didn't want to report to a woman.  How could he tell his wife he had a woman for a boss?  The next man would work with her, so long as he got something out of it (primarily, her out of her clothes).  Joan may be used to having men see her as a sex object, but she was a partner with power at Sterling Cooper and ultimately got thing her way.  But no longer.  

Joan still didn't realize how bad things were for her, because she assumed as a partner with clients her concerns would become the company's concerns.  She went straight to the top, telling Jim Hobart that she did not want to work with (or under) Ferg and that she wanted to be treated with the proper respect according to her position.  But Jim Hobart put her partnership title into question and said it held no water for him.  He didn't know what she did to earn it if anything but it meant nothing to him or McCann Erickson.  Everything Joan had fought for was now gone.  She could tow the line or get out.

By the end, even her closest ally Roger had to admit defeat.  Joan was not going to fit in at McCann and there was no place for her there.  So she took her picture of Kevin - and her Rolodex - so she might not be through with advertising, but she is done working at a patriarchal company like that.  She gets fifty cents on the dollar for her share, which is still a nice amount of money.  But she lost everything else she had worked for.  It was a huge step back to the person who Harry Crane would not give an account to despite what good work she did.

Roger may not be able to help Joan succeed at McCann, but he gave Peggy some good advice as she wades into the uncertain waters there.  She doesn't have to make the men feel at ease.  And so, armed with the 150 year old painting of the woman having sex with an octopus and some bad ass swagger, Peggy marches into McCann Erickson ready to take on the world.  This is not the timid girl who came, wide eyed, into an ad agency for the first time.  This is the woman who came up with her pitch for Burger Chef just as the music gods played "My Way" on the radio.  Maybe she can do what Joan couldn't and break through the glass ceiling her way.  We have reason to fear for Peggy's future; Joan's conversation with Ferg included her mentionof Peggy Olson as a copy chief and Ferg replied, "I doubt that's going to continue here anyway."  Still, my money is on Peggy.

Don realized that he was a commodity, something bought and sold, and not a living breathing human.  The way Jim welcomed him into the company, calling him their big catch - their white whale - and having heart palpitations at hearing Don say "from McCann Erickson."  Don is another notch in Jim's belt buckle, nothing more.  It may have been flattering at first.  Hearing of a small agency they recently bought, Don asks "for me?"  Don is what Jim has waited ten years to get and now he has him and he's rolling out the red carpet.

Yet, Don's understanding of what being at McCann really means to him is startlingly clear in the Miller Beer meeting.  Ted Chaough is there and he too is going to bring things up a notch.  That has to rattle Don.  No longer is he the sole creative head, the one voice that everyone is focused on, the center of the universe.  There are now dozens of creative directors, robotic clones, turning their pages in unison, taking notes together, dozens of voices who will be weighing in.  Someone else is painting the picture, telling the story, and not particularly well.  Don is just a cog in a giant machine, he's not the machine.  He's just another guy with a notepad and a boxed lunch.

This was the moment when Don got everything he wanted professionally.  He's in the room with a huge client about to make a major new launch.  He's surrounded by Coke cans, symbols of one of the other major clients that are now his for the taking.  He's hit the pinnacle of his profession, and yet it means nothing to him.  Don instantly intuits that it doesn't matter if he's there or not.  He doesn't matter, this doesn't matter.  What does?  He looks out the window and sees a plane he sees flying freely outside the conference room window.  The answer to what is important - is that all there is - is not in this conference room, but out there.  This is not the first time that Don has walked out of a meeting, but it may be the last.

We shouldn't be surprised that Don walked out of McCann and neither should Roger.  Don told him this would happen way back in Ep, 1.09 Shoot when the two had the following exchange:  Don: If I leave this place one day, it will not be for more advertising.
RogerWhat else is there?
Don: I don't know…life being lived? I'd like to stop talking about it and get back to it.
Roger: I've worked with a lot of men like you, and if you had to choose a place to die, it'd be in the middle of a pitch.
Don: I've done that. I want to do something else.

Ted Chaough sees Don leave and smiles.  He knows Don pretty well by now.  He knows that just a month ago Don was again planning a way to leave New York. He knows that Don is restless and unmoored and looking for something missing in his life.  By comparison, Ted is satisfied.  He likes working at a big firm and he's happy having rekindled his high school romance.  But Don has nothing there for him and so he walks out and Ted, for one, is not surprised.

Don goes first to the Francis residence to pick up Sally and take her to school.  By the time he gets there, though, she's already left with a friend.  Betty is home, reading Freud in her kitchen.  They have a sweet moment, Betty complains about the strain of carrying all her books and Don gives her a shoulder massage.  They have a certain ease around each other, when Betty's not in a snit about something, and there is always a bit of sexual tension between them as well.  You can still see the spark of what there once was between them.  But, with no Bobby or Eugene at home, and Betty being someone else's wife, there is nothing for Don there.  And so, off he goes.

But Don isn't the free hobo, riding the rails and going wherever the path takes him.  He's still being controlled, this time by his frustrating attraction to the sad waitress.  There's something about her emptiness and neediness that calls to Don and makes him want to find her and repair what's broken.  So he drives off in search of her, of answers.  He finds neither at the home of her ex-husband.  Instead, he finds the new Mrs. Bauer along with the daughter and ex-husband that Diana left behind.  He discovers that he's not the only man she's had such an effect on; he's not the only one that's come looking for her.  Maybe this will help Don realize that Diana is not the answer. 

There's been a lot of discussion about what Diana means to Don.  You can be literal, Di is her nickname.  Someone is going to die.  Her whole name is Di-Anna, maybe Don has not yet fixed the gaping hole in his heart following Anna's death. He tried to fix it with Megan, then booze, then both, but all that left him was alone.  Maybe she reminds him of a lost opportunity with Rachel, or maybe some other perfect woman who would fix him.  Maybe she reminds him of himself - lonely, broken, with damaged lives left in his wake. 

Don may not have found Diana, but he's not done looking.  But looking for what?  He picks up a hitchhiker going to St. Paul and says that's not out of his way.  Since St. Paul is due west, we know Don is heading out that way and not back to New York.  Is Don headed out to California, where he has often gone for rebirth and renewal. Is he going to find Stephanie, his last connection with Anna?  Is he looking for his Shangri La?  Don famously said in the pilot episode that you're born alone and you die alone, but it doesn't seem that Don is accepting this philosophy anymore.  He's not happy to die alone, he's looking for some different ending.


Unpopular opinion:  I think Joan handled the transition badly.  Yes, the guys at McCann are sexist pigs, but Joan is the new woman in town and any new employee should know not to come in making demands and threatening the boss.  She's so used to being the one in control, the one everyone else cowers around, she's not used to being a supplicant.  But, as she told Peggy in the pilot, that is what is expected of an employee.  You don't have to stand for being mistreated, but there were other ways she could have handled it had she been used to not immediately getting her way.  

Don was watching the movie Lost Horizon in Ep. 7.01 when he was lying in bed next to his then-wife Megan.  Then, he was on leave from Sterling Cooper, pretending to be working there both by telling her he had to get back to work and by preparing pitches for Freddy Rumsen to make.  Here, again, Don is on leave.  He's run away from "advertising heaven" but it's not entirely clear what he's running to.

There are two ways to look at the story in Lost Horizon and how it applies to the characters.  It could be that they found Shangri-La when they were together at Sterling Cooper (and for Don when he was married to the mother of his three children) but they lost it and can never go back. Or it could be that they are still looking for that Utopian place that will make them eternally happy, and that they stay hopeful and keep looking. I'm not sure which it is but we should know in two more weeks.

This is not the first time that Don has escaped work in search of something.  In Ep. 2.11 The Jet Set he left Pete to deal with potential west coast clients to join the young, beautiful "Joy" and her Bohemian friends. There, his existential crisis was tripped by thoughts of war and nuclear annihilation, this time the concern came more from within (dying on the inside, rather than from an outside threat).

Don hears the wind whistling outside his office window and goes over and feels for the source of the noise.  The window is not secure.  With all the talk of Don jumping out a window (to emulate the falling man at the start of every episode) this was probably a wink to the audience. 

This is not the first time someone has tried to sell Don (or Dick) on the importance of Jesus in his life.  Diana's ex-husband tells him his only answer is in Jesus and that echoes what his stepmother would have said (and did say to the hobo in Ep. 1.08 The Hobo Code).  It also is what the preacher said to Uncle Mack and the residents of the brothel in Ep. 6.13 In Care Of.  

In The Hobo Code, Don uses Jesus to make a pitch to the Belle Jolie clients telling them, "You’re a non-believer. Why should we waste time on Kabuki? [...] Listen, I’m not here to tell you about Jesus. You already know about Jesus. Either he lives in your heart, or he doesn’t."  Don knows the power of belief to the believer and knows how to use it, but he considers himself above faith and finds no personal comfort there.  

Don is a nonbeliever, understandable after having Abigail the bible-thumper as his hypocritical representative of the pious. It is not surprising then that his spiritual guide as he travels to Racine is fellow non-believer, Ayn Randian Bert Cooper.  But Bert is not there to support him in his trip but to make him question himself. He tells Don he's going in the wrong direction and that he shouldn't chase after the waitress "who doesn't care about you." But Don isn't listening.   

At the end of the episode, Don picks up a wanderer along the side of the road heading to St. Paul. Assuming nothing in this show is random, why did the writers pick St. Paul?  Paul was the converted Jew, Saul, who came to see the light and go on to share the "good word" about Jesus for the rest of his life.  Maybe this trek with the hitchhiker will bring Don to some personal revelation that will change his life's direction as well.  I just don't think the answer lies for him in Jesus, so much as in finding his own personal acceptance and purpose.  

Ferg's impersonation of Don sounded just like Richard ("tricky Dick") Nixon. Nixon, the disgraced former Navy hero, who's more famous for "I'm not a crook" than improving relations with China, the self made man from humble origins, has often been intertwined in the story of Don Draper.  Don even says, of Nixon, in Ep. 1.10 The Long Weekend, "Nixon is from nothing. Abe Lincoln of California, a self-made man. ... Nixon, I see myself."

Don was nothing more than a trophy for Jim Hobart.  Something that he wanted and couldn't get that became a bit of an obsession (a la Moby Dick).  We know that didn't turn out well for the whaler and it looks like Jim's success in finally nabbing Don will also be short-lived.  This goes along with the theme that getting everything you want (or at least everything you think you want) may not necessarily make you happy. 

Joan tries to get the upper hand on Jim, telling him "I think the second I file a complaint, I'll have the ACLU in my office and Betty Friedan in the lobby with half the women who marched down Fifth Avenue."  But Jim is not worried at all.  And why should he be?  The welcome wagon of women copywriters could not have been more clear that they have no intention of making waves.  "It's not women's lib" they tell her about their little group. 

I hope this isn't the last we see of Joan.  She has come far from the beginning of the show, she had a son and professional fulfillment.  She went from office manager to running her own accounts and should not forget that. Just because this one setting was not right for her does not mean she can't find another place that will appreciate what she can do. 

I almost hope we don't see any more of Peggy and that the image of her walking the halls to her new office like a boss is the last one we have of her.  I want to believe that she will work her bad ass off and either move up the ranks or get poached in a few years by another, smarter firm.

Ghost Bert tells Don that he likes to play the stranger.  He could be referring to the lead character in Camus' eponymous novel that deals with feelings of hopelessness and not fitting in.  In the novel, the stranger ultimately learns to accept the natural order of things, accepting the inevitability of death, and being at peace with the fact that all of us are in the same boat.  You can stay hopeless and alone, or choose to become part of mankind.  Hopefully, in his quest, Don will move towards finding a way to feel less alone. Another note, the French word for "stranger" could also mean "outsider" which well describes Don Draper. 

Don used the word "ruse" which was the word Sally had misspelled in her letter to Santa in Episode 4.02.

"Sealed With a Kiss," by Brian Hyland played in the car before the specter of Bert Cooper appeared to Don. Ziggy Stardust, aka David Bowie's, "Space Oddity" was the song playing over the end credits. 

As the show draws to a close, it's natural to be on death watch.  So, in this episode Roger clutched his heart (when Peggy surprised him) and Jim also put his hand to his chest - when he heard Don introduce himself as part of McCann. 

"Remember 'On the Road?'" Don asks Ghost Bert, referencing the counterculture bible of its time and its tales of dropping out and living a life of adventure. "Riding the rails," Don adds, reflecting back on the hobo lifestyle that he so often embraces. He quotes from the book, "Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?"  

The book Betty is reading in her kitchen is Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria and "hysteria" comes from the Greek hysterikos, from hystera meaning womb.  It comes from the idea that the condition was peculiar to women and caused by disturbances of the uterus.  

Love how Roger gave Peggy the painting from Bert's office.  Who knew there was a category of art called tentacle erotica?

I did think we'd see Conrad Hilton again before the show ended, but all we got was a mention of his name and the fact that he bought a present for Don, to which Don joked "that's never good."

We knew that McCann was a big place, but I'm not sure we realized how big.  Stan is on the 14th floor and  Roger is on the 26th.  When Don walks into the Miller Beer meeting he asks if this room-full of men is every creative director McCann has, and Ted tells him it's just half!

Bye to Ed and Shirley!


Meredith: I won't have you lost again.
Don:  I wasn't lost.  I was late.  I was fibbing.
Meredith.: Well, you can't do that.

Harry:  McCann is Mission Control.  Statisticians, programmers, five men and 10 women just handling data.
Roger:  Maybe they can keep track of your hat size.  Seems to be growing.

Roger:  You know, I once rode on a bus to camp sitting next to a guy like you.  We're not going to be bunkmates, Crane.  I'll make them build another floor if I have to.
Harry:  I'm not going to let you spoil the moment.  My moment.

Shirley:  Advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone. 

Karen:  If it's in it, near it, or makes you think about it, we're on it.

Don:  How was the Bahamas? 
Jim:  Oh, it's everything we say it is in print.

Jim: When I want something, I get it.  I've been trying to get you for ten years.  You're my white whale. 

Dennis:  I'm sorry.  Who told you you got to get pissed off?  

Don: How are you, stranger?
Joan: Homesick.

Joan: You're too important.
Don: Not for you.
Joan: Believe me, I'd involve you if I could.  It's been a little bumpy.
Don:  I can still interfere.
Joan: No, I'll figure it out.
Don: Of that I am certain.

Don: I want to live here. 

Ferg: Well, here's how it looks. Like some junior account man came in and started swinging her elbows.
Joan: He didn't read the brief.  And I'm not Dennis's junior.
Ferg: Joan, see it from his side. He has a wife and three children. He's not going to work for a girl.  What's he gonna say to a client? "She's my boss"? 

Ferg: We can't lose those accounts.  What would you do around here?

Betty: Your secretary is a moron. 

Don: Knock 'em dead, Birdie.

Joan: I don't want to go anywhere I don't want to go. Don't make plans for me.

Bert: You like to play "the stranger."

Peggy:  Would you drink vermouth? 
Roger: Yes, I'm afraid I would.

Peggy:  This is more attention than I've ever gotten from you. 

Roger: I'll have you know, I held this place together.
Peggy: I know you think that, but you actually sold it. You were supposed to watch out for us.

Roger:  I just needed a push. 

Jim:  You're going to have to get used to doing things the way we do them. 

Jim:  I'll bet people always say you're the kind of gal who doesn't take no for an answer. But no, you're not telling me how to run my business.

Jim: Do you have any idea how much space McCann buys in the New York Times every year? We could get them to publish Mein Kampf on the first page.

Mr. Bauer: You think you're the first one that came looking for her? She's a tornado just leaving a trail of broken bodies behind her.

Mr. Bauer: I lost my daughter to God and my wife to the devil. I lost everything.

Jim:  Are any of you planning on working here or is this the con of the century?

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