Monday, May 04, 2015

Mad Men: The High Lama Will See You Now

"Lost Horizons" is the title of last night's finale-minus-one episode of Man Men.  It's also a book by James Hilton which was adapted into the 1937 film classic by Frank Capra which begins with Robert Conway ("soldier, diplomat and public hero", played by the preternaturally handsome Ronald Colman) finding himself in charge of rescuing a small group of westerners ("ninety white people") from chaos and revolution in China.  

He succeeds, and barely managing to escape on the last plane out with last four evacuees. 


However en route to safety, the plane is hijacked.

Oh Noes!

Instead of back in the safety and comfort of one of the outposts of British Empire, our travelers instead find themselves (eventually, after a crash and stuff) in the valley of Shangri-La: an earthly paradise, that is protected from the outside world by virtually impassible mountains where the inhabitants enjoy peace, scholarship, good health and amazing longevity.  

And it was no coincidence!

You see, the High Lama (the CEO of Shangri-La) is very old and near death.  And having discretely searched the world for a successor, he believes he has found an ideal new High Lama in the person of Conway: a noble man who shares his ideals, but also a worldly man who would know how to protect paradise from modern, mechanized threats.

For the rest of the story, well, just go rent the movie.  

But of course McCann-Erickson is not Shangri-La.

And Jim Hobart is not the High Lama.

McCann-Erickson is a plantation.  A well-appointed work farm.  A machine.  And as long as everyone goes along with the program (hot and cold running awesome for the alpha males, an 26th floor executive ice floe for redundant tribal elders, and the Madison Avenue version of droit du seigneur for the women) the machine runs smoothly and efficiently.

And when everyone does not go along with the program, the smiling, affable corporate masks are dropped.  The axes fly, and the beast lives at the heart of the corporate machine bares it teeth.

Don's Shangri-La would be someplace else, far away.  A place our hero visited once before, and then left, and has been trying to get back to ever since.  

Someplace out west, perhaps.  

Far beyond Racine, Wisconsin.  

Far beyond St. Paul, Minnesota.  

Over the high mountains.

Don's Shangri-La would be sunny, golden land where reinvention is the norm.  Perhaps out where another child of alcoholic chaos who had also built a life out of optimism and denial...who had also built a career out of pitching products and pretending to be other busy reinventing himself as the governor of California, future Savior of the Republican Party and the ultimate avatar of the affable-mask-hiding-a-brutal-machine. 

Meanwhile, in a defunct office across town...

Two of our plucky heroes -- Peggy and Roger -- are thrown together for one last carouse.  Together they share the best moments of the episode as they skate and drink and reminisce among the ruins. All those thin walls which had once been made so formidable by tradition and status and ritual -- all those doors behind which terrible secrets were shared, shoes were ritually removed, loyalties were betrayed, a child was conceived and a man hung himself -- now just so much flimsy plywood and chip board detritus, torn down and left behind in the mad dash for the exits.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Midwest where no one lives but beer-consuming men "with very specific qualities".  And their wives.  And Jesus...

Donald Draper/Bill Phillips/Dick Whitman picks up a hitchhiker, and off they head together. rolling West, to the sound of Space Oddity: that hymn of disorientation and loss and commerce and leaving Earth behind by rock and roll's king of perpetual reinvention.

With two more episodes left, I think Don's big Caddy spaceship knows which way to go.
Tell his wives he loves them very much.
(They know)


blackdaug said...

Remember "On the Road"?

MedicineMan55 said...

I've found that I like Mad Men in spite of myself. I was not originally interested in the concept (60s wankery) and was somewhat put off by the way some shallow people were self projecting into Don Draper's shoes (the Gordon Gekko effect).

That said, I'm damn glad I gave it a chance. It is a quality show and I've grown attached to many of the characters, flaws and all.

This episode, I found it quite hard watching Joan get screwed out of her money. Boy howdy, did she ever predict what awaited her there. And Don -- few people are less suited to being a cog in a machine than him.

dinthebeast said...

I got high with a llama once... It was in a pasture across the fence from my friend's yard in Marin County, and as soon as we lit up, it wandered over to investigate.

-Doug in Oakland

Fritz Strand said...

Perhaps Don should have picked up a copy of 'The Organization Man'.

Mark Armstrong said...

Just tuned in after 'The Americans' ended its run. Very good show. Love the scene in the old office!

JD Rawlins said...

Seems like the show has to end with Don Draper's final renouncement of Don Draper. He finds something "out there" he wants to do, and introduces himself to the boss as Dick Whitman. And maybe this time he will "run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning--"

blackdaug said...

Sure you probably have already seen it..but just had to drop this off. If not, happy birthday or something....!

Re: Bobo

"How he burns with resentment. The hot millennials do not want a New York Times columnist from whom to receive stimulating discourse about the moral and attitudinal deficiencies of the poor. No, they want a “not-repulsive person” who “does not look like a waxed talpid,” thanks to some cockamamie notion that “sexual attraction” might be a more fruitful basis for a relationship than “being lectured by a fusty boomer pissbaby about how masculine chivalry is the bedrock of civilization and both were destroyed by the sexual revolution.”