Mad Men Thread: Lost Horizon

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Lost Horizon was a 1933 Utopian novel by James Hilton. It was adapted into a movie by Frank Capra in 1937 and laid an egg at the box office for a variety of reasons including a Utopia that resembled a Midwestern hotel lobby. Ronald Colman, an actor known for his pretty mug and mellifluous voice, starred as Robert Conway who found, lost and then once again found his Shangri-La. Sound familiar? Like Don Draper with an English accent? That’s *one* of the reasons the latest installment of Mad Men is  aptly entitled Lost Horizon.

Don Draper isn’t the only one who feels defeated and lost in the wake of SCP’s sale to the barbarian hordes of McCann and Malaka. There is buyer’s and seller’s remorse on both sides as the sale breaks up our old gang, and introduces an element of chaos into the well-ordered office of the large, impersonal, corporate ad agency. Loss pervades the entire episode even among those who are ostensibly winners: Don and Jim Hobart who landed his white whale. The only characters who are happy with the change are  a depressingly sweaterless Ted Chaough, Pete Campbell whose WASP credentials will help the heavily Hibernian agency, and Harry Crane: human cockroach. Harry is a survivor and he’ll thrive at McCann and Malaka because he *is* one, a malaka, that is. I hope that won’t be the last time we see Roger insult Harry but if it was, what a way to go out.

The customary random and discursive comments will follow the break and this picture of the Pegster strutting down the hall at McCann like a Mod goddess (modess?) near episode’s end:

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Fight Or Flight: Peggy and Joan’s Choice- To say that McCann and Malaka is a hostile workplace environment for women is a grotesque understatement. Even for 1970, the evil empire is backward in how it treats its female employees. Peggy and Joan are dealing with similar issues but handle them in very different ways.

First, the Pegster.  She  is not assigned an office and receives the same flowers McCann sent to all the “gals” from SCP. That’s right, the secretaries. Peggy, quite correctly, is not amused. She refused to report to McCann until assigned a proper office. In short, she’s a copywriter on strike.

While on strike, Peggy is involved in something of a ghost story at SCP’s empty office space. She hears some creepy organ music right out of the silent version of Phantom of the Opera. Initially, I thought it was the ghost of Bert Cooper who popped up in Don’s caddy in this episode, but it was Roger who was also effectively on strike.

The Pegster and Roger the Sterling Silver Tongued Devil drink sweet vermouth and ruminate on what the end of SCP hath wrought. (I’m trying not to do anything hath assed as the series winds down.)  Roger gives Peggy an oblique pep talk as well as Bert Cooper’s print of “an octopus pleasuring a lady.” The two get so looped that this happened:

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The Pegster on rollerskates reminds me of the time she rode a Honda scooter around an empty studio when Don and Ted were sworn enemies and the former scammed the latter. Ted has now simply given up. Peggy, however, is ready to FIGHT THE MAN. I hope she wins, but places like McCann and Malaka have a way of sucking the life out of people.

Let’s turn our attention to Joan and her epic struggle with the McCann bros. She is stuck working with that Dennis puke who conducted an innuendo laced meeting with Joan and Peggy in the first episode of this mini-season. He manages to insult a wheelchair bound client at Avon by offering to book a golf date with him at the Augusta golf course that’s the home of the Masters. The client is not amused and neither is Joan. It turns out that Dennis was too busy contemplating Joan’s big American breasts like one of the Festrunk brothers to listen to her attempts to brief him about her accounts.

Joan then goes from the Dennis sexist frying pan into the Ferg Donnelly fire. She gets Dennis taken off her accounts but Ferg replaces him with someone just as horny and sexist, himself. Ferg makes it clear that she’ll never be any man’s boss at McCann and that he hopes to get horizontal with her as soon as possible. This is where things get dangerous for Joan: Ferg is a big macher at McCann. Joan’s choice is now fight or flight. She tries a little bit of both after conferring with her new beau.

Joan storms into Jim Hobart’s office and demands to have Ferg removed from *her* accounts. We’ve only seen Hobart in avuncular mode but the mask drops and he goes all ruthless on her ass. He informs her that she’s just another brick in the McCann wall. Joan plays hardball and threatens him with the media and the EEOC just like a damn bra burning feminist pinko. I was proud of her. Hobart was dismissive and offered her a 50% buyout of the rest of her contract after telling her that he’d rather sue her into the ground than pay her off.

After speaking to a livid Hobart, Roger convinced Joan to take the money and run. I think it was a wise choice. McCann is full of bros who believe in the ridiculous adage: big tits, small brain. Time for Joan to get out of Dodge and build her own empire, whatever it may be, elsewhere. I hope she finds her Shangri-La:

Don Draper Meets Dean Moriarty: Don is more like a combination of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty since he’s a brainy hunk, but he’s got On The Road on his mind. It’s funny, I just mentioned Mike Scott’s obsession with Jack Kerouac and OTR popped up the next night in a conversation between Don and Bert Cooper’s ghost. It must be destiny or something equally amorphous.

The main reason McCann and Malaka purchased first Sterling, Cooper and now SCP is Jim Hobart’s Ahabian obsession with landing his white whale: Don Fucking Draper. Don is flattered but still taken aback by the idea of being the *key* McCann man. Hobart has even gone so far as to buy a Milwaukee ad agency so Don can handle the Miller Beer account. The hoary old aphorism “be careful what you wish for” seems to apply to both Moby Dick and Captain Ahab in this instance.

Don attends a meeting with the Miller people about their new product “diet beer,” which will become Miller Lite and, in turn, inspire one of the best campaigns in advertising history: tastes great, less filling. Don sits in the meeting and realizes that, despite Hobart’s assurances, *everyone* at McCann is interchangeable and bolts  from the room. Only his frenemy Ted Chaough even notices him beat it like a beatnik. Just call him Don/Dick/Dean/Sal.

Don begins an epic road trip. He was supposed to take Sally to school but the kiddo had already flown the coop, so Don flirts a bit with his ex-wife, then hits the road. I guess all the talk about Miller beer and Wisconsin inspires Don to go Racine In The Streets to find out what happened to Diana the waitress. It’s the hunter in search of the huntress, but Don learns nothing from Diana’s ex-husband except that she’s a “tornado” who leaves human wreckage in her wake. Her ex gets off one of the most memorable lines of Lost Horizon: “I lost my daughter to God and my wife to the devil.” Don seemed to realize that his hunt for Diana the huntress was a lost cause much like his job at McCann and Malaka.

I think Don is finished at McCann. Hobart seems to be over his obsession with Don and the latter seems finished with the ad game. Instead of returning to New York to face the Ahabian music, Don picks up a hippie hitchhiker who’s headed to St. Paul, Minnesota. The hitcher doesn’t want to put Don out but he’s all “I can go that way,” which makes him, like the protagonist of a very famous Sixties anthem,  a man”with no direction home.”  It will be interesting to see if Don will revert to Dick Witman’s roots and live like another Dylan song, Only A Hobo.

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Lost Horizon closes with Don’s Caddy rolling down the highway to the tune of David Bowie’s Space Oddity. It’s a brilliant choice of music: a song about a space wanderer that conjures up images of Bert Cooper’s death during the moon landing as well as Don/Dick/Dean/Sal’s essential rootlessness. Bowie is also on the record as being an admirer of Jack Kerouac as pointed out by Will Dean of the Guardian:

We were played out, of course, by David Bowie. Not only was that pulled rising shot allied with the pre-chorus howl of Space Oddity (first released in 1969) the finest musical moment in the show since Don tuned out with Tomorrow Never Knows, it also drew a neat line between the Kerouac references. Bowie’s love of the writer is well known – and referenced in the song Subterraneans on Low (named for the 1958 novella) – but one of the most famous passages in On the Road also inspired the idea of the Spiders from Mars:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

I’ll  give the artist formerly known as Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke the last word. Ground control to Major Don:

 

 

8 thoughts on “Mad Men Thread: Lost Horizon

  1. Kevin says:

    There was certainly a lot in this episode to suggest that Don Draper may become the famous hijacker D.B. Cooper — or perhaps Matt Weiner is stringing us along. But from the title “Lost Horizon” to the car heading west, and even the use of “Space Oddity” at the end of the show, it’s all very interesting.

    D.B. Cooper (who actually booked his ticket as “Dan Cooper”) was a handsome fellow in his mid-40s who wore a conservative business suit and claimed he had a bomb in his briefcase. He smoked, he drank, he was courtly with the flight attendants, and he was never seen again after carrying off the hijacking in the airspace between Oregon and Washington in 1972.

    • Jose Jones says:

      There is no way that Weiner is going to imitate the DB Cooper story. Just like Sally was never going to go to Woodstock and the series was never going to end at midnight on 12/31/69. I don’t know why people focus on cheap historical references instead of the timeless themes that are the heart of the series.

  2. Wait. I have never watched, but is there really a firm called McCann and Malaka? Do they know what “malaka” means?

    • Adrastos says:

      @Karen: No. It’s McCann, Erickson. I call them that because they *are* malakas.

      @Jose: While I don’t agree with Kevin, I think Weiner’s messing with us, guesswork is part of the joy of being a Mad Men fan. I used to think Sally would become a Manson girl but I’ve moved on. Weiner’s cryptic style encourages such speculation.

  3. Adrastos says:

    The important thing is that *you* know what malaka means.

  4. kaleberg says:

    I gave up on Mad Men a while back. Don Draper was always the least interesting character, and they spent way too much time on him. He never changed. He never learned. He was wretchedly boring and predictable. Even his talent as an ad man was limited given the big changes in the advertising business in the 1960s. It was like watching an obsessive compulsive checking his front door lock before the nalaxone kicked in.

    Another thing that annoyed me was that the advertising business was changing dramatically in the 1960s, and somehow, Mad Men never seemed to echo any of it. Where were the boutique agencies? Where were all the new start ups challenging the perceived wisdom? Hell, where was Mad Magazine? It was like setting a series in the computer industry in the 1980s and ignoring PCs.

    • Adrastos says:

      @Kaleberg: I can tell you stopped watching. The focus of the current season is how our gang copes with the aftermath of selling their *boutique* ad agency to the corporate barbarians at McMann.

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