Mad Men: What's in a Name? Or, Don Draper Looks to the Horizon

04/27/2015 11:54 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

Sterling Cooper is no more. And Don Draper is a free man, a rich man, able to pursue whatever version of a more fulfilling life occurs to him. Spoilers, naturally, are ensuing.

That's the upshot of the latest episode, "Time & Life," a word play on the building which contains Sterling Cooper & Partners' elegant offices. Sterling Coo is losing the much loved space, at first due to what Roger Sterling thinks is a clerical error but actually due to McCann Erickson's decision to fully absorb its subsidiary into the overall body corporate, ending the agency's autonomy.

Now, with only three episodes left in the series, Don is free to explore in next week's antepenultimate episode, "Lost Horizon," his own private paradise free of the shallowness and hypocrisy from which he's been becoming alienated. (We glimpsed Don watching Lost Horizon, the 1937 Frank Capra film based on the better novel by British writer James Hilton, in this year's opening episode. By coincidence, due to my current writing about anniversaries revolving around Franklin D. Roosevelt, and because of FDR's fascination with the novel -- he named the presidential retreat Shangri-La, which Eisenhower changed to Camp David -- I'm re-reading it now.)

It won't take a hijacked plane to give Don Draper the opportunity to walk towards his hoped-for Shangri-La, for the major circumstances of life have lined up that way.

His second marriage is over, and resolved. His home has been sold. His ex-wives and kids are moving forward with their lives. His ad agency is no longer and his partners.'

In this, Mad Men and the tale of Sterling Cooper is mirroring the history of advertising. A smaller old-line agency as the soon-to-be go-go 1960s dawned, it became a boutique on the strength of its acclaimed creative, only to be acquired by a British conglomerate when Roger needed to pay off his first wife, then fight free to renewed independence, merge with another agency to scale up in order to service bigger clients, and then get acquired again by a huge corporate agency.

After some fairly half-hearted attempts to recreate the spirit that drove the great Season 3 finale in which the gang, in Ocean's 11 mode, cleverly wins free from their London overlords, this time involving use of the LA office as "Sterling Cooper West" to retain some autonomy within the McCann corporate family, their efforts are denied. The five partners -- Don, Roger, Joan Harris, Ted Chaogh, and Pete Campbell -- are told to relax. They have ascended to corporate advertising heaven, with senior executive positions with McCann, big assured clients, and big assured paychecks. Most of the rest of the Sterling Coo crew, though, is on the chopping block as redundancies, which they clearly realize by dramatically drawing away from Don as he hollowly asserts a new beginning.

All of which prompts a great bar scene with Roger and Don. Roger, in his inimitably witty way, relates how it means the end of the Sterling family name. For it's no longer on the firm his late dad and the late Bert Cooper founded. His only child is a daughter. And, oh yes, he's fallen in love with a woman who's already had her children. Don remarks that it's a world of change, in another life he'd have been Roger's chauffeur. But he's sure interested to meet Roger's new lady love.

Only, of course, he already has, for it is Marie Calvet, lately seen with daughter Megan absconding with all of Don's furniture, played so deliciously and ferociously by British film star Julia Ormond.

After getting over the shock, it serves to remind Don that he really is alone. If he's bored with being the playboy we saw as this year's episodes began, and he seems to be, then he has an unknown future to find and fill.

Indeed, everyone else seems to be with someone. Joan found what looks to be a fine mate in last week's episode. Ted is back with his wife. Pete looks to be reconciling at last with the estimable Trudy, after the two of them were thrown back together over their daughter's school crisis. And Peggy Olsen, who just met someone intriguing, has a bonding experience with her friend and subordinate Stan, actually sharing the story of her giving up the newborn son she surprisingly had at the of Season 1.

Don, still a creature of habit, looks for the waitress Diana whom he hooked up with after dreaming of lost inamorata Rachel Menken at the beginning of this seasonlet, but she's given him the slip.

But he still has big money, right? As the episode's Dean Martin song mockingly reminds. (Dino, by the way, was something of a milk-guzzling family man away from his on-stage role as the playboy lush in the ring-a-ding-ding Rat Pack world of Sinatra and company.)

Is Don really the guy in the song, or is he the real guy singing the song?

Which version of Don Draper that Dick Whitman has pretended to be is real? Any of them?

And where is his Shangri-La?

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