One of the questions I keep seeing people ask about the conclusion of Mad Men is whether the show’s opening credits sequence has prophesied the demise of Don Draper, and if he will take a tumble out of his office window come May 17? I can comfortably declare that, no, he will not be jumping (literally) in the next two weeks. It wouldn’t make sense. In the opening titles of the AMC series, Don doesn’t jump out the window. People see him in a free-fall and feel this is implied, but Don actually starts falling after the floor underneath him evaporates.
Those wondering if the floor will ever evaporate from under Don may remember a moment from “Lost Horizon” when it does. In the scene, Don enters his first meeting at McCann-Erickson, looks around the room and notices that not only are there a lot of men dressed in white shirts and black ties, but he doesn’t seem to know many of them. The room is filled with creative directors mumbling to each other and it’s not a place he dreams to be. There, he’s just another cog in a big wheel, listening to a familiar, uninspiring presentation. Don glances away from the salesman and looks out the window. He sees a plane trailing through the sky, in the distance, just past the Empire State Building. Then, the floor evaporates.
Well, it doesn’t literally evaporate. But rather than keep with the burden of listening to the same old adages he has espoused for years, and keep up with the dozen or so other creative heads all looking for a piece of the McCann-Erickson pie, he escapes. The last shot of this scene is not Don walking out the door. Instead, we get two brief shots of an invigorated Ted Chaough, recognizing his old competitor now shares his same feelings about the ad game. As Peggy Lee purred in an earlier episode this season, is that all there is?
Mad Men has always been a show about characters wanting more. That desire was often for a bigger office, a better account or a more fulfilling sex life. In the series’ final hours, it seems that the writers’ room is not gearing up for happy endings. To suggest that the drama will resolve tidily and optimistically seems sort of insulting, considering the pervasive sense of dysfunction and despair that has filled these characters for so many years. If anyone gets his or her desires fulfilled, though, that wish could be for more freedom. It might not necessarily be creative freedom, but a personal freedom to take charge of their lives.
Don takes a worthwhile step out of the pitch meeting and doesn’t return to the McCann-Erickson offices. He speeds away to say goodbye to his daughter, who takes off for school before he can even see her, and then he charts the open road to find a bit of what he’s missing. He still thinks there’s something in Diana that makes him feel whole, and so his first destination is Racine, Wisconsin. She isn’t there, and so, the chase continues.
Nevertheless, “Lost Horizon”’s biggest moments did not involve the ex-sole creative head of an ad agency, but two uncompromising women trying to find their place within a new office. This is another one of the series’ episodes to focus on Mad Men’s terrific women. Peggy ran off with the best scene of “Time & Life,” but “Lost Horizon” is mostly Joan’s episode. Those wants and desires I discussed in a previous paragraph also belong to the workers at McCann-Erickson. And what would one of their employees want more than an exciting evening with Ms. Holloway?
Well, although Joan brushed off the lewd comments about her from McCann misogynists earlier in the season, she hasn’t forgotten about them. Joan’s bumpy transition into her new office is a harsh one, where she is routinely reminded of how her looks and voluptuous appearance are the only assets her new co-workers care about. They don’t want her, God forbid, to give them orders. “Who told you that you get to be pissed off?” one of them asks, smugly. “I thought you were going to be fun.”