‘Mad Men’ Recap: ‘Waterloo’ Charts Course for Final 2015 Episodes

'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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  1. Kylie Martin says:

    I know it sounds insane, but I’ve worried about Trudy and Tammy for seven seasons (before Tammy’s birth) and seeing them getting out out the limo and onto the plane with Pete (I fantasize he really has changed) made my heart leap out of my chest. I’m taking away the fantasy that Trudy and Tammy will now have a wonderful life with Pete, the husband and father. Call me crazy……

  2. Wallace says:

    Mad Men has always been about real life (in the 60’s). Big events define the time, but the characteres are really untouched. Whether the Kennedy assasination, riots, moon landing etc. ordinary people, life is perhaps touched but not altered. In this episode the moon landing is the event but the story is about the characters. Don is continuing his self-improvement project. He thinks he’s going down at work so (with nothing to lose) he gives BK to Peggy. He makes an overture to Megan and Sally. He acts professionally with his secretary. But he fights like hell for his job and the buy-out. He’s not planning some self-descruction, but he’s not the selfish bastard he once was. He’s just a better person than he was a few seasons ago. Roger is Ensign Pulver to Bert’s Mister Roberts. And as at the end of that movie when Mister Roberts dies, Ensign Pulver steps-up, Roger steps-up when Bert dies. There is even a scene is Mister Roberes where he tells Pulver he has no respect for him and that Pulver is all hot-air and no action. Just like Bert’s like talk with Roger. Roger sis learn from Bert but there’s room for only one Bert. Now it’s Roger. Joan shows she’s really has a secretary’s mentality not a businesspersons. She is shortsighed in her actions towards Don. Pete is the businessman. He knows Don’s value (with all his flaws) and isn’t going to see Don go and lose value to the firm. Joan just wants her revenge. That’s not professional it’s petty and not the thinking of a true partner with the firm’s interest in mind. Jim is just obsessed with Don. Not professional either. He might not be the drinker Don was, but he’s just as damaging to the firm. Both Joan and Jim need to go for the firm to have any chance to succeed.

  3. You’re all wrong about Joan. If you recall, she was pissed with Don because after she prostituted herself for Jaguar, DON lost Jaguar as a client, which made her sacrifice for nothing. Don was very flippant about the loss of Jaguar and she very clearly set him straight on why it was a big deal. Joan’s actions are not a “head-scratcher”. It’s not about the IPO. Don decided that Jaguar was sleazy and he didn’t care what that loss meant to the company or to Joan and that’s why his judgmental actions upset her, because he cost her money with Jaguar and the sacrifice she made was for nothing. Not because he made her feel bad. She was willing to live with what she did. Don took that choice away from her being a self-centered jerk.

  4. jason26582 says:

    Sunday alcohol sales here in georgia just started 2 years ago. Also I barely remember burger chef from about 1980, I loved it cause they had this unusual topping, bacon! First place I knew that did that. Such a great moment with burt
    in what became an obvious tap dance opportunity to the one
    guy who never wears shoes!

  5. Steven Nalevansky says:

    Cynthia your recap was perfect as was your analysis. I continue to enjoy reading all you write. all the best, Steven Nalevansky

  6. Cynthia McDonagh says:

    Don Draper asked the question about Bert’s sister.

  7. shanemcloughlin2014 says:

    Also, I’m not convinced it was all positive news with Berts final song and dance as by the end we saw an unnerved Don. Bert was singing about freedom, and Don just tied himself to a 5 year contract that was a complete compromise for him and the company. This was also shortly after the ending of his second marriage, a continuing strained relationship with his daughter brought about by her witnessing his infidelity, and his once protegy Peggy now leading an ad pitch with him on the sidelines. That loss of power and control in some respects is the opposite to what Bert was singing about. A man now dead and ‘free as a bird’.

  8. shanemcloughlin2014 says:

    Joan is personally against Don being in the picture, because he is a reminder of how she got a company stake by prostituting herself for the client. She knew that Don disapproved and felt it dehumanising, and she probably felt judged for going through with it. So her attitude towards Don is probably projecting her issues, because that Judgemental Don in the picture MAKES IT HARD TO LEAVE HER PAST BEHIND. Yes, Jim moving her up to Sales also reinforced her dislike of Don also for obvious reasons. I reckon that there will be some kind of emotional showdown between Joan and Don by the end of Season 7, or else they will leave the rift intact till the end. The Jaguar thing may have happened a while back but begrudgerys don’t die easy!

  9. John Winners says:

    Brilliant finish to season with Burt’s song and dance routine! Brilliant…and very uplifting, too. Had a late 60’s flashback to watching Robert Morse in a promotional, pre-release viewing of the film “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” while sitting in a mockup of the L-1011 jumbo jet – in a hanger at Lockheed/Burbank. In that regard, Ted wasn’t flying a helicopter…it was a small plane.

    Nice review.

  10. DryHeat says:

    Nobody has to worry about Joan’s “hatred” towards Don anymore…once she saw the callousness of Cutler a mere hour after Cooper’s death, I believe she came to her senses.

    Also, some great lines in this episode…Lou referring to “Don Draper Dinner Theater,” and Pete saying that “The Don Draper Show is back from its unscheduled interruption.” ;-)

    Can’t wait to see the last seven episodes.

  11. Joan is aligned against Don because it was Jim Cutler who moved her upstairs into sales.. she’s only showing loyalty to him… however she forgets that only Don was upset she was going to sleep with the Jaguar guy to get the business.. and urged her not to do so.

    When Don told Harry “Don’t negotiate — just accept the deal”, he was talking about the partnership, not his alleged impending divorce. As someone mentioned already, you blew the helicopter/propeller plane reference, so it’s not surprising you missed this one too.

    • sammyglick says:

      Don’s “don’t negotiate — just accept the deal” is BOTH about Harry’s impending divorce and signing the agency papers to become a partner. Since Harry didn’t listen to him, he lost out on both fronts. Someone else clearly wasn’t paying attention…

  12. Sharon M says:

    Joan is a headscratcher for me, too. Yes, the Jaguar thing – but remember, DON is the one partner who didn’t want her to go through with that. Yes, the IPO thing – but Don AND Roger got the Chevy pitch together, & why was the whole IPO thing kept secret from Don & Roger to begin with? Don was a bigger wedge between Peggy & Ted, and Peggy got over it. So what is Joan’s deal? If she’s now claiming he’s costing her money, even you spelled it out – for Pete: “Don is to be protected because he’s a horse that Pete knows how to ride for his own enrichment.” If Joan is as savvy a businesswoman as she thinks she is, she’s got to realize that her agency could go in one of two directions: Creative (which, sorry Joan, means embracing Don) or Media Buys (which means embracing Harry). She clearly doesn’t like Harry (we all get that) … so, come on, what is her alternative? Business smarts aside, she could at least embrace a litle loyalty to her old team, like the father of her child does, looking out for Don.

    And as someone has already noted, it was Don who asked about Bert’s sister … whose name, by the way, is Alice Cooper! I wasn’t so much wondering about him dying with the maid. I was wondering, what’s in his will? Who gets his share of the company? And who gets that fabulous Jackson Pollock over his sofa?!

  13. millertime83 says:

    Ted was flying a plane not a helicopter. And Don asked Roger if Bert’s sister was still alive.

  14. Kim says:

    I do get the sense of family being very prevalent this past half-season. Does it make sense that if Don returns to california he reconnects with Anna’s neice and takes care of her and her baby? Maybe not a romantic arrangement, but done out of duty and respect for Anna?

  15. Dan Hauge says:

    My thoughts about Joan–while it is ostensibly about the money Don cost her when they could not take the company public, I think this is still really about his willingness to chuck the Jaguar account after how much she had to endure to get it. It’s about how she feels about his selfishness overall (the icier moment was when Don was talking about giving the McCann deal a lot of thought and she’s like “I bet you have”). I’m hoping this relationship is addressed next year as well as the Don/Peggy one was addressed.

  16. John S. says:

    > scaring a client by expressing suicidal thoughts while at the helm of a helicopter

    Do you guys watch the episodes you write about? It was a propeller plane.

  17. Paul says:

    Don is the one who asked Roger if Bert Coopers sister was still alive…. watch for her takeover!!!

  18. Mike F. says:

    i think you missed the point about Bert Cooper’s death. It’s not that he died alone with his nurse. It’s that he died after hearing what he felt was the greatest slogan ever written – “one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind”. He witnessed perfection and had no reason to live longer. “Bravo” summed it all up.

  19. Maggie srinivasan says:

    And Indianapolis almost 50 years later is still dry on Sundays. Wow doesn’t say much. The state is not evolving, it chooses to stay I times gone by.

  20. pj says:

    Joan is an emotionally driven woman who can not compute that Don had no idea about the IPO that would have made her rich. Don can not be forgiven because he was out of the loop. No, it does not make sense.

    • jgmrequel says:

      Joan doesn’t even know that she doesn’t know all the facts. Consider her perspective, selling your body to a client to get a partnership in a company, watching a then unstable man’s actions cost the company and her position money time and time again. If you sold your soul for a better life, how would you react when someone on the outside threatens it? Are her actions and attitude justified? Maybe not, but they are understandable and make sense from where her character stands.

      Yes, we the viewers know better, but we have the benefit of being on the outside looking in. We have more of a picture than she does. Just because her actions seem emotionally outside the loop, that is because we have a much better picture of Don “Dickie” Draper than she does.

  21. lisa says:

    Don was there when Peggy had the baby. Betty’s friend asks about Don. Her two sons are polar opposites. Did Don help the friend adopt Peggy’s baby way back then. Is the nerdy one Pete and Peggy’s son? When Don goes to visit and sees the boy will he tell all and make the circle complete?

  22. jgmrequel says:

    Joan’s actions makes perfect sense when you remember what she had to do for her partnership and stake in the company. Joan’s character shows tremendous strength and sensibility, but there is no way she’d let anyone (esp. the man that tried to talk her out of those events) turn her sacrifice into worthless property. The lucrative exit (1.6 mil in 1969 dollars ~ 10 mil today) means that she and her family will have nothing to worry about, that she has successfully provided a future for her child and that (perhaps) her sacrifice was worth it.

    • Aria says:

      No, Peggy’s family is raising the baby. That was shown in an earlier season.

      • Anon says:

        No, the baby Peggy ignored was her sister’s son. In a flashback they showed Peggy’s sister and mom visiting Peggy in the hospital after she’d had her baby and Peggy’s sister was very pregnant, looked like she too was going to give birth any day. Peggy told Pete she gave the baby away, that was the truth.

      • jgmrequel says:

        I wasn’t talking about Peggy’s baby. Joan has her own child, from her ex still serving in Vietnam. primarily cared for by her mother. I was referring to the fact that Joan’s defense of her position is likely driven by the fact that she used herself to get a contract.

  23. Scott Capurro says:

    The actress who plays Bert’s sister was my acting coach in college. Hope she returns to the show. Good to see her working.

  24. Daphnemcl says:

    Everything said in Mad Men does have a purpose or two even. And I’d like to remind people that there are three huge threads hanging loose for tiring up Dons ending. One is that This entire season has been about family and doing the work. Dons kids were prominent and not doing well without a father. So Dons final redemption and key to his happiness will be to be a real father to them. Another thing is that Lee (Neve) who he slept blissfully next to on the plane left the scene all too quickly. So I believe Don is going to run into her again and that she will be his third and final wife. Lastly Don doesn’t want to work for McCan so he won’t. He’ll leave the agency and get out of advertising altogether. Probably open up a car dealership to pay final homage to Mad Men sponsors.

  25. ctward331 says:

    Indiana is STILL dry on Sunday.

  26. Sam says:

    It was Don who asked about Bert’s sister while he was on the phone to Rodger.

  27. “•Sally Draper grabbing an innocent kiss from the nerdy son rather than the hunky one we expected her to bed down with? Priceless.” Who is “WE”? I think viewers like myself seen that a mile away.

    • Bill says:

      I certainly didn’t. I can’t be one of those viewers analyzing what writers might do rather than see where they take us, and if anything had figured they’d find her in bed with football guy.

  28. zbierce3333 says:

    Joan will never forgive Don for losing Jaguar.

  29. James says:

    Ted was flying a plane, not a helicopter.

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