The Low Down: On the eve of the moon landing and the creative team’s big pitch to Burger Chef things are changing behind the scenes at SC & Partners that are set to rattle the relationships of everyone. Don slowly starts to see his own mortality as life changes both personally and professionally for them but all of this changes with one big event that forces some to step up and accept the future and say goodbye to the past.
The Bed and Booze Count: There were a few drinks here and there that all seemed to hinder on the notions of death; Ted Chauogh clearly hammered and distraught about wanting to back out of the agency and several deserving belts of scotch from Roger after hearing of Bert’s death. Sorry folks, nobody gets laid this week but maybe everyone wins?
Favorite Performance: After what seemed like seasons of meandering and bickering it was a thrill to see Peggy hit the home run she needed and always deserved. I think we all secretly knew despite being set up to make the pitch Don was always going to find the means to give that back to the woman who delivered to him in her own office the pitch she always knew she could give. Let’s be honest, Peggy is one hell of a worker but not since the basket full of kisses pitch way back in Season 1 has she really given something that feels like she came up with it herself. All other pitches have been by committee and on a team leading to some wins that ultimately feel like personal losses in her identity. This time she hits the big one with a sense of confidence that just radiates to every set of eyes in the room. That’s the Peggy I remember.
The Supporting Scene Stealer: For me this goes to Roger Sterling. With Bert Cooper’s death and even some of his final words to him about not being a leader, we see a Roger Sterling we have never seen; a man who lost his footing in relevancy and now finds himself taking the reins and coming to the forefront of the company he helped found. This was coming all along; he seemingly spent the majority of not just this season but the two prior finding some plain of existence personally as he slowly lost his family and grip on the world he helped build. With Bert’s final words resonating in his brain we saw not the Roger Sterling who occasionally secures accounts over expensive dinners but the real business man who sees change is on the way and he needs to be on its level or fade into the background like his deceased partner.
I do want to give a special shout out to Bert Cooper’s posthumous song and dance warning to Don. Yes, it was rather creepy because it was a foreboding message about finding personal Shangri La but watching Robert Morse still display the showmanship he gave so many years ago in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” was a joy and a great send off to an often neglected supporting player in recent seasons.
The Best Part of the Episode: I would say the pitches of this episode deserve a tie. I have spoken of the Burger Chef pitch from Peggy which was a personal win as well as a professional one but the fact that Roger and Don were able to win over the partners in the idea of selling SC & Partners to McCann was perfect. There is always something so satisfying about seeing everyone happy (at least on the surface) when it seems like the best way to keep peace in the valley. It comes at the expense of some very tense moments and a tragic one but it was also this proper balance of satisfaction and possible major ramifications all in one. That’s Mad Men in a nut shell, a show of optimism that tends to have long term regret lurking in the shadows.
The Part We Could’ve Done Without: While it had to be addressed I could have done without the break-up of Don and Megan. We knew it was coming, hell, I even believed after last week’s events that it was not only imminent but definitive without having to draw it out. It comes at a low point for Don that feels like a tacked on bit to instill the possibility of him losing it all.
The Little Thing We Loved: If I am jealous of one particular thing of my parents’ generation it’s that they experienced something so monumental and life changing as the moon landing. Watching every character sit around in awe of this marvelous achievement in mankind is something I don’t think my generation or any subsequent one will have the privilege of experiencing again and it was nice that for all their differences personally and professionally seeing all the key players of SP & Partners enjoy this moment together was great. Bert Cooper’s joy of watching the Apollo 11 crew take off and then land on the surface of the moon really hits home the joy of seeing humanity triumph.
Final Thoughts: Setting aside the overall episode this first half of Mad Men’s final season emphasized life and death on so many levels. In interviews creator Matthew Weiner has stated that the first seven episodes of this season emphasize “The Beginning” and the final 7 “The End” and this first half was definitely about new beginnings but at the expense of knowing an inevitable end. What we see by the end of “Waterloo” is the status quo returned but at the expense of some people settling for less. Maybe that is a good thing because it grounds the ideals of old in the gaze of the future in front of them. Don regains power but after realizing that he must settle for lesser things in life; it’s a personal Shangri La not built on the literal successes as much as the personal ones. Sure, some people like Pete, Cutler and maybe even Joan see these on a wealth end but for people like Don, Roger, and Ted its personal wins that give them status and control of their own fates.
The status quo may have returned but it does so with a new school mentality of business. As much as we want to side with Roger in the subtlety of waiting to do business after Bert had only been dead an hour it’s an early example of the fast thinking world we know today. Life goes on and so does the world, there is no time to stop and smell the roses in the world of ad agencies and business can never get personal. As we see with the final deal made to sell the partnership to McCann we see titles and in some way people getting replaced. Even on a personal level we see Megan and Betty firmly replace Don from their lives. Megan will move on and Betty clearly has having referred to Don in passing as a bad ex-boyfriend. Bert has been immediately replaced by Roger and now the company is no longer standing alone as it is an affiliate of a company they all swore to never go back to. Life means settling for things that make your overall worth in life that much better; these new developments in Mad Men signal both a new beginning but one that might not last for long.