Mad Men recap: Lost Horizon
McCann Erickson turns out to the very opposite of Shangri-La.
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!)
Joan has a conference call with Barry from Avon, along with awful Dennis who didn’t read the brief she prepared for him—and so doesn’t realize he’s inviting a man in a wheelchair to golf. When Joan, rightly, explains why this is terrible, Dennis has the nerve to bristle: “I thought you were going to be fun.” But when Joan makes noise about this to Ferg, things get much worse. (Never forget: Ferg is played by Paul Johansson, who also played the awful John Sears on 90210—so you know he’s bad news). Bottom line: Ferg decided to be the main guy on all of Joan’s accounts. Oh, and he desperately wants to sleep with her, immediately suggesting that they take a weekend trip to “visit clients” and saying, “From now on, no one comes between me and your business.” Oh boy.
In bed with Richard, Joan gets upset when he tries to make plans for her. He turns out to be patient enough, though—are we sure he’s real?—and tells her that she can talk to him about work. When Joan explains the situation—she can’t walk away from half a million dollars—he gives her two options: Getting a lawyer, or letting him “call a guy.” Another alternate title for this episode!
At work the next day, Joan gets a gift and she smiles, thinking it’s from Richard. But nope, it’s from Ferg. The card: “Pick a weekend.” Gross!
She goes and sees Jim Hobart, who is probably already a little irritable due to Don’s disappearance. Things starts civilly enough, but quickly go downhill. Joan doesn’t budge from her position that what’s happening with Ferg needs to stop—even when Hobart straight-up starts insulting her. This is a very hard scene to watch; nobody puts Joan in the corner. Ever. Joan admirably stands her ground, matching Hobart threat for threat. The boss offers her 50 cents on the dollar of the money she’s owed to disappear, but Joan says she isn’t negotiating. Hobart throws her out of his office, telling her that he’d rather give the money to a lawyer. His face is a very unnatural shade of red.
Peggy, meanwhile, doesn’t even have a spot at McCann yet due to some mix-up. She goes to the desolate SCP and chats with Ed, who’s squatting there to make some long distance phone calls. I like Ed’s attitude.
At home, she watches a little TV and eats take-out (Burger Chef?) when Marcia arrives at the door with flowers. Peggy assumes the flowers are an apology—but no, Peggy received them because all the new secretaries got flowers. Ugh. Bottom line: still no office. And Peggy refuses to go work until she has one, which is reasonable. She heads back to the old space just in time for Ed to peace out (wearing a Mets cap, which means poor Ed has some tough sporting times ahead).
Marcia calls and tells Peggy that there’s finally an office ready for her. (No desk, but she’ll take it.) As she’s leaving, she hears creepy organ music—which turns out to be not a fever dream but Roger Sterling, literally playing an organ. He needs a drink and tries to get Peggy to buy him booze. Instead, she offers him vermouth, which leads us to what’s possibly the weirdest twosome in this show’s history.
It’s also pretty great. They keep drinking, and things get more honest: Peggy tells Roger that he was supposed to watch out for the company. He tells her that the business has no feelings. Roger calls Peggy hot stuff and tells stories about the Navy that can be read as metaphors. Then there’s a simply fantastic (and not nearly long enough) scene in which Peggy blithely roller skates around the empty offices while Roger plays, cigarette dangling from his mouth. (Did they go buy more Vermouth?)
In the morning, an impressively fresh-seeming Roger greets a very angry Jim Hobart. He’s furious that Don hasn’t been back—”He does that,” says Roger—and is threatening to let the axe fly… starting with a certain redhead. Suddenly, Roger’s paying attention.
He goes to see Joan and give her the bad news. Roger tells her that Joan won’t do better than 50 cents on the dollar. He urges her to take the money and be done. He’s worried that she’ll end up with nothing. For the first time, Joan looks truly rattled. After a painful, pregnant pause, she says she’ll take the deal. Oh, Joan! (Note that even half of her payout would equal over 1.2 million dollars today. But still, she was robbed.)
Let’s end on a more positive moment, shall we? Here’s Peggy Olsen arriving for work at McCann. She’s got sunglasses on, a spring in her step, a cigarette in her mouth, and she’s carrying the painting The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife from Bert Cooper’s office—the one that she worried would make men ill at ease. (Also, side note: do not, I repeat do not, under any circumstances, Google “octopus having sex with woman.” Trust me.) She strides down the hallway in true Draper fashion, not even pausing as men turn to stare. Get it, Peggy. Get it all.