Spoiler Alert: Mad Men, S7E12, “Lost Horizon”

This week’s episode of Mad Men was one of the most tense I’ve seen in a long time.

In short: it’s a close-up view of an acquisition and the pains associated with it. Everyone–except Ted and Harry–is alienated from their jobs and each other. Early in the episode, Jim Hobart drops the veil when he tells Don, “we just bought an agency in Milwaukee to get Miller beer.” That’s how the big guys think: they don’t care about the people; they just care about the business.

Joan’s entire story was obviously the most frustrating. Her business is being undermined by incompetent idiots while the men are treating her as an object. It’s the worst sexism we’ve seen on the show in a long time. And it’s a perfect depiction. There is a huge difference between the casual misogyny of the small agency and the institutionalized sexism of the big bureaucratic monoliths. And Joan and Peggy are getting the worst look at it. “What’s he going to say to a client?” Ferg asks Joan. “She’s my boss?”

Every minute of the show just ratchets up the tension for Joan. Even when she gets a moment with Don in the elevator, it’s a ships-passing-in-the-night missed opportunity. Joan goes to Ferg with her problem with the incompetent McCann stooge which only earns her a worse problem: Ferg’s leers: “From now on, no one comes between me and your business.” She makes it worse by then going over Ferg’s head to Hobart whose increasing hostility towards her is a perfect characterization of an acquiring company: they only play nice long enough to get the assets they want in place.

There is no other way to look at it: SCDP’s acquisition shows they’ve lost the war.

Peggy and Roger, meanwhile, hang around the old SCDP offices. Peggy hasn’t been given an office at McCann (who also mistake her for a secretary) and Roger just doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do there. They have some great conversations. When Peggy says she needs to make men feel at ease, Roger gives her a more feminist lesson than Joan ever has: “Who told you that?” And when Roger bemoans the loss of his company, Peggy corrects him: “You’re acting like you had nothing to do with this.”

Don is as lost as he’s ever been but I think he gets it. While Joan, Peggy, and Roger struggle with their new reality, Don runs. It starts at their corporate lunch when he realizes that the bullshit of this new agency is just as bad as he’s always known it would be. He has no place in this new world and he can’t even struggle to pretend he does.

Visiting Betty to pick up Sally, Don makes too familiar a move on Betty (rubbing her shoulders) and gets the point again, that she’s not with him. Sally has left without him. And the boys are out until 6:30. Don has no one from his old family. So he hits the road again.

And for whatever dumb reason, he heads towards Diana, the waitress. It’s not the horizon that is lost in this episode called “Lost Horizon.” It is the horizon of the lost. Hallucinating that Bert is in the car with him, Don has a pretty lucid conversation with the figment of his imagination. “Remember On the Road?” Don asks. “I’ve never read that book and you know that,” Bert snaps back. When he arrives in Wisconsin, Don pretends to be two different people as Diana’s ex-husband sniffs him out both times. Then he drifts again and picks up a hitchhiker for whom Don heads out of his way again.

After not knowing what to think of McCann’s move to disband SCDP in the last episode, I think this is a perfect trip in the direction that I expect from Mad Men. Even when everything falls apart, the tone stays perfect.

Peggy’s swagger at the end of the episode will be short-lived. The bureaucracy destroys everything.

Also, Meredith is still my favorite character.