'Mad Men' Recap: 'Waterloo' Charts Course

Every great ad is a story. Ain’t that the truth.

SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you haven’t seen the “Mad Men” season 7-A finale, “Waterloo.”

We close this first half of the final season on a surprisingly hopeful note for our heroes. The mood seems to match the feeling of the country in July 1969 after the triumph of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

After nothing but bad news for years — assassinations, the Cold War, riots and Vietnam — the country was ready for some rah-rah news and Neil Armstrong’s fateful footsteps certainly qualified. “Waterloo,” written and directed by series creator Matt Weiner, seemed to underscore a lot of the big themes that Weiner has always pointed to in discussing the series. One of the biggest is his desire to show that the 1960s in reality are not at all as they are remembered in hindsight. I thought it was interesting how this episode drove home the moon landing as a shared national experience that was unusual even for 1969 –an era when hit primetime television shows commanded 40 and 50 shares of the audience.

SEE ALSO: ‘Mad Men’ Recap: ‘The Strategy’ and So Many Unhappy Homecomings

The conventional wisdom even in the TV biz is that the 1950s and ‘60s were a time when families gathered ‘round the electronic hearth in the living room to watch all of the same programs at the same time. But as Peggy realizes through her Burger Chef labors, that’s simply wasn’t true by 1969. Parents and kids had different plenty of different options — TV, radio, telephone, the stereo system, etc. pulled the nuclear family in all directions even then.

Weiner has also emphasized that while the late 1960s are remembered as a time of counterculture rebellion, Nixon is elected on the heels of the revolutionary fervor of 1968. He’s just six months in office at the time of the moon landing. And a big city like Indianapolis was still dry on Sundays (and still is today according to readers, I had no idea).

There was a lot to love about this episode — Elisabeth Moss and John Slattery were particularly on fire this hour — but nothing can stop me from starting with the obvious. Bert Cooper, song and dance man of Don Draper’s daydream. It was just too perfect a send-off, a nod to Morse’s roots on Broadway and the last thing any of us expected as the closing scene. The choice of song was swell — “The Best Things in Life Are Free” — to reinforce that Don did the right thing in handing the glory for Burger Chef to his protege. After all, he got to give an even more important pitch — to woebegone Ted Chaough to keep him from mucking up a very gracious and lucrative exit plan for the core Sterling Cooper team.

SEE ALSO: ‘Mad Men’ Recap: Fighting the Future in ‘The Monolith’

Maybe Cooper’s tune is also a signal that Don will be driven to head out to California to sweep Megan back off her feet. But that’s for next year. For now, we’re left with an unusual amount of closure for a “Mad Men” season finale. It ended with not so much of a cliffhanger as a “Hmmm, it will be interesting to see where it goes from here for the last seven.” The question of how the relationship with McCann-Erickson works out — or not — seems less pressing after so many mergers and deals in Sterling Cooper’s history to date.

Bert Cooper’s final philosophical moment with Roger talking about leaders, vision, loyalty and Napoleon was a nice bit of business between Morse and John Slattery. As many observers noted, last week’s episode was so emotional, so jam-packed with goodness that it almost felt like a finale, making this episode akin to an afterword.

For sure “Waterloo” had its moments and plot developments, but it was a breezier ride than “The Strategy.” Don is getting his groove back even if his personal life is still a mess. And just in case you thought Betty might somehow come back into the picture — we see her in full crazy hausfrau mode. Never gonna happen. I’d feel sorry for Henry Francis but frankly, he should’ve seen it coming.

Roger is well on his way to getting his swagger back. And he and Mona are back in the familiar position of raising a child together — their grandchild.

Peggy is gaining true confidence at the ripe old age of 30, with a helping hand from Don, even if her personal life is a mess, just like Don’s.

Pete is back where he belongs in NYC, allied with Don, whom he respects as “very sensitive piece of horseflesh.” That’s pure Pete. Don is to be protected because he’s a horse that Pete knows how to ride for his own enrichment.

Joan is the biggest headscratcher for me. Why is she so bitter about Don? She’s devoted to the agency, sure, and Don’s actions in the past have threatened its existence. But I’m still wondering what’s to come here — her level of anger toward him does not compute for me, no matter what she says about being “tired of him costing me money.” And of course we have that very big loose end named Kevin to tie up between Joan and Roger in next year’s final-final season.

Peggy too has some big stuff coming next year as I can’t see any way around giving us some idea of how she comes to grips — or doesn’t — with the son sired by Pete that she gave birth to way back in season one.

There was some foreshadowing this last run in her relationship with Julio, the needy son of her tenant. He grows on her even though she doesn’t really want him around that much. And when she tells him “I’ll come visit you all the time” after he informs her they’re moving to Newark, he knows (and says) that she’s full of beans.

The fate of Peggy and Ted Chaough seems superfluous at this point. I’m over it — and I suspect the “Mad Men” writers are too. Ted went off the rails this episode in Don Draper-esque fashion — scaring a client by expressing suicidal thoughts while at the helm of a helicopter propellor plane. That very weird scene served a great purpose by prompting a great laugh-out-loud line from Pete (“the clients want to live too, Ted!”) and the setup for Don Draper to swoop in and save the day in the partners meeting. I suspect Ted also hasn’t forgotten that Don did him a solid the previous year in letting him go to California, even if he turned out to be miserable in the Golden State.

Earlier in the episode it was good to see Don with a little fighting spirit back, taking a forceful stand in his own defense against Cutler’s craven move to fire him by claiming breach of contract. Joan was right when she told Jim, “You shouldn’t have done that” even though she voted to ax Don. She knew that ploy would be countered, somehow. She just didn’t know the details of Roger’s sauna room encounter.

I noticed that during the scene when Don was yelling for the partners to “get out here” his tie was a little jazzier and wider than usual — it even had colored diagonal stripes.

More thoughts:

  • Don and Megan’s final breakup over the telephone. Ouch.
  • Bert Cooper having no one other than his housekeeper to watch the moon landing with? Ouch.
  • Sally Draper grabbing an innocent kiss from the nerdy son rather than the hunky one we expected her to bed down with? Priceless.
  • Don giving Harry the advice “Don’t negotiate — just accept the deal” in regards to his divorce? Priceless — and costly for Harry, who blew his chance to cash out as a partner in the McCann-Erickson sale by dickering too much on his partner agreement.
  • Jim Cutler and his business about serving clients with computer services and buys “pinpointed with surgical accuracy” sounds like LBJ’s defense secretary Robert McNamara and his B.S. about using statistical models to fight the war in Vietnam. Garbarge in, horrendous casualties out. It is Memorial Day weekend, after all.
  • Peggy bemoaning the lack of liquor in Indianapolis as she has to switch gears and take on the Burger Chef pitch was pure Don.
  • Someone (can’t remember who: Don, thanks readers) raises the question of whether Bert’s sister is still alive. That’s not likely to be a stray reference.

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