Monthly Archives: May 2015

The office photo

Those of us who loved “Mad Men” hated to see it end for many reasons but I was especially sorry to see it go because it was one of the few TV series that actually showed what it’s like to go to work and do a job.

The majority of scripted television shows focus on one of two big topics: 1) the family or 2) the workplace. In other words, there are already a lot of TV programs ostensibly about people working.  Yet considering how many of them there, it’s hard to find one that truly represents the way we spend one-third of our lives.

I can’t speak to what it was like to work in a 1960’s ad agency, but I did work in a PR agency for twenty years and there were times on “Mad Men” when I thought I was watching my life flash before my eyes.  Not the drinking, smoking and blatant sexism, of course, but the office politics, chasing after new business, complaining about the clients, and general fear that we might be wasting our God-given talents on something not quite worthy of us. All that seemed familiar.

TV shows are not documentaries and series about the workplace shouldn’t be expected to get every detail right, but it’s still surprising how infrequently we get shows like “Mad Men” or that other classic depiction of office life, “The Office,” which strike a such a powerful chord of recognition.

One reason it’s hard to relate to the workplace on TV is that many job-related shows are not really about working at all; instead, the workplace is frequently just an excuse to throw people together in a non-family environment.  If you only watched television, you might be inclined to think that only single people work.  Which leads to one of my pet theories: on any TV show about an office with six or more unmarried characters, at least four of them will have romantic relationships with each other eventually.

And even on series that eschew romantic story lines and really are about the work, there are a small number of professions that are disproportionately represented, especially law enforcement, medicine and the legal field.  If you’re a cop, doctor or lawyer, you get to see yourself on TV all the time.  But the five most common jobs in America are: 1) retail salespersons, 2) cashiers, 3) office clerks, 4) food preparation and serving workers, and 5) registered nurses. Except for the occasional show about nurses, these jobs are rarely seen on TV.  (By the way, cops are 43rd on the list of most common jobs, lawyers are 48th and physicians are 96th.)

It’s pretty clear why there are so many shows about cops, doctors, and lawyers: these are frequently life and death professions with a steady diet of new cases and stories.  There’s always a new patient to heal, a new crime to solve, or a new client to defend.  But I have to think that the disproportionate focus on these three professions is a bit lazy.  Exhibit number 1 is “Aquarius,” NBC’s new show about the 1960s, which is told through the eyes of a police detective.  Really?  Another detective?

Certainly there are other jobs that have dramatic potential. Journalism, for example, seems a lot more interesting to me than the law, yet the number of hit shows based on news rooms can be counted on one hand (“Lou Grant,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The News Room” and “News Radio.”)  Also, why haven’t there been any shows about Wall Street and the financial sector?  Ever since the 2008 financial collapse, Wall Street bankers have been political villains but I can’t remember a TV series that ever focused on them.

Then there’s the clergy, who also literally deal with life and death. There are occasionally series about angels but very few shows, if any, about what it’s actually like to be a parish priest or minister.  Or teachers.  What about them?  There have been shows about high school students but hardly any about educators themselves.

TV could also take a look at the country’s most important economic sectors.  For example, given its enormous importance in the economy, it’s surprising that it’s taken this long to get two series about the technology sector (AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” and HBO’s “Silicon Valley.”)  “Silicon Valley” in particular demonstrates that you can create a successful TV series that takes the nitty-gritty of the job seriously. This is a show that never talks down to the audience, always manages to make an intelligent point about the tech industry, and is still vastly entertaining.

In fact, it’s striking that the settings for “The Office” and “Silicon Valley” – the two comedies that most accurately depict the 2st Century workplace – could not be any more different.  One’s set in a sleepy district sales office and the other’s in a dynamic technology start-up. What these series prove, though, is that it isn’t the job itself that’s important for a successful TV show, but the writing, creativity and insight.  After all, no matter where you work, bosses are bosses, co-workers are annoying and customers and clients are too demanding.  There’s no end of comedy or drama in that.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper - Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 14 - Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

Jon Hamm as Don Draper – Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

There are several tried and true ways to end a beloved TV series.  You can end the “story” of the series, disperse the characters, and send them on with the rest of their lives – the approach taken by “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Office.”  You can project the characters into the future so we can see what will become of them (the so-called American Graffiti approach adopted by Six Feet Under and The Wonder Years).  Or you can come up with a huge twist: St. Elsewhere is an autistic child’s fantasy; Newhart is a dream; the mother’s dead on How I met Your Mother.

Mad Men went for the huge surprise. As the last seconds inexorably ticked away at the end of “Person to Person,” Don Draper is meditating at an encounter session at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, he smiles and suddenly we are in a real ad – the famous “Hillside” Coke ad (aka, “I’d Like to Teach the World To Sing”).  At first I thought the Coke ad was a commentary on how capitalism gobbles up and then commercializes anti-capitalist movements, but then slowly realized that it was Don himself who returned to McCann (the real-life creator of that campaign) and exploited his own counter-culture experiences to develop one of the most famous ads of all time.

“Person to Person” was a great episode of “Mad Men,” but it wasn’t a great series finale by traditional television standards.  It gave us some unforgettable moments but not the emotional closure we crave.   After all the emotional turmoil – after Don’s journey of self-exploration – we are back to where we started.  Don might be a better, more self-aware person but he’s where he was 90 episodes ago – reaching deep inside himself to connect with people through advertising.

This might not be the ending we wanted but it’s true to the vision Matt Weiner established.  There was an early hint even before the episode started, when AMC released one last sentimental promo based on Paul Anka’s “Times of Your Life.”  That song was the basis for yet another famous ad – the monstrously manipulative late-seventies Kodak commercial suggesting you could capture the times of your life before they slipped away (an ad that makes me tear up even today).

The reference to Kodak reminds us of Don’s most famous pitch – the Carousel – which turned a slide projector into a time machine.  In the end, a carousel is exactly what the Mad Men characters are riding.  Life goes round and round while the painted ponies go up and down.  People might grow and evolve but they don’t fundamentally change – they fall into the same behavior patterns and bad habits.  This fundamental insight is what has set Mad Men apart from other shows.  Sometimes it’s been frustrating to us, especially in the seasons where Don was trapped again in self-destructive behavior, but it’s unfortunately the way people really are.  In our own fantasies we might want Don to quit advertising and become a novelist or humanitarian, but in the real world, someone like Don is likely to return to his career; people want to start over but most don’t.

In “Person to Person,” the characters ending up being true to themselves.  They follow their talents if not their dreams.  “Work isn’t everything” as Stan tells Peggy, but it’s a big thing and you might as well do what you’re good at.  Don, Peggy, Roger and Pete are great at advertising and they stick with it.  I’ve never thought Joan was a very good account representative but she’s an excellent organizer who puts her skills to work as a film producer.  The question that all of us face is how do we live our lives?  How do we spend our days? What makes us happy?  The Mad Men answer seems to be that you find what you’re good at and stick with it.

This episode was filled with many classic Matt Weiner feints and misdirections.  That Don apparently returns to advertising, and that an actual real-life ad closes out the series were two of those inevitable-yet-still-surprising developments that has characterized Mad Men, but they weren’t the only ones.  I, for one, never expected that Peggy would find romantic fulfillment and that Joan would not.  Peggy and Stan’s sudden realization that they love each other was a shock, if only because it was so transparently obvious that you couldn’t believe Matt Weiner would actually go there.  It’s like he was throwing the audience at least one bone by giving them what they most yearned for: a happy ending for Peggy.  The scene where Peggy and Stan declare their love could have come out of a Nora Ephron Rom-Com but was still deeply satisfying.

On the other hand, the collapse of Joan’s relation with Richard was equally unexpected, but equally satisfying in its own way.  Richard wants to be on perpetual vacation but Joan has too much energy and talent to become someone’s playmate.  When Ken (whose return is another surprise) asks her to help him find a producer for a corporate film she takes the job on herself and launches her own production company.  At first it looks like Joan and Peggy will team up in their own production company, but Peggy decides her talents lie in advertising, not film production, so that’s one fan fantasy outcome that is denied us.

Also completely unexpected – to me at least – was the lack of resolution in what will happen to the Draper children once Betty dies.  The adults all seem to have their happy-for-them endings, but for the children the future is bleak.  When Don hears that Betty is dying of cancer he wants to come home and taken care of his kids, but in a heart-breaking call Betty tells him to stay away.  She wants things to be as normal as possible for the kids and having Don away is normal.  Worse, she wants the kids to live with her brother and his wife because they need a woman in their life.  I had fully expected this episode to feature a showdown between Don and Henry over custody but Henry doesn’t even make an appearance.  As far as I’m concerned this decision remains an open one because I can’t imagine that either Don or Henry would allow those kids to be raised by that weasely brother William.  This is another example of bad judgement by Betty – it’s archaic thinking, even for 1970 – to assume kids need to be shipped out to the nearest female relative and I have to think that decision will be reversed once Don comes back East to resume his job at McCann.  He might agree to let them live with Henry, as Sally, the clearest-thinking person in the house, wants, but I can’t see them with William and Judy.

In any event, it’s that brutally honest conversation with Betty that precipitates Don’s final collapse.  Realizing how much he’s failed his own kids after having been an orphan himself, he goes on a bender and ends up tracking down Stephanie,  Anna Draper’s niece, because he wants to give her Anna’s wedding ring, once worn by Megan.  California, the one place where he’s known as “Dick,” has traditionally been Don’s refuge, but by now too much has happened to recapture the Edenic qualities we saw earlier in the series. Like Don, Stephanie has made a mess of her life and lost custody of her baby son.  She takes him to a hippie-like retreat – the real-life Esalen Institute, which still exists but  is not identified on the episode .  According to Wikipedia, Esalen is “a nonprofit organization devoted to activities such as personal growth, meditation, massage, Gestalt, yoga, psychology, ecology, spirituality, and organic food” – in other words a playground devoted to the usual Sixties fixations.   The show’s attitude to this retreat is unclear. Plainly a lot of it is ridiculous and self-indulgent, as exemplified by the nudist participant who tells self-serving stories in the counseling sessions.  Some of it is brutal; for someone like Stephanie, whose life is too broken to fix, the honesty is just too painful to bear.  Some of it seems preposterous , with all the happy talk and “how does that make you feel” line of questioning.

At first it seems like Don can’t fit in. Among the aspiring hippies, he looks completely different in his traditional suburban clothes and he’s skeptical of the mumbo jumbo.  When Stephanie has a painful session, he tries to be the hero, offering to help her out financially, but she rejects him: “You’re not my family.  What’s the matter with you?” Don then gives her the same basic advice he gave Peggy after she gave away HER baby:   “You can put this behind you.  It will be easier as you move on.” Don’s entire operating philosophy has been to repress the bad memories, to compartmentalize, and to create a new persona.  “Oh Dick, I don’t think you’re right about that,” she replies, understanding that there are just some things you can’t repress and just need to deal with.

When Stephanie leaves in the middle of the night, Don is nearly undone.  There once was a time when he wanted to escape TO California, but now he wants to escape FROM California, but is trapped by his lack of transportation.  He’s furious that Stephanie left without saying good-bye and then realizes that he never said good-bye to Peggy so he calls her on the phone to talk.  We never see him talking in the Esalen sessions, but he does engage in some hard-core talk therapy with the one woman who understands him.  “What have you been doing?” “I don’t know, I have no idea.” “You can come home. McCann will take you back in a second.  Don’t you want to work on Coke?” “I can’t.  I can’t get out of here.” “Don come home.”

And then it all comes out. When she asks what he ever did that was so bad, he tells her: “I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man’s name, and made nothing of it.”  He’s confessed to Peggy before, but this time the strain is too much for him and he collapses after hanging up.  And for a long time we think he might actually die after all.  But Shelia, one of those preternaturally calm counselors, finds him and brings him to her session.  And at this point you wonder if all these encounter groups, as ridiculous as they seem, might not have a purpose.  After all, confession is one of the seven sacraments in the Catholic church.  And at the American Legion hall in last week’s episode, the story-telling by the traumatized vets serves the same purpose as the Esalen confessions: to sooth the pain of the memories by giving them voice.  To some extent, Don is purged by his conversation with Peggy.

At Shelia’s session, he listens to the heart-wrenching story of a man who feels forgotten, alone and invisible.  It’s not satisfying to us that the last major speech of the series is given by someone we’ve never seen before.  In fact Don himself has no dialogue  at all in the last 10 minutes of the series.  Instead, we hear from Leonard, who, like Don, is a clean-cut suburban Dad with a serious case of “Is that all there is.”  He says his wife and kids don’t look up when he comes home.  “It’s like no one cares when you’re gone.  They should love me.  Maybe they do. You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it.  People aren’t giving it to you. Then you realize, they’re trying and you don’t even know what it is.”

Leonard then recounts a dream in which he feels like an unloved consumer product (maybe one of the very food products that Don advertises.) In this dream he’s on a shelf in the refrigerator.  “Someone closes the door and the light goes off and I know everyone’s out there eating.  And then they open the door and everyone’s smiling.  And they’re happy to see you, but maybe they don’t look right at you, and maybe they don’t pick you.   And then the door closes again.  And the light goes off.” That’s a chilling image. Life is all about waiting for people to love you, to see you, to want you.  But they don’t and then the light goes off.  When he breaks down sobbing, it’s Don who comforts him with a silent, tearful hug.

And then in the very final scene, we see Don on the Big Sur cliffs, meditating with the other seminar participants.  Except now he’s wearing a clean white shirt and white pants, like a virginal bride or baptized penitent. The very final words of the series are not Christian, though; they are Zen-ish, spoken by the meditation leader: “Mother sun, we greet you and are thankful for the sweetness of the earth.  The new day brings new hope.  The lives we’ve had; the lives we get to lead; a new day; new ideas; a new you.  Ommm.  Ommm.”  With that we get an ambiguous smile on Don’s face and then the transition into a commercialized Coke version of that scene on the cliffs.

Even on a second viewing, that Coke commercial disturbs me.  It seems cynical to think that after all the progress Don has made in his voyage of self-discovery, it’s reduced to a commercial, as great as the commercial is.  Has Don really become “a new you” and is that even possible?  I have a feeling we’ll be debating this ending for years.

Some other thoughts:

  • The title of this episode was “Person to Person.”  Back in the old days, boys and girls, before cell phones, there was something called an “operator assisted call.”   If you were at a phone booth, and didn’t have enough money to pay for a long-distance call, you’d ask the operator to call collect; the most expensive form of a collect call was the person-to-person call in which you wouldn’t be charged unless you connected with the very person you wanted to talk to.  There are two person-to-person calls in this episode: when Don calls Betty and later when he calls Peggy.  Altogether there are four telephone calls, including Don’s call to Sally and the Peggy/Stan  “I love you”/”I love you too” call.  Each of those calls is emotionally powerful in a way that is lost on the today’s Millennials, who hate talking on the phone.  In fact, as Stan explains, sometimes the phone call is better for actual communication because being in the presence of another person can make it hard to get the right words out.
  • Think there’s any question that Don came up with the Coke ad while at Esalen?  Here’s the smoking gun.  The pigtailed girl at the reception desk  is dressed exactly like the pigtailed girl in the ad.

pig tail girl2015-05-18-at-12.48.07-PM

  • The scenes with the Draper children were wrenching.  We can at least comfort ourselves with the knowledge that Sally Draper is somehow well-grounded and more emotionally mature than either of her parents.  The steel in her voice talking to Don makes it clear she won’t be anybody’s patsy.  And when he returns home and finds Bobby pathetically trying to make dinner, she has a maternal kindness that Betty never had.  For his part, Bobby gets to show that he’s not the dupe Betty thinks he is; by trying to keep her illness a secret, she has made it worse for everybody’s emotional state.  Bobby has learned the truth from listening to Betty and Henry fight but has no one to talk to until Sally comes home.  But what a grim fate, to lose your mother and possibly even your father and step-father.
  • To understand this episode better, it helps to re-read Tom Wolfe’s famous essay on the Seventies “The Me Decade“. The essay, which I just had the occasion to cite in a post on narcissism on TV,  is about the encounter sessions at Esalen and EST (Erhard Seminars Training).  As average Americans became remarkably wealthy between 1945 and 1970, they had the time and money to worry more about their emotional well-being.  This has been Don Draper’s problem from the beginning: once he achieved all his material needs, what was left?  According to Wolfe, around 1970 Americans began to turn inward, spending more time worrying about the most fascinating thing in the world – themselves – de-emphasizing the traditional values of community, family, etc.   And at the heart of the movement was the encounter session.  Per Wolfe:  “The encounter session—although it was not called that—was also a staple practice in psychedelic communes and, for that matter, in New Left communes. In fact, the analysis of the self, and of one another, was unceasing. But in these groups and at Esalen and in movements such as Arica there were two common assumptions that distinguished them from the aristocratic lemon sessions and personality finishings of yore. The first was: I, with the help of my brothers and sisters, must strip away all the shams and excess baggage of society and my upbringing in order to find the Real Me. Scientology uses the word “clear” to identify the state that one must strive for. But just what is that state? And what will the Real Me be like? It is at this point that the new movements tend to take on a religious or spiritual atmosphere. In one form or another they arrive at an axiom first propounded by the Gnostic Christians some 1,800 years ago: namely, that at the apex of every human soul there exists a spark of the light of God. In most mortals that spark is “asleep” (the Gnostics’ word), all but smothered by the facades and general falseness of society. But those souls who are clear can find that spark within themselves and unite their souls with God’s. And with that conviction comes the second assumption: There is an other order that actually reigns supreme in the world. Like the light of God itself, this other order is invisible to most mortals. But he who has dug himself out from under the junk heap of civilization can discover it.”
  • Esalen may have the appearance of a hippie commune but it’s definitely a commercial enterprise.  Don’s relieved that the women who checks them into their cabin takes a tip, and we also see that he’s free to leave whenever he wants because he’s fully paid up on his account.
  • I don’t think I ever look at a clock with as much anxiety as I did during the last 15 minutes of “Person to Person.”  I knew it was going to end at 11:15 p.m. but as we started that last encounter session, I started to panic — how would this ever get wrapped up in the allotted time? Of course Matt Weiner delivered by essentially jumping us ahead to 1971 when the Coke commercial premiered.  Without saying as much, we know that Don Draper’s life continues after we tune out.
  • Among the various reasons I have reservations about the ending is that it looks like Jim Hobart is one of the winners after all.  His acquisition and eventual destruction of SC&P pays off handsomely if the end result is that Coke ad.
  • I’m sorry for the demise of Joan’s relationship, of course, but am glad she got out in time.  When you have no other goal in life other than to seek pleasure after pleasure, it’s hard not to slide into decadence.  Richard’s initial foray into cocaine was a troubling sign of what could come next.
  • Let’s contemplate the inanity of the Coke Commercial lyrics for a second (see below).  These were not written by McCann.  They came from a popular song by the New Seekers.  For more on the origins of the commercial, check out this link:

    I’d like to build the world a home
    And furnish it with love
    Grow apple trees and honey bees
    And snow white turtle doves

    I’d like to teach the world to sing
    In perfect harmony
    I’d like to hold it in my arms
    And keep it company

  • There are a lot of abandoned kid issues in this episode.   Stephanie lost custody of her child by being such a screw-up.  Don, of course, is told to essentially abandon his kids because he hasn’t been there for them before now.  We learn that Greg Harris treats Kevin like he doesn’t exist (“He’s just a terrible person,” is Joan’s too-accurate judgment.)  Roger’s daughter, who’s still off at the commune, has abandoned her son Ellery.  Peggy gave her son up for adoption. The woman Don has been chasing around the country, Diana, left her remaining daughter after a second daughter died.  So all, in all, not a good showing by the parents of today’s  Baby Boomers.  And the decisive verdict comes down from an Esalen participant who says her mother left her as a baby:  “What I feel is sadness.  My mother left and I can tell you, your baby is going to spend the rest of his life staring at the door, waiting for you to walk in.”  Ouch.  No matter Stephanie can’t take it.
  • Sweet goodbye between Pete and Peggy.  No mention of their baby, now adopted by another family.  Just respect from two colleagues who have come a long way together professionally.  Plus this nice sentiment from Pete:  “Some day people are going to brag that they worked with you.”
  • As usual, Roger gets the best lines.  To Joan: I’m getting married.  I met her through Megan Draper.  She’s old enough to be her mother. Actually, she is her mother.” And after Kevin won’t come to him, “Little rich bastard.  He really is, I guess.”
  • Some interesting casting last night.  The actress who played Sheila was Helen Slater, the star of the “Supergirl” movie.  And one of the mechanics from the Utah Desert Flats, Spencer Clark, is from Darien, CT, my current hometown.
  • The Democratic National Committee tried to capitalize on the “Joan as victim” narrative from last episode by having numerous Democratic office-holders tweeting about an equal payment bill last night.  The thing is, Joan’s solution turned out to be a Republican narrative.  She didn’t get relief from the government: she started a small business!

Well, that’s it.  This is not the place for a long retrospective on the end of an era, even though it is one.  Undoubtedly, we’ll all have more to say later as we digest the meaning of this episode.


Narcissus loves himself, that’s for sure

In 1976 Tom Wolfe famously called the 1970s The Me Decade.”Ordinary Americans, he claimed, having absorbed the lessons of the free-spirited countercultural 1960s, had decided to throw off the shackles of culture, community, and tradition to seek their own self-fulfillment.

As always, Wolfe viewed this cultural phenomenon through a socioeconomic lens.  He posited that the 30-year economic boom after World War II had so substantially raised the fortunes of what was once known as the working class that its members now too had the time and resources to indulge in the kind of self-actualizing pursuits that had previously been the exclusive domain of the high-born and wealthy. And that was even before smartphones made selfies possible!

I hope Wolfe opines on the state of society’s Me-Me-Me mindset next year on the 40th anniversary of that essay — and that he devotes some space to the role television has played in reflecting and driving the narcissism of modern life.

As the most “mass” of the “mass media,” television has historically been a lagging indicator of cultural change. With a need to attract the widest possible audience, television has historically played it conservatively and embraced fading cultural norms. With the recent fragmentation of the television audience, this is no longer so much the case, but for decades after the ’60s, television continued to pay at least lip service to the eternal verities of modesty, honor, and self-sacrifice.

Ironically, even as TV was supposedly promoting traditional virtues, it was also undermining them with its glorification of the individual. The small screen has always featured solitary heroes. Think of all those Westerns, cop shows and courtroom dramas with their go-it-alone leading men. What’s a poor TV viewer supposed to think when fed a steady diet of protagonists acting on their own, bucking the system and generally snubbing their noses at the establishment? Of course he’s eventually going to think that life is about looking out for Number One.

And now that it’s 2015, TV is awash in narcissism. The genre that burst the damn of the old values was reality TV. Take “American Idol,” which did more than any other single show to celebrate the cult of me. For millennia, the idea of being an “idol” had been blasphemous. You could literally be burned at the stake if you tried to set yourself up as an idol. Then along comes television to tell us that being idolized is not only okay, but that any ordinary person with a dream could achieve it.

But “American Idol” wasn’t the worst. “Survivor” spawned hundreds of contest shows in which the mantra quickly became “I’m not here to make friends.” And “The Real World” led to the phenomena of programs about strangers living together, where the biggest stars were the most selfish, self-absorbed and self-indulgent. Needless to say, there are no reality shows about nurses, teachers, or ministers. No one’s interested in schmoes who devote their lives to serving others.

Scripted programs have also done their part to promote the cult of me, perhaps none more egregiously than “Glee,” a show that fascinated and repelled me over its five seasons. The most overused word on that show was “dream.” The characters never stopped talking about how they wanted to fulfill their dreams, which is fine if your dream is to make the world a little better. But it soon became clear that on “Glee” the word “dream” meant standing on stage belting out show tunes with a spotlight on your face, basking in the ovations of an adoring audience.

On “Glee,” being a diva was a good thing — and all the selfish behavior of the main characters was eventually rewarded. In the final scenes of the series, the prima diva Rachel Barry, who never ceased demanding her solos, ending up winning a Tony for her efforts. By the time the final credits rolled, I’d decided that my dream was never again to hear the word “dream” on TV.

The antidote to me-based shows like “Glee” is “Mad Men,” which also grapples with individuality, but in a more complex and realistic way. In a recent episode, Don Draper even went around the office and asked his colleagues what their dreams were, and those aspirations were very pedestrian indeed. Per the American ideal, Don has reinvented himself, but the consequences are not pretty.  On “Mad Men” narcissism usually ends fatefully, as was the case with the original Narcissus. Now if only the rest of TV would relearn this ancient truth.


Hey, it’s Mother’s Day.  I have an idea.  Let’s kill Mom.  After all, she’s been a pretty terrible TV Mother: more self-centered and spoiled than her own kids.  But once she gets a death sentence we realize she matured while we weren’t looking.

I’ll pay ten bucks to anyone who can prove they saw THAT coming.  Mad Men fans have been obsessed with how the show will end and a great deal of speculation has centered around who will die, with Don’s suicide, Roger’s heart attack and Megan’s murder at the top of the list.  But no one thought it would be Betty, even though the logic is irrefutable.  From the very first scene of the series, back in the pilot, smoking has been a core theme of the show.  Its omnipresence has been a signifier that these are very different times (imagine – people used to smoke on airplanes!)  But cigarette advertising on Mad Men also came to symbolize capitalism at its worst – by the 1960s everyone knew that smoking killed people but ad agencies still scrambled to develop the most effective way to sell the product. In the series pilot Don saves the Lucky Strike account with the inspiration that they should claim their tobacco is “toasted” and from then on a major preoccupation of SC&P is how to court or eventually, how to reject, cigarette advertisers.

In retrospect, it was inevitable that one of the characters would die of lung cancer, but we always thought it would be Don, who has coughed his way through many an episode.  Instead, it’s poor Betty — and just as she’s getting her act together too.

“The Milk and Honey Route” is an episode with three stories about three people on their life journeys.  One’s at the beginning of a journey, one’s at the end, and one’s still lost in the middle.

Betty’s the character at the end of her journey.  Last week Don’s parting words to her were “Knock ‘em dead Birdie.” I don’t think he expected that the one to be dead would be Birdie herself.    Yet here she is collapsing at college, where she’s pursuing a Master’s in psychology (and didn’t she tell Don last week that she was tired from carrying her books?  It obviously wasn’t the books that were tiring her out.)

Betty still looks good enough to be called “Mrs. Robinson” (The MILF from “The Graduate”) but she cracks a rib when she falls on the stairs and the x-rays detect that she has lung cancer that has spread to her bones.  The male doctor won’t give her the news until her husband is present, and when Henry arrives he reacts in typical man-in-charge fashion, first going into denial and threatening to cut off the hospital’s funding, then researching treatment options, then telling her to stop wasting time being in shock and finally bringing Sally back from school to talk some sense into her mother, who’s refusing to get seek the aggressive treatments that might extend her life by a few more months.

For once, Betty’s the wise one. She has her priorities straight, worrying about the impact on her children, and refusing to put them through the agony of watching her die slowly (which makes me wonder if she’s going to seek out Dr. Kevorkian to expedite matters.  She was very specific about what she wants to look like in her coffin, like she’s not planning to waste away.)

Mad Men is occasionally a very sad and depressing show, but I almost never cry.  This time, however, I came close twice: when Henry told Sally the news and she covered her ears and then when she read Betty’s note about her funeral instructions.  Betty’s closing paragraph came close to Nicholas Sparks territory but it was still a legitimate weepie: “Sally, I always worried about you because you marched to the beat of your own drum, and now I know that’s good.  I know your life will be an adventure.” (Jeez, I’m getting a little misty just typing that. Those words of support were a great Mother’s Day gift after all.)

And with that message, it becomes apparent that Betty has finally evolved from the brittle, insecure housewife of Season One to a reasonably content and occasionally wise middle-aged woman.  She says one of the most perceptive things in the episode: “I learned to believe people when they tell you it’s over.  They don’t want to say it so it’s usually the truth.”    And while Henry is losing his mind – focusing only on his own loss – Betty is the one who retains her dignity by choosing acceptance.

The character who’s at the beginning of a journey is Pete and we are presented with the discouraging but true-to-life fact that the three characters on the show most likely to have happy send-offs (Lou Avery, Jim Cutler, and Pete) are the three most undeserving.   Pete has always been whiny, unsatisfied and entitled.  In fact, he argues to Trudy that they should get back together again because “We’re entitled to more.”  And yet even Pete, like Betty, has matured.  When he says he wants more, it’s not simply more money (he’s already loaded and living in the Carlyle hotel, for cripes sake) but the less tangible satisfaction that comes from being a good husband and father.

When we see Duck Philips we should know something is up.  Duck is Mad Men’s Zelig: it was Don’s decision to hire Duck as head of accounts over Pete that precipitated Pete ratting out to Bert Cooper that Don was an imposter; it was Duck who was having an afternoon tryst (yuck) with Peggy when JFK was shot; it was Duck who beat up Don in the bathroom during the famous “Suitcase” episode (and then took a dump on Roger’s desk thinking it was Don’s); and it was Duck who brought Lou Avery to replace Don on Thanksgiving Day at the end of Season Six.

Despite being an alcoholic Duck manages to be a pretty decent head-hunter and he tricks Pete into meeting with the CEO of Lear Jet, not telling him it’s actually a job interview.  Pete is everything Mr. Lear Jet wants in a Chief Marketing Officer – he’s Ivy League, a “knickerbocker” (i.e., from old money), and smart.  His strategy is sound – seek corporate clients, not celebrities with pets. His advice that Lear needs a marketing executive who’s comfortable with board room leaders who see Lear Jet as a tool, not as a frivolous extravagance basically seals the deal.

By inadvertently playing hard-to-get for once instead of displaying his usual obsequiousness, Pete increases his attractiveness.  And that gets him to thinking about reconciling with Trudy.  After all in the previous episode, she inadvertently increased her own attractiveness by telling him that all the Greenwich husbands were chasing her (it’s human nature to want what others want or what we can’t have.)

Like Don and Roger, Pete has consistently been preoccupied with the question of happiness.  If you have everything you think you want, why aren’t you happy?  As he says to his Romeo brother “Why are we always looking for something better – always looking for something else?”

Presented with the opportunity to begin again – he convinces Trudy to start over.  She’s stuck in a rut too, but she initially dismisses him, remembering their relationship without the cloud of nostalgia, but in the end, she opts for reconciliation. In a way, they really are meant for each other; Pete and Trudy have tremendous chemistry together and they share an affinity for their privileges.  Wichita might seem like The Sticks but they’re be royalty there – and having a jet at their disposal will help them remain cosmopolitan.  Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

The character who’s still in the middle of his journey is, of course, Don.   He is literally wandering all over the country.  We last saw him headed to St. Paul and since then, he tells Sally, he’s been in Wyoming and Kansas.  He’s on his way to the Grand Canyon when his car breaks down in Alva, Oklahoma, and he’s forced to hole up in a $6/night motel drinking Rye and reading paperbacks that other guests have left behind.

The good people of Alva seem to fit the cliché of honest down-to-earth Americans and Don even finds a measure of satisfaction in fixing the proprietress’ typewriter and Coke machine (there’s that Coke again!).  But there’s something a little fishy about Andy the housekeeper, who’s a con man like Don, making him pay twice for a bottle of Rye.

Don’s duped into attending a fundraiser at the local American Legion, just like Pete was tricked into dinner with Mr. Lear Jet (there’s a lot of canny editing between the Pete and Don scenes in this episode, switching between them at dinner or drinking).   Don’s treated like a respected compatriot, being a veteran himself.  We’re so accustomed to the conventions of cheesy TV shows that I certainly wasn’t the only viewer who cringed when he was introduced to another Korean War vet (Hey, that’s Pam’s old boyfriend from “The Office”); I fully expected him to point an accusatory finger and bellow, “You’re not Don Draper: You’re Dick Whitman!!!!  But that’s not the kind of show Mad Men is, where obvious coincidences advance the plot.

Instead of a confrontation, the guys drink some more, enjoy an extremely seedy striptease, and end up telling war stories.  Telling these stories is supposed to exorcise the pain, but it doesn’t really seem to be doing the trick.  We hear a grisly story about how during the winter of 1944 a small platoon of G.I’s coldly murdered another small platoon of surrendering Germans.  This is obviously a well-polished story but the teller is still miserable and broken.  So much for talk therapy.

But the safe and welcoming environment of the American Legion hall gives Don a chance to finally tell his story about accidentally killing his commanding officer.  The other veterans are accepting of each other’s war-time atrocities, rationalizing that “you just do what you have to do to get home.”  And “home” is the key word of the episode.  Don says he killed his CO and got to go home.  But of course Don has no home.

Later is transpires that the yokels of Alva Oklahoma are not exactly Norman Rockwell figures.  When the money from the American Legion fundraiser goes missing, they immediately suspect Don, the outsider.  They rough him up and grab his car keys so he can’t leave until he pays them back.  But Don knows that Andy the housekeeper is the culprit and forces him to return the stolen $500.  Lecturing him, but really lecturing himself, he tells Andy that if he takes the money and runs, “you’ll have to become somebody else.  And that’s not what you think it is.”  In another reference to home he says “You think this town is bad now.  Wait until you can never come back.”

Don gets his car back and impetuously gives it to Andy, perhaps recognizing him as a kindred spirit. “Don’t waste this,” Don says, in the final line of the show.  Don’t waste the opportunity to start a new life.  And don’t waste your life either.  And in the final scene, we see Don waiting at the bus stop in the middle of nowhereville  Oklahoma, as lonely and homeless as he ever was.

But that’s just for show I think.  The series finale can go one of two ways: 1) with Don vanishing into the great hinterlands,throwing off his identity and becoming Dick Whitman again; or 2) Doubling down on home and realizing that his home is with his soon-to-be-motherless children.  Personally, I think it’s impossible that Don would let his children become orphans.  I think the ending that we never saw coming is that Don will find acceptance and home by finally becoming a real father.  Which would be a more shocking ending than anyone has ever proposed.

Some other thoughts:

  • This episode takes place from Sunday September 27, 1970, when Pete takes Tammy apple picking on his visitation day, to Sunday October 4, the day after the American Legion fundraiser.  This can be dated by the Redd Foxx appearance on the Flip Wilson show, which Don is watching in his hotel room and which occurred on Thursday October 1.

  • The closing song – Buddy Holly’s “Every Day” – is the second time this half season that Matt Weiner has closed with a song from the 1950’s (the previous being Dean Martin’s “Money Burns a Hole in My Pocket”).  It’s possible that the rights to these songs are cheaper than songs from 1970, or maybe Weiner’s trying to demonstrate a continuity between the Fifties and the Seventies.    In this episode, there’s a geographical connection because Don’s in Oklahoma and Holly was from neighboring Texas.  But the opening line is a bit haunting considering that so much of the episode is taken up with admonitions not to waste your life: “Every day, it’s a getting closer/Faster than a roller coaster.”  The song is about love coming closer but in this context, you also sense that Death itself is coming faster than a roller coaster.

  • Buddy Holly, of course, was killed in a plane crash and there was feverish speculation this week about Don turning into D.B. Cooper, who famously hijacked and then jumped out of a plane in 1970. I doubt the Buddy Holly song was made in direct response to this theory, but there is another aviation reference with Lear Jet, so who knows.
  • The title of the episode was “Milk and Honey Route” — a term defined by hobo sociologist Nels Anderson  in his book “The Milk and Honey Route: a Handbook for Hobos.”  This is the third episode in the series with a title explicitly alluding to hobos.  There’s also “The Hobo Code” from Season One and “The Gypsy and the Hobo” from Season Three.  In Mad Men, the hobo is one aspect of the American character on steroids.  There’s a long strain of rootlessness in American culture, from the cowboy constantly moving on to another place in the west to the beatniks in “On The Road,” which was mentioned in last week’s episode.  But the hobo, who is constantly on the move and constantly begging is an extreme example of that, and Don has never really thrown off his feeling of being a hobo.  Regarding the Milk and Homey Route itself, here’s what Anderson himself says: “The road the real hobo follows is never ending. It is always heading into the sunset of promise but it never fully keeps its promise. Thus the road the hobo roams always beckons him on, much as does the undealt card in a game of stud. Every new bend of the road is disillusioning but never disappointing, so that once you get the spirit of the hobo you never reach the stone wall of utter disillusionment. You follow on hopefully from one bend of the road to another, until in the end you step off the cliff.”


  •  That was a very sad scene with Henry and the doctor discussing Betty’s prognosis right in front of her, as if she wasn’t there.  The men will handle this dear.
  • Matt Weiner, a child of the Seventies, has consistently said that Mad Men is the story of how his parent’s generation screwed things up and left a tornado of divorce, emotional ruin, and sexual permissiveness for his own generation to handle, and we can see that with Sally.  A 16-year-old girl being forced to comfort her grieving step-father, plan her mother’s funeral and be a second mother to her brothers, all the while trying to stay sane after growing up with a self-destructive father and a narcissistic mother.   That’s a heavy burden for poor Sally Draper.
  • Wise words: When Henry angrily asks Betty what would Nelson Rockefeller do if he had this disease, she yells back, “He would die.”  And he would too.
  • Pete takes Tammy apple-picking at Lyman Orchards, a real place in Middletown CT.  I’ve actually picked apples there with my own son when he was young.  I wonder if Pete and Tammy where there with Tammy’s little boy.  They would have been about the right age.
  • This episode features two obvious callbacks to Alfred Hitchcock movies.  First the motel where Don is staying reminds us of The Bates Motel from “Psycho.”  Second, that closing scene of Don at the bus stop looks a lot like Cary Grant out in the middle of nowhere in “North By Northwest.”


  • Not a lot of humor in this episode, but there was the scene where Duck tells Pete he’ll get along fine with Mr. Lear Jet because he’s Princeton ’52.  Pete is all huffy  because he’s Dartmouth ’56.  Duck: “I know that.  Don’t pretend that you’re not going to jack each other off.” Which resulted in this response on Twitter:  “@popinattic I always knew that was what happens when people from Ivy League schools get together!”
  • Of all the ridiculous excuses for having an affair, the one Pete’s brother comes up is the worst: my wife likes it that women are attracted to me.  As if!!
  • Oh how I wish we could have had more Alison Brie during this series.  Trudy is indomitable and no one’s patsy.  She’s privileged and thinks it’s her right, but she’s always charming enough to bring it off.

Not seen in this episode: Peggy, Joan, Roger.  My guess is that we’ve seen the last of Pete and possibly the last of Joan, but we still need to wrap up Peggy and Roger’s story.  And of course, there’s that burning issue of what happens to Don.  There were no coming attractions so we can’t be sure what characters will be seen next week.  All I know is that according to my DVR, next week’s show is an hour and 15 minutes.


It’s moving day for the good folks at the entity formerly known as Sterling Cooper & Partners, and it’s not going well. Between the bureaucratic snafus, the misogyny, the bad jokes and overall culture clash, many of our favorite characters are not adapting easily to their forced relocation to the Evil Empire (aka McCann Erickson).

As someone who’s participated in a few corporate relocations and witnessed many others close at hand, my stomach hurt throughout the entire episode of “Lost Horizon,” which is the next-to-the-next-to-last episode of Mad Men. It is deeply unnerving to be yanked out of your comfort zone and thrust into new offices, with new colleagues and new assignments. It’s like going from elementary school to middle school: a transition that almost everyone has to make at one time or another, but which is usually miserable for the first few weeks.

What makes this particular transition so fraught is that McCann is a totally different beast than SC&P. They might technically be in the same business but their organizations are nothing alike. It’s now apparent that SC&P really was a boutique agency run by a handful of idiosyncratic partners by the seat of their pants. Like a family, it was sometimes dysfunctional, but at least it operated on a human scale. By contrast, McCann is a massive operation, with bureaucratic layers, redundancies on top of redundancies, and warrens of narrow halls and windowless offices. It’s not for nothing that the women who come to Joan hoping to get onto her accounts joke about letting the “Soviets” (e.g., the bureaucrats) figure out how to make the assignments work.

As in real life, the way the SC&P alumni react to their new reality is driven by a combination of circumstance, personality, history and opportunity. Here, in descending order of happiness are how our heroes are handling it:

Getting alone fine. Pete and Ted seem to be fitting right in. Last week Pete denounced Ted as a sheep but he’s not much better. Both are willing to play the corporate game. To them, this is just a job and they are making the best of the situation and are maybe even set to thrive because they’re willing to try not too hard. There’s also Harry Crane, who’s thrilled to be going to McCann. He never got the respect he thought he deserved at SC&P and believes the move to McCann will be his “moment.” McCann is “Mission Control” (i.e., the operation room from which NASA runs the space missions). I’m still betting that he doesn’t survive at McCann given his relative doltishness, but for now he’s fine.

Not going but resigned to it. Roger’s back-up secretary Shirley resigns rather than go to McCann. “Advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone,” she explains. Especially for women and African Americans, she doesn’t say because she doesn’t need to. Roger is sorry to see her go because he’s losing another familiar face, but in his typical all-about-me fashion, he never bothered to inquire before now whether she was going to be taken care of at the new place. Then there’s Ed, one of Peggy’s minions, who was not asked to go to McCann, but is hanging around the empty SC&P offices to make long distant phone calls. Passive and cynical, he prepares a satirical ad about Dow Chemical, saying it can clean up a quagmire (a reference to Down’s role in Vietnam, widely recognized at this point as being a quagmire.)

Needing to be pushed. Peggy and Roger, who haven’t interacted as far as we know since he paid her several hundred dollars to work with him on a Memorial Weekend a few season back, are the last evacuees from the S.S. SC&P. Peggy refuses to go to McCann until she has an office – apparently the McCann office manager saw her name on a list, assumed she was a secretary and sent her and the other secretaries a nice basket of flowers instead of an office. Rather than sit in the McCann office pool or work from home, she heads to the empty SC&P offices, where she first encounters Ed (see above) and then Roger, who’s supposedly packing but is really just doing an impersonation of the Phantom of the Opera by playing the organ in a deserted, half-deconstructed floor.

Roger’s feeling sorry for himself because he inadvertently caused the destruction of the SC&P business by selling it to McCann, not realizing they would eventually swallow it up and dispense with the Sterling name. Reluctant to move to his new office (located on a floor that resembles “a nursing home”) he’s procrastinating as long as possible.   When Peggy wanders into his organ recital, he first tries to get her to run an errand and buy some booze (an offer she rejects out of hand) before finally drinking the day away with her bottle of Cinzano (how they didn’t throw up after consuming so much Vermouth, I’ll never understand. )

The blunt way that Peggy deals with Roger is hilarious. She’s never really been scared of him – back in Season Two she asked for and got Freddy Rumson’s vacant office when her male colleagues were afraid to. Now after listening to him yak she tells him that he doesn’t need help, he needs “an audience;” that he’s the one responsible for the mess they’re in; that he was “supposed to look out for us;” and that SC&P “looks good now but was miserable when you ran it,” an assertion she quickly disavows.

Finally they buck each other up, through a experience when Roger was in the Navy and needed to be pushed from the deck of his ship to swim in the water below. In the end, they agree that they each need a push for this next stage of life, that it’s not the end of the road for either of them, and that Peggy might get her own name on the door one day. This leads to two of the greatest wordless scenes in Mad Men history: Peggy roller skating while Roger plays the organ and then Peggy strutting into McCann oozing confidence – with sunglasses, a cigarette on her lip and Bert Cooper’s erotic Japanese drawing.   It looks like she won’t get a happy romantic ending when the series ends, but she’ll do fine at McCann.

Peggy Olson skating

I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore: Joan’s situation is the opposite of Peggy’s: she’s got the romantic ending but not the job. McCann Erickson, we quickly learn, is a cesspool of what we used to call make chauvinism. We get a taste of that in an early scene when two women copy writers come sniffing around looking to work on Avon, Butler Shoe and her other female-oriented accounts. They too seem to be in a female ghetto, working only on feminine brands. They invite her to an after-hours women’s group at the Oyster Bar, but are quick to assure her it’s not a women’s lib thing and strictly for “consciousness lowering.”

But it doesn’t get downright ugly until she and Dennis, the cretin who told her several episodes ago that she should work on a brassiere account, try to transition the Avon account via speaker phone. Dennis, who is both arrogant and lazy, interrupts Joan’s introduction and tries to impress the client with Big Agency perks, including a golf outing at Augusta National. Oops. The guy’s in a wheelchair, which Dennis would have known if he’d read Joan’s written briefing or remembered her oral briefing.  He gets all indignant when she calls him out, saying “I’m sorry, who told you you get to get pissed off,” adding, as he storms out of the office, “I thought you were going to be fun.”

Joan takes it up with Ferg Donnelly, Jim Hobart’s hatchet man, who says he’ll replace Dennis on the account himself and proposes a trip to Atlanta where all he really wants is a good time. There was a time when a younger Joan might have put up with this kind of thing and maybe even turned it to her advantage through flirtation and humor, but her tolerance for sexual harassment burned out a long time ago. Plus, as her boyfriend advises, she doesn’t have to put up with any job she doesn’t want.

She marches into Jim Hobart’s office and tries to get Ferg taken off the account. She quickly confirms what she already suspected. The boys at McCann don’t value or her clients. Let’s face it – even Avon is small potatoes next to Miller Beer, Coca Cola and Nabisco. As far as Hobart is concerned, she’s just an adornment to his real objective, which was to bring Don Draper into the firm. He quickly tires of her demands, especially when she backs them up with a threat to sue on unspecified equality issues. She wants the remaining $500,000 due to her and he counters with an offer of 50 cents on the dollar. Initially she refuses but finally accepts when Roger talks her into it. It’s not about the money, she says; “It’s only about the money,” he says. In addition to what she’s already been paid, she walks away with a quarter of a million dollars, her Rolodex, her photo of Kevin and her dignity.

Not handling it well at all. Finally we come to the story of Don Draper. The whole McCann acquisition was done for one reason: to bring Don Draper into the McCann fold. Jim Hobart admits as much, calling Don his “white whale,” apparently forgetting that at the end of “Moby Dick” the great beast takes Captain Ahab and his crew to their doom. Hobart rolls out the red carpet and lavishes Don with praise but fails the most basic function of management, which is knowing how to motivate talent. By imperiously deciding to integrate SC&P into McCann without consulting the SC&P partners, he essentially destroys the value of his investment. He loses Joan’s clients, loses the clients that are conflicted (Burger Chef, Peter Pan, Sunkist, etc.) and ultimately loses Don too.

Hobart’s philosophy of life is that “when I see something that I want, I buy it.” What Hobart never understood is that Don is not motivated by money. Coming from nothing, Don is proud of having reinvented himself and building his own company. He has zero interest in working at a place like McCann, where idiots like Ferg Donnelly run the show. (It’s a bad sign when Freg tries to do a Don Draper imitation – “I’m working very diligently on the matter at hand” – that sounds much more like Dick Nixon than Dick Whitman and Hobart laughs like it’s funny. Who wants to work with people like that?)

Don’s first big meeting is with the team trying to decide how to sell Miller’s diet beer. Sitting in a room with more than a dozen other McCann creative directors, all drinking identical Coke’s, taking the same notes, eating the same boxed lunches, Don listens to a research consultant describe the target Miller customer. The consultant uses data to draw a word picture that Don might have done through intuition ten years ago. Having sat through the the PR agency equivalent of this meeting, I got the willies watching it unfold.  Will this be Don’s fate too, to sit in a conference room with boring while guys, playing corporate mind games?

Gazing out the window at a jet plane passing behind the Empire State Building, Don is lost in a reverie of day dreams until he carries himself and his roast beef box lunch out of the room. In typical fashion, he has forgotten that he’s supposed to take Sally back to Miss Porter’s School for the new term. He shows up late at the Francis home only to discover Sally already caught a ride with another girl. And then we have a scene of great tenderness and reconciliation. Betty is mildly complaining about being fatigued from carrying her textbooks (when she’s probably really overwhelmed by Freud). Don massages the back of her neck, flirtatiously suggests that she find a freshman to carry them for her, affirms her attractiveness, and then exits with the killer line: “Knock ‘em dead Birdie,” using his old endearment.

With this part of his life healed, Don doesn’t return to the city – instead he drives west, to find Diana Bauer, the depressing waitress who has inexplicably transfixed him this year. Driving through the night he hallucinates a conversation with Bert Cooper, who tells him, “You like to play the stranger.” Don evokes Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece “On the Road,” that’s Fifties paean to rootlessness, motion and expanded consciousness. A perfect Don Draper book.

Diana is not at Chez Bauer in Racine, Wisconsin and neither her ex-husband, nor the new Mrs. Bauer know where she is. Who is there, however, is Diana’s daughter, a sad reminder of Diana’s abandonment. When her ex-husband sees through both of Don’s cover stories, he says, “I’m worried about her. She seems so lost.” But the husband replies that she’s a “tornado” leaving broken people in her wake. Don must have known that he wouldn’t find any trace of her in Racine, so off he goes again aimlessly. He picks up a hitch hiker headed to St. Paul, and Don agrees to take him there as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” swells in the background.

Don is now literally on the road again. He was always threatening to take off when feeling endangered – he even wildly suggested to Rachel Menken that they run off to California when he feared that his background would be uncovered in Season One. Now he’s finally done it. At this point only a fool would predict what will happen in the final two episodes.

Some other thoughts:

— This episode, like the previous two, is hard to date in time, but I’m guessing it’s the week after Labor Day in 1970. Last week was apparently early August and the thirty remaining days on the SC&P lease must have ended on Sept, 1.

— The title of the episode, “Lost Horizon,” refers to a famous Frank Capra movie from the 1930s about a traveler who stumbles upon Shangri-La and has to decide whether to stay or return to the real world. This was discussed in my recap of last year’s episode called “Time Zones,” because Don was watching that movie during a visit to Megan’s. At the time I thought California itself represented Shangri-La but now I think anything that’s not the old Don Draper world would be a paradise to Don. Here’s a scene:

— I love that the episode closed with “Space Oddity,” a truly weird and out-there song, even today. The original video from 1969 makes it clear that Bowie was influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey,” something I never realized but which seems blindingly obvious now. This movie, was obviously alluded to many times in last year’s episode “The Monolith.”

— The philosophical difference between the way Joan and Peggy advance at work has been a running conflict since the very start of the season. A product of the Fifties, Joan says women should get ahead through feminine guile since her beauty is her strongest asset, but Peggy believes in talent, hard work and asking directly for what she wants. We now see how that plays out and it doesn’t look good for Joan.  As much as I sympathize with her predicament (and she was briefly trending on Twitter last night so she has a lot of support in 2015, at least), she can hardly become a feminist hero by just dropping Betty Friedan’s name and threatening to bring in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Instead of fighting for herself and the other women in the office (previously not a concern of hers), she takes the money and runs after less than a week on the job. And she’s not smart about the way she plays it. Instead of telling Ferg that Dennis insulted the wheelchair-bound client by inviting him to play golf, she just mentions vague client discomfort. Instead of telling Hobart that Ferg is sexually harassing she falls back on her previous status at SC&P. She immediately threatens a lawsuit rather than trying to work things out and to make matters worse, throws away the one piece of incriminating evidence she has at her disposal – Freg’s note offering to take her away for the weekend. How would Ferg’s wife like to see that? The men are pigs but she has nothing to prove in a court of law. She quits because she can. Peggy, on the other hand, decides to challenge the McCann culture on her own terms, proudly brandishing Cooper’s Octopus/geisha drawing. She originally told Roger that she knew she couldn’t afford to make the men feel uncomfortable but now seems very intent on making them very uncomfortable.

— Joan says she’s going to call a lawyer, but after this show I bet it’s the real-life McCann who calls the lawyers. Last week there was considerable discussion in the real world about McCann being a place that was more welcoming to women in 1970 than the other agencies and the must hate the way they are being held up as examples of 1970’s Neanderthal behavior.  I also can’t imagine that The New York Times is very happy either by the assertion that McCann could kill any negative story in the Times because of the amount of advertising space they bought.  And here’s a Tweet about the Ladies HomeJournal strike, which occurred on March 19, 1970.  I guess the NYT wasn’t particularly afraid of the Ladies Home Journal since they covered that incident.

— There’s been a lot of discussion this year about how out-of-step Don is by refusing to adopt the funky Seventies look, but the guys at McCann Erickson are even more caught in a time warp than he is.  Ferg says it’s a shirt-sleeve culture, which means the guys don’t wear their jackets all the time, but they do all look alike in their short hair and white shirts.  With his mustache and hip clothes, Ted is completely out of sync with the rest of the McCann men.

— The guys at McCann may seem like drones but transforming “diet beer” into “Miller Lite” (“Tastes good! Less Filling!”) was one of their most brilliant successes.  As this commercial below makes clear, no one who drank Miller Lite had to feel feminized.

— Don has a view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral so McCann must be on Madison Ave near 50th Street. When he arrives at his office and lingers at the whistling window, a shiver of excitement ran through all of Mad Men Nation. There’s been a huge debate over whether he will jump out a window to end the series and, well maybe this was the moment!!! Nope, I think this was just Matt Weiner yanking our chain.

— Poor Meredith.  Betty calls her a moron, which she most certainly isn’t.  Jim Hobart comes looking for Don at his office and she covers for him perfectly.  But in her final shot she looks worried for him.  Now she’ll never get to decorate his apartment.

— I love how Joan and Don say they’ll have lunch sometime, and Peggy promises Ed she’ll call him when she gets to McCann. That’ll never happen, as I’ve discovered through years of trying to follow-up on those vague lunch invitations.

— I doubt it’s the psychology textbooks but Betty finally does seem to have grown up. “She comes and goes as she pleases, “she says of Sally. “And we can’t get mad at her for being independent. It’s normal.” This from a woman who needed her own psychiatrist in Season One.

— I just Googled the driving distance from New York City to Racine. 13 and a half hours. So I guess it’s doable in the time frame in whuich Don did it.

— I hope we’re all adults, because here’s the Bert Cooper painting (Dreams of a Fisherman’s Wife, from 1814). It’s even more provocative than I imagined from seeing it on TV.



To those of us old enough to remember Joni Mitchell as the blonde sex-bomb of the folk music scene, the TMZ report that she was in a coma — whether true or not — is an alarming reminder of our own mortality. More than any other artist, she was a chronicler of the flower children of the 1960s. Indeed as the creator of the song “Woodstock” she essentially dictated how we should think about that era. It’s disquieting to be reminded  of how old those “forever young” artists have actually become. And it’s even sadder to think that she has no family or loved ones to serve as her conservator.

As a performer, Joni never achieved massive success. She was on the verge of it after the popularity of her 1974 albumCourt and Spark” but instead of creating more pop songs, she doubled down on the introspection, experimented with jazz and then ultimately (and unsuccessfully) tried her hand at political commentary

She will always be known as a songwriters’ songwriter. The list of artists who claim to be influenced by her is long, but she was also an outstanding performer in her own right. She burst onto the scene with one of the most beautiful voices in the industry (a voice that has deepened over the years thanks to her affinity for tobacco products). And she was beautiful, with chiseled cheekbones and long flowing hair. But more important than all of that was the emotion she put into her songs — the stories about love and loss that helped generations of young sensitive souls understand the feelings the couldn’t quite articulate themselves.

The writing itself is phenomenal. No one — not Dylan, not the Beatles — ever did a better job of phraseology, rhyming, or creating images. Listen to the words in the following songs and try to deny she wasn’t the best lyricist of her generation.

10. A Free Man in Paris

Supposedly written for her friend David Geffen, this has great sentimental value for me because when I heard the album “Court and Spark” I realized I could like Joni Mitchell on her own and not because of what she stood for as a sensitive songwriter. Even now, 40 years later, I love how her voice slides up and down the lyrics, expressing exuberance, vitality and freedom.

9. Chelsea Morning

Hillary Clinton claimed that she named her daughter after this song, and who knows, this might actually be one of those truthful Clinton claims. A cheery song, for a change. The sun poured in like butterscotch — I’m sure it did.

8. Song for Sharon

This is an unappreciated classic — one long story of a women walking around New York City ruminating on her failed relationships. Her friends tell her to find find herself a charity or “put some time into ecology” but all she wants to do is find another lover. There are no refrains and choruses, just one beautiful observation after another.

7. Blue

This is a song that makes you want to open a vein. Song are like tattoos? Love never really went right for Joni Mitchell, and the pain just pours out through these lyrics. Yet I do like to listen to it when I’m feeling self indulgently in a blue mood myself.

6. In France They Kiss on Main Street

One of her few joyful songs, this is an expression of free-love and a rejection of middle-class staidness, as the video images makes clear.

5. Carey

This song came out when I was in high school and from the very first lyric (“The wind is in from Africa”) it represented for me a glimpse into an exotic, free-spirited world that seemed to exist only in Fitzgerald and Hemingway novels. I’ve always wanted to go down to the mermaid bar and have someone buy me a bottle of wine. But alas, I went to college and got a job.

4 Both Sides Now

Ever since Judy Collins made this a massive hit, “Both Sides Now” has been Joni Mitchell’s most well-known and most frequently covered song. I’m not a big fan of the 1960’s versions, which are peppy and flower-childreny. But this rendition from 2000 by an older and wiser Joni is haunting. As she sings them now, the lyrics assume the melancholic meaning that was always intrinsically there. Somehow, when a 57 year old woman sings “I really don’t know life at all,” it has an entirely different meaning than when a 25 year-old tries it.

3. All I Want

The ultimate expression of what you can get out of love. It piles up concrete images of what she wants to do for her lover: knit him a sweater, write a love letter, culminating with the ultimate offer of “Do you want to take a chance on finding some fine romance with me.” This song always epitomized how a love affair — and even a marriage — can be fun, romantic, and mutually supportive, something that Joni herself was never able to accomplish for very long in her own life.

2. Help Me

Boy do I love this song. It was her biggest hit, but never even cracked the Billboard top ten. This is from the “Court and Spark” album, which was her most explicitly pop effort. I love the way her voice conveys the knowledge that love is once again going to cause pain, but she can’t help herself.

1. Coyote

From the “Hejira” album, when she was turning away from pop music. A great articulation of the contradictory desire to be loved and to be free at the same time. Here she is performing it during the Band’s “Last Waltz” movie. “No regrets coyote” might as well have been Joni’s own personal motto. Lord knows she lived life on her own terms.