“Mad Men’s” Matthew Weiner has never been overly concerned with what the show’s fans want, but that’s different from not being aware of it. With the show’s final episode nearly upon us — your weekly reminder: “One episode until the finale” means two remain — Weiner has shown he knows what we want and can provide it, at a substantial fee. In “Lost Horizon,” Joan stands up to the sexist pigs at McCann Erickson, threatening to sic the ACLU, the EEOC and Betty Friedan on them unless they stop treating her like an underling and/or potential side piece. But that glorious moment of character definition, of a woman who owes her partnership to sexual favors finally saying enough is enough, costs her everything, or half of it: McCann’s Jim Hobart will pay half her $500K stake to never see her face again, but she’ll never be made whole, and the noncompete clause in her McCann contract could keep her out of the business for years. Peggy, whom some anonymous McCann functionary mistakes for a secretary, stages a one-woman strike until she has a proper office, but she’ll settle for a drafting table until her stuff shows up. Until then, she’s haunting SC&P’s offices like a ghost, skating in circles while Roger Sterling plays the organ. It’s a marvelous moment, utterly unexpected yet instantly right, but it’s tinged with melancholy. (Is it only Roger’s Naval background that makes me think of the band playing as the Titanic sank?) Nothing like this will happen again — not in Peggy’s life, and certainly not on “Mad Men.”
Everything is coming to an end. The once-bustling officers of SC&P look like a set partway struck; old logos built from the initials of dead men’s names litter the hallway. Don Draper is starting again, taking the familiar ride up to his new McCann office where everybody knows his name, even if he doesn’t yet know theirs. But the personal touch turns out to be a charade: Don gets a you’re-one-in-a-million pep talk from Jim Hobart, then hears pieces of it back from Ted Chaough. Turns out they’re both one in a million. As Don gazes out the window during a pitch session — one where a single man from research holds court over a conference table crammed with creative directors, each with his (and they’re all his) pen poised over his neatly bound presentation — he sees a plane leaving contrails in the sky above Manhattan, its twin lines evoking the rails which he will shortly be riding. (Figuratively, of course; he may be spiritual kin to the hobo, but this one travels in a new Cadillac.)
The plane might also, as a few reviewers pointed out, nod towards the (persistent, boneheaded) theory that Don Draper will morph into the fugitive bandit D.B. Cooper, just as him testing the window glass in his new office as the wind whistles outside feels like a playful rebuke to conspiracy theorists who believe the falling figure in “Mad Men’s” credits is Don himself. (Let me introduce you to a little thing called “metaphor.”) If you’re looking for symbolism, try the city where Don’s heading as the episode ends: St. Paul, Minnesota, named for the apostle who found Jesus on the road to Damascus — better than the devil woman (to quote her ex-husband) Don furtively sought out in Racine, Wisconsin. “Racine” means “roots” in French, of the kind Don has long sought to escape. St. Paul is also a twin city, appropriately for a man who’s spent this season trying to resolve his own double life.
With so little time left on the clock, writing about episodes inevitably leads to thinking about what might happen in the final two: “The Milk and Honey Route,” hobo slang for a railroad line, and “Person to Person,” which, as I theorized in my recap, might suggest the series ends with Don Draper going the way of Dick Whitman, a persona used up and finally discarded. Pajiba’s Dustin Rowles plays out that string by tallying the ways “Mad Men” has foreshadowed the death of “Don Draper,” if not necessarily the man who took that name. Entertainment Weekly’s Melissa Maerz thinks that hitchhiker’s going to steal Don’s identity and turn into Bob Dylan, so who can say?
Although Betty is in next week’s episode — and she won’t stop brushing her hair — her scene with Don in “Lost Horizon” felt like a goodbye, an affectionate reminder of the love that once existed between them. We haven’t seen the last of Peggy, Sally, Roger, Pete or Joan, but the other characters are leaving the scene one by one, sometimes memorably, some with no notice at all. Who will be the next to go? And, more to the point, will Don ever find a way to stop moving and put down his own roots for good?
Reviews of “Mad Men,” Season 7, Episode 12, “Lost Horizon”
John Teti, A.V. Club
In Don’s experience, the best way to change his story is to portray a new character. “You love to play the stranger,” Bert Cooper says when he appears in a vision to his former charge. So as he attempts to reach Diana, Don first impersonates Bill Phillips, and then when that identity outlives its usefulness, he effortlessly pivots to pose as a debt collector. There’s no problem a new name can’t solve, right? Except Diana’s ex-husband (clad in shirtsleeves) sees through all of them. “You think you’re the first one who came looking for her?” he snarls, and yes, that’s exactly what Don believed. He thought that he was special. Now here’s one more person telling him he’s not extraordinary, he’s just like the rest, and he might as well get used to it.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
Don’s exit is part of a more familiar pattern. As Roger tries explaining to Jim, Don does this sometimes, and it was hard not to think of him abandoning Pete in California in “The Jet Set” when he changed lanes on the highway rather than going back to Manhattan. But this ultimately feels different, and more in keeping with the show being in the midst of these end times. When Don slipped off to Palm Springs, he was running away from everything — a job he liked, a marriage he still wanted to save, kids who needed him — and there was the constant tug of home on him even as he left Willie and Joy to reconnect with Anna Draper (whose ring Meredith returned to him early in this episode). What’s he leaving now? A new company that only wants him as a trophy? An ex-wife and kids who have learned to function just fine without him? A new apartment that Meredith hasn’t even gotten a chance to decorate yet? He goes to Racine not so much because Diana is the true love of his life, but because seeing if he can help her seems about the most useful thing he can do at the moment, just as he decides to take the hitchhiker to St. Paul, because why not? No one needs him back home.
Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post
When the show began, Don Draper was Batman, he was the Picasso of pitches, he was a special snowflake made of frozen unicorn tears. God damn it, Meredith, nobody at McCann got that memo! So Don reminded himself that there’s a big sky outside those windows, and he decided to hobo it. You do you, Don. You do you. It could have seemed dark — Don’s impromptu road trip, which is his usual method of setting fire to whatever he doesn’t want to deal with — but it wasn’t dark or dreary, partly because other elements of the episode were celebratory, and partly because, come on, who didn’t expect this classic, O.G. Draper move?
Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times
I confess that I don’t find Don’s story line in “Lost Horizon” anywhere near as sympathetic or compelling as Joan’s, but I’m not sure I’m supposed to. There is a glaring and, I think, quite intentional contrast between Don and Joan’s behavior in this episode: He waltzes out of a meeting and drives halfway across the country without leaving word about his whereabouts, and yet his job remains secure; she is a model of professionalism and has the audacity to expect the same of her male colleagues, and is practically burned at the stake for it.
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter
Perhaps that’s why Don just keeps driving the blue highways after that. The episode closes with a tremendous rush, as Don picks up a hippie hitchhiker and David Bowie’s Space Oddity kicks in (or up, as it was playing on low as he pulled up). If you’re wondering, Don is not afraid to leave the capsule. And that scene where he agrees, with little contemplation, to drive to St. Paul where the hippie is headed, surely heralds the end of his time at McCann-Erickson.
The question, however, is how Weiner will close out our connections to the remaining characters. You could make an argument that both last week’s episode “Time & Life” and “Lost Horizon” were episodes that could have closed the series entirely as finales. In fact, lower the camera from the crane shot that started Sunday’s Bowie-blaring final scene and shoot it through the back window so we can get one more rear-shot of Don’s iconic head, and I would have been fine with that as the series finale wrap.
Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture
There seems to be no exit now. Hobart and his primordial douche-bro army at McCann seem to have outflanked Roger, Don, and the SC&P gang in a Machiavellian long-wait maneuver, purchasing and dismantling and absorbing them, winning the loyalty of some SC&P employees with money and perks (Pete Campbell and Harry Crane seem happy) while attempting to bring others (Joan, Peggy, Roger, Don) to heel by peeling away even the illusion that they have autonomy, or a real purpose. The episode is haunted by ghosts and ghostly figures; there are times when a character thinks of him- or herself as the living but is actually behaving as an apparition might (Ed, Peggy, and Roger all hang around the old SC&P office, and Don hallucinates a conversation with Bert Cooper).
Ben Travers, Indiewire
He seems perfectly at ease on his journey — just as he was ever-so-casual in the office until a board room became too formal for him — as noted by the trip’s extension after picking up the hitch hiker who wanted to go to St. Paul. (No, that’s not on the way to New York.) One has to imagine Don will return home at some point… right?
Not necessarily. He knows what waits for him back there, and, frankly, it doesn’t excite him anymore. Don needs more, as evidenced by his constant looking upward while trapped within the great McCann machine. He even took note of the air leaking into his office through the slightly open window, emphasizing the claustrophobic nature of his new environment. (And no, I’m not buying it as foreshadowing for his title sequence-esque fall. If anything, it’s Weiner nodding to us that such a finale would be all too predictable for his entirely unexpected series.)