If you’re Roger Sterling, one good way to gauge how you should feel about a new development is to see what Harry Crane thinks about it, and then take the opposite view. Harry is delighted with Sterling Cooper & Partners’ absorption into McCann-Erickson. He watches with little remorse as his mainframe is wheeled away, marveling to Roger that McCann has a phalanx of number crunchers who exist only to gather and interpret data. Who needs a machine? Now Harry has a machine made of people.
Maybe they can keep track of Harry’s hat size, Roger quips, because “it’s still growing.” Harry dismisses this crack with a question. Standing amid the abandoned remnants of the SC&P office, he asks Roger, “Why are you still here?” The question cuts more deeply than the immediate context would imply, which is to say it cuts just the way Harry intends it.
As the veterans of SC&P step into the McCann machine, many of them are searching for their own answer to Harry’s question. They find, as Shirley says while submitting her resignation to Roger, that “advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone.” That’s the latest slight against “advertising” from an SC&P staffer this season. Pete said to Ken that the ad world was a dull subject to write about. Peggy fumed at a star photographer’s penchant for advertising herself. And when Peggy in turn expressed her hope to create something of real import, Don sneered, “In advertising?”
These remarks served to subtly elevate the speaker above an abstract idea of “advertising,” and they often carried the implication that SC&P existed outside that craven realm, at least in part. Sterling Cooper was something more than advertising, the idea went. It was a notion that blended truth and convenient self-delusion. McCann, conversely, is “advertising” incarnate. The new company embodies every bit of the gray banality that the characters conjure whenever they take their industry in vain.
Don is destined to become the face of that institution, an uncomfortable reality that dawns on him in a meeting with Ferg and Jim Hobart. When Ferg performs a supposed impersonation of Don that sounds a lot like Richard Nixon, Hobart laughs and Don grimaces, nonplussed that his new masters are projecting the ultimate voice of the establishment onto Don Draper, the maverick of the ad world. And Hobart isn’t satisfied with mere ventriloquism. He wants to hear his new prize speak the company line himself, and Don dutifully obliges. “I’m Don Draper from McCann-Erickson,” he says, swallowing his pride to brand himself a walking subsidiary.
Ferg mentions that McCann “is a shirtsleeve operation—we want you to relax.” While that might be the stated purpose of the agency’s dress code, the more obvious upshot is to make everyone look the same, like drones in a hive. Don is taken aback by the worker-bee effect when he steps into a conference room packed with white-shirted men buzzing about before the Miller meeting. “Is this every creative director in the agency?” Don asks Ted Chaough. No, it’s only half of them, explains Ted, who’s wearing shirtsleeves.
McCann could not have constructed a more terrifying house of horrors for Don if it had tried. Here is a man who has worked so hard to create a name for himself—who has built his identity from scratch—and everything about McCann promises to make him merely one among many. It’s Don’s greatest fear, to live a life of banality that ascends to no greater significance. And that fear comes to a head as Bill Phillips of Conley Research makes his presentation for Miller’s diet beer.
“I’m going to describe a man to you with very specific qualities,” Phillips says, and his next sentence immediately breaks that promise: “He lives in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio.” The imaginary fellow has other nondescript qualities. He works hard, for instance. He has a lawn mower. “He wants a hammock.” The scene cuts to Don’s point of view as he looks at a row of white-sleeved hands grasping pens. None of them write anything because what is there to write? Phillips’ beige sketch of Mr. America leaves no point of purchase for the imagination. It’s Don’s nightmare: A specific man is subsumed by the generic.
The presentation is repulsive to Don on another level. Superficially, Phillips’ technique resembles Don’s own—he loves to tell an evocative story about the customer—yet Phillips strips the approach of any emotional resonance. The concluding point of the Miller presentation is that the customer in question likes a particular brand of beer, and Miller must convince him to try their brand. All this nonsense about a “very specific” man is an empty rhetorical trick to restate an obvious business question.
This is Don’s method reduced to its most functional and heartless. This is “advertising,” and Don had always aspired to more than that. The end of that fantasy, for Don and his colleagues, is the “Lost Horizon” of the episode’s title. Where is the horizon for the great minds of Sterling Cooper now? What do they look forward to?
Don’s family has plenty of horizons as they expand their lives without him. When Don drops by the Francis residence to drive Sally to school, he learns that she found a ride on her own, and the boys are busy with other activities, too. Only Betty is there, and she’s flush with excitement over her psychological studies. She thumbs through Freud’s case study Dora: An Analysis Of A Case Of Hysteria, a text whose subtitle Don might have applied to Betty back in the days when he was making her visit a therapist (and getting the session notes on the sly). Now Betty is empowered by the idea of hysteria, conquering it by understanding it. “I’ve always wanted to do this,” she says. He sees her looking ahead with excitement, and he’s truly happy for her. But her sense of purpose also re-emphasizes his lack thereof.
That inner emptiness sends Don west, his preferred direction of retreat. He heads to Wisconsin (where Specific Man lives!) to take up his chase of Diana with renewed vigor. Don has always seen in Diana the vague promise of a satisfying end to his story, or at least the hope of a new chapter. He’s so desperate to bend his narrative arc away from its current endpoint—the anonymizing confines of McCann—that he’s willing to drive halfway across the country for a panicked rewrite.
In Don’s experience, the best way to change his story is to portray a new character. “You love to play the stranger,” Bert Cooper says when he appears in a vision to his former charge. So as he attempts to reach Diana, Don first impersonates Bill Phillips, and then when that identity outlives its usefulness, he effortlessly pivots to pose as a debt collector. There’s no problem a new name can’t solve, right? Except Diana’s ex-husband (clad in shirtsleeves) sees through all of them. “You think you’re the first one who came looking for her?” he snarls, and yes, that’s exactly what Don believed. He thought that he was special. Now here’s one more person telling him he’s not extraordinary, he’s just like the rest, and he might as well get used to it.
The hitchhiker in the closing scene says that he’s headed to St. Paul, and Don agrees to bring him there, even though it’s another five hours away from New York. “I don’t want to take you out of your way,” the rider says as he settles into the passenger seat. Don answers that “it’s not a problem.” In fact, it’s what he desires. Don’s path has turned, to his great alarm, toward a life of stultifying servitude of McCann. So yes, he wants to be taken out of that way. The question is whether there’s a road that leads anywhere else. Don plans to keep driving until he finds it.
Joan is less willing than Don to pick up and leave, although she has ample opportunity. Richard wants to whisk her away to Bermuda, or to Cape Cod. “I don’t want to go anywhere I don’t want to go,” she says. “Don’t make plans for me.” There’s the crux of Joan’s frustration with McCann. She had to fight to carve out a career at Sterling Cooper, but at least she made her own plans, to a degree. When she had to spend a night with the lecherous kingpin of Jaguar dealers, the lone consolation of that horrible decision was that she made it herself. She set the terms, she imagined the reward, and then she took it. Later, when the SC&P partners placed little faith in her ability to handle accounts, she bypassed them to forge new account relationships by herself. (Peggy helped.) The honchos of McCann, though, take a firmer hand, and their vision of Joan’s career includes her in only the most cursory and demeaning manner.
Joan’s first glimpse of McCann’s culture offers hope and, in retrospect, a more important foreboding. She talks to a pair of women from the copy-writing department who are eager to work on all of Joan’s pudenda-related accounts—“If it’s in it, near it, or makes you think about it, we’re on it,” one of them boasts—and they invite her to a ladies club that they characterize as “not women’s lib, just a bitch session.” Theirs is a strange feminism, framed in the language and assumptions of male chauvinism, but Joan at least sees something she can work with at McCann. It’ll be the last time.
She certainly can’t tolerate cocksure account man Dennis, who we previously saw advising Joan to get into the bra business. Now, Dennis insults a wheelchair-bound Avon executive on a phone call by obliviously trotting out his one-size-fits-all “let’s play golf!” sales patter. When Joan rebukes her unprepared, apathetic colleague, he reacts with indignation: “I’m sorry, who told you you got to get pissed off?” In the new order, Joan isn’t even entitled to her own emotions.
“I thought you were going to be fun,” Dennis grumbles as he skulks out of Joan’s office, and from there her plight only worsens. Every time Joan goes another step up the corporate ladder, she encounters a more concentrated and potent form of the misogyny that suffuses McCann. Where Dennis merely imagined that Joan would be “fun,” Ferg implicitly insists upon it, setting up itineraries for frivolous account-maintenance trips where he expects “a good time.” His reassurance that “nobody comes between me and your business” might have brightened her spirits in a different context, but after enduring a few minutes of his slimy insinuations, Joan knows that when Ferg refers to her “business,” he’s thinking in terms of being in it, near it, and on it.
Amid this misery, a spare moment with Don is the high point of Joan’s day. They both light up when they encounter each other on the elevator, and Don is outright bubbly as he offers to intervene on her behalf. For her part, she says that she’s “homesick,” as well she would be. Over the past decade, Joan has endured more than her share of indignities and setbacks, but throughout it all, she has been able to perceive a through-line of progress. The move to the new office has wiped away all of that progress, and now her vision of a fulfilling career is in rapid recession. Still, she tells Don that she’ll figure a way out of her fix. “Of that I am certain,” Don says. With five words, he imbues Joan with the agency that the boys of McCann so jealously keep from her.
Don’s confidence rings hollow in this new context, though, because there’s no way out but up for Joan, and at the top of the mountain she runs up against Jim Hobart, her most ruthless detractor. Hobart is pudgy and saggy, with a weary slump to his posture and pants pulled up to his bellybutton. He’s shot from below for much of his tense exchange with Joan, however, which creates the visual dissonance of a small man looming over a strong woman. The director assiduously avoids placing Joan and Hobart in the frame together while they’re standing, lest they appear as equals, a lightly and purposely irritating visual ploy that renders Joan’s glass-ceiling frustration in visual terms. She constantly seems half as tall as she ought to be in this scene, a fitting sensation given that Hobart offers her half of the money that she deserves.
Roger encourages Joan to take it and not to follow through on her legal threats. “You started something that could leave you with nothing,” he says, driving home the speed with which her horizons are dissolving. In response, she picks up a photo of her son and her Rolodex, symbols of the family life and career that she built for herself. Jim Hobart can stifle her future at McCann, but he can’t take away her past, and perhaps that blunts the pain as Joan tells Roger that she’ll take Hobart’s deal and leave. It’s the only choice McCann was willing to let her make.
Joan has a rough first week to put it mildly, but say this much for the folks at McCann: At least they give her an office. For a few days, Peggy can’t even scrape together that much, forced to dwell in the limbo of Sterling Cooper’s gutted headquarters as the lights go dark around her. McCann’s quasi-Soviet bureaucracy mistakes her for a secretary, and her own assistant sheepishly delivers a basket of flowers just like the one given to all the other “SC&P girls.” While Peggy’s case is sorted out by the McCann apparatchiks, she’s left to linger on old business.
Peggy enlists her newly redundant office mate, Ed, to finish off work on the defunct Dow account. He responds with a mockup of an oven-cleaner ad that depicts himself as an army enlistee torching a Vietnamese village, with the tagline “CLEANS UP QUAGMIRE.” Peggy blanches at the impropriety of it, but maybe by the end of the episode she appreciates how Ed managed to perpetuate the stubborn puckishness of the old agency for one more day.
It takes an impromptu intervention by Roger for Peggy to see her past—and her future—in the proper light. After she spends the better part of a week trying to conduct serious business in an increasingly ludicrous setting, she’s startled by spooky organ music emanating from the bowels of the office. Her investigation of the noise takes her down a hallway strewn with previous logos of the late and lamented agency, a literal stroll through the past that leads her to Roger, who lent his name to those discarded emblems.
Roger and Peggy’s drunken reminiscence is the treat of this episode, a well-wrought, sweet, and even transformative interaction between two characters who rarely spend time together. Roger kicks off their party by wagging some cash at Peggy and asking her to retrieve some booze, which harks back to the days when he brandished $100 bills so she’d put together some ideas for him on the side. The difference is that now, as Peggy observes, Roger doesn’t need help; he wants an audience.
She supplies him with the company he needs, and her grudging attentiveness pays off. Yes, she has to sit there while Roger digs through his papers and waxes nostalgic about half-forgotten paramours, but amid the self-indulgence, Old Man Sterling has wisdom to offer. When she tries to decline the gift of Cooper’s 150-year-old Japanese tentacle porn, she says by way of explanation that “I need to make men feel at ease,” to which Roger responds, “Who told you that?” It’s an assumption she needed to question.
Peggy helps Roger, too. “This business doesn’t have feelings,” he says to defend his sale of SC&P. “You get bought, you get sold, you get fired.” Roger’s gaze drifts as he rattles off this litany, as he doesn’t really buy that cold assessment of his life’s work. When he proceeds to whine that there’s no use getting attached to the business “even if your name’s on the damn wall,” Peggy remarks that she’d like to have that problem someday. Her enduring pluck cheers Roger, who pours her another drink. Unlike Harry, who dances on the corpse of SC&P, Peggy looks forward without trashing everything that came before. She’s the only one of the Sterling Cooper veterans who views the McCann acquisition as neither an end nor a beginning, but rather a continuation of a longer journey. Her horizon is still in view.
So when Peggy frames the coming move as a challenge for both her and Roger to embrace, the de facto father figure of SC&P takes it to heart. He tells her a story from his navy days when he couldn’t jump in a lagoon because it was too far a drop from the deck of his ship. “I did it,” he says, “I just needed a push.” Perhaps Peggy’s careful optimism gives him the shove that he needed here. In return, when she talks about how miserable Sterling Cooper was, he pushes her not to put such a gloomy slant on the past. “Is that really how you’re going to remember this place?” he asks. “No,” she admits.
Their last scene together shows how they’ll remember it instead. Roger sits at the organ playing a tune, “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo.” Roger, mourning the end of an era, provides the bittersweet sadness. Meanwhile, roller-skating Peggy is the avatar of hope. Her loops around the empty hallways of SC&P evoke the scene in “The Chrysanthemum And The Sword” where she rides circles on a motorcycle in an empty studio. That moment—which was part of a scheme to dupe a rival agency—embodies Sterling Cooper at its most piratical.
Fittingly, then, a rebellious spirit emanates from Peggy when she finally arrives at her McCann office. The Peggy of a few days ago, the deferential supplicant with a flower basket meant for a secretary, is nowhere to be found. Instead, we have Peggy’s latest, boldest revision of herself. A cigarette dangles from her lips, and sunglasses obscure her gaze. She pulls it all off with an arresting swagger, with the octopus woodcut under her arm to signal that her days of making men feel at ease are over. If the idea of Sterling Cooper was to be something greater than “advertising,” Peggy intends to carry that ethos forward. The agency, in more than one sense of the word, lives on through her.
- This is the final version of tonight’s Mad Men review. Because our readers are always eager to read about and discuss the show after it airs, each week I’ll post a review that examines the main storyline of the episode (probably Don’s), and then throughout the night I’ll update the review with analysis of the rest of the show, screenshots, and more Stray Observations from my notes. In that way, I hope I can split the difference between posting a timely take and conducting the closer analysis that this show deserves.
- A McCann executive asks Ted before the Miller meeting, “Are you going to ‘bring us up a notch,’ too?” and Ted replies, “So they tell me.” The “bring us up a notch” line is the same one that Hobart fed to Don in their earlier meeting, and Don’s expression droops as he hears that Ted got the same treatment. It deepens Don’s fear that he’s become a cog in the McCann works.
- Don jokes that the new diet beer should be called “Tub,” a reference to the diet cola Tab. As a helpful aid to those who might have missed the joke, Joan has a can of Tab on her desk in a later scene.
- Peggy appears to be watching an early airing (maybe the premiere) of the Dennis Weaver series McCloud, which aired under the umbrella of The NBC Mystery Movie—a multi-series rotation that also included Peter Falk’s Columbo.
- Betty tells Don that his secretary is “a moron,” but this episode sees Don discovering new potential in chipper, helpful Meredith. She lays out an elaborate collage of inspirations for decorating his new apartment, and he’s impressed. She tells him that she was an “army brat” who moved around a lot, so she’s used to filling in a new home. Her experience with nomadic life and new beginnings understandably resonates with Don. He hands over responsibility for the design of his new home to her.
- As she’s threatening to create legal trouble for Jim Hobart, Joan mentions Ladies’ Home Journal and Newsweek. She’s referring to a feminist sit-in at the former publication and a sexual discrimination lawsuit at the latter.
- An earlier revision of this review got one of the lyrics for “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo” wrong—sorry about that.