Mad Men Season 7 Episode 12 recap: Don is floating in a most peculiar way

Jeff Pfeiffer

Don’s new apartment is almost ready. If he’ll just choose paint, he could move in next week. Despite Meredith’s efforts to ground Don, we know he’ll never live there. And though Jim Hobart and Ferg make him say it – “I’m Don Draper from McCann Erickson” – we know he never will be. In this lyrical, reference-laden episode called “Lost Horizon,” Shangri-La is lost to Draper and company. Can Don find it again? Will he even try?

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McCann is mission control, Harry informs Roger as the computer is wheeled out of SCP’s rapidly emptying offices: statisticians, programmers, 15 people just handling data. Harry’s gloat gets Roger’s goat. “We’re not going to be bunkmates, Crane. I’ll make them build another floor if I have to.” It’s a shame Harry couldn’t leave for Tokyo with Lou.

Joan’s nightmare scenario plays out as she’s forced to bring Dennis the Cretin in on an Avon client call. Dennis doesn’t read Joan’s brief before the meeting, and makes glaring gaffes, alienating Avon’s wheelchair-bound Barry. The incompetent Dennis to Joan: “I’m sorry, who told you you got to get pissed off?” Joan blinks, soft-pedaling her request that he actually read the brief before the next call. “I thought you were going to be fun,” he accuses.

Mad_Men_Episode12_JoanJoan approaches Ferg about Dennis’ Avon screwups, leaping from frying pan into fire, as Ferg’s price to handle the Dennis situation is taking on the role himself – in exchange for Joan spending a weekend with him. “See it from his side,” Ferg advises. “He has a wife and three children. He’s not going to work for a girl. What’s he going to say to a client? She’s my boss?” Ferg also makes it clear that Joan is never getting another account.

Burn the place down, Joan.

BURN IT.

There are a lot of “walking away” shots in this episode, and Don has a couple of “sounds like goodbye” moments. He meets Joan in the elevator, and wonders why she hasn’t come to him with her transition difficulties. She reminds him that they don’t share any accounts and says she’ll figure it out herself. “I’m sure you will,” Don agrees as they part. Later, in the Francis kitchen with Betty after Sally has stood him up, Don again finds he’s not needed. Sally caught a ride back to school with a friend, and Bobby and Gene  won’t be home until 6:30 – too long for him to wait. Betty’s shoulders hurt from lugging her school books, but when Don massages them, she gently shrugs him away and returns to her studies, telling Don that she’s always wanted to do this. “Knock ‘em dead, Birdie,” he says as he leaves.

Peggy doesn’t yet know the SCP women are screwed, but she’s figuring it out. Her office at McCann isn’t ready when the move begins. Rather than be pushed into a desk in the secretarial pool while awaiting her furniture and boxes, Peggy returns to SCP, where a lone creative lurks, since he’s being paid through the end of the week. She commandeers Ed as both secretary and staffer, carrying on with work for Dow and other clients. Her regular secretary, Marsha, delivers flowers to Peggy’s apartment. Peggy mistakes this for an apology from McCann over the office mix-up until Marsha sets her straight. All the “new girls” got them. As in, all the secretaries.

Joan’s new flame may be fun in bed, but Richard’s no help regarding Ferg. If it were two years later, he’d be quoting the “it’s not personal, it’s just business” crap from The Godfather to her during their post coital smoke.

The Miller Beer meet and greet, with its profile of the beer-drinking, Willy Lomans of the Midwest, inspires Don — to get up mid-meeting and leave. We find him on the road with Bert Cooper, who’s not ready to say goodbye to the summer. I’m really tired, aren’t I? Don asks. Bert reminds him he’s been driving for seven hours. “Where are you going?” Bert asks. Don admits he’s chasing down the waitress. “You shouldn’t do that,” Bert chides. “That’s not going to stop me,” Don replies.

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Remember On the Road? Don asks. Bert claims he’s never read that book, but when Don says he’s riding the rails, Bert asks, “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?” then  disappears, leaving Don to his lonely odyssey. It’s no accident that the song lyric reaches “I’ll fill the emptiness” as the scene ends.

Peggy, alone at SCP, answers the ringing payphone. It’s Marsha: Peggy’s office is ready. “When can you come over?” Peggy says she’ll come now and yes, she can work at a drafting table until tomorrow.

The eerie sounds of a Wurlitzer organ fill the halls of SCP. Peggy investigates, only to find Roger playing it. How it arrived at SCP isn’t explained. Roger wants an audience – and a drink. Roger reminisces, Peggy remonstrates and they drink vermouth. Roger presents her with a lithograph of an octopus pleasuring a lady, which hung in Bert’s office for years. Peggy’s not yet drunk enough to accept it.

Yet.

Hobart isn’t pleased that Don is MIA following his abrupt departure from the Miller meet and greet – especially as he’s missed meeting with Nabisco and National Cash Register since. Meredith is grace under pressure, denying he’s “on a bender” or that there’s anything to worry about. Earlier, Jim gloated that Don was his white whale, apparently not realizing this makes him Captain Ahab. Like Ahab, Jim is still determined to win.

Joan moves up the food chain in search of respect. Jim encourages her to speak freely, only to use it against her. “Joan, it may not have sunk in, but your ‘status’ has changed.” Jim dismisses her SCP partnership as something she hasn’t earned. “Your little stake doesn’t mean anything here.” Joan says she’s perfectly happy to take her half million dollars and leave, but Jim won’t be told how to run his business. “Now find a way to get along, or you can expect a letter from our lawyer.” Joan threatens to take him to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; he counters with a Mr. Potter-esque offer of 50 cents on the dollar for Joan’s shares. She’s not negotiating; he dares her to go public. He’d rather give her money to a lawyer.

Don fails to find Diana or news of her whereabouts, but changes his identity twice while talking with Diana’s ex-husband, who sees his clothes and car and knows he’s lying. Don apologizes for upsetting him. “I was worried about her. She seems so lost.”

“You can’t save her,” Diana’s ex warns.

Back at SCP, Roger plays the organ, directing as Peggy placidly roller skates in sweeping circles to the Wurlitzer’s tune.

Roger’s delay has worked some kind of magic for Peggy, who arrives at McCann like a boss – Ray Bans on, cigarette lit, litho of octopus pleasuring woman in tow, taking the center of the hallway so the men have to step aside to let her pass.

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But his magic fails Joan. He can’t sway Jim, who never wants to hear her name again. Roger regretfully urges Joan to take the deal.  “You started something that could leave you with nothing,” he says. Joan collects her rolodex and leaves.

A hitchhiker puts Don on the road to St. Paul. “I don’t want to take you out of your way,” the man says, but Don demurs, needing to be needed by someone. Anyone. Because Don’s floating in a most peculiar (yet oh-so-familiar) way, and the stars look very different today. He’s out of reach, a man without ties, an American Odysseus reinventing himself on the fly. As Kerouac says, Don has nothing to offer anybody except his own confusion.

Could that be enough?

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Top photo: Justina Mintz/AMC

Other photos: Courtesy of AMC