Lost in the Crowd
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Lost Horizon harkens back to the 1933 English novel of the same name by author James Hilton, a novel that is significant for, amongst other things, the origin of the iconic Shangri-la. The mythical land that lay in the plateaus of Tibet was such a heavenly paradise that it became synonymous with the term utopia. Hilton’s novel doesn’t put as much stock in the reality of Shangri-la being a beautiful place as much as the power of the human imagination. Yet Hilton’s famed tome also functions as a testament to the idea that once the passionate attachment to that utopia fades away, you can find the fortitude of wisdom to look forward to the future. As David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” rings throughout the air, Don is driving forth into the horizon. Perhaps he’s lost, perhaps he simply knows where he’s going and is planning on taking his sweet time getting there. Or maybe he doesn’t care that the horizon is lost, a nonexistent entity that’s full of simply something, whatever that may be. Utopia is nonexistent, but that has rarely stopped anyone from fashioning their own ideas of what their utopia might be like. But more often than not, that passionate envisioning of utopia doesn’t exist in reality. Accepting that doesn’t mean defeat or even the lowering of aspirations. It just means the ability to craft a journey to Shangri-la on one’s own terms with a deeper understanding of the world, its illusions, and its realities; in other words, with wisdom.
McCann Erickson has been pitching itself to Don as a corporate utopia with limitless resources ever since the beginning, as if all he had to was simply step inside their vast behemoth of an office and realize all of the potential that lay inside. In reality, McCann Erickson is a vast behemoth of a beast that is simply lying in wait for Don to open its doors so it can swallow him whole. In a vast corporate machine, he is no longer himself, he is simply a cog that has at last been bought. But Don doesn’t belong there, contract simply be damned. As he sits quietly in a meeting, a man is giving a pitch, soundingly strangely like Don as he spins a pitch through the air. He’s trying to paint a picture much in the way Don would try to evoke a portrait of pure imagination, pure enchantment. But it simply doesn’t fit within the claustrophobic walls of McCann. It’s as if death itself had arrived early and was waiting with a remarkable amount of impatience in the corner, irritated that he had to wait who knew how long for the shoe to drop at last. As Don looks outside the window, he sees a plane flying west, seemingly abandoning the Empire State Building that loomed like a behemoth around it. He quietly gets up and leaves in the middle of the meeting and only Ted seems to notice, his quiet smile one of recognition and perhaps even pride. Don’s triumphant leave translates into the less glorious search for Diana, still ridded with the idea that if he could save her, then perhaps he could save himself in some way. But there’s no Diana there, only her ex-husband and his new wife, the former of whom notes that Don isn’t the first broken heart who has come searching for her. He’s simply one of many in a crowd. Perhaps the understanding that the road to Shangri-la doesn’t exist through Diana allows for the wisdom for Don to drive off into the horizon a freer man, able to truly see the future for the first time.
To close out, we have the longest-running relationship in the series as Don goes to visit Betty. He came to pick up Sally, but she has already left and Betty rightfully notes that they can’t get mad at her for being independent. She is reading Freud’s analysis of hysteria and I earnestly can’t recall Betty ever being as excited as we see her then. “I’ve always wanted to do this,” she says breathlessly, her eyes positively sparking up with delight. The relationship between these two has been far from what anyone would consider to be decent, but that would only be seen by those who know them. From afar, their marriage would have been seen as the epitome of the American utopia. A home in the suburbs, a good job in the city, children, and a beautiful couple to encapsulate all of it. I’ve severely disliked Don quite a bit in the series and that feeling has been shared equivalently with Betty, a mutual dislike that the two shared even between themselves. As the series quietly arrived at a close, that mutual dislike began to wear thin from all corners (including myself). Betty has found what she’s always wanted to be, but never realizing it because she was constricted by the walls of what society expected a woman like her to be. “Go get ‘em, Birdie,” Don says with a smile and Betty returns it with greater brightness. Her own Shangri-la was lying in the pages in front of her and she creating it with her own hands, out of her own volition.
Roger’s critical juncture has arrived at a moment where the business he had inherited was now emptying around his very eyes, the emptying walls seemingly flooding in all around him in abject cruelty. After Harry Crane annoyingly and predictably openly declares his happiness with McCann’s absorption of SC & P as if he were standing on the battlements of the Bastille, he asks what might be the most accidentally profound statement he’s ever uttered. “Why are you here?” he asks, with all of the sensitivity of a tack. Roger raises his eyes annoyingly, but even he can’t think of a rational answer as to why he’s still standing in the office that had become his utopia. The times of difficulty were plentiful and I’m sure he won’t forget the loss of the Lucky Strike account anytime soon, or the time he had a heart attack while in the middle of intercourse with a new model in the office. But he had never felt more home, more himself anywhere else but within the banner of that name. He had no actual home with actual family in it to go back to. As long as the name was still there, there had always been new cornerstones upon which to build something new that was familiar because of that name. Now they no longer exist.
SC & P rarely looked like a fully functioning utopia, but for Joan it was a place where she had built up her career, a place where she commanded respect because whether or not it was always displayed towards her, everyone was well aware of how indispensable she was to the entire operations of the office. She was the one who was had the most averse initial reaction to the absorption by McCann and for good reason. The pervasive sexism of the age was embodied perfectly within McCann’s dingy walls and from the moment Joan stepped foot into that building, that only became magnified. Unduly workers who weren’t putting in an ounce of effort and didn’t care to pay attention to her wasn’t new to her by any stretch of the imagination, nor was sexual objectification by the men around her, regardless of their rank in respect to her. But Joan has reached a stage in her life where she has built herself up within the avenues that she could grasp and the sheer audaciousness of the idea that she would give into sexual harassment that was presented as “just a weekend” was beyond anything she cared to tolerate and frankly shouldn’t have to.
While Don is the center of Mad Men, the real tragedy belongs to Joan. Don has the unmistakable advantage of being a man and that gives him a ticket to every avenue of his life, no matter the mistakes he makes. Joan doesn’t have that and whatever choice she makes, she’s damned either way because of her gender. But damned she’d be if she allowed the discrimination against her sex to keep her down. Jim Hobart, that patronizing, patriarchal ass, tries to tell her how lucky she is in her current position but Joan isn’t having it. He threatens to get his lawyers in and she counters with the ACLU, noting with dark sharpness “I wonder how many women around here would like to speak to a lawyer.” Hobart is clearly not in the proposition of giving her anything, but Joan’s ferocity kept on pummeling him until he offered her half of her contract to just leave. “I’m not negotiating,” she snarls in response. Roger advises her to simply take the money and Joan’s face drops in disappointment. It’s not the money, it’s the respect she craves for the work she’s done and the respect she’s going to take, no matter the cost. Roger is simply another man who’s let her down and Joan realizes that not even the man with whom she’s arguably had the longest relationship is going to be there for her. She had to be there for her own self and there was a choice in front of her. She takes the $250,000, perhaps with the knowledge that rather than spend three more years at this “heaven” of a hell, she can go off to craft her own Shangri-la on her own terms.
Peggy, who it is made clear won’t keep her position of authority from S C & P at McCann (if anyone had delusions otherwise), refuses to even step inside the building until she has an office with a door that has the capacity to close. As Joan, Peggy also is harboring no illusory Shangri-la in McCann and she knows that if she is seen amidst the crowd, that is where she will be seen as belonging and that is where she will remain. A hilariously dark moment ensues where she finds Roger playing grim organ music, alone amidst bare walls that mean more to him than anything the crowded walls of McCann can ever offer. It’s a sharply constructed, beautiful sequence between the two, highlighted by Peggy’s sharp reading of Roger with the great line “You clearly don’t need help. You need an audience.” There is no audience at McCann and the two of them are excruciatingly aware of that. It’s a quiet, deliberative scene that astonishingly has the most sage advice I’ve ever heard Roger give to anyone, something that certainly would have been kind to say to Joan earlier. The sentiment is encapsulated in him giving her one of Cooper’s old paintings, this one about an octopus pleasuring a lady that was entitled Dreams of a Fisherman’s Wife. Peggy initially recoils at the painting but if the final shot of a swaggy Peggy walking through the halls of McCann and not giving a damn is any indication, her dreams are not going to be sacrificed at McCann. Watch out world, Peggy Olson’s coming through.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The opening shot of Don as one of everybody in the elevator
+“I won’t have you lost again.”
+“I kept thinking about walking into a new office.”
+“Advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone.”
+“It’s everything we say it is in print.”
+“Your old Conrad Hilton.”
+“I’m Don Draper from McCann Erickson.”
+“Who told you you got to get pissed off?”
+“I thought you were gonna be fun.”
+Joan: “I will figure it out.”; Don: “Of that I am certain.”
+Pete to Joan: “I am going to put in a request to get you in there.”
+“You could even end up working for me.”
+“No one is writing anything.”
+“There are millions of them.”
+“How do you get him to open his mind?”
+“I know a good job when I see one.”
+“Always have been, always will be.”
+“I don’t want to go anywhere I don’t want to go.”
+“I don’t want to say goodbye…”
+The reappearance of Bert Cooper
+“Where are you going?”
+“You can speak freely.”
+Joan’s response of “I’ll find a reporter” to counter Hobart owning large amounts of ad space in The New York Times
+“What the hell happened?”
+“Can’t you swim?”; Roger: “Didn’t I tell you I was in the Navy?”
+“We all have regrets.”
+“Are you looking for my mother?”
+“She seemed so lost.”
+Don giving a ride to the hitchhiker
Title: Lost Horizon
Written By: Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner
Directed By: Phil Abraham
Image Courtesy: Hitfix