Mad Men: “Lost Horizon”

TV Reviews Mad Men
Mad Men: “Lost Horizon”

The last time Don Draper saw Bert Cooper’s ghost, he had just landed on the moon. And not just Don—everyone had. They’d all huddled around their TVs and watched as mankind took that fateful giant leap in 1969, and then, after Bert died and Roger orchestrated the McCann deal, they returned to their offices and found out they had finally touched down on their own moon, that the kind of money and prestige they’d been working towards for nearly a decade was finally theirs.

The second time Don sees Bert’s ghost, he’s lost in space.

Because that’s the thing about the moon—you don’t know what it’s really like until you get there. You can gaze at it through your telescope for days, do as much research as you can from 238,900 miles away, but until you take that first step, you won’t really know what the terrain’s like out there. Maybe it’s rougher than you expected. Or maybe, as Stan suggested at the end of last season, it’s quicksand.

So yes, everything Don thinks he knows about McCann is great. He’s got a nice, big office, and plenty of new clients—including Miller beer, which Jim Hobart promises Don was brought in just for him. “You’re my white whale,” he tells him, and when Don practices introducing himself as an employee of McCann, Hobart actually puts his hand over his chest. But still, Don’s sinking, and he starts to feel it when he discovers his meeting with Miller is actually the entire creative department’s meeting, that he’s just another guy listening quietly over a boxed lunch. Of course, Don Draper never willingly moves down or backwards, so instead he settles for “out” and ditches the meeting for an impromptu roadtrip to Racine, Wisconsin to find Diana. (Don’s white whale is, after all, a healthy, lasting romantic relationship with a woman.) Ghost Bert pops up in the car to tell him it’s a bad idea and scoff when Don mentions On the Road—but not before quoting one of its lines to Don: “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?” It’s funny because five seconds earlier he was insisting he’d never read the book, but hey, we’ve all felt lost in space at one point or another, even Bert Cooper.

Oh, and that one small step for man everyone always talks about? Turns out it was more like one nearly undetectable shift of the weight for women, and the moon is pretty unbearable for Joan. After the guy assigned to help her transition her accounts to McCann blows it on a conference call with a wheelchair-bound client by asking him to play golf, she goes to Ferg Donnelly (more like Turd Donnelly, if you ask me) and asks to have someone else put on the account. He responds by telling her she overstepped her bounds because “He’s not going to work for a girl.” He offers to handle her accounts with her himself, and at first it seems to Joan like he’ll actually help make things right, but when he proposes a trip down to Atlanta and says “I’m not expecting anything more than a good time” and follows it up with a box of chocolates and a gross note the next day, it’s obvious we’ve got a sexual harassment suit just waiting to happen. When she tells Jim Hobart that her previous role at the agency gave her more independence, he flat-out tells her “I don’t care about your SC&P partnership” and implies it must have been left to her in a will. Joan refuses to quit without getting the remaining $500,000 she’s owed, and she threatens to sue to get it. Jim offers her 50 cents on the dollar to leave the agency—which is pretty much a slap in the face—and she initially sees it as such, but when Roger convinces her the next day that she risks losing even more of her money by taking legal action, she grabs the picture of Kevin on her desk and her Rolodex and takes the deal.

It’s disappointing to see Joan fold like this, especially because she was so strong in her meeting with Hobart, but I have to believe this isn’t over. Those two female copywriters walked in to her office for a reason at the beginning of the episode. And yes, it was to declare that they’re “strictly consciousness-lowering” and try to steal Peggy’s accounts, but the fact that they’ve got their own weekly vent session and are desperate for Peggy’s crumbs would indicate that they too are completely underutilized and unhappy at McCann. Is it too much to hope for Joan to poach them from McCann, take her accounts with her and use her buyout money to start her own agency? Even though it’s only half of what she deserves, $250,000 is still a pretty enormous sum of money in 1970 (with inflation, it’d be roughly $1.5 million today). Add to that however many millions in billings she’d get from Avon, Topaz and the rest of her accounts, and she’s got some healthy start-up funds.

And speaking of Peggy, not even she is safe from McCann’s sexism. Her office isn’t ready right away because they assumed she was a secretary, so she spends the first half of the episode working from the empty SC&P offices. At first, it’s a bummer—the lights in her office get shut off (which allows for some meta commentary: “That’s not very subtle”), she burns herself making coffee, and she’s forced to stroll past all the old signs that once hung proudly above the agency. The whole place feels kind of like an elephant graveyard, and when some spooky organ music lures her to Roger, who’s feeling lonely and nostalgic, one glass of vermouth leads to another and she soon finds herself in possession of Bert’s semi-pornographic octopus painting. At first she’s horrified. “You know I have to make men feel at ease,” she says, and Roger looks genuinely surprised by the idea. “Who told you that?” He convinces her to stick around for a while (“they made you wait; you can make them wait”), and eventually—in one of the kind of weirdly gorgeous scenes only Mad Men can pull off—she’s rollerskating through the empty halls accompanied by Roger on the organ. The next day, she strolls into McCann carrying all of her stuff—including the octopus picture—wearing sunglasses with a cigarette dangling from her mouth, smirking to herself. When you compare it to her timid first walk into Sterling Cooper a decade ago, it’s enough to take your breath away.

But as completely badass as Peggy’s first step on the moon is, she’s still got a long road ahead of her. Now that she’s no longer concerned with putting men at ease, will she command respect, or just fruitlessly butt heads with all the sexist dirtbags she’s forced to work with? With only two episodes of Mad Men left, Matt Weiner doesn’t have much time left for his characters to float aimlessly through space, but everything—the episode title (“Lost Horizon”), Harry referring to McCann as “mission control,” the not-very-subtle-but-still-amazing use of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” to close the episode—seems to indicate that once you’ve walked on the moon, there’s no going back to earth.

Stray Observations:
—This episode was a good reminder of what a smooth operator Don can be. That “Bill Phillips” identity rolls off the tongue a little too easily (not unlike “Don Draper”), and the Miller contest lie to get to Diana came so naturally to him, and when he got caught in it, he had another lie at the ready, claiming to be a collections agent. As Ghost Bert tells him, “You like to play the stranger.” And now he’s headed to St. Paul with a hitchhiker.
—That scene with Betty and Don is probably the last time we’ll see them together, and it felt right, the whole thing—from Betty eventually putting a stop to Don’s shoulder rub to Don’s support of her Freud studies. “Knock ‘em dead, Birdie.”
— “It’s an octopus pleasuring a lady.”
—This episode kind of subtly hinted at the bond between Joan and Pete. After they shared a cab last week and Pete told Joan, “They don’t know who they’re dealing with,” this week he’s doing his best to look out for her and get her in on whatever client meetings he can. She tries to return the favor, offering him up as a possible replacement on the Avon account. And then, just a week after Trudy told Pete he never takes no for an answer, Hobart tells Joan she’s “the kind of gal who doesn’t take no for an answer.” These two get each other—perhaps not as deeply as Pete and Peggy do, but they get each other.
— “She’s a tornado leaving a trail of broken bodies behind her.”
— “Are any of you actually planning to work here, or is this the con of the century?” Please let it be the con of the century.

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