Up until this week’s episode of Mad Men, I assumed the man falling between skyscrapers in opening credits was strictly a metaphor. A few events in “Lost Horizon,” however, made me wonder if Don’s demise was on the immediate horizon—and whether it would involve heights. The “previously on” recap at the start of the episode included Roger’s remark about how Don will probably die in the middle of a pitch one day, and Don himself spent a lot of time staring out the windows of his new office, perhaps realizing that a flimsy piece of glass is all that’s keeping him from plummeting to his death. (Or escaping from his life, if the plane flying in the distance has reignited your interest in the D.B. Cooper theory of Mad Men.)
Don didn’t end up jumping, but he did go a little off the rails as one of many characters having a hard time adjusting to McCann-Erickson’s absorption of SC&P. It’s not just the overwhelming size and corporate culture of his new job that’s messing with his head, though—it’s his continuing obsession with the enigmatic waitress Diana. After a skipping a few important client meetings and going AWOL, much to the concern of new boss Jim Hobart—who referred to Don as his “white whale” after trying to hire him for a decade—Don starts having sleep-deprived hallucinations of the late Bert Cooper while driving to Diana’s old home in Racine, Wisconsin. That’s not even the weirdest part of an episode that features Peggy drunkenly roller skating around the old SC&P office (more on that later), but it becomes perhaps the most disturbing once Don assumes a fake name and pretends to be delivering sweepstakes prizes in an attempt to learn Diana’s whereabouts.
The new wife of Diana’s ex-husband welcomes Don inside their suburban home while Diana’s surviving daughter lurks on the staircase like something out of a horror movie. The visit turns hostile, though, once the husband returns home from work and sees through Don’s pretense. He doesn’t buy Don’s story about delivering contest prizes, nor does he buy Don’s back-up story about being a collection agent when his first cover is blown. Apparently, Don’s not the first man to be so consumed with Diana that he came to Racine to track her down. “You can’t save her,” the guy tells Don, “only Jesus can.” Now, Diana has more or less already said the same thing to Don, but maybe he’s treating her like a project to save himself from feeling so obsolete in his life: Joan and others don’t need him to save the day anymore, Betty’s finding her passion, his kids are fine on their own. Maybe Don will take the message to heart and finally take no for an answer now that he’s hearing it from someone who isn’t Diana. We’ll find out next week when he returns from his impromptu road trip, assuming the hitchhiker he picked up in the final scene doesn’t turn out to be a murderer or something.
Don can take his time coming back, though, because this episode’s MVP was, without a doubt, Joan. Remember when Joan talked about wanting to burn the whole place down after some McCann-Erickson bros spent a meeting making comments about her body? It’s almost a surprise this episode didn’t end with Joan walking down the streets of New York with the building going up in flames behind her, given what she had to put up with at McCann. After Dennis, one of the jerks from that meeting, derails a client phone call by showing up unprepared, Joan goes to Ferg Donnelly and asks if someone else can handle the business instead. Ferg decides to take matters into his own hands, which at first seems like a blessing—he gets Dennis out of the picture and keeps Joan in charge of her accounts—until he lets her know repeatedly that the only business he wants to do with Joan is that kind of business.
So Joan seeks help again, this time from Jim Hobart, who isn’t so sympathetic to her requests for autonomy. Hobart tells her he doesn’t care about her former partner status at SC&P and that she can take half the money on her contract and get lost, lest she wants to get a lawyer involved. But Joan threatens to do just that, name-dropping the ACLU and reminding Hobart that she’s probably not the only woman in McCann who’s been made to feel uncomfortable by Ferg. (Note to men: if you have to defend your company to a woman threatening sexual harassment litigation with the words “Women love it here,” there’s a good chance they don’t.) Joan seemed ready to fight, but Roger convinces her to take the money—not because she’s wrong, but because he nor anyone else would be able to help her: Hobart’s threats about the consequences and ostracization she would face are no joke. Joan doesn’t need to work, but with two episodes left in the whole series, it’s disheartening, if not infuriating, to see someone as competent and ambitious as Joan lose the battle against workplace sexism.
Unless, of course, she and Peggy run off to form their own agency, which a lot of people on Twitter are crossing their fingers for. We don’t yet know how Peggy will handle the culture at McCann-Erickson, as the company thought she was a secretary and didn’t have her office ready, but if Joan’s experience is any indication, Peggy’s relationship with the company might go up in flames, too. While waiting for her new office, Peggy tries to work from the abandoned offices of SC&P in scenes that feel a bit like Elisabeth Moss went and followed January Jones to the set of Last Man on Earth. First she spills coffee all over the floor and leaves it there (between this and the red wine in Don’s old apartment, Mad Men is really into upturned beverages as a sign of decay), then she wonders if she’s hearing ghosts before finding Roger eerily playing the organ by the stairwell.
They end up spending the rest of the day drinking together, which leads to Peggy putting on the roller skates and Roger giving her both some career advice (“This business doesn’t have feelings”) as well as Bert Cooper’s old octopus painting, which she initially resists. “You know I need to make men feel at ease,” she says. “Who told you that?” he fires back. On one hand, that’s an empty retort for Roger to make considering he later tells Joan that, actually, making men uneasy isn’t worth it and she should take the money. But on the other hand, the GIF-able moment it inspired—Peggy slow-mo walking through the halls of McCann, sunglasses on, cigarette lit, octopus painting under her arm—could be their redemption. If Joan’s not going to burn this place down, maybe Peggy will.
Correction: The original version of this story misidentified the athletic footwear Peggy wore in the office. They were roller skates.