Mad Men episode 7.12, Lost Horizon is about the promises and limitations of Shangri-La, the idyllic utopia in the movie (and book) Lost Horizon. This entire season has been about that, and with this episode, we reach a kind of culmination: Here, everyone, here is where you wanted to go. This lets us have the last two episodes for them to decide if, and how, they’ll get out of it.
Of course, it really wasn’t where they wanted to go. They grieved the acquisition by McCann, yet Hobart’s exact words in Time & Life were, You are dying and going to advertising heaven. So these people, who have dedicated their lives to advertising, are now ostensibly in its very own Shangri-La.
At the beginning of Season 7 of Mad Men (episode 7.01, Time Zones, to be precise), Don encountered two quotes on television, and I felt these quotes were fundamentally about what the season would hold for us.
One of the quotes was from the movie Lost Horizon:
In these days of wars and rumors of wars – – haven’t you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight?
Not a struggle. Yes, Don dreams of that. And what did Hobart say to him: Stop struggling, you won. This is Don’s very own dream, as quoted to him by the movies–his lifelong companion. And Don is the first to leave.
We can spend plenty of time unpacking the moment of Don’s leaving; the sense of freedom he saw in the airplane, which I think ties all the way back to For Those Who Think Young (episode 2.01) when Don said: I get on a plane, I don’t care where I’m going. I just want to see the city disappearing behind me. There’s the conformity of all those men in all those identical white shirts, eating all those identical sandwiches. There’s the way that Don was seduced with a line about his specialness by Jim Hobart, and then he hears the very same line has been used on Ted (bring us up a notch). The honeymoon is already over.
But the fact is, Don is the first to leave, Don was the one we first saw musing on Shangri-La. Don is still looking for a personal utopia, but he chooses a different novel, rejecting Lost Horizon for On the Road.
In The Monolith (episode 7.04), Shangri-La returns, and I posted about it. At that point, I was confident I’d identified an important theme. It was nice of Matt Weiner to confirm that for me by naming a whole episode after it. It’s Roger who mentions it. Roger who says to “Marigold” that you can’t live in Shangri-La. Well, Roger has spent seven seasons avoiding work, and now he’s being put out to pasture, put on the “geriatric floor,” and he’s achingly, organ-playingly, sad about it.
While Harry, Pete, and Ted are all content with Shangri-McCann for now, neither of the important SC&P women–Joan and Peggy–have a place there. Both are in the same struggle–to carve out space so that they can work, and be respected for their work.
I feel like there’s about two thousand words to write to contrast Peggy and Joan in this episode. Joan is clearly at a disadvantage–her career genius has been in office administration, she’s relatively new to Accounts, she brings few accounts of her own, and she doesn’t have mentorship or a reputation. She’s used her femininity throughout her career to help her, and now it’s only getting her into a worse and worse situation. Peggy, on the other hand, has always had a mentor, has been building a reputation in Creative for ten years, and has her own, “one of the boys” strategy for dealing with piggy men. By the end, Peggy gets her office and Joan gives hers up.
So we circle back: Lost Horizon is about the promises and limitations of Shangri-La. Don, Roger, and Joan find the promise to be false, Peggy grabs it in a way uniquely her own, and Harry, Pete, and Ted “stop struggling.” All of them (except Harry) also see the limitations. Don and Joan can’t accept them. It’s not that the rest of our crew don’t understand that “advertising heaven” is restricting in its own way, they’re just cool with that, to varying degrees. I think Peggy expects to fight restrictions her whole life, as she already has, while the others are all white gentile males for whom restrictions have always been gentler.