May 3, 2015, 10:00 p.m. (EST), AMC
“This was a hell of a boat, you know?”
It’s unsurprising, late in its run, that Mad Men is getting a little nostalgic about what once was. This final stretch of episodes has been rife with callbacks to the history of the show and full of character interactions we’ve all been waiting for a very long time to see (like a drunk Peggy rollerskating through SC&P while Roger plays the organ, for example, which basically came fully formed out of Mad Men fan fiction I’d never have the time to write). “Lost Horizon” is all about the might have beens, but its also about what might be. McCann Erickson quickly proves itself to be the hellscape everyone has always feared it would be, but while Ted and Pete settle in quite well there (to no one’s surprise), the rest of the team is full of regret and feeling like they’ve lost all they worked for. McCann could prove to be a great opportunity, in theory, but it could just as easily prove to be a prison that sucks the life from all of these characters. Which is why tonight, we see Don Draper do what he does best.
Before that, though, we should talk about Joan, who experiences the toxic misogyny she saw from across the table a few weeks ago first hand and basically refuses to take it. She tactfully runs things up the pole from the vile Dennis to the predatory Ferg until she finally sees Jim Hobart’s true face, and is unceremoniously shunted out of the agency with only half of what she is owed. It’s a storyline designed to make any long time fan of the show absolutely sick, filled with disgust and fury. We all know what Joan has gone through over the past decade. We all know how hard she has worked to claw her way into a position of respect. And then, in an instant, it is taken from her. Again and again in the time since Joan secured her partnership, the others have thoughtlessly thrown her aside whenever it was convenient for them, and those are the people who like Joan. At McCann, she’s nothing, and when she refuses to take more of the abuse she has been dealing with her whole life, she is removed like a thorn that dared to exist in a garden Jim Hobart walked near one time. It’s a sickening series of events that is deeply hard to watch. Joan looks at her future, sees an exit, and takes it. It’s a loss, sure, but at least she loses on her own terms.
Everyone is looking at exits tonight. Roger and Peggy hide out in the old SC&P offices, and Roger tells Peggy of the time he jumped off a boat in the Pacific (with a little push), even as he decries his place at McCann as a nursing home. SC&P is a boat he was similarly unwilling to jump off, and try as he might, he can’t seem to see this push as a good thing in the making. It feels like an ending, and one that might not be going his way. Peggy’s feelings are different, because as usual, she doesn’t have all of the information. She sees McCann as a new opportunity, and when she strolls in with her tentacle porn and her cigarette, sunglasses covering her hungover eyes, she clearly thinks she’s walking into a new beginning. And she very well may be. Unlike Joan, Peggy tends to accept what she has to in order to survive. She knows the world is a terrible, sexist place for a woman like her, but she finds a place in it anyway, misogynists be damned. Peggy may not thrive at McCann, but she could probably survive there long enough to get the benefits the recruiter told her about next week. She could make it another line on her resume, if she wanted it badly enough.
Then there’s Don, who sees the researcher giving the Draper-style pitch, looks up at a passing plane, and realizes he’d rather be anywhere else than in that meeting. And, unsurprisingly, he splits, heading to Racine to find Diana, and then off into the middle-American distance, with David Bowie playing on the radio (in another amazing moment I would never have expected to see on this show). It’s hard not to read Don’s brief stint playing another role as Matthew Weiner winking at the persistent fan theory that the series would end with Don taking on a new identity (similarly, Don finding the draft in his office window has to be a mocking reference to the camp convinced Don is set to take the plunge depicted in the opening credits).
As Don drives off at the end of the episode, both of those endings are, theoretically, still on the table (although come on, people. Don isn’t jumping off a building). But so is pretty much anything else. Don Draper has always found the mystique of possibility fascinating, the aroma of freedom completely intoxicating. And despite all of the complaining we see from our heroes tonight (including Roger snorting “fat lot of good that did me” as an insanely rich white man’s goodbye to Shirley, a black woman wise enough to see the culture of advertising wasn’t going to do her any favors), they really are about as free as it is possible to be. Each of them is rich. None of them is really tied to their jobs (only Peggy really needs to keep working in advertising, and she isn’t bound by a non-compete), and, for the most part, none of them is even tied to a family or anything that would keep them from high-tailing it to parts unknown. Anything could happen to these people. Anything could happen to any one of us. Life tends to move in unexpected ways. Plans tend to change, or be changed, people tend to behave in ways we might not expect. There’s always an opportunity to change, if we want to take it. There’s always a different road we could take, if we choose to. There are endless streams of lost horizons behind us, but there’s always another one to try to catch tomorrow. Now it’s time to leave the capsule, if you dare.
- “We’re not going to be bunkmates, Crane. I’ll make them build another floor if I have to.”
- “Mr. Sterling, its not you. Advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone.”
- “If its in it, near it, or makes you think about it, we’re on it.”
- “How was the Bahamas?” “Its everything we say it is in print.”
- “I’m Don Draper from McCann Erickson.”
- “It’s an expression!” “Which he shouldn’t be allowed to use!”
- “I’m sorry. Who told you you got to get pissed off?”
- “How are you, stranger?” “Homesick.”
- “Do you think ‘quagmire’ should be plural?”
- “That’s not very subtle.”
- “I don’t want to go anywhere I don’t want to go. Don’t make plans for me.”
- “You shouldn’t do that.” “That’s not gonna stop me.”
- “You like to play the stranger.”
- “All I found was lighter fluid. I’m not there yet.”
- “Would you drink Vermouth?” “Yes, I’m afraid I would.”
- ‘I’ll have you know I held this place together.” “I know you think that, but you actually sold it. You were supposed to watch out for us.”
- “Even if your name’s on the damn door, you should no better than to get attached to some walls.” “Well, hopefully I’ll have that problem someday.”
- “I didn’t mean to disturb you.” “Yeah, but you did.”
“Lost Horizon” is all about the might have beens, but its also about what might be.