Apparently, heaven is not all it's cracked up to be. In episode 12 of “Mad Men,” the crew of the now-defunct SC&P transitioned into their new home at McCann-Erickson and, though they had been promised “advertising heaven,” the reality was something much less inviting. With only two episodes left in the AMC series after Sunday’s “Lost Horizon,” the move to McCann is pushing Don (Jon Hamm), Joan (Christina Hendricks), Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) and company into strange new territory -- literally and figuratively -- as the show twists and turns toward the finale.
As could have been expected, McCann turned out to be exactly the brutal, personalityless sausage factory of a firm Don and the rest of the SC&P team have been trying to avoid and actively fighting for a decade on the show. Don was given an enthusiastic welcome by Jim Hobart (H. Richard Greene), but his trophy genius sat diluted in a room of a dozen other creative directors just like him. Elsewhere, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and Ted (Kevin Rahm) appeared as bland McCann hacks, Joan came up against the most aggressive sexism seen yet on the show, Roger (John Slattery) feared he had blown it for everyone with the McCann deal and Peggy dreaded the possibility of her hard-won career climb being erased.
At times, the amount of ground covered in the hour made the episode feel a bit disjointed, but maybe that was the point. Moments where familiar SC&P faces met were few and far between -- a touching moment between Don and Joan in the elevator, Ted’s knowing look when Don skipped out on a meeting with Miller. You have to die to go to heaven, and everyone dies alone. Each character’s stake in the episodes was completely his or her own as they each faced fight-or-flight dilemmas to establish a position at McCann.
In what could potentially be her series' swan song, Joan chose fight. Tired of Dennis Ford’s (Greg Cromer) relentless misogyny, Joan appealed to the seemingly friendly Ferg Donnelly (Paul Johansson) for help. When Ferg turned out to be Herb Rennet (Gary Basaraba) 2.0, she again went up the ladder to Hobart. However, when the McCann boss made it clear how little he valued Joan’s work, the former office manager took a stand, demanding he buy her out of her shares under threat of an ACLU lawsuit. Joan’s hard stance was an admirable culmination of the character’s ever-increasing assertiveness. Roger later convinced her to take a deal for half of what she was owed. Sometimes it is easier just to walk away.
Meanwhile, Roger and Peggy were having a hard time walking away in another sense. The two spent the episode camped out in the SC&P office ghost town delivering the show’s weekly touch of the surreal. With Roger lamenting his lost legacy and Peggy dreading her future, the two presided over SC&P’s unofficial funeral. A drunken Roger hopped on the organ while an equally inebriated Peggy roller skated around the office.
Then, there was Don. Given the choice of fight versus flight, longtime viewers know Dick Whitman will always choose to escape, and in “Lost Horizon” Don embarked on a getaway odyssey the likes of which fans have not seen since he abandoned Pete in California in Season 2. He even had some company in the form of Bert Cooper’s (Robert Morse) ghost. The last time Don saw Bert -- his ghost that is -- his former boss was singing to him that “the best things in life are free.” Returning to him after Don and the rest of SC&P just submitted to the ultimate pay day, Cooper served as a reminder of Don’s unending state of lost.
Of course, a Bert Cooper appearance demands some astronaut imagery and after Don makes an ill-advised trip to Diana’s (Elizabeth Reaser) ex-husband’s house in Wisconsin, Don continued further west, picking up a hitchhiker as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” took the episode to credits. Like the astronaut in the song, the men and women of SC&P have been uprooted and launched into a strange new place, forcing them to look at the world a little differently.
Peggy, who has spent seven seasons trying to make the powerful men around her comfortable with her advertising prowess, marched hungover into the McCann office with a cigarette in her mouth, sunglasses on and Cooper’s octopus sex art under her arm. Roger, who has never particularly cared about his employees, has now become obsessed with the well-being of the people he let McCann buy. Joan, who has never been able to walk away from the office despite many opportunities, finally makes a stand and an exit.
As for Don, it is not clear where he will end his soul searching journey, but it will certainly be someplace new, emotionally if not geographically. “Lost Horizon” was the most compelling episode of the final run so far, which seems to be the case every week these days. Like the horizon, fans can see the show’s end in the distance, even if much still remains a mystery.
What did you think of “Lost Horizon?” Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.