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Mad Men recap: Lost Horizon

McCann Erickson turns out to the very opposite of Shangri-La.

Posted on

Justina Mintz/AMC

Mad Men

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
7
run date:
07/19/07
performer:
Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss
broadcaster:
AMC
genre:
Drama

Hi, everyone. Before we begin, I must apologize for not being Melissa Maerz. (Don’t worry; she’ll be back next week.) In the meantime, buckle up—because it’s a whole new world over at McCann Erickson, one that’s not so great. In fact, it’s pretty ugly. And I’ll tell you right now who loses hardest: the ladies of SCP. Advertising, as we’re about to learn, is not a very comfortable place for everyone. But I’m getting ahead of myself (just like a woman!).

“Lost Horizon” is the title of this episode (or, as AMC likes to call it, the second to the last episode we’ll see before the finale on May 17.) Lost Horizon, of course, is also the title of the famed 1933 novel by James Hilton. Frank Capra turned the book into a film in 1937—a movie Don Draper watched at Megan’s house at the start of this season, so very, very long ago. Lost Horizon is also credited with introducing the imaginary paradise Shangri-La into the vernacular. (Trivia: Shangri-La was also what Franklin D. Roosevelt called what is now Camp David. Thanks, Wikipedia!)

So where or what is Don Draper’s Shangri-La? Is it finally making it to the big leagues of advertising—where you pitch giant companies and get roast beef in a boxed lunch? Is it the endless possibilities that spring to mind while watching an airplane cross over a peaceful sky? Could it be located in Racine, Wisconsin, personified by a certain melancholic and mysterious waitress? Or should we take the episode’s title a little more literally—implying that Don has lost sight of the horizon, which means he’s hopelessly lost?

At the beginning of the episode, Don is a little dazzled by the sheer size of McCann Erickson. He’s staying at the Plaza, and his apartment is almost ready for him to move in, thanks to Meredith (whom we later learn has a real flair for decorating). She’s even smart enough to hold onto the tiny envelope that contains a “Donald F. Draper” Social Security card, plus the engagement ring that was Anna’s, then Megan’s. Matthew Weiner trolls all Mad Man conspiracists pretty hard in this episode—Don walks to the window and looks out (at what looks like St. Patrick’s Cathedral), feels the rattle of the wind at the top of this skyscraper. But nope; he’s not going to jump just yet.

Ferg and Jim Hobart roll out the red carpet for Don. They dangle Nabisco, Miller beer, and even Conrad Hilton (again!) in front of him. “I’ve been trying to get you for 10 years. You’re my white whale, Don,” Hobart tells him. Hmm, things didn’t exactly turn out all that great for that whale or its hunter—did they? But if Don doesn’t like being compared to a hunted animal, he doesn’t quite show it. 

The Miller beer meeting is huge. Ted’s there (hi, Ted!), and he tells Don this is just half of the creative directors in the building. Bill Phillips, research director, tells the room about an exciting new beverage (let’s skip the part about how counting calories is just for girls). This Bill Phillips is a Don Draper sort, one who doesn’t use facts to try to woo the crowd. Instead, he tells a heartstring-tugging story of a man living in the heartland. Don looks around at a room full of posed pens. He turns his gaze out the window instead, where a plane floats by the Empire State Building. It’s enough for him: he gets up and leaves without a word. (Ted’s face is an excellent mixture of amusement and resignation that he is not, nor will he ever be, Don Draper.)

Don goes to the Francis residence, where he discovers Betty reading Freud (a gift for us all) and that Sally already got her own ride back up to school. Betty and Don share a nice if slightly weird moment as he rubs her shoulders. “Knock ‘em dead, Birdie,” he says in what feels like it may be a goodbye to Betty. (I’m a sucker for when Don calls Betty “Birdie.”)

He gets in his car and starts driving, pointedly not taking the Triborough Bridge exit but heading towards Pennsylvania. Is Dick Whitman coming home? Nope. Instead, while driving through Ohio, he faces a different ghost: it’s Bert Cooper! Don tells his vision of Bert that he’s heading to Wisconsin. Even the ghost of Cooper is all, that’s a terrible idea. “You like to play the stranger,” he tells Don.

This is true; he even shows up at the Bauer residence pretending to be Bill Phillips. Oh, Dick Whitman—you just can’t stop, can you? His scam is to find out where Diana, lost waitress of the lakes or whatever, is by pretending she won a fridge full of beer. The current Mrs. Bauer lets him come in, and we meet Diana’s completely creepy (like, The Ring scary) daughter. Eventually, Mr. Bauer comes home, and the jig is up. Don puts up a good fight, but Diana’s ex isn’t having it. He follows Don to his car and bitterly spits out: “You think you’re the first one who came looking for her? She’s a tornado, just leaving a trail of broken bodies behind her.” Hmmm, sound familiar?

Don gets in the car, picks up a hitchhiker, and decides to head towards St. Paul. For those of you, like me, who are bad at geography, this means he’s not driving back towards New York City. The hippie he picks up worries he’s taking Don out of his way. “It’s not a problem,” Don says as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” (one of the loneliest and scariest songs ever about alienation and outer space) begins to play.

But! Meanwhile, back in New York: 

Roger is flitting around the SCP offices—trashed and mostly empty—like a ghost. Even Harry Crane feels puffed up enough about what he considers his moment to smarm about executive dining halls and to bat away Roger’s insults. “See you in the funny papers,” Harry says before leaving. Can there be a more irritating exit line? Shirley, too, has the audacity to quit Roger—she found another job in travel insurance. “Advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone,” she tells him in what really should be the title for this episode. That said, she adds, “You’re very amusing.” Ouch.

Joan, at least, begins this episode on a high. The women of McCann bring her a plant to welcome her and suck up. Joan’s face seems to be sort of delighted that she’s already considered important enough for female copywriters to be buzzing about her, hoping for business. But this, unfortunately, does not last long.

Next: Things for Joan go from bad to worse. (Ferg!)

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