Mad Men 7×12 ‘Lost Horizon’: One for the road

Mad Men 7x12 Cover

Mad Men has always been a show about “chasing it”, trying to find your niche in the world.  Or, more than that, it’s about trying to find that utopian place that we’re all searching for.  There has to be some place where we belong, and even if getting to that place requires sacrificing everything we have, somewhere, deep in the farthest recesses of our minds, we want to take that leap and try to get there.  But that always takes recognition that we’re at a place in our lives that we don’t want to be, that we’ve spent our lives aiming for things that we never wanted.  And even though that recognition feels like being hit by a train, we have to experience it over and over again until it finally sticks and we make a move to change.

Only “utopia” doesn’t exist.  We can strive to find it, and we may become happier, but to live is to always strive for more.

Mad Men 7x12-1

Source: AMC

That’s the thing about Don.  He’s spent 10 years at various permutations of Sterling Cooper, and he has changed.  But in his changing, he’s still exhibiting a lot of the same behaviors he has before.  He’s still in advertising, doing something that he might be good at, but that he doesn’t really believe in.  He’s gone through two marriages, and even though he had a momentary connection with Diana, it never really went anywhere.  We might change over the years, slowly becoming different people with different needs and wants, but we can stay fundamentally the same person, never doing what we need to do to remedy our problems, or at least come closer to being happy.  It’s what Don has done for so long.  He’s changed, become more self-aware, but he’s still the man who can’t have any healthy romantic relationships, the man who struggles to enjoy his job.

Source: AMC

“Lost Horizon” is about transition, about the epiphanies or slow realizations that we go through in order to make those transitions.  When Don looks out the window during the meeting for Miller’s “Diet Beer”, he sees an airplane soar over the city.  He sees himself outside the office building (which he sees as a cage, considering how he pushed against the glass in his office at the beginning of the episode), because to be out of the office building is to experience some sort of freedom.  Freedom from what?  Freedom from being one just like the rest.  During the meeting, the camera brilliantly frames Don as just another drone, flipping through the pages of another tedious ad pitch, just another shirt and tie.  It’s not that he’s useless.  Hobart wants to use him to his full extent, having him run accounts like Miller and Nabisco.  It’s that Don knows that he’s more than just ad man Donald Draper.  He’s Dick Whitman, and while he hasn’t uttered that as his name in seasons, he’s come to realize that part of who he is today is Dick Whitman.  And he wants to fully be who he is.

Mad Men 7x12-3

Source: AMC

So, after seeing Betty back at college, something she has always wanted to do, he takes off.  He drives down the highway in search of Diana, leaving New York to find something, even if he’s not sure what it is.  But he needs it, whatever it is, more than he needs to be at McCann.  When he gets to Diana’s house in Wisconsin, he finds that it’s her ex-husband’s house, where he’s berated for lying about himself to gain access to the house and promptly shown the door.  Diana isn’t the answer to his troubles.  She never was.  Don has searched for so long for answers in women, and not one woman has given him the answers he was looking for.  But, at the end of the episode, when a hitchhiker asks for a ride, he obliges.  Because Don is a lost soul just like the hitchhiker, searching for meaning in his life, and he thinks that wandering just might be the way to find it.

Mad Men 7x12-4

Source: AMC

The rest of the characters are dealing with adjusting to their jobs at McCann, most notably Joan and Peggy.  Joan knew that it would be difficult doing her job at McCann, considering how nobody is really going to take her seriously like they did at SC&P.  It’s a result of the men at SC&P knowing her as a full human being, while the men at McCann just see a pair of breasts.  The other girls at McCann know how hard it can be there, as they invite Joan to their private women’s group, where they air their grievances.  But Joan has always been one for solving her problems herself.  After seven seasons of slowly empowering herself, when she’s met with sexism from her partner Dennis (who thinks she’s an idiot but can’t do his job at all) and then her superior Ferg (who just wants to sleep with her), she takes matters into her own hands instead of using her new man Richard to take care of it.  It’s huge growth for her.  Instead of having a man sweep her off her feet, like she wanted in the beginning, she’s taking charge.  But even doing that can only get her so much.  When she comes face to face with Hobart, he offers her $250,000 instead of the $500,000 for her stake in SC&P, all as long as he doesn’t ever have to see her again.  And even though it certainly is unfair, it’s as good a victory as she is going to get.  And she got it all on her own.

Mad Men 7x12-5

Source: AMC

Peggy, on the other hand, is terrified of moving forward and doing something new at McCann.  She has always had a safety net, whether it be Don or Ted, but there’s a reason that Don hasn’t been in many scenes with her this half of the season.  She’s learning to really stand on her own two feet, and this transition to McCann is more about her evolving into the powerhouse that she always knew she could be.  She’s apprehensive as she tries to get her office set up, as it foreshadows for her the problems she’ll run into as a woman in the writing staff.  But, when she has a drink with Roger, who understands his fate as a pointless staff member for McCann, he drives home for her that she doesn’t have to make anybody comfortable.  She doesn’t have to look back at SC&P as a nightmare.  Her past made her who she is now, even the portions of her past where she looked like a fool or went through pain or made a mistake.  When she walks into McCann for the first time, she’s carrying Bert’s painting that Roger gave her (a physical representation of that past), and she’s wearing sunglasses, smoking a cigarette.  She’s ready for anything.  And she’s going to succeed, no matter what obstacles come her way.

That’s the thing about transitions.  They’re not easy.  Not even close.  But, as long as we try, we end up where we’re supposed to, even if we fail along the way.  As long as we’re fighting, as Don or Joan or Peggy did, our future is going to be bright.  Because it’s not about the money.  Or the big fancy job.  Or the attractive women or men you’re with.  It’s about taking that leap of faith, being scared and doing it anyway, not because you know that it’ll take you to a better place, but because the experience of trying is worth something in and of itself.  Don may be driving out into the unknown, but at least he’s driving.  And that’s saying something.

What did you think of “Lost Horizon”?  Are you excited for next week’s supersized episode?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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