Mad Men Season 2 Episode 12: “The Mountain King”

“The Mountain King” Review

Grade: A

In the Hall of the Mountain King

Don Draper has spent the entire series — and his entire life — being dishonest. To his family, to his coworkers and, most of all, to himself. In fact, he’s made a career out of it. But there is one person with whom he can be truly honest: the widow of the man whose identity he stole in the Korean War. In “The Mountain King,” Don continues his quest for personal meaning by reconnecting with Anna Draper.

You would think that Anna would harbor some resentment toward Dick Whitman, yet they’re actually the most compatible couple on the series. That’s because their love is platonic — two lost souls who met so that both of their lives could be better.

He pays her a much-needed visit this episode, which makes for a very rewarding payoff to last week’s mysterious phone call.

Mad Men Season 2 Episode 12: The Mountain King

Mad Men is often at its best when the mystery of Don’s past takes center stage. The original Mrs. Draper happens to be the last remaining link to Mr. Whitman, and “The Mountain King” is the first time that Don seems to be at peace with both personas. It’s one of the most rewarding episodes of the series.

Thanks to strategic flashbacks (Dick and Anna used to spend every Christmas together) and some of the best dialogue in the series (“I have been watching my life. It’s right there. I keep scratching at it, trying to get into it. I can’t.”), Don’s California odyssey remains extremely compelling and emotionally satisfying despite being disconnected from the events happening on the east coast. It’s the first time we see him truly comfortable in his own skin.

In fact, the storyline directly parallels the end of the series, in which Don finds himself on a similar westward quest for meaning. The allure of a new life has always been Don’s greatest ambition, but it’s also been his greatest fault. Although I can admire the fact that he’s now introducing himself as Dick Whitman when shopping for Anna’s groceries, it’s still disappointing to know that he’s completely abandoned his family back home. Perhaps Anna says it best: “The only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone.”

Don ends the episode cleansing himself in the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, which isn’t too far removed from the final frames of the series.

Don Draper The Mountain King ending

Don’s absence doesn’t have much bearing on the events happening in New York City. Life goes on without him, as evidenced by Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper agreeing to sell the agency to Putnam, Powell & Lowe. The impending merger sends the office into a frenzy, yet it only serves as a backdrop for the personal struggles faced by our characters.

For Joan Holloway, struggle is an understatement — her fiancé, Greg, rapes her in Don’s empty office. It’s easily the most abhorrent moment of the series, yet for a TV show intent on making a major societal statement, it’s unfortunately appropriate.

Mad Men is all about the search for personal identity, and that also means underscoring the harsh realities of gender identity in the early 1960s. Joan didn’t marry for love; she married because she felt she had to. By conforming to cultural norms, she’s made a terrible mistake.

This is directly contrasted with Peggy Olson, who has already birthed a child but doesn’t give a damn about romance. She delivers another successful advertising pitch and finally receives her very own office as a result. Her hard work is finally paying off, yet her hard journey to get there can’t easily be forgotten. In a direct contrast to the beginning of the series, Joan now wishes she was in Peggy’s shoes.

Mad Men Joan Holloway and Greg

The character most affected by Don’s absence is Betty, who struggles to raise the kids on her own. As a way to keep herself amused, she resorts to ruining other people’s marriages instead. Betty finally gets called out for what she is: a terrible person.

But we can’t really blame her for everything, as Don’s distance (both physical and emotional) is largely responsible for the spiteful woman she’s become. In fact, you could say that Betty made the same mistake as Joan, only she realizes it nine years too late. By marrying a lost soul, she came to be a lost soul herself.

On the other hand, Don’s relationship with Anna is the emotional heart of the episode. It shows that he is capable of opening up, that he can change as a person, no matter how defiant he may be. The conversation scene on Anna’s front porch, in which they discuss these topics at length, is one of the best exchanges of the series.

It’s also what the final scene of the episode, replete with baptismal imagery and George Jones’ “Cup of Loneliness,” visualizes so well. There’s a sense of finality in watching Don wade into the lonely waters, called out of darkness, a new life to begin.

Even though “The Mountain King” is an episode of immense personal struggle, it’s one of Mad Men‘s richest installments. The beautiful scenery serves as a direct counterpoint to the inner turmoil faced by the characters. We’re awash in a perfect combination of gorgeous visuals and contemplative storylines, and we have no idea where the series will take us next. And that’s truly a glorious thing.


  • Anna Draper’s appearance has been subtly hinted at throughout the season: 1) in the season premiere, Don recites a poem from Meditations in an Emergency, writes an inscription on the jacket (“made me think of you”) and mails it to an undisclosed location (he finds the book on Anna’s shelf in “The Mountain King”); and 2) a flashback in “The Gold Violin,” in which a mysterious woman (now revealed to be Anna) tracks down a young Don Draper working as a used car salesman (“You’re not Don Draper”).
  • The most heartwarming scene of the episode is a flashback showing Don talking to Anna about his new girlfriend Betty. It shows that at one point Don and Betty truly were in love. In order to marry her, Anna needs to grant Don a “divorce,” which she does.
  • Pete Campbell spends the episode arguing with Trudy and her father over his refusal to adopt a child. I must admit, I admire Pete for taking a stand. Pete’s father-in-law works for one of Sterling Cooper’s clients and drops the agency as a result. Pete accepts it, showing he’s matured from last season.
  • Another way Pete’s matured: he could’ve ratted out Don for abandoning him in California, but he doesn’t. Back in season 1 episode 12, he tattled to Bert Cooper about Don’s secret identity. Remember what Cooper said afterward: “One never knows how loyalty is born.”
  • Bert Cooper is the only one who seems to feel wary of selling the agency, as it’s his entire life’s work. His sister is a part-owner as well, and she is enthusiastic to make millions off the deal.
  • Peggy boldly asks Roger for her own office. Surprisingly, Roger grants her request (similar to how he promoted Harry Crane earlier in the season). Even though Roger and Peggy rarely cross paths, they have impeccable onscreen chemistry. And even though Roger is a spoiled rich man who seems to always be thinking of anything but business, he admires hard work. He gives Freddy Rumsen’s old office to Peggy.
  • Example #3 of Betty being a terrible parent: when she catches Sally smoking a cigarette, she locks her in the closet and scolds her for almost burning down the house. An eight-year-old inhaling a dangerous carcinogen never crossed her mind.
  • “The Mountain King” was written by Robin Veith and series creator Matthew Weiner and directed by Alan Taylor.


  • “Let Roger Sterling have what he always wanted: to die in the arms of a 20-year-old.”
  • “Hells bells, Trudy!”
  • “I’ve told you things I’ve never told Betty. Why does it have to be that way?”
  • “People don’t change.”

Mad Men Season 2 Episode 12: “The Mountain King”

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