Season 7, Episode 12, ‘Lost Horizon’
There’s an image that best encapsulates the attitude of these final “Mad Men” episodes, and it’s this: Roger (John Slattery), smashed on vermouth (of all liquors), playing an organ while Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) roller skates through the stripped former SCP offices a la Chaplin in “City Lights.” Even before the end of their agency came about, there was a screw-it attitude, to the characters and in a way to the show. That’s not to say creator Matthew Weiner et al. have thrown craft to the wind; it’s still a precise show. It’s just that it’s allowed its characters to go off on their own strange tangents, to get goofy and, in a couple cases, finally righteously angry.
In the latter category, the MVP has been Joan (Christina Hendricks). Joan has spent the show skillfully absorbing all manner of condescension, sexism and general pain; she is a master at withstanding the worst of others, and Hendricks is a master at conveying it all on her face. What doesn’t kill her, as they say, makes her stronger. And now she’s so strong she was able to get into an epic (quiet) tussle with crusty old timey McCann Erickson head Jim Hobart (H. Robert Greene). After back-to-back disasters with male McCann-Erickson execs, she confronts Hobart over exposing the agency’s treatment of women, only to find him a combination of indifferent and hostile. What follows is a hilarious tete-a-tete in which Joan keeps her cool and keeps the blows coming, until all Hobart can do is put it simply that he’s “upset” and orders her to get out of his office.
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Joan eventually has to settle for a lesser deal just so she won’t wind up with nothing. To make it worse, Hobart makes Roger, her old flame and once the coolest head at SCP, do the execution. It’s a gutting scene, watching Roger have to suck it up, to finally disappoint his one-time lover, who gives him the old walk-out-the-door-without-looking-back thing. And it’s a sign of how over the good times are, and especially how done Roger is.
He knew this was coming; indeed, he spent most of the episode celebrating the end of an era by getting stinking drunk with Peggy. Peggy’s things had yet to move over to the new offices, so she wound up hanging back at the stripped-down SCP, even after the lights were torn off. This serio-comic business is “Mad Men” at its best: It takes a blunt piece of symbolism — the reluctance to bid goodbye to an era, to bid farewell — and douses it in absurdist comedy, plus booze. Roger doesn’t want to go over either, and so he agrees to share the only bottle that’s left in the office. (Peggy: “Would you drink vermouth?” Roger, in classic Slattery sing-song deadpan: “Yes, I’m afraid I would.”) Even Roger’s deep existential dread comes out in jokes. When Peggy proves reluctant to bro down with him, he charges back, “You think you’re going to have as much fun over there as you are here?” It of course goes miles deeper than that; he knows he and she will no longer have any autonomy and will be absorbed into a bigger ad blob.
Every great now and then “Mad Men” has thought to pair two characters who have never, you suddenly realize, spent any quality time together, usually over lots of drinks. It once happened with Don (Jon Hamm) and poor old Lane (Jared Harris), and it culminated in Lane drunk at the original “Godzilla.” This union is about as funny. Peggy has always been a lot funnier than she’s probably been given credit, and Roger brings out her sillier and more drunkenly philosophical side. Roger gifts her with a naughty Japanese painting probably left over from Bert Cooper (“It’s an octopus pleasuring a lady”), and she gradually gets over the fact that she doesn’t think she can keep up with the famously soused Roger. But she can. He’s nostalgic, but Peggy has more reason than him to think the salad days weren’t that hot. “It looks good, but you were miserable while you were in it,” she reflects at one point as he talks about the war. But that’s a good description of the era depicted on the show as well.
Those of us who’ve kept at “Mad Men” did it because we enjoyed it, but it’s been a rough ride through a period of history that was mostly good to the characters on screen and not so good to those who, for the most part, weren’t. Peggy is someone who was able to ascend in her vocation during a time of rapid social change, but remember the fight she had to endure to get there, and in a position that doesn’t even pay the same as her male counterparts. The show doesn’t want you to forget that, and it doesn’t want you to feel entirely bad for rich, white, sexist men like Roger, who are on the way out. At the same time, isn’t Roger an enjoyable, witty television character, and don’t you feel deep remorse that the show only figured out to get he and Peggy pissed together in the third-to-last episode?
Token stray observations:
— Oh, right, Don: He did one of his classic disappearing acts. But this time it was in the middle of a boring meeting with Miller, one that he thought would be a chance for him to show off his rock star superpowers. He was, after all, McCann Erickson’s “white whale,” as per Hobart. Instead he found himself in a packed meeting where he was mere meat in the room. And so he wordlessly nipped out of there and went on a foolhardy mission looking for more intel on Diane (Elizabeth Reaser), the self-destructive waitress who wound up captivating his heart — a foolhardy mission to Wisconsin. Oh, Don. Never change.
— The McCann Erickson digs couldn’t be more depressing compared to the bright and cheery SCP offices — all blue carpet and minimal lighting. Someone getting excited when Joan has a (small) window is some sad stuff.
— Betty casually reading Freud. That is all.
— Oh hey, “Mad Men” is now in the time of David Bowie…though, actually [puts rock snob hat on], “Space Oddity,” though first released in 1969, wasn’t a big hit in America until 1973, when it was reissued, becoming his first U.S. hit record. In fact it originally stalled at 124 on the American charts. JUST FYI.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge