Mad Men opened its sixth season long ago with Don Draper reading Dante’s Inferno and that season served as slow boiling retribution for Don’s many failings and brought his story to its lowest point. Don has since bounced back, though not untarnished from his actions, but Sterling Cooper & Partners has just found its own version of hell: the offices of McCann-Ericson. While everyone was understandably apprehensive about moving to, yet, another new place and being forced to work with outsiders, I don’t think they could have imagined just how suffocating the experience would actually be.
In “Lost Horizon,” director Phil Abraham already creates an air of discomfort before the characters see the rotten core at McCann. The McCann offices are designed as a visual counterpoint to the SCP offices, with the bland colors and constricting hallways presenting a stark contrast to the sleek offices of old and their wider spaces. Before trouble starts, the SCP people are at unease but seem open to the possibility of another fresh start. However, the mysterious wind gust blowing through Don’s new office is telling; something is wrong about this deal, but the crack can’t be identified (yet). Shirley already knows that as a black woman, she won’t be welcome at the new offices, telling Roger that “advertising is not a very…comfortable place for everyone,” and quits the job for something new.
Don and Peggy experience their own difficulties with the deal and yet, nothing compares to the humiliation and general nastiness directed at Joan. She has been having a particularly hard time dealing with piggish men in this last season and the ugliness she faces at McCann-Ericson looks to be the final tipping point for her to get out of dodge quick. Joan has to deal with apathetic assistants and entitled sexual advancements in addition to an uncooperative boss in Jim Hobart, leading to an intense argument between the two where Joan stands ground to defend her rights as a woman and an SCP partner and Hobart shuts her down pretty decisively. Every scene with McCann employees is more unnerving than the last, though Joan, unfortunately, has to share the brunt of it all.
In typical Don fashion, his problem isn’t that he’s treated unfairly; it’s just that he doesn’t feel right in his new position. The Miller pitch meeting is indicative of this as the presentation is made through a printout packet, lacking the flair and thrill of an early series Don Draper pitch. Don realizes at this meeting that his status as an individual employee means little amongst the larger whole, a point that is made more apparent by the sameness of the Coke cans that line up along the conference table and when Hobart has him say, “Don Draper from McCann-Ericson.” The plane that Don sees flying of the city is the sweet escape that he craves, and his lack of true worth in the company is evident when he walks out unnoticed by anyone except for Ted.
Peggy feels the same way that Don does but for a more valid reason: she’s a woman who is mistaken for a secretary and doesn’t have her own office yet. She stays at the increasingly barren old building for work, and the image of Miss Olsen standing amidst the empty white spaces of SCP parallels that of Don standing in his empty apartment back in “New Business.” The comparison fits how these two have molded their lives; Don’s personal life became increasingly more important to him at the cost of his work ethic while Peggy’s tenacity for career advancement often puts her home living on the backburner. Now, both of them have lost the very things that they’ve tried to shape as personal achievements and find themselves searching for a spark of inspiration to keep going.
Don fills this void by developing a fixation on Diana the waitress, a subplot that isn’t nearly as engaging as it wants to be, especially amidst the vastly more interesting material that surrounds it, while Peggy has a run-in with Roger at SCP. Their scenes, on top of providing more than a few instantly iconic moments for the show (Peggy roller skating drunk as Roger plays the piano), provide a lament for the past being torn down and left to collect dust. Roger’s vaguely horror movie-like piano playing as Peggy walks through the dark hall captures their sense of foreboding as the last remnants of their “home” are stripped away. One character even says, “That’s not very subtle,” when the lights go out, which could be writers Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner’s meta way of acknowledging the directness of the show’s symbolism.
Peggy’s unease about moving to McCann-Ericson stems mainly from fear of losing the identity she’s forged for herself over the last decade at Sterling Cooper. She feels that she’ll need to bend to the will of McCann’s men and return to her less assertive personality of years long past, telling Roger that she needs “to make men feel at ease.” “Who told you that,” he asks. By the end of their farewell to familiar places, Peggy drops the hesitation and storms into McCann with peak confidence, adorned with sunglasses, a cigarette hanging out the corner of her mouth, and Bert Cooper’s octopus painting in hand. It’s a fantastic and cathartic moment for the character, maybe one of her best ever, so here’s hoping that she can take that and stand her ground against the harshness that Joan went through earlier. Now that the book is officially closed on Sterling Cooper, it’s time for these characters to take the next steps into their new lives.
EPISODE RATING: 9/10