Monday, May 4, 2015

Mad Men S7E12 - Lost Horizon

Mergers and acquisitions can be tricky. On the one hand there are the perks, the executive dining room, sophisticated market research, and enough resources that smaller competitors can be bought simply for the business they will bring in. On the other hand, the tradeoffs are enormous. Account management suddenly has additional layers of oversight, the singular genius that once made you unique is now just one in a room full of other talented people, and if you are not important enough in the new hierarchy, it is entirely possible you may not even have an office. Assuming your position is not eliminated due to redundancy, the worst case scenario is that you are the victim of the dreaded "bad fit," with no allies to speak on your behalf or protect you from the predations of your new corporate masters. 

And so, as a snapshot of the messy ramifications of early 1970s M&A, the third-to-last Mad Men episode Lost Horizon accomplished its mission but will inevitably be questioned for how the show's endgame appears to be unfolding. For the most part, last night's show focused on the lecherous behavior of McCann executives toward Joan Holloway and her swift downfall when she attempted to address the problem. It was a particularly sad denouement for Joan. Having reimagined herself from office manager to account executive, the big boys at McCann could not give a whit about the effort she had put forth with long held SC&P accounts like Butler Shoes, Topaz Pantyhose, and Avon if those accounts did not come with deference to their authority or her willingness to sleep with them. 

In fact, Joan's removal was largely bloodless. Sure, her new man bucked her up with a pep talk informed by his background in business, and she did not shrink at Jim Hobart's threats of litigation, but in the end, all the name dropping - the ACLU, Betty Friedan, the EEOC and exposés of working conditions at other companies - got her 50 cents on the dollar for her remaining equity stake and, to add insult to injury, her own son's father convincing her to take the deal. In the big scheme of McCann's finances, a $250,000 payoff will not be missed and the speed with which they snuffed out her years of hard work and effort were truly depressing. 

Life did not appear to be much better for Peggy Olson. A woman who Ted Chaough once reminded was not even 30 years old and was the copy chief at one of the 25 largest ad agencies in the world [1] now does not even rate high enough on the org chart to be provided an office when McCann's acquisition of SC&P is completed. But perhaps owing to her Norwegian heritage [2], she stubbornly refuses to work out of the steno pool while her office is readied, instead, lingering in the old SC&P offices with one of the copywriters who was let go in the acquisition. 

It is left to Roger, himself dodging the inevitable transition, to give her the confidence to make the leap over to her new job, but not before Peggy rightly calls Roger out for his failings as a leader. Roger tends to lean on self-pity as a defense mechanism, but what he perceived as his effort to keep the agency together, Peggy saw as a crass sell-out. While he bemoans the floor he will be working on as a senior citizen's home, he, like Don and Joan, have a tin ear to how his "first world problems" sound to someone who has not accumulated his level of wealth.

Roger spent a lot of time this episode cleaning up messes and the funereal riffs he was playing on the organ we never knew existed in the SC&P offices suggested his own trip to "you know where" [3] was close at hand. But the scenes between Roger and Peggy acted as a numbing agent for both (booze tends to have that effect) - for her to swagger into McCann in dark shades, Cooper's weird octopus ravaging woman painting under her arm and for Roger to act as Jim Hobart's hatchet man, dispensing with Joan in the time it took to smoke a cigarette.

Meanwhile, Don played the role of a bird who will not be caged. Jim Hobart is happy to require Don to undergo the petty indignity of saying he is "Don Draper, creative director, McCann Erickson," but Jim should have learned through his decade-long hunt for Don's talent that Don is not one to "bend the knee" (to borrow from another show many obsess over), regardless of how jewel encrusted the door knobs are or how easily he can make problems disappear with money. 

Don assesses situations quickly and is not afraid to simply walk away when they do not suit him [4]. In the McCann executive dining room, he is simply one of a group of creative directors, all of whom likely carry the same ego and sense of self and, as he discovers, probably heard the same line about their role at the agency as elevating its quality. While Ted is feeling groovy with his quality boxed lunch and pays rapt attention to the demographics of a midwestern male beer drinker who McCann will try to sell on drinking what we now know as "LITE" beer, Don's wanderlust kicks in. Next thing you know, he is hallucinating Bert Cooper riding shotgun in his Cadillac and halfway to Racine, Wisconsin in a disturbing attempt to track down Diana the Sad Waitress.

That Don would be halfway between New York and California by the episode's end is unsurprising. A man whose adult life has been defined by reinvention and several aborted attempts at a third act is unswayed by the typical levers of pressure that society places on people who have achieved a certain station in life. Don grew up dirt poor and has made a habit of giving away his wealth, whether in small increments [5] or enormous chunks [6]. His bond to his children is tenuous at best and without a house to call a home or an agency that requires his singular talent, there is nothing stopping Don from tossing it all aside and starting anew. 

But as Don's possible ride off into the sunset, sunglasses hugging his handsome mug, cigarette in hand, a warming wind blowing through the window of his Cadillac, I would expect most of the ink for Lost Horizon will be spilled by other recappers about the larger issues at play in Joan's dismissal from McCann and the complicated issues of sexual harassment through the lens of the show and a time that seems both antiquated and revolting. Joan has had to endure offensive behavior that was sophomoric and ham-handed [7] and explicitly exchanged sexual favors for what she thought was financial security. [8] But when Joan made the pivot from office manager to junior partner and account executive, she probably held out hope that the days of having to put up with this type of behavior were over. Her unceremonious departure would indicate she was sorely mistaken. 

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1. For Immediate Release, Season 6, Episode 6.
2. The Arrangements, Season 3, Episode 4. 
3. The Doorway Part I, Season 6, Episode 1. 
4. Christmas Comes But Once A Year, Season 4, Episode 2. Don walks out of a survey being given by Dr. Faye Miller. Back in Season 2, having blown up his marriage, Don is ready to leave everything behind during a trip to California. The Jet Set/The Mountain King, Season 2, Episodes 11 and 12. 
5. Don gives Midge a $2,500 bonus he receives during Season 1. The Hobo Code, Season 1, Episode 8. 
6. Megan receives a $1 million divorce settlement. New Business, Season 7, Episode 9. 
7. Joey, a part-time copywriter in Season 4, ends up getting fired after drawing a pornographic image of Joan and Lane. The Summer Man, Season 4, Episode 8.  

8. The Other Woman, Season 5, Episode 11. 


  1. what she thought was financial security

    Joan IS financially secure. Recall the end of Ep 707 - Roger hypothecates at $65-million figure for the "merger" - Joan's share is more than $1.5-million.

    Estimate 20% down and rest paid in 16% installments over five years. This puts the unpaid portion for Joan at (64%)($1.5-million) - round it up to a million. The half-million figure indicates that all the partners got more than my estimate to date (2/3 - not bad).

    So Joan has, before taxes, 1-million before she confronts Hobart, and $1.25-million with the settlement.

    The 1970-2014 CPI ratio is almost exactly 6.0. Joan is a catch in more ways than one.

    1. Call me crazy, but if I had to earn that money underneath Herb Rennet's rather significant body, I would want every last cent owed to me ...

    2. OK, You're Crazy!

      Joan went from 15-yr secretary/office manager/partner-Sterling's-lover, to $50k, to 5% in a struggling firm, to $1-million in the first public offering, back to 5% in a struggling firm (when Don fired Jaguar, thus getting on the Joan shit-list), to a smaller part of the larger SCDPCGC, to $1.5-million over five year, to $1.2-million over one year and a few months.

      Hard to say what part of that is owing to the Herb
      tete-a-tete. If you ask Harry (and I'm not), $1.2-million has too many zeros.

      From the knock on Herb's door to Don's telling her she doesn't have to do it was what - 2-3 hours? It's been 3-1/2-years since. That's a bunch of interest - even if compounded with all kinds of crap post-Herb.

  2. Another incredibly insightful review. I'm blown away - blown away - with your ability to quickly and concisely review the episode including footnotes. I'm going to miss reading your Mad Men entries. :-(

    I like what you wrote about Don. Roger brushes off Don's absence just as something he does. Roger was previously put out by Don's disappearance but now Don is someone else's problem. No big deal. And compare Joan "the girl" and Don "the talent" and how they're treated. Or is he the talent? Has he become one of many? One color in a box of many? They both have obstacles- even if they don't realize the other's hardships. The difference is Don can flight (because he's a man?) while Joan has to fight. You would expect the opposite reaction but their egos... Since Don is a man, he gets to say F it all - I'm outta here. Since Joan is a women, she has to have hand to hand combat with Jim but still says F you. Traditional roles would be opposite.

    Ps- The romantic in me has always cheered for Roger and Joan together at the end. That would wrap up the Roger and Joan storylines for me.

    Pss- who didn't laugh at loud (literally) at Peggy rollerskating. I did. There was wine evolved but my laughing would have happened anyway.

    Thanks again!

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