The Mad Men episode “Lost Horizon” shows the old Sterling Cooper & Partners network beginning to break down. As SC&P personnel move into the McCann building to join the larger organization, not everyone feels at home in the new corporate culture. Many – Harry, Stan, Pete, Ted, Peggy, and Roger – try to hang on to their jobs and old relationships while adapting to the more stratified atmosphere.
Unfortunately, they find themselves separated and isolated, due in part to different job titles and work spaces on different floors. Meanwhile, others – notably Don, Joan, Roger’s secretary, Shirley, and Peggy’s assistant, Ed – find the new corporate offices completely undesirable. Watching how characters gain or seek new identities in response to their change of “home” is highly entertaining.
For Don Draper, it takes just a couple of days at McCann, and maybe 10 minutes or less at his first customer meeting, to realize he doesn’t fit. On Day 1 at McCann, he rehearses his new identity to please the bosses: “I’m Don Draper from McCann Erickson.” But realistically, Don requires time, space, and freedom to generate creative ideas in his own unique way, whereas McCann is built on top-down control and a heavy daily meeting schedule. McCann could only stifle Don’s creative process.
Having already begun to morph his personal identity into a heroic image, Don walks out of the McCann meeting on Day 2 and drives to the Interstate towards Racine, Wisconsin to try to locate and rescue Diana Bauer. Once Don arrives at the Bauer residence and meets Mr. Bauer, Diana’s ex, the man sees straight through Don’s ruses (pretending to be Bill Phillips, then a collections agent) in order to learn of Diana’s whereabouts. Mr. Bauer warns Don not to try to save Diana, since “only Jesus can save her.” With that, Don heads back to the open road and soon picks up a hitchhiker, asking him where he’s headed. When the man says, “St. Paul” (several hours northwest of Racine), Don casually tells him, “I can go that way.” It seems that Don’s desire to play a positive role and help someone, whether he identifies as a hero or maybe just as a good guy willing to help out a fellow traveler, motivates his behavior. Meanwhile, in the back of his mind, he’s likely formulating a new career plan.
In his personal life, Don has bought a new apartment in Manhattan and asks Meredith, his chatty, shallow, but kindly secretary to decorate it for him. Not only is she surprisingly good at it, but she refuses Don’s offer to pay her for the work. Among the decor options she presents, Don selects fire engine red décor with white accents – a completely new style for him. To me, these colors suggest that he’s not ready to give up, and that he still harbors lots of energy and determination to create a new life for himself.
Of all the unlikely allies for Peggy, it’s Roger Sterling who advises her not to be overly compliant or attempt to make men feel comfortable. On the contrary, he hands her Bert’s provocative Japanese painting of a woman being pleasured by an octopus and suggests that she hang it in her office. With this insight, Peggy enters McCann with swagger, wearing cool sunglasses, a comfortable, sporty looking outfit, and a cigarette hanging from the side of her mouth. Along with her purse and box of office supplies, she carries the painting and catches the surprised interest of several men passing her in the hallway.
By contrast, Joan enters McCann with a more traditional look and a lack of direct honesty around men, a style that was typical of an older generation. For example, she speaks softly to cover her anger, avoids confrontations, and claims to be worried about “ruffling feathers.” In fact, though, she’s insulted at the way Dennis marginalizes her, the way Ferg feels entitled to “get to know her” on a weekend business trip just to have fun, and the way company leader Jim Hobart denigrates the value of her partner status at SC&P. We watch a mini transformation as Joan speaks with Hobart, first trying to make him feel comfortable while appearing professional, and then when that doesn’t work, switching to hardball negotiating. All of Joan’s emotional restraint and pretending make perfect sense in the sexist climate of McCann, but Hobart fires her anyway. On the personal side, she’s protected because of her new home in Richard’s heart. It seems to me, though, that at work, she might as well have spoken honestly to all the McCann execs from the start to at least have the satisfaction of positioning herself as an equal. Yet at that time in history, that level of honesty was a pretty radical idea among working women, who generally felt it was better to have a job, even if they had to pretend they were happy there in order to keep it.
To be fair, it isn’t clear how far Peggy’s direct and honest approach will carry her at this very male-dominated company. Maybe she’ll be fired next week. Yet if that’s the case, at least she’ll have the satisfaction of being true to herself along the way. Moreover, it’s Peggy’s frankness with Roger that gives him the push he needs to eventually take responsibility for the collapse of SC&P and then to step up and try to help the people whose jobs he jeopardized when he sold the company.
Roger’s identity goes from company president at SC&P to a McCann executive who has to take orders from above. But what’s more meaningful is Roger’s identity transformation from an executive gadfly to a leader who works hard to help his former SC&P staff. Yes, he gets drunk and tricks Peggy into drinking with him rather than going over to McCann on schedule. But during that time he also helps Peggy understand how to claim her own power.
Also, by negotiating behind the scenes with Jim Hobart on Joan’s behalf, he ensures that Joan will get at least half of her money that was stipulated in her contract. Furthermore, he works hard to convince Joan that it’s in her own best interest to accept the compromise or she might ultimately be left with nothing but legal fees. In addition, Roger tries to cover for Don after Don skips town by explaining to Jim Hobart, “He does that,” as if it’s normal behavior. Roger’s verbal skills might not save Don’s job, but it’s to Roger’s credit that he tries.
Other highlights of this episode include the large number of literary and cultural references – providing enough material to fill another entire essay – and the appearance of Bert Cooper’s ghost in Don’s car after Don drives too many hours in a row. Even though Don rejects ghost-Bert’s advice to forget about Diana, the apparition at least informs Don that he’s half asleep at the wheel and needs to wake up. After all, Don dying in a car crash wouldn’t be a great way to end the series, would it?
How will it all end? Tune in this Sunday night, 10/9c on AMC for the last episode of Mad Men before the series finale.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00WNBQ9O0,B00M6X9ZTG,B001A5HBJC]