After Mad Men‘s wonderfully subversive “Time & Life,” we knew there were going to be big changes once SC&P moved over to the dreaded McCann-Erickson. Despite the partners (other than Joan) being wooed by big account names like Buick and Coca Cola, the realities of McCann are not nearly so rosy. The visual change is immediate; instead of wide, spacious hallways and a modern aesthetic, the offices and hallways of McCann are cramped and gray.
For the (former) partners and Peggy, the change signaled other worrying trends. Joan has the worst of it, as the boys club of McCann treat her with nothing but contempt. Her femininity is a weakness there, and there’s a kind of wake-up call that the battles for equality at Sterling Cooper are in no way reflected here. That office’s eventual acceptance (more or less) of strong women in the workplace was a kind of progressive bubble. At McCann, the bubble has burst. Joan is made to deal with the twin terrors of Dennis the Menace and Ferg-Face, yet keeps her cool and her diplomacy despite their aggressive, offensive, and lecherous advancements towards her. And any hopes that Jim Hobart might see her charms and competency, and allow her more leeway, were dashed instantly upon her meeting with him. Though Joan stood her ground, the battle was lost. She took $0.50 on the dollar, and called it quits.
It was a damning arc for Joan, who is at a point in her life where she doesn’t necessarily want a rich boyfriend to sweep her off to Bermuda. She doesn’t want to be rescued. She wants her accounts. I don’t know how much we’ll see of her in the last two episodes, but if this was her swan song, it’s a tragic one in many ways. Then again, being on the beach in Bermuda is not exactly a sad ending. It’s just that her being the first McCann casualty was tough to watch, especially given how hard she worked — and everything she gave up — to achieve what she did with SC&P.
Peggy and Roger, though, were sheltered (for now) from the fallout in “Lost Horizon.” Have these two ever shared meaningful scenes before? Peggy even notes that this is the first time she’s ever gotten any attention from Roger (who saved her from The Worst Day). But what starts as a wary alliance of convenience becomes a fantastic array of amusement and nostalgia. Roger even gives Peggy a pep talk and Cooper’s sexual squid painting. Later, Peggy was skating around the office to Roger’s organ playing. It was one of those quintessential Mad Men scenes that didn’t have to lead anywhere, but the fact that it did made it all the better. Peggy walking into McCann-Erickson with a cigarette dangling, and that painting for all to see, suggested that she might survive this after all (and kick ass while doing so).
As for Don, it’s no surprise that as soon as he was likened to a harpooned whale (Moby Dick Whitman?) he was ready to flee. This is a man who fled his own life, and fought at every turn to never work under a contract. Now he’s shackled to the corporate grindstone, and he literally doesn’t even last half a day. Taking his roast beef on the road, he drove after Diana (:long sigh and eye-roll:), and came upon her perturbed daughter and ex-husband. “She’s a tornado,” the ex-husband warns Don, and also lets him know he’s not the first guy with bad taste in women to be swept up by her mystery and melancholia.
Far more interesting than anything related to Diana are the other women in Don’s life. His relationship with Betty feels so natural and comfortable now. Their banter is tender, and it’s also most honest, emotionally, that it has ever been. Meredith, meanwhile, continues to be both Don’s nursemaid and protector, shielding him from Hobart, but also worrying about him and (when he is around), making sure he gets to his appointments on time and doesn’t nap while the boss is making his rounds. And then there was that elevator conversation with Joan. More than almost anyone on the show, Don is completely real with her. They are similar in many ways, and clearly have a lot of respect and affection for one another. Joan doesn’t want to accept Don’s help, but the fact that he offers it, and truly means it, was a lovely moment.
But last week’s “Time & Life” really signaled the finale for SC&P — it’s beyond help now, as are its partners (at least, the ones who are struggling — Ted and Pete seem to be just fine). Roger cavalierly tells Peggy that’s just the nature of the business: you’re bought, you’re sold. But he still has trouble letting go. He’s not alone.
Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Musings and Miscellanea:
— There are a few ways to read Diana’s incorporation into the series now. She’s either a phantom that Don is chasing that is supposed to represent — more baldly than ever — that she’s just a type and an obsession that he thinks he wants until he gets it. Another option is that she really is a meaningful and meant-to-be mate for him. The former feels a lot more like Mad Men, but anything is possible.
— Don looking up at that airplane like an escape is either furthering the D.B. Cooper theories, or just trolling all of us who wish it to be true.
— Don hearing a draft and testing out his windows seemed like another red herring just to mess with viewers.
— Betty reading Freud, especially a book on hysteria, is too perfect.
— A Roberta reference from 1951!
— This episode was directed by Phil Abraham, one of my favorite TV directors (he also directed the first 2 episodes of Daredevil).
— I liked that Don kept getting lost in the offices. Symbolism!
— That big meeting of creative directors introduced us to another Don. He’s not special at McCann, he’s just one in a collection of very talented people.
— Roger basically calling Harry a dickhead to his face was such a great exchange. Harry will fit in perfectly there.
— “All I found was lighter fluid. I’m not there yet” – Roger.
— “It would be good to get out of town … even if it’s to Atlanta” – Atlanta is a great place, Ferg-face.
— Don’s rogue journey seems to be continuing via St. Paul.
— “This was a hell of a boat” – Roger.
— “Knock ’em dead, Birdie” – Don to Betty (d’aww).
— “I’m Don Draper, from McCann Erickson.” For how much longer?