The majority of our heroes all face their status quos being upended by change. It’s especially impressive as we see Don Draper deal with “change” as he famously once said “Change isn’t good or bad; it just is.” This time, however, it would seem as if those words were just another loosely strung and little believed mantra by a silver-tongued fox attempting to con yet another client/prospect. As for Joan, Peggy, and Roger, change is a rigorous exercise that must be performed regardless of who you are. In “Lost Horizon”, we learn that mission control is calling and that we only have two episodes left until our favorite mad men say goodbye forever. For this installment of Talking Mad, how about we talk about Jon Hamm’s Don Draper!
Don is scared about the future and he has no one to talk to. It’s a sad portrait of a man that Matthew Weiner has given audiences since season one. Despite all his achievements and success, he seems destined to self-destruct and fall endlessly into the lies and dreams he’s sold himself and others from the beginning. We know that you could only reach so far when you’re tethered to lies and falsehoods, especially the ones you’ve created. Since the start, Don Draper is a fiction he created. Born Dick Whitman to a literally dirt poor and broken family, his only escape was to leave and one day steal the identity of a fellow infantryman during The Korean War – Donald F. Draper. Even though he became a figurative astronaut in the story of great American success, everything was never enough and enough was always too much. I, as I’m sure certain other viewers will agree, have a certain amount of empathy for what Don is going through. Since the first episode Don has been lost and lonely, searching for any answers to his own mystery of who is Don Draper? What kind of man is Don Draper? In attempting to answer his own existential questions, he suddenly became lost in the mystique and fantasy of who he was becoming – a powerful, charming, and creative genius that, as I wrote last week, was the quintessential man that every guy would like to be and every woman would like to be with. But how long does a fantasy last? It was a dream and over the course of seven seasons, Don woke up.
The morning picks up for Don in a promising way. He walks into the McCann Erickson building, rides the elevator, and is escorted to his new office. The halls may be tighter and the building might be more crowded than at SCDP, but the future seems to hold a promising direction for Don as it looks as if he won’t have to let go of his power and will continue to operate along the same lines he always has. This is not the case. After entering the Miller Beer meeting at McCann Erickson, which is packed with creative directors, Don not only sees himself as out of place, but no longer a name as he is just a cog in the big machine. In fact, he overhears a creative director speak with Ted Chaough and ask if Jim Hobart brought him over to raise business up a notch – the very same sentiment and wording that Hobart used on Don. The standard script and pitch has been recycled, nothing proprietary or new for Don Draper. He is no longer special or the sole, important, and driving factor behind business like he used to be. He finds it incredibly jarring and is soon lost during the Miller Beer meeting as he listens to the pitch on who Miller Beer feels is the target man for their beverage. Don becomes lost in the words and ideas and soon begins to daydream as he is now the man being sold the dream, and not the other way around. Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter offered this on Don’s character development: “I will say this for Ted — he’s always admired Don as an ad man and competitor. And he knows Don well — certainly better than Jim Hobart does. So I loved the shots of Ted’s face when he sees that Don is getting up and walking out of that M-E meeting (after watching the plane sail across his window view). Ted looks proud of and happy for Don — and he looks like he knows all too well that Don’s not coming back. And really, viewers need to prepare themselves for such a thing. Don might not be coming back to New York (which would mean that we could get a very touching and tear-inducing call to Sally in the “Person to Person” season finale episode). It’s certainly logical that Don would just keep driving west. Maybe he jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge like everyone else who tries to find happiness or meaning by moving west, and after they realize they haven’t, are perched at the furthermost part of their world with nowhere else to go — except a bridge railing. (If for nothing else, it would stop all this talk that Don’s really going to mimic the opening credits and jump from his window — which can’t be ruled out but which also would be a huge letdown). If we get Don driving to California, we might start seeing Mad Men characters in quick-snippet form for next week’s episode, which could be a very creative and judicious way of telling a number of stories in the penultimate episode, thus getting that element off the table and letting the finale primarily deal with Don and his family. Or, who knows, maybe the last shot will just be him driving west.”
Ted’s recognition of what Don has to do is almost as graceful as when both men forgave their long-standing rivalries with one another and became friends. Ted knows Don all to well. Let’s not forget that he, along with his marketing firm, Cutler Gleason and Chaough, all regarded Don as a mythical figure for a long time before they actually worked with one another. There was a real sense of mystery to Don Draper and his creative imagination. Upon joining forces, they go on to become disenchanted with Don as he turns out to be nothing more than a “giant bully in a suit.” While I wouldn’t view Don so much as a bully, I’d consider him to be more of a figure faking his confidence and securities in regard to his top of the totem aurora. Knowing Don Draper for seven seasons, he’s a man uneasy with his own history and haunted by the choices he’s made that resulted in failed relationships, two ex-wives, and a career self-destructing. Possibly the only way for him to regain the confidence in who he is may be his current travels on the road.
There’s a fascinating conspiracy theory that I learned from Sonia Saraiya’s (SALON) write-up of “Lost Horizon.” AMC’s series Mad Men has long been filled with conspiracy theories and fan ideas as to plot developments and character arcs. One of the current theories is that the series will close with Don Draper becoming the famous hijacker known as D.B. Cooper. It seems largely implausible as the development wouldn’t feel inorganic to the stories Matthew Weiner has written, but it’s still one worth considering. Especially with all the plane imagery that has been with the series since it’s beginning.
Lindsey M. Green of MEDIUM.com writes a compelling argument for why this may be. “Don Draper has been shedding Don Draper ever since the death of Anna Draper in Season Four brought him to tears over the loss of “the only person who really knew me.” From that point on Don Draper had no more reason to exist, so Dick Whitman went back to trying on other skins: dedicated husband, team player, mentor. As nothing fit, he began to go backwards: back to cheating and being absent at home and heartless at work. When he puts a dead soldier’s dog tags around his neck to get out of a life he can no longer stand, he’s gone as close back to the beginning as we’ve ever seen him in the series… Whether the series ends with Don Draper at the airport requesting a one-way ticket, answering the question “May I have your name, please?” and pausing, only to respond, “Dan Cooper,” or the series ends in another fashion, one thing seems certain: Don Draper will be gone without a trace.”
Let’s take a look at this episode’s title name. What’s in a name? “Lost Horizon”, which is the name of a film Don watched back in the season seven part one premiere, in both novel and film, is about the fantastical land of Shangri-La, a lost world of perfection, beauty, and where people don’t age. The protagonists land in Shangri-La by a plane crash, adding more to the shot of the plane that Don watches during the Miller Beer meeting. We eventually learn that the characters in the story and film wish to escape from the lands as the sands of time never run out. A perfect world isn’t necessarily what’s meant for us and it would seem fitting that last night (5/3) episode is about false paradises (McCann Erickson) and of how Don attempts to make the great escape… once again.
“Lost Horizon” ends with Don having walked out on McCann Erickson, heading out to Wisconsin to try and “save” Diana, only to learn she’s a tornado that has left a trail of broken men behind her, and eventually picking up a hitchhiker (not to mention conversing with the Bert Cooper ghost.) The ending is sudden and plays out to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” as Don drives off. Who believes this might be the last time we see him? Especially knowing how Bowie’s Major Tom adventures conclude in the song.
The closing song is David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which was released the year before, in 1969. It only reached #124 on the U.S. charts, but when it was re-released in 1973, the song got to #15.
“Lost Horizon” gets five stars and is definitely an episode that demands a second viewing. “Mad Men” airs Sunday night on AMC at 10 pm. Check your local listings.