There has always been a lot to love about Mad Men, which is closing in on ending its story for good—and is also in the midst of one of the greatest stretches of episodes in the history of television. “Lost Horizon” was full of everything we’ve come to love about the show: stellar performances, sharp writing, biting commentary, emotional devastation, comedy, absurdity, mysticism, and a lot of cool-looking clothes.
But one thing about Mad Men that’s always kept audiences particularly engaged is how well it lends itself well to crazy theories. Is Megan Draper wearing a particular T-shirt? She’s destined to be murdered by the Manson Family! Don is staring out the window at an airplane, so obviously he’s thinking about becoming D.B. Cooper. Was that hitcher Don picked up at the end of “Lost Horizon” actually Bob Dylan?
It’s doubtful that any of those ideas end up coming true. (For example: We know that in Mad Men continuity, Charles Manson is about to go on trial, so he missed his opportunity to kill Megan.) But it’s still fun to play around with the combination of historical fact and meta-textual clues that could spin the show into wild directions. And because Mad Men has always made room for the fantastical (like Betty Draper’s mid-labor hallucinations or Don’s frequent visits with the ghost of Bert Cooper), it’s a universe where anything seems possible at all times. (Case in point: When Don arrived at the Bauer household last night, I spotted a little girl lurking on the stairs in the background of a scene and thought, “Oh, Don is going to be haunted by a demon for the rest of the show, like it’s The Ring or something.” Obviously, that girl isn’t a demon, but it was a testament to the show’s freewheeling nature that such a thing didn’t seem immediately ridiculous.)
With that in mind, I think ”Lost Horizon” owed a lot to Scooby-Doo.
Let’s flash back to one of the most charming sequences in an episode full of them. Because she was mistaken for a secretary on the McCann Erickson rolls, Peggy Olson is stuck for a few days in the strange post-apocalyptic limbo that is the guts of the SC&P office at the Time-Life building. There, the lights slowly go out around her, and the mood becomes gradually spookier until she starts to hear something creepy coming from the other side of the office. A terrified Peggy wanders through the abandoned office, following the odd noises—a predicament that undoubtedly would have made her remember obsessing over Rosemary’s Baby.
But it turns out that the mysterious noise is actually being made by Roger Sterling, who has somehow procured an organ and is tinkering with it. When Peggy sneakily appears, it gives him a start. “I have a heart condition, you know!” Sterling says.
“Believe it or not, I’m not scary,” Peggy says. “Organ music is scary.”
The two share a rare conversation, and a drink (slash several). When Sterling tries to hand off a painting that Cooper kept in his office (a piece titled The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, by Japanese tentacle erotica pioneer Hokusai), Peggy demures. “You know I need to make men feel at ease.”
“Who told you that?” Sterling says incredulously.
After a brief roller-skating interlude, the next time we see Peggy, she’s arriving at McCann Erickson—swaggering with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife boldly at her side. It’s a triumphant bit of badassery that suggests yet another rebirth for the former secretary turned future creative director.
So what does any of that have to do with Scooby-Doo? Check out Peggy’s outfit in the image above. She’s decked out in orange, held together by a boxiness that completely cancels out her femininity. Add a pair of glasses and she becomes Velma, the bookish bag of nerves who rolled with the Mystery Machine crew on Scooby-Doo. When she was wandering through the SC&P office and came upon Roger, it’s mildly shocking she didn’t great him with the word “Jinkies.”
Now look at Peggy when she rolls into McCann. It’s not a completely analogous match, but doesn’t she look a lot more like Daphne? A scarf would have helped, but the skirt and leggings are certainly close enough to make the leap. More importantly, she’s walking with the kind of sexy confidence that poor old Velma could never muster while looking for her perpetually missing glasses.
Even Peggy’s discovery of Roger has elements of Scooby-Doo to it: Rather than a genuine threat, the mysterious frightening force was just a white-haired old man. “You should see the floor I’m on—it’s a nursing home,” Sterling notes with the same sort of defeated venom reserved for dudes who own old amusement parks.
The rest of the Mad Men cast is hard to put into easy Scooby-Doo categories, but the fact our main character doesn’t use his birth name could very well be an analog to Norville Rogers (better known to the bulk of the world as simply Shaggy). And heck, who is to say that the dog that Duck Phillips released onto the streets of Manhattan a few seasons back didn’t find a bunch of hippies who thought he could talk?
Am I making some leaps in order to present my case? Absolutely. Is it likely that Matthew Weiner finds Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? as vital a text as Dante’s Inferno or Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria? Not at all. But that’s part of the reason Mad Men has captured the imagination. Its text is not set, nor are the characters immutable. Everything is possible, especially when you consider that most every character on Mad Men—especially central protagnoist Don Draper—is always chasing g-g-g-g-g-g-ghosts.