There comes a moment in the latest episode of Mad Men where Don, in a meeting full of creative personal all clad in white drew shirts and black ties, looks out the window and sees a jet fly past the Empire State Building. It’s a quiet moment but says everything we can ever know about Don. He’s always looking for the escape, whether it be with women or his own identity, and now it’s his career. The writers even play a sly joke before this moment. As Don enters the meeting, a person is seen trying to open a jammed window. A popular fan theory has always been that a main character would fall out of an open window, like in the opening title sequence. It’s as if Matthew Weiner is winking at the audience, but it also serves a symbolizing of Don’s suffocation. With McCann Erickson, there’ll always be a window between him and the blue sky. It’s no wonder Don gets up during the meeting and leaves to go on a road trip out west to find Diana, Don’s feminine counterpart.
It’s not just the job that drives Don to chase an impossible dream. On a visit to pick up Sally, Don warms up to Betty who has her nose buried in a book by Freud. Don starts to give her a back rub, but Betty only smiles and tells Don Sally left without him. Again, we have another wink from the writers, this time playing on a fan theory that Don and Betty would end up back together again. But just as the jammed window, the moment again symbolizes Don’s estrangement from basic human relations. And if he doesn’t have family to hold him down, nor a career, Don will find a way to burst the window holding him back in life.
Which is why the ending of the episode is so important. Don, having made his way to Wisconsin,tracks down Diana’s ex-husband, as a means to find out where she’s gone. Don attempts to pass himself off first as a beer excutive, then as a collections agent, but the ex-husband isn’t buying a word. After being told he isn’t the first guy that’s come around looking for her, Don confides that she seems so lost. One can’t help but wonder if it’s still Don that is lost. We’ve seen him come to terms with his identity, as well resurrect a career in the gutter. But as a song in an earlier episode asked, “is that all there is?”
Facing the Great Plains of the west, Don picks up a hippie hitchhiker on the edge of the highway. Perhaps another wink from the writers, as if to suggest Don has finally found himself with the counterculture he’s expressed hatred for. But whatever the case, Don seems as destined to get away from it all, just as the hippie has made it a point to escape civilization. Where that road is headed, though, is anyone’s guess.
Don isn’t the only one looking for escape. Joan, who last episode expressed her fear that she wouldn’t be taken seriously, ends up being sexually harassed by a co-worker, who kindly tells her male employees under her have a right to reject her position. After all, they can’t tell the other employee’s that “she’s my boss”. Its sad to see Joan demeaned to such positions, time after time. After all, we’ve seen her raped by her husband, sold off as a prostitute, and now being sexually harassed. But Joan doesn’t take this lightly. She goes to the head of McCann Erickson and tells him she wants something done. When her request is denied, she demands she get bought out of her contract. She’s told she’ll get .50 on the dollar. Joan threatens to get the ACU and women’s right activists, but deep down she knows the money is the only way out.
Not all characters find themselves tied down. Peggy spends the episode at the old SC&P office, angrily waiting for her own office in the new building. She gets frustrated when her secretary brings over flowers sent to her, because as the secretary notes, only the secretaries received them. What would seem to be holding Peggy back instead liberates her. She finds Roger in the old office, who happens to be playing an organ above all things (worth noting that it looked like John Slattery was actually playing). The two get drunk, and as an exchange for Peggy staying, Roger hands her an old painting of an octopus perfoming cunninglingess on a woman.
But what’s better is that when Peggy finally strolls into the McCann Erickson office, she’s got sunglasses on a cigarette dangling from her mouth. Not just that, she’s got the octopuss picture cradled in her arms. Just as Don finds himself free on the open road, Peggy finds herself free by not giving a fuck. It seems she’s taken a lesson or two from Don.