“You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” Joni Mitchell.
What Joni said is true both for eras–the 1960s, and for places–Sterling, Cooper & Associates, where the partners made their deal with the devil at the end of the last half-season and now the devil has come to collect.
“You’ve died and gone to advertising heaven,” Jim Hobart said in his Darth Vader voice in the last episode. He was half right. The moment he said heaven, we knew he could only mean the other place. But the devil is nothing if not a good pitchman, and Hobart knows how to dangle the bait just long enough to get a bite.
While the Sterling Cooper partners spent the post-merger months going about business as usual–pantyhose casting calls, day-long lunches, open bars, naps at the office–McCann Erickson were just biding their time, waiting for the right moment to divide and conquer.
They waited so long that Roger was secretly hoping McCann Erickson had forgotten about them altogether, but the bubble bursts when Roger discovers that the rent on their office space hasn’t been paid, and that it was no accident. This is how Sterling and associates learn that McCann Erickson has begun the process of dissolving the agency and absorbing the personnel into its own organization.
But hope is not yet lost. Don Draper has a plan. They’ll take the handful of accounts McCann Erickson can’t absorb after the merger and head out west to run them from the Los Angeles office, maintaining a semblance of their old independence. So, the partners make an eleventh hour dash to get their clients on board, and Pete comes rushing through the door at the last minute to breathlessly announce, “I’ve got Secor Laxatives!”
We’ve seen them do this before–more than once–snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and live to see another day as a freestanding firm. Buoyed by the last minute addition of Secor, the partners head over to McCann Erickson where Don Draper, the legendary Don Draper, gives their pitch. But Jim Hobart is utterly bored by his legendary charm. Hobart holds up a hand and cuts Don off in mid-sentence, telling him forget it son, it’s over. Hobart then launches his own pitch about them all dying and going to advertising heaven.
This time it really is the beginning of the end, and it’s not going to be a particularly happy ending. Joan is the first partner to find out, a process that started four episodes ago when the McCann Erickson people sexually harassed her at the pantyhose meeting. It continued in the “advertising heaven” scene of last week’s episode, when McCann dangled a plum account in front of every Sterling Cooper partner but her. And it came to a heartbreaking conclusion in this week’s episode, “Lost Horizon.”
Lost Horizon kicks off on the last official day of work at the Sterling Cooper offices, with the employees gathering up their possessions and preparing to face an uncertain future in the advertising heaven of McCann Erickson.
Like all good horror tales, the reveal that advertising heaven is actually advertising hell comes gradually over the course of show. It starts when Shirley, one of Roger’s two secretaries and one of the firm’s two black employees, tells Roger she won’t be coming with him to the new gig, explaining that she found a job in the insurance field. Roger, who is usually good for firing his secretaries once an episode and always with a smile on his face, is genuinely upset and wants to know why she’s leaving. “Advertising isn’t a very comfortable environment for everybody,” Shirley says diplomatically. We take it that she’s referring to black people, but as Joan and others will find out, the discomfort is not limited to Shirley.
The next clue comes when we get a look inside the firm of McCann Erickson itself, which is not unlike the Death Star on Star Wars. The firm is spread out over multiple floors. Its hallways are dark and narrow. Its windows are hermetically sealed and its elevators are crowded, all in marked contrast to the old Mad Men digs.
When the old Mad Men partners see each other now it’s in brief moments of passing on the elevator or before the start of a meeting. They have been divided and conquered, placed into offices on different floors. Any notion of organized resistance is futile.
For Don Draper the transition is particularly difficult. He needs his secretary Meredith to walk him from the elevator to his office so he doesn’t get lost again. He’s like a doddering professor now, a man whose past accomplishments still afford him a certain prestige, but who is utterly incapable of coping with modern realities and dependent on his young, devoted underlings to steer him from Point A to B throughout the course of his day.
By the way, Meredith basically has superpowers now, right? Not only is she managing Don’s work life for him, but also his home life. Don has sold his penthouse and is currently living out of a hotel while he waits for his new apartment to be made ready. Meredith turns out to have a flair for interior design and has taken it upon herself to arrange a series of mockups of carpet and paint samples for Don to choose from. Don is impressed enough with Meredith’s work to offer to pay her in cash, which she refuses.
Meredith hands Don an envelope that she found in the old office and had been holding onto for safekeeping during the move. It’s Don’s envelope of secrets, containing his social security card, Anna Draper’s wedding ring, and several hundred dollars in unmarked bills. Remember Don’s box of secrets from season one or two that Betty had to rummage through the house to find? Could he really be so careless as to lose track of the envelope now? (Alternatively, this could be seen as a nod to the deviousness of Meredith, who has almost certainly inspected every item in the envelope as well as every drawer and secret compartment in his desk. We let it slide because Meredith’s protective instincts towards Don seem sincere.)
Don takes the envelope and heads into his office, somewhat dazed and confused. He presses against the hermetically sealed window, testing it. O, the symbolism. Is he going to jump or isn’t he? Does pressing against the sealed glass indicate Don pushing against the corporate cage he’s now in? And, as the howling sound indicates, despite the immaculate appearance of McCann Erickson, there are cracks in the façade that can’t be hidden.
There is always an alienating feeling being so high in the sky in a building like that. You’re up in the clouds, up in an ecosphere where humans aren’t supposed to be. You’re an alien there, and that strange howling sound is the cries of the hidden world of Cthulhu himself.
Meredith reminds Don that he has his first creative meeting as a part of McCann Erickson that afternoon. It will be a lunch meeting. “Is roast beef okay?” Meredith asks, and Don’s face relaxes ever so slightly with the anticipation of a warm, catered meal.
Meredith is essentially running Don’s life at this point, as we will see in a later scene when Jim Hobart comes looking for Don in his office after he’s gone missing. Instead, Jim finds Meredith behind Don’s desk, running the show and doing an inspired job of covering for her AWOL boss. Even the misogynistic Jim Hobart does a wry double take at the moxie of this strange, idiosyncratic secretary.
Don arrives at the Miller Beer meeting and sees that the roast beef lunch he anticipated is just a box of cold sandwiches that are handed out to everyone like K-rations. That’s his first sign that this isn’t Sterling Cooper anymore. Ted Chaough is there. Don watches a sixtyish executive sidle up to Ted and ask if he’s the new guy on the team who is there to “bring us up a notch.”
“So they tell me,” says Ted. Don sees this and remembers that Jim Hobart told him the exact same thing (“you’re the guy who’s going to bring us up a notch”) earlier that morning. Don had taken it as sincere praise at the time, but now realizes they use that line on everybody.
The meeting fills the conference table–and that’s only half of the firm’s creative directors. To Don, these people are indistinguishable yes-men. The presentation itself is a classic Don Draper Season One pitch, but delivered by one of McCann Erickson’s company men. While the pitch starts out Draperesque, it ends up sounding like a regional marketing report. Don sees this and realizes the stuff that made him such a maverick in advertising a decade earlier has now become part of the mainstream corporate model.
When Bob Dylan appeared on the scene in the 1960s, he invented the concept of the singer/songwriter and changed the music world forever. When he made his reappearance in the 1970s, he was but one of many singer/songwriters on the scene. That’s how it’s gotta feel to be Don Draper sitting at the McCann Erickson meeting. He’s just a face in the crowd now.
Realizing that, Don gets up, walks out of the meeting, and never comes back. Only Ted Chaough seems to notice; he responds with a kind of silent approval, a “Go Don go; do it for the both of us.”
NOT SO JOLLY ROGER
Meanwhile, Roger keeps finding reasons to linger at the old Sterling Cooper offices. He starts getting melancholy on the last day of business, as everyone is gathering what’s left of their belongings and preparing for whatever comes next. Early on, Roger laments to Don that he has no sons, and therefore the Sterling name will end with him. What’s more, under Roger’s watch, the firm handed off to him by his father with the Sterling name emblazoned on the door is no more. Roger sold the birthright.
Of course, what’s unsaid is that Roger does have a son with Joan, only he can’t ever be acknowledged as the father. Now that Roger is in the late autumn of his life, taking stock of what matters and what doesn’t, he probably wishes he would have owned up to being that boy’s father. Whatever expediency was gained at the time no longer seems so relevant. Joan’s then husband is out of the picture. Roger’s marriages have been dissolved. With Bert Cooper’s passing and the firm of Sterling Cooper no longer in business, he has no reputation to protect. Now, the only thing that matters to Roger is a son, a legacy, something he can’t quite have.
At the time that the “Waterloo” episode aired, we assumed that “Waterloo” referred to Bert Cooper, and Roger’s wry remark about old men quoting Napoleon just before they’re about to die.
In the immediate aftermath of Bert’s death, Roger’s last minute gambit to sell the firm ahead of a hostile takeover seemed like a brilliant move. It looked like Roger was discovering the steely CEO backbone he never knew he had. But now that the dust has settled and the true nature of the McCann Erickson deal has been revealed, it’s looking like the title “Waterloo” referred not to Bert, but to Roger’s gambit itself, a desperate but doomed last stand to try to fend off the corporate powers one last time.
It’s poignant to see the infamous computer room at Sterling Cooper now abandoned and lifeless. Roger casts a wistful glance through the plate glass wall, and in that glance we recall the entire gripping story arc of the Monolith episode, when the schism among the partners developed over the firm’s future direction, when Ginsberg went insane, and when Don locked horns with Lloyd Hawley of Lease Tech.
It’s hard to believe those events happened only a year ago, both in the airing of the episode and the fictitious Mad Men storyline. Now, that polarizing computer command center is just a moribund, darkened room. Harry Crane, who had been the computer installation’s biggest proponent, is utterly unsentimental about the machine’s demise. He’s too busy being excited about the prospects awaiting him inside the corporate monolith of McCann Erickson. When Harry callously stubs out his cigarette on the floor, Roger winces ever so slightly at the desecration, and takes the opportunity to remind Harry one last time just how loathsome he is.
Roger walks the floor as the walls are being dismantled around him, like a captain going down with his yacht. Even after the office is shut down, Roger lingers, not wanting to let go just yet. As viewers, we’re watching the set of our favorite show being torn down. It’s the end of an era for us, too, and we also want to linger.
Roger shares a wonderful scene here with Peggy, coaxing her into drinking with him, and playing the organ while she roller skates across the now empty floors. We realize it’s the first time Roger and Peggy have ever really hung out and had “their scene” together. It’s the ideal moment of closure for this place and time.
Joan’s fears about her future at McCann Erickson come true rather quickly, and she ends up having it out with Jim Hobart in his office. Joan threatens to go public with McCann Erickson’s sexual harassment and misogyny, but Hobart does not back down, he doubles down. He makes it clear that he intends to take away her job and half her partnership money as his most generous offer.
The sudden dark turn in Joan’s storyline is a very effective portrayal of the dichotomy of establishment sexism in the postmodern Seventies, with the men of McCann Erickson coming off pretty much like the men of Stepford.
When Roger finally shows up at the offices of McCann Erickson, the first thing he does is tell Joan to take Hobart’s offer and quietly walk away so nobody gets hurt.
We expect Hobart to be a jerk, and we admire Joan for going head to head with him, because we know that history is on her side, not Hobart’s. But Roger disappoints us, because he knows better and still tells Joan to settle for whatever Hobart offers. It’s a reminder of just how consistently the men of the firm have let Joan down.
The letdown goes back a few seasons, when Joan had to sleep with the Jaguar executive to get the account. Getting the Jaguar account, stealing it from the clutches of McCann Erickon really, was what put the upstart Sterling Cooper & Associates on the map in the first place, giving them the prestige they enjoyed and the valuation they commanded on the marketplace.
To be fair, most of the male partners have whored themselves out in one way or another to advance their careers or help the firm, so they’re not necessarily asking Joan to do something they wouldn’t do themselves, though they would certainly expect to be rewarded for their efforts. Indeed, Joan does get a partnership out of the deal. But she gets the smallest partnership share, half of what Pete’s was worth and significantly lower than Don and Roger’s stakes.
Even with the sacrifice she made for Sterling Cooper, Joan gets unceremoniously drummed out of McCann Erickson once the merger is completed. And despite her relatively small share, she isn’t even allowed to cash out with full valuation. It’s a deliberate humiliation, and Roger lets it pass even after all he and Joan have been through together. Even though she’s a single mother and he’s the child’s father.
In a way Joan is the victim of her own success. In the very first episode of the series, Peggy is the new girl, frightened and out of place, and Joan is the intimidating office queen telling Peggy how to up her game to climb the ladder: Show more ankle. Find your best feature and flaunt it. Make the men notice you and want you.
Now ten years and one huge generation gap later, Joan is unable to escape the persona she created for herself, unable to get taken seriously for her abilities and achievements, while Peggy, who had to rely on talent rather than looks, seems more poised to break through the glass ceiling in the modern era.
Peggy’s big scene at the end of the episode is the one everyone seems to be talking about. I’m not sure what to think. She could still be drunk and pumped full of false courage after swigging vermouth with Roger when she makes her entrance into McCann Erickson. Who knows what will happen when she turns the corner and runs into Ferg and Hobart. They might do the same thing to her that they did to Joan.
For the second time in four episodes, Don lingers at Betty’s house after dropping off or picking up the kids. The first time, Don was hanging out in the kitchen making milkshakes for his sons until Henry Francis arrived and broke the spell. On his way out, Don took one last look back on the scene of Betty, the boys, and the darkened silhouette of Henry Francis all together like a family in the kitchen. Don realized the silhouette of the father figure could have, should have, been him. But instead, he chose to take himself out of the picture.
This time, it’s just Don and Betty in the kitchen, sharing an intimate moment in what could be their last scene together. Don rubs Betty’s shoulders as she shares her nervous excitement about going back to school for her psychology degree.
“I know you can do it, Birdie,” Don says, calling Betty by their pet name. She smiles appreciatively. Meanwhile Don is still rubbing her shoulders, an act that Betty allows to go on a little longer than appropriate before stilling his hands with her own, letting him know it was time to leave.
We laugh at the notion of Betty being a psychologist when we know perfectly well she used to see psychologists herself–a child psychologist no less, along with a scowling ghoul of an analyst who used to interrogate her on the couch and report his findings directly to Don. But at least now, Betty is owning her issues. Even if she’s not the next Freud, she is empowering herself to confront reality rather than hiding from it. That’s the difference between Fifties Betty and Seventies Betty. Seventies Betty is an eminently likable character.
Don walked out of the Miller Beer meeting and never looked back. He hopped in his Cadillac and headed west, speeding right past the childhood home of Dick Whitman, driving deep into the night down a dark highway, alone except for the car radio and a return of the friendly ghost of Bert Cooper.
We last saw Bert’s ghost back in the summer of ’69, post-merger with McCann- Erickson, telling Don that the best things in life are free. Now he’s riding shotgun in Don’s hallucination, trying to talk him out of going to Racine, Wisconsin in a desperate effort to track down Diana the waitress.
The less said about Racine the better. Don arrives at the home of Diana’s ex-husband, where he is greeted at the door by the man’s new wife. Don poses as one of the Miller Beer salesmen he left behind at the meeting and claims he’s there to announce that they’re the big winners of a beer contest. The husband comes home and sees right through Don’s flimsy ruse, chasing him out of the house and confronting Don once more as he gets behind the wheel of his car and tries to make his hasty getaway. The husband knows Don is enamored with Diana because he’s seen that look on other men’s faces before. “You think you’re the only one?” the man cackles. “There have been lots of others like you!” As a parting gesture the husband gets a slightly mystified look on his face and tells Don that Jesus is the answer to all his problems.
The whole Diana plotline is still something many viewers are trying to figure out. Her presence lends the show an almost Twin Peaks or Blue Velvety feel, and what happened in Racine only made it stranger. The plot-advancing payoff comes when Don gets back on the road and stops to pick up a drifter.
“Where you headed?” Don asks.
“I can take you there.”
St. Paul is west of Wisconsin, so we now know that Don’s road trip didn’t end in Racine. Instead of turning around and heading back to New York, he’s going the opposite direction.
The episode fades to white here, with David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” playing us out. This song works for a lot of reasons. For one, its general trippiness lets us anticipate that whatever lies in store for Don and the longhaired drifter is going to be a lot stranger than when he had Bert Cooper alongside as a passenger. Also, anytime you hear one of Bowie’s classics, you can’t help but think “1970s.” 1970 feels like an odd, unnatural year for Mad Men to be in. Watching these characters enter the beanbag chair decade is like watching Rod Serling appear in color instead of black and white. It’s just not right.
Don himself has been in a fugue state for the entirety of the Seventies on Mad Men, and Space Oddity lends itself perfectly to a fugue state.
Most of all, the song works on a literary level. “Space Oddity” actually came out in 1969, days before the moon landing. The song tells the story of an astronaut on a dystopian lunar mission. The title is a takeoff of the blockbuster film of that era, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Both that film and the lunar landing itself were major themes of some of the 1969-based Mad Men episodes. “Waterloo” was centered around the moon landing. At the end, when all seemed to be well and the partners were flush with instant wealth, Bert appeared to Don in a vision singing a show tune about the moon belonging to everyone and the best things in life being free. That episode, and the mini-season, closed with a close up of Don’s face looking mortified. Perhaps everything wasn’t hunky dory after all.
Well, here it is a year later on Mad Men. The moon landing is just a distant memory that was quickly overtaken by Manson, Woodstock, Altamont, Kent State, and a general feeling that the Postwar dream was over. Don Draper now finds himself driving aimlessly through the countryside with the ghost of Bert Cooper asking him what on earth he thinks he’s doing.
In 1969, advertising firms could still use astronauts to sell Tang to the general public along with the promise of a future that kept getting brighter and brighter. But dystopian artists like David Bowie were the ones tapped into the gestalt of the 1970s, not the Mad Men.
McCann Erickson is not only misogynistic, but they have no taste either. Witness Ferg’s impersonation of Don Draper, which Ferg’s coworkers applaud as brilliant, but is actually nothing like Don. It’s a bad Nixon voice uttering a few sentences a fifth grader might use to make fun of Don Draper. If that’s what these yokels consider good mimicry, how can we trust their judgment about anything else?
The way McCann Erickson underling Dennis handles the Avon call with the account rep who’s in a wheelchair, one wonders how they manage to keep any business at all. At the dawn of the ‘70s, McCann Erickson seem like dinosaurs who need to be put in the path of an asteroid. Unfortunately, the Sterling Cooper people aren’t going to be the ones to do it. They just don’t have enough left in the tank, unless Peggy’s going to be the one.
Nevertheless, judging by some of the account names that are mentioned, McCann Erickson certainly does get a lot of business. Coca Cola for starters. This episode is set just months before Coke debuts that stunning “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” commercial, which is an advertising grand slam. And of course Miller’s “diet beer” concept, which is being discussed at the creative meeting Don ditches, turns into the “tastes great/less filling” ad campaign that launches the entire light beer movement, which would become a staple of the marketplace for the next 40 years.
There’s also the NCR account (National Cash Register), a company associated with the proliferation of retail store scanners, ATMs, and bar codes–the first wave of what we now call consumer level information technology. People who remember the early and mid-Seventies remember that if you wanted to get cash from your bank account, you had to go inside your bank or a supermarket to cash an actual check. Everything was still done on paper. Sometime in the mid-70s, they came out with magnetic stripped debit cards, ATMs, bar codes, and then cash register scanners, a full decade before fax machines, home computers, and all the other digital technology that would change the world as we know it. Companies like NCR represented the first foray into the realm of electronically transmitted data that would ultimately give us the Internet.
This episode didn’t end well for Joan, but maybe things will turn out better for Peggy, who might be on a different trajectory altogether simply for the way she handled the transition from old office to new.
Signs pointed to McCann Erickson having the same attitude towards Peggy that they did towards Joan, at least at first. Peggy got the flowers that the secretaries got, and there wasn’t even an office for her on the first day at work.
Peggy was told she could work at a desk in the typing pool until an office became available, but she instinctively understood that if she did show up at McCann and went to the typing pool, there was a good chance she’d never leave. Knowing this, Peggy holds out and says she’ll wait until her actual office is ready before showing up for work.
With that decision, Peggy may be spared the fate of Joan, who tried to follow protocol by going up the chain of command to deal with her workplace issues, and ended up being bum-rushed out the door with only half her money. Whether Peggy’s alternative approach works for her remains to be seen.
With only two episodes remaining before the series is done forever, we will probably never know how things truly play out with Peggy and the rest at McCann Erickson. What this hard look at the people of McCann Erickson in 1970 does is serve as a callback to season one of Mad Men in 1960, when the boys of Sterling Cooper had a similarly misogynistic attitude. There’s no better way to show how much the Sterling Cooper people have evolved over the decade than by comparing them to people who haven’t evolved.
THE MEANING OF MCCLOUD
At one point, Peggy is at home lounging in front of the television, watching a show that debuted in the fall of 1970 called McCloud. The show serves as an anchor date placing us on a Sunday night in late September 1970. McCloud is about a country sheriff from New Mexico, who comes to New York City, is ridiculed by the big city cops as a bumpkin, but generally ends up being proven right by the end of the episode. We can imagine Don Draper in his prime being that guy. Could it also signify Peggy about to take on the arrogant cutthroats at McCann Erickson and show them they’re all wrong about women?