The moon landing of 1969 provides the backdrop for Mad Men‘s mid-season finale – an episode that is equal parts devastating and triumphant and littered with nostalgic allusions to the show’s past. Like most Mad Men episodes, “Waterloo” focuses on not one all-important center, but several different moving parts that all come together to create what is ultimately a “great leap forward” for nearly everyone in the show. When’s the last time the writers have left us with so much hope and maturation crammed into such a short space? This show is hard on the heart to be sure, but “Waterloo” does a fantastic job of pulling to the surface the balance and mastered emotion that still make Mad Men such a television giant.
At SC&P, Cutler is doing everything in his power to get Don out the door. Last week’s stunt with Commander Cigarettes did not slip under the radar – it was a breach of Don’s contract, simple as that. The old team, for the most part, is outraged – specifically Cooper, Pete, and Roger – “That is a very sensitive piece of horseflesh,” Pete growls at Cutler. “He shouldn’t be rattled!” Without Don, the prospect of snagging Burger Chef seems pretty bleak, and now that Chevy is as good as gone, losing Burger Chef could mean some very big, very bad things for the agency.
The unexpected passing of Bert Cooper brings a very sudden halt to everything at SC&P, and the loss of the agency’s co-founder (as well as the show’s only stationary character) raises some questions about the future that Roger answers with startling speed. Despite the unfortunate consequences of Sterling’s more covert business endeavors in the past, his neat solution to most of SC&P’s most pressing problems is somehow very level-headed and attractive. During a short breakfast meeting in the wake of Cooper’s death, Roger proposes that SC&P, with all its Don/Ted fixings, becomes a subsidiary of McCann. And thus, in one fell swoop, Roger secures Don’s previously teetering position at the office, promises some substantial money to each of the partners, and probably cements an economically steady 5 years for the entire company. Yeah, this is the guy who began this season naked on a hotel floor strewn with bottles and women – and he’s here to save the day.
If you had told me back in season 5 that Megan and Don would last as long as they did, I probably would’ve laughed and steered you straight to the plethora of “Don Draper’s women” compilations on YouTube – but I’d be wrong. It’s been an astoundingly long run for Don and his former secretary, and things finally fizzled out in “Waterloo” with little more than a loaded whimper. During the last telephone call of their strained marriage, Don and Megan unknowingly confront the long-overdue dissolution of the relationship via work-talk: “They want me to move on,” Don says of the agency. “Well, maybe you should,” replies Megan. “Aren’t you tired of fighting?” And they are – they’re both so tired of fighting. Season 7A ends with the quiet flat lining of yet another Draper marriage – it’s a little hard to envision, but with so little time left, Don may very well exit the series entirely alone.
Peggy’s most triumphant moment of the season – perhaps in the show – comes when she helms the Burger Chef pitch in Indianapolis. The look between Don and Peggy just before she begins carries all the tenderness of last week’s Sinatra dance, and Don’s newfound ability to take a step back and allow his protégé the glory of a successful pitch is nothing short of enormous maturation. Peggy is stunning – as skilled and emotional as Don in his prime – in her discussion of Burger Chef as a family table. Her victory in that conference room signals a new level of success for Peggy, as well as a sense of Don passing the torch.
I have to confess, this show lost me for a little bit. Season 6, specifically. The storylines felt stretched too thin, the characters were being taken to the edge of their functionality, and the plot felt generally tired and artless. The first half of this season has been a wonderful return to the quality of Mad Men that we’ve all come to expect, and it’s going to be a long journey.
Photo Credit: MICHAEL YARISH/AMC