This is Ground Control to Major Tom—Mad Men Season 7, Episode 12—Lost Horizon

Betty reading some Freud

Betty reading some Freud

By John Andrew Fraser

By all accounts, Semi Chellas is Matthew Weiner’s protégé. Over the years she’s written some of the show’s finest episodes, such as season five’s trippy “Far Away Places,” and season seven’s “The Strategy.” But it was her work on another season five episode, “The Other Woman,” that should have prepared us for this week’s hour. In that episode, Peggy Olson walked away from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in search of a new beginning while Joan prostituted herself in order to earn partner status at the agency. We’ll get to Peggy shortly, but this week was the final straw for Joan. Back in “The Other Woman,” she agreed to something terrible with the assurance that it would lead to more autonomy, more respect, and more power—and for awhile it did—she had finally climbed the ladder at SC&P and earned the job she had always wanted. Yet now that the agency has been absorbed by McCann, Joan’s worst fears from last week have already come to fruition—she’s nothing but a junior-level executive at McCann. Everything she’s worked for, after everything she’s been through, has been taken away, and she’s willing to take fifty cents on the dollar just to get out so she’ll never have to deal with it again. Just as Peggy did in season five, Joan leaves the agency—although with just two episodes left, I don’t think she’s coming back.

If this is the end of Joan’s arc (and it may be the end of her work-related story, but I’m almost 100% sure that we’ll see her again in the next two episodes), it’s worth asking whether any other character has changed as much during Mad Men’s run. In seasons one and two she was worried about meeting the right guy and moving to Glen Cove. In the pilot, she even told Peggy to put a paper bag over her head and really evaluate her strengths and weaknesses. Now, she’s staring down Jim Hobart and talking about Betty Friedan after her new boyfriend has offered to get Paulie Walnuts and Silvio Dante to come over and make him listen to reason. Would season one Joan even recognize season seven Joan if you put both of them together in a room?

We also found out this week that Roger Sterling knows how to play the organ! (Side question—why was there ever an organ in the SC&P office to begin with?) I guess it’s only appropriate since this episode did serve as a kind of funeral for the agency. Every scene with Roger and Peggy this week was solid gold. I loved seeing him play the organ while Peggy roller-skated through the halls of SC&P, I loved when he gave her Bert’s old painting of an octopus pleasuring a woman (was that the most Roger Sterling thing to do or what?), and I especially loved the slow-motion scene where Peggy walks down the hall at McCann for the first time wearing sunglasses while she’s clutching Bert’s octopus painting. I really hope that this scene hints at how Peggy will act during the rest of her time at McCann—showing up more than a little buzzed at 4 p.m. while just generally lacking respect for authority. Overall, these scenes seemed to serve as comic relief in an episode that was otherwise somewhat heavy at times, while also allowing the two characters to relive the time they spent at SC&P together, yet there was also a sense of sadness hanging over them. As Roger notes, “you’re never safe, even when your name’s on the door”—with the end of Sterling Cooper & Partners, he has quite literally been erased.

This idea of erasure follows Don throughout this episode as well. He’s invited to attend a meeting with Miller about a new low-calorie beer, but he finds that about twenty other Don Drapers (along with Ted Chaough) are also in the meeting. Just as Joan’s worst fears about McCann became reality this week, so did Don’s. He’s simply a cog in a huge machine, surrounded by drones who all turn their pages at the exact same time at the conference table. Don looks out the window and sees a plane fly by the Empire State Building and off into the distance. He senses that it really doesn’t even matter whether he’s in this meeting or not. He’s proven correct as he gets up, leaves and literally no one seems to notice. He shows up at the Francis residence to take Sally back to school, but she’s already left. Nobody seems to need him in either his work or his family life, so he decides to do the one thing any sane person would do—leave everything and drive to Wisconsin.

Don has always had a little Rabbit Angstrom in him, but nothing on the show has called back to John Updike’s 1960 novel quite like Don’s impromptu cross-state road trip in this episode. He’s looking for Diana—the waitress who everyone hated from the first two episodes this half season—but when he reaches Racine he can only find the remnants of the life she left behind—her daughter, her home, her ex-husband, and his new wife. I mentioned in an earlier review that Don probably saw a lot of himself in Diana, so maybe it was important for him to see what she left behind since he was always unable or unwilling to go back and witness the people he abandoned in his past. As the curtain closes on this episode Don is still driving. He picks up a hitchhiker who’s heading toward St. Paul. Assuming Don’s still in Wisconsin, he’s heading west. Who knows, he just might make it to California after all.

Other Thoughts:

  • After the previous four episodes ended with older songs, this one closed with David Bowie’s Space Oddity. I could not have been happier about this.
  • Usually more stuff slips through the cracks at a bigger company, but it doesn’t sound like Don will just be able to go AWOL at McCann like he sometimes did at Sterling Cooper. He’s already missed two client meetings and Jim Hobart doesn’t sound pleased. Will Don quit or get fired, or does it even matter anymore?
  • Seriously, where did that organ come from? I remember that one of the kids was playing it in last week’s episode. Also, was that some left-over Vermouth from the Pima Ryan ad that Peggy and Roger were drinking?
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