The advertising heaven SC&P staffers were promised is more like hell on 6th Avenue.
You can tell McCann-Erickson is miserable just from the décor. The walls are a dismal gray, offset by the harsh fluorescent lights and the stuffy mahogany furniture. It's the seventh layer of hell revisited from the sixth season.
For an agency that prestigious, you'd think they'd have more windows. (It's big news that Joan has one.) They should hire Meredith to redesign the whole layout.
And that's just the office. The people inside are so toxic they'd make the dreary paint peel.
But what a wonderful episode. Even at its cruelest moments (see: any chauvinistic remark hurled at Joan or Peggy), the writers balance Don and company's struggles with stunning cinematography, flawless direction and sharp dialogue.
In his office, he pushes on the slightly ajar window, hinting that he'll fall from a window like in the opening credits, or symbolizing he can't be contained.
My money's on the latter. I'd throw my hands up in disgust if the show ended with Don literally plummeting to his demise.
"Mad Men" can be obvious (see: Diana representing death), but that's taking it a step too far.
The low-cal beer pitch is vaguely reminiscent of Don's first Lucky Strike pitch, trying to convert customers who are loyal to another beer. And go figure, the consumer that the creative director describes is from a Midwest state, like Wisconsin.
As the creative director drones on, Don stares out the window. He sees the contrails of a plane perfectly intersecting the spire of the Empire State Building. He's at the crossroads of his life.
"How do you get him to open his mind?" the creative director says in his pitch. "You'd better have something more. Or in this case, less."
Don has a new office, new apartment and new agency. But as he's listening to the pitch about the average man living in Wisconsin and staying with the status quo, his mind starts veering toward Racine and Diana. He wants less.
So, he does what we've all wanted to do. He gets up, walks out of the meeting and drives to his ex-wife's house.
Well, maybe we haven't all wanted to do the last part. That was just a pit stop to take Sally to boarding school. When he arrives, he finds she's already left.
Don hits the road and heads to Racine in the night. Suddenly, we hear a voice on the radio commercial that sounds familiar. It's Bert! I knew we'd see another ghost.
He confesses to Bert that he's "riding the rails" like Jack Kerouac in "On the Road." I don't remember Jack driving in a shiny new car in a well-tailored suit, but Don's only ever been a bohemian on the inside.
Like the other ghosts, he gives Don some good if not obvious advice: Don't waste your time on a waitress who's just not that into you.
"But that isn't going to stop me," Don says, gripping the wheel defiantly.
And just like that, Bert's gone and "Sealed with a Kiss" wails in the background. Powerful stuff.
Bert was right, of course. Don arrives at Diana's ex's house, spouting lie after lie as to why he was looking for her. But she isn't there, as Don and several other men before him have discovered.
"She's a tornado," her ex warns Don. Don's a disaster himself, so no wonder he's searching for her.
Or is he? Don hits the road again, and it isn't clear if he's still looking for Diana or Shangri-La. Since Shangri-La was created in the novel "Lost Horizon," the title of this episode, I'm guessing he's given up on Diana.
You want more proof? Don was also watching the film adaptation when visiting Megan in California in the first half of season seven.
Either way he isn't returning to McCann-Erickson anytime soon. He picks up a hitchhiker headed west to St. Paul. He's living the beatnik life he always dreamed of.
I can't say I blame Don for not returning to New York. The transition for SC&P staffers hasn't been smooth, and it's been especially rough for his female coworkers.
The McMann-Erickson men are usurping Joan and Peggy's roles. Peggy's underling copywriter took over her desk at SC&P, and she doesn't even have an office yet at McCann-Erickson.
And when she does arrive, I'm sure her male colleagues will be just as warm and inviting as they have been to Joan.
While Joan is on a conference call with Dennis, he talks over her and insults the client because he didn't read the notes. Joan is understandably not happy.
"Who told you you got to be pissed off?" he fires back. Wow. Let that one sink in for a second. Not only is Joan not allowed to take charge her accounts, she's not allowed to be upset if this new guy screws them up. All she can be is "fun."
As she goes up the chain of command to fix the problem, each male colleague gets worse and worse. Burn it to the ground, Joanie.
She asks Ferg to take Dennis off her accounts. He assures her that he'll be working with her, because Dennis doesn't "want to work for a girl."
Ferg, check yourself. Joan is every inch a woman, not a girl. Get it right.
Later when they're discussing how to patch up Dennis' mistake, Ferg suggests visiting the client in person. Just the two of them.
"I'm not expecting anything more than a good time," he oozes. Barf.
That's enough to make Joan go directly to the top and ask Jim to buy her out for every penny she's worth or to deal with her lawyer. Jim isn't having any of that.
"I'm willing to give you 50 cents on the dollar not to see your face again," he spits at her.
She walks out determined to sic lawyers and the ACLU on him. But ultimately, she takes Roger's advice and takes the deal.
Such a shame. All the hard work she's done and all the creepy guys she's put up with just to walk away with half of what she's earned. It would be so satisfying seeing someone hurl papers at Jim's smug face.
All the SC&P men meanwhile are astonishingly progressive. When Joan hints about her problems to Don, you know he's got her back. "I'll figure it out," she says. "Of that, I'm certain," he assures her.
Even Pete says he wants to get Joan involved on a few of his accounts. That's saying something when Pete (Pete!) is the good guy.
Sure, "Mad Men" is crawling with revolting chauvinists. But it's only to highlight how strong the female characters are who put up with those shmucks. It's one of the most feminist shows out there.
After all, what show starts with a lowly secretary who works her way up and is this close to starting her own agency? Work your wonders, Pegs.
MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM "LOST HORIZON":
Best line: "If it's in it, near it or makes you think about it, we're on it!" – Female copywriter to Joan about writing ads anything related to feminine hygiene.
Line that sums up the workforce in the '60s and '70s: "Advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone," Shirley says to Roger about leaving SC&P. This could mean women or African-Americans, but you know she means the latter.
Best Meredith moment: I love how oblivious she is to Don's whereabouts, then becomes concerned she is about after Jim asks if Don's on a bender. She's so protective of him. I wonder if she'll lead the manhunt to find Don.
Best "Mad Men" duo you didn't know existed: Peggy and Roger. Why have the writers waited seven seasons to bring these two together? She's one of the few people who can volley his zingers. And let's not forget the best part: Peggy roller-skating while Roger played the organ. Instant classic.
Best Peggy/ Roger exchange: Peggy: "Would you drink vermouth?' Roger: "Yes, I'm afraid I would."
Best Roger one-liner: There were just way too many to choose. "I have a heart condition, you know!" he says to Peggy after she screams when seeing him play the organ in the otherwise empty SC&P offices.
Saddest line: "Even if your name's on the damn door, you should know better than to get attached to the walls," Roger on SC&P closing shop.
Most badass moment: A hungover Peggy walking into the office, shades on, lit cigarette hanging from her lip while carrying a framed hentai painting. If they thought Joan was a handful, McCann Erickson doesn't even know what's coming.
Mind the gender gap: Joan gets 50 cents on the dollar for the money she earned. Forty-five years later and women have ticked that up to 77 cents on the dollar. We started from the bottom, now we're three quarters of the way there!