The Mad Men Series is fast drawing to a close, and the changes that each of the main characters has been going throughout the turbulent decade when the series is supposed to take place finally seems to be winding down a bit. In last week’s Mad Men episode, fans saw them struggling with the sudden, yet inevitable merger with McCann Erickson, in a plan that calls for the permanent closing of the offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners (SC&P). They fight it initially, only to find that, for the first time, they are unable to do what they specialize in. Namely, selling. Eventually, the partners themselves get sold on the idea of the merger. Yet, when they hold a meeting to inform the employees at SC&P, they find themselves, once again, unable to sell anyone on the idea.
So it is that the Mad Men series that takes place in perhaps the biggest decade defined by change, the network is coming towards the end of the series with each character having once again to adjust to change. In Lost Horizon, which is the 12th episode of this final season of Mad Men, the move has become a reality. Everyone is adjusting to the new, yet somehow gloomy and inhospitable new office space of McCann Erickson. Everyone of the main Mad Men characters shows some signs of strain regarding the move except for Pete, who does not feature prominently in this particular episode. Initially, for Don and Joan, the move seems to be positive and pleasant enough, although that changes radically for both of them in a hurry.
Joan initially gets invited by some of the other women to have dinner, in what they refer to as a “bitch session.” She is smiling and seems comfortable, and one can almost read her thoughts, that maybe this merger will not be so bad. However, when she is not taken seriously by her male subordinate, precisely because she is a female, she petitions a superior, Ferg, who decides to partner up with her instead. Things go further south, however, when he makes less than subtle advances, clearly expecting her to give out. When she takes this up to the big boss, Jim Hobart, she is told that he is not willing to shake things up on her account, that McCann Erickson works a certain way, and that her status as partner at SC&P means nothing here and now. When she suggests that she might just take her money and run, he offers her fifty cents to every dollar that she is owed so that he will never have to see her again. She will only get half of what she is entitled to. Joan threatens to fight, to bring the ACLU to the doorstep of McCann Erickson, but in the end, she backs off and accepts the money and runs.
The most iconic figure in Mad Men, Don, in the meantime, initially seems to be enjoying his implied status as the golden boy. He finds out that Hobart has been pursuing him for ten years, wanting to bring him on board McCann Erickson. But the first clue that Don is not nearly as comfortable as all of this is when he first sees his office, which gives out on a view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. He seems to want to open the window for some fresh air, but the windows cannot be budged, and the atmosphere inside seems stifling. Later, Don attends his first meeting with the creative team, and it is filled with people and impersonal. We see Don turning to the window while he should be paying attention to the meeting, and he sees an airplane in the distance beyond the Empire State Building.
Just like that, he turns around, picks up his boxed lunch, and walks out of the meeting without a glance back. We see Ted watching Don, and unable to suppress a smile, although at this point, it is too early to accurately guess what that smile might mean. Fans next see Don talking to Betty, and on the verge of seducing her, but she gently turns his advances away, and informs him that she is now attending college. He goes out for a drive and takes an exit heading towards Pennsylvania. Towards the end of the show, he has gone all the way back to the Midwest, perhaps reminiscing about his own rural roots.
With only two more episodes of Mad Men left, fans can begin to wonder if Don Draper is essentially no more. If he is going back to his real identity as Dick Whitman, the identity that Don has gone to such extreme lengths to hide from everyone, so that he can continue his life as an important, wealthy New York City executive. Now, Don seems to be embracing a more humble role. We see him pursuing his love interest, Diana Bauer, and claims to be a representative from Miller beer, hoping to inform Mrs. Bauer that she has won a prize. It is the wrong Mrs. Bauer, however, so Don has to wait for the husband to arrive. When he does, Don is exposed right away, and admits that he is not with Miller, although he then poses as being from a collection agency, and needing to get in contact with Diana right away. But the husband remains skeptical, and informs Don that he is not the first man to pursue Diana, his ex-wife.
Don continues to drive around in the Midwest somewhere, although fans do not know precisely where he is, what he is thinking, or what his intentions are. We get the impression that this leave from the office might not be so short-lived when Don picks up a hitchhiker, and asks where he is heading. When the man responds that he wants to go to St. Paul, Don responds that he could head that way. It seems that he will likely still be on the road when Mad Men resumes next week. Whether or not Don Draper will still be an active character on Mad Men remains more of a mystery, however.
In the meantime, viewers see Peggy having many of the same issues, if not the symptoms, of a complete lack of respect from a chauvinistic workplace, as Joan does. Despite being in charge of accounts, she is given some flowers, like each secretary has been given, and she does not even have her own workplace yet. So, she stays on at the old offices of SC&P, even though these are being emptied out. These old offices are clearly a part of the past, and are an empty husk of what they had been not too long ago. At some point, the power itself goes out, and Peggy can no longer use her own phone.
While there, she runs into Roger Sterling, who is playing dark music on the organ. Viewers have rarely ever seen them truly interact on the Mad Men series, although they get along royally here. Roger urges Peggy to make an alcohol run, but she offers him some vermouth that she has instead, and he accepts. Roger gives Peggy a 150-year old painting of an octopus pleasuring a woman, which belonged to the late Bert Cooper. They talk and joke together, and at one point, fans see Roger playing the organ as Peggy rolls around the empty office space in her skates. Something about this exchange seems to restore Peggy, as viewers see her walking the tight halls of McCann Erickson with the painting that Roger has given her, and a cigarette dangling from her smiling, mouth, exuding confidence.
Ultimately, this episode shows the characters of Mad Men displaying more humanity than perhaps fans are used to seeing from some of them. While Mad Men has become synonymous these days with an antiquated, chauvinistic workplace, viewers see that the offices of McCann Erickson are far more extreme in this regard. And if, at times, Don and some of the other men in the office seemed a bit shallow and full of themselves, the new work environment under which they are now supposed to work seems be filled with men who are even more extreme in this manner. Yet, perhaps the irony in all of this is that after navigating through a difficult decade of adjusting to all manner of change, Mad Men now seems to be wrapping up with the characters adjusting to a new office that foreshadows the impersonal, faceless, modern office space of the modern workplace that focuses only on profits, and a whole lot less on personalities. There will now be only speculation as to what the writers of Mad Men have in store for the final couple of episodes.
By Charles Bordeau
Photo courtesy of Angela Natividad – Creativecommons Flickr License