[This is a review of Mad Men season 7, episode 12. There will be SPOILERS.]
There may be no more indelible image during ‘Lost Horizon’ than that of Peggy walking through the halls of McCann Erickson, triumphantly hungover, a cigarette dangling from the same lips forming a sly grin, as the rest of her face is concealed behind a pair of sunglasses. She’s carrying the painting from Cooper’s office – the one she previously expressed concern would upset the men at McCann – along with the rest of her belongings. This is how Peggy Olson announces herself. It is a fantastic sequence about how the characters choose (or don’t choose) to navigate the uncharted territory in which they find themselves.
In essence, ‘Lost Horizon’ is an episode of Mad Men that’s all about its characters in a constant state of motion. It is a state that contradicts what McCann Erickson is meant to represent: a state of perfection. After all, as Jim Hobart said last week, they’ve all died and gone to advertising heaven. But the supposed perfection of McCann Erickson isn’t heaven, and Jim Hobart certainly seems more like the Devil than anyone else during his meeting with Joan, wherein he flat out tells her that her status as partner at SC&P doesn’t translate to any such standing at McCann. He then implies that she can either put up with the endless sexual harassment from men like Ferg (and essentially be pushed back into her role as secretary), or she can take half of what’s owed to her and walk.
McCann Erickson is supposed to represent the titular lost horizon, the utopia that Don was told about way back in season 1. But really, the advertising behemoth is just a place stuck in a moment in time; a moment that has long since passed. The offices look eerily similar to the offices of Sterling Cooper in seasons 1, 2, and 3. The wood paneling, the cramped hallways filled with nameless people; even Don’s office looks like a reverse image of the one he had when we first met him. It’s almost a perfect facsimile of the place he had fled, so that he could build his own company. And that whistling window (which will immediately call to mind the falling man from the opening credit sequence that has befuddled theorists from day one), seems to be a reminder of the world outside trying to get in, or at least calling Don back out.
And without a doubt, Don hears that call. He’s been given a chance to finally nab the big clients he always dreamed of: Miller Beer, Coca-Cola, etc. And yet, while sitting in the McCann conference room, listening to a man rattle on, describing the ideal Miller drinker, the episode grants us yet another indelible image: That of Don Draper staring out the window as a plane flies by; it’s contrails cutting a streak across the sky. Perhaps it is heading west, the place Don knows he should be; the place that is Don’s lost horizon. We’ve all been watching Mad Men long enough to know what the look on Don’s face means, and when he picks up his box lunch and walks out of the room, it’s clear he’ll be gone for a while. And considering where we are in the final season, the question of his return resonates throughout the rest of the episode.
While Don takes to the open road, with Bert Cooper as his imaginary co-pilot, the rest of the episode continues with the theme of things in motion. By the time ‘Lost Horizon’ opens, the move to McCann is well underway. There are only a few stragglers left in what remains of the offices of SC&P. Roger hangs around, mourning the loss of the company he sold to save Don’s job. Meanwhile, Peggy bounces back and forth between the McCann offices and her old digs at SC&P. Throughout the episode, at first by circumstance and then by choice, the two refuse to be in one place – they reject the perfect stasis of McCann and choose to spend the day drinking vermouth and reflecting on what Sterling Cooper and Partners meant.
Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner’s terrific script for the episode seems to be doing something similar to what ‘The Forecast‘ did: comment on the show through the characters’ interactions. This time, though, the episode is more directly talking about the way we think of things that have ended (or will end very soon), as opposed to the tacit acknowledgement of why something is ending. Roger chooses to romanticize SC&P, framing it in a much better light than Peggy, who briefly attempts to challenge his assertion by saying it was in fact the opposite. Perhaps it’s the power of nostalgia, perhaps it’s the alcohol, but even she can’t hold on to those negative feelings for very long. Soon, the vermouth-swilling pair finds themselves in a strange, drunken moment where Roger plays the organ, while Peggy roller skates around the shambles of what was once a place that fueled the ambitions of the core cast. It’s a dreamlike sequence that seems to have a restorative effect on Roger and Peggy, who both shuffle in to McCann the next day taking decisive action. Peggy does her aforementioned walk through the halls; Roger, meanwhile, has the unpleasant task of telling Joan it’s in her best interest to take Jim’s offer.
Everything is still in motion, but there are pieces settling – like Pete and Ted, who seem to have already accepted McCann entirely. As everything drifts into place, it’s clear how unequal things are going to be. Joan is out against her will with half of what she’s owed, while Don finds his way to Racine, searching for the waitress he seems to think he shares a connection with.
The thing is, he does. Diana left her husband and daughter behind, and they’re just now picking up the pieces. After saying what could be construed as a goodbye to Betty, Don leaves what’s left of his two families behind, ignoring the wreckage he’s essentially left them in. Is his departure permanent? We don’t know. But we do know Don is headed west, to St. Paul, with a drifter – another symbol of the itinerancy that dominated another strong episode.
Mad Men continues next Sunday with ‘The Milk and Honey Route’ @10pm on AMC.
Photos: Justina Mintz/AMC