Mad Men Weekly Review - Lost Horizon

“This business doesn’t have feelings. You get bought, you get sold, you get fired. If the account moves, you move. Even if your name’s on the damn door, you should know better than to get attached to some walls.” – Roger
I would hope that anyone complaining about the alleged aimlessness of the first few episodes of the “Mad Men” final run are eating their words now.

Last week’s episode, “Time & Life,” was arguably the best of the final season (last year’s installments included) and a game-changer, but damned if they didn’t at least equal if not top it this week with “Lost Horizon.”

There are so many great moments, so many great callbacks to past moments and such great imagery to unpack, but perhaps the biggest takeaway is the epic awesomeness, and yet sad fate, of Joan Harris.

It was clear last week when Joan was basically ignored by Jim Hobart in his “Come to Jesus” meeting with the SC&P partners that she wouldn’t enjoy the same status or respect at McCann, but that didn’t change how painful it was to watch her demeaned first by Dennis, the sexist McCann moron from “Severance”, and then only a little more subtlely, by his superior Ferg.

All of that then made it even more powerful when she finally met with Hobart and Joan, and Christina Hendricks for that matter, got a moment that was earned over the course of the entire series. Objectified by men, raped by her husband, sleeping with a client to earn her partnership, it’s all paid off when Joan threatens an unsympathetic Hobart with a massive shitstorm of lawsuits and bad press if he doesn’t buy her out. I don’t know if “Mad Men” will get any Emmy love at this late stage of its run, but Hendricks earned a statue this week.

Of course, it’s all for naught when she has little choice but to listen to Roger and take Hobart’s offer to pay half her buyout for her to disappear. It’s also a more realistic end result. Joan’s not going to be a vocal women’s lib trailblazer. She did what she did not for women's rights, but because she's a survivor who is trying to survive. But she’s also inadvertently set an example for
other women in the workplace and one of them is Peggy Olsen.

In an episode full of great images, the best may be Peggy strutting down the hallway of McCann Erickson wearing sunglasses, with a cigarette dangling from her mouth and clutching Bert Cooper’s provocative Japanese Octopus painting as a musical cue from David Carbonara’s score plays that I don’t think we’ve heard since the third or fourth season, usually to announce the presence of one of Peggy’s male counterparts, but now she's going to make sure she's their equal.

Peggy spends most of the episode in the hollowed out recesses of SC&P as she waits for her McCann office to be ready. Seeing the office dark and emptied out is both depressing and haunting, made even more so by Roger’s creepy organ solo plays while Peggy walks signage from the now defunct agency (and just so no one thinks the organ came out of nowhere to service the plot, it was also present last week in the play room when Peggy and Stan were auditioning kids).

Peggy has no office yet and Roger is basically putting off going to McCann, so the two spend the day (into night) getting drunk on vermouth while lamenting SC&P’s demise, culminating in the absolutely surreal and fantastic moment where Roger plays another tune on the organ as Peggy roller skates through the empty office. It’s a moment that is both bizarre, sad and hilarious in a way that only “Mad Men” can achieve.

And for more haunting imagery, there is no need to look further than Don stuck in a tedious research meeting at McCann looking out the window and seeing an airplane appear as a tiny speck flying past the Empire State Building.

Up to that point in the episode, Don is pleasantly surprised that it seems everything Hobart sold the SC&P partners on seems to be coming true. He’s given numerous new accounts and even appears to be getting back in to business with his “old friend” Conrad Hilton, but all it takes is a room full of creative drones and a plane flying off to places unknown for Don to go back to “The Hobo Code” and travel halfway across the country to Racine in search of a certain melancholy waitress.

Why does Don keep chasing after Diana? The best answer seems to be that in an office where he is basically superfluous and with a family that has moved on with out him, Don needs something to fix. And he sees in her a kindred spirit who, like him, has experienced pain and runs when faced with adversity. He thinks he can help her (or they can help each other), but as he’s told by Cooper in another hallucination and by Diana’s remarried husband, this woman won’t fix whatever it is that is ailing Don. More than likely, no one can fix Don except for Don himself, and I would guess Don’s journey to that point will be a big part of the series’ final two episodes.

Some other notes:

-Betty makes another appearance and while it’s clear from next week’s previews that she will be present, her scene in Sunday’s episode certainly felt like the final one between her and Don. After years of animosity, the pair still bicker like any divorced couple would but it seems they’ve finally reached a point of mutual respect, capped with Don’s genuine, “Knock ‘em dead, Birdie.”

- Some good period music this week. Brian Hyland’s “Sealed With a Kiss” plays over the car radio as Don drives west toward Racine and after Don picks up the hitchhiker and heads to St. Paul, David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” plays over the end credits.

- And in literary allusions, Don references Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” a novel the living and Ayn Rand-loving Bert Cooper would most definitely not have read, but since he’s dead, hallucination Bert can quote one of the novel’s famous lines: “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”

-Finally, the episode’s title, “Lost Horizon” is a reference to the 1937 classic film, which I haven’t seen but have heard of. It deals with the seemingly idyllic haven of Shangri-La (echoes of McCann Erickson?) and it was also the late-night film Don starts watching on the couch at Megan’s home in Los Angeles all the way back in “Time Zones,” the first episode of the seventh season last year.
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