MAD MEN Mid-Season Finale Recap: “Waterloo”

     May 25, 2014


It’s not every episode of Mad Men that offers up a musical number, but when it does, you can be assured it’s to undercut the pleasantries and positive future that Don seemed suddenly destined for after this season.  There were few scenes more affecting than the end of “The Strategy,” which featured Pete, Don and Peggy as a makeshift family.  “Waterloo” was also full of makeshift families, from Roger with his grandson Ellery, ex-wife and son-in-law (daughter: in a commune), to the Francises and their guests, to the SC&P crew in the hotel room all watching the moon landing.  There are certain things that foster that sense of connection we’re hungry for, as Peggy puts it.  But then again, sometimes, the best things in life are free.  Hit the jump for why marriage is a racket.

mad-men-poster-season-7-part-1Mad Men‘s seventh season has been a season of change.  Don, the least likely character to ever undergo any real change (when it comes to personal growth), actually grew.  There were finally real consequences to his actions, so he stopped drinking, let SC&P lightly humiliate him, and even stopped cheating on Megan.  It became clear very quickly in the course of the season that Don’s life was truly tied in to the company he moved up in and helped build.  As he cautions Ted, you don’t really know what you’ve lost until you have nothing.  He still had his wife and his children, granted, but they have never defined him.  Without SC&P, Don Draper is just Dick Whitman.  This job gives him a sense of purpose, and a reason for being.

At the end of “The Strategy” and through “Waterloo,” it also became clear more than ever before just how much of a family Don’s dysfunctional work comrades were and are to him.  But Don is nothing if not a man on the run, so while his desperation propelled him into this deal with McCann in order to secure his future under Roger at SC&P, it also tied him to a contract (which he’s never had) and to a company he has done everything to run from during his career.  Bert’s ghostly musical number reminded Don that he’s cemented now in a way he never has been before.  And it rattled him to the bone.

It was fitting in this season of change that “Waterloo” was the episode that revolved around the moon landing, and in that, it ushered in a new era (and is coming close to the end of the decade).  It was time for Bert Cooper to make his exit — it felt right, and at what better time?  It was a catalyst.  The biggest dramas that happen on Mad Men are usually tied to the business.  Every time Sterling Cooper morphed into something new (none more so than when it became SCDP over a weekend, to escape McCann), it coincided with major changes for the characters.  This new leap is no exception.  Joan is embracing her independence in her personal life, while Roger is taking on a leadership role he wasn’t cut out for.  Ted is back from the brink, thanks to Don, but Pete suspects he’s about to go “full Lane Pryce.”  Peggy has secured her role as Don’s heir apparent in creative, Jim is trying to turn the company into just Harry and a computer (as Roger said), while Don’s marriage falls apart, and he’s looking to shackle himself.

mad-men-season-7-episode-7If Mad Men ever had an overarching narrative theme before this season, it would have been that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  In some ways, “Waterloo” fulfilled this even though the rest of the season seemed poised to break from it.  Don fought to get away from McCann, and is now back under them.  Even in the younger generation, Sally is turning into a mini-Betty (whom she loathes) faster than you can say kiss me, I’m a lifeguard!  Mad Men has gone through cycles that can feel repetitive, because they are.  Time is a flat circle?  Or things don’t change as much as we like to think they can or do.

Had that final musical number not taken place, “Waterloo” would have ended things on the promising note that has been building all season.  Instead, there’s a sudden feeling of panic and dread.  What lies beyond, in the final episodes of the series?  What darkness was foreshadowed here that will return?  Was there something more to Ted trying to quit, or wanting to drop out of the sky? (and being compared with Don as “the same person”?)  Or is it possible that the second half will play against expectations, and give Don a peaceful future?  Regardless, what happened in these seven episodes energized the series, and provided a necessary reset (with some of Mad Men‘s greatest, quirkiest moments in between).  To quote our dearly departed Bert, “Bravo.”

Episode Rating: A

Season Rating: A

Musings and Miscellanea:

mad-men-season-7-bert-cooper– A big thank you to Matt for filling in for me last week!

– Peggy really nailed the Burger Chef pitch, didn’t she?  Stunning work.  That was her Kodiak Carousel moment.

– That shot of Ted in the airplane with the clients from Sunkist was so low-budget and hilarious.  Also, him cutting the engines and talking about death was very Pryce-esque, as Pete suggested.

– Jim Cutler flew over Dresden?? My God, no wonder he’s not fazed by much.

– “The clients want to live too, Ted!” – Pete.

– The show should actually be called Don Draper Dinner Theater.

– “You don’t owe me anything” – Megan.  I really couldn’t get a grip on the Drapers’ marriage this season, to the point where I thought I had missed episodes in between.  I thought things were actually ok with them?  Who knows, anything could happen.

– “Marriage is a racket”  – Pete.

– “Benedict Joan” – Roger.  I couldn’t remember why Joan was so upset with Don, enough to sneakily vote him out (kinda, she wasn’t totally on board with Jim’s methods), but there was a mention of a million dollar loss.  I suppose that will get under your collar.

– Ohhh Sally and the Jock.  But then the nerd swoops in and shows her the stars!  (Much more appealing than cockeyed cynicism).  That and her smoking was such such such a Betty move.

– “The Don Draper Show is back from its unscheduled interruption!” – Pete.

– “Now we just have to pray everything goes smoothly on the moon” – Pete.  He had some great lines in this episode.

– I love Julio’s character, and hope he doesn’t have to move.  He brought up some very confusing, buried maternal feelings for Peggy.  Her treating him like an adult before that was too funny though, trying to get him to help her pick out her outfit. (Although it also highlighted her loneliness).

– “Every time an old man starts talking about Napoleon, you know he’s about to die” – Roger.

– “He was a giant” – Jim.  Reminds me of Ida Blankenship: “she was an astronaut.”  Rest in peace, Bert.


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  • rick

    I thought it was pretty clear that the marriage was failing all season, and now it’s over.

    Megan found out that Don could have easily moved with her to LA since he was “on leave”, but chose to stay in New York. Then Megan got jealous over Don’s “niece”. There was that awkward party where Don just didn’t fit in with Megan’s crowd, and then the desperate threesome.

    Remember last week when Megan moved all of her stuff out of the apartment and to LA?

    Another thing is that there are usually weeks in between episodes. A lot can happen in those weeks.

  • Redjester

    Great episode as always. Loved the song and dance routine by Bert.

  • Passyunk

    Definitely a link between Coop’s “She was an astronaut” epitaph for Ida Blankenship and the Moon Landing. That’s why I love Mad Men.

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  • Lance

    Bert’s dance number was the most surreal thing I’ve seen on TV in a while. But he was fantastic in it. Was it really a harbinger of doom, though? I kind of thought it was an epiphany for Don, that he could make his own version of the moon shot happen — find true happiness.

    And Allison, how could you not mention Sally wound up kissing the nerd because of Don’s phone call? I honestly think she kissed telescope boy because her father called and told her not to be so cynical. Otherwise she definitely would have gone after the jock.

    • The Dame

      Oooh, I totally didn’t think of that about Sally but it makes sense now that you mention it :)

  • kimmothy69

    Don in fact has been under contract before. In one of the earlier seasons, while still married to Betty, she pushed his decision in signing a contract Sterling Cooper was pushing to lock him down. Also, since the forced and awkward threesome, it’s been obvious Don and Megan were done. She packed up her favorite stuff and had a Cheshire Cat grin on the plane back to CA last week! Recapper, pay more attention.

    • Bill

      And, he’s under contract to SD&P. Remember Roger’s speech to the partners when Don returned: His contract was one of the reasons they couldn’t fire him.

      Sterling: “Don has a contract.”
      Cutner: “He’s in breach.”
      Sterling: “No he’s not; he’s on leave!”

  • The Dame

    Thanks for this article, I couldn’t quite figure out what Bert’s musical number meant for Don but you’ve clarified it for me. I also thought Don and Megan were ok, if a bit on the rocks. During this episode I felt disappointed when it looked like Don would have lost everything, I thought, after everything he gets nothing? I hope it doesnt actually end that way for him.

  • paul loch

    I’ve read a bunch of recaps and no one’s mentioned the way the title Waterloo, and the plot of the episode the Moon Landing are related. they’ve both become historical analogies. “He’s met his Waterloo” and “We can land a Man on the Moon, but . . ..” Only 9/11 comes close to the universality, so it’s pretty hard to ingrain these historical analogies into a culture.

    Also the theme of beginnings are really endings, Napoleon’s escape from Elba looked like a new beginning, (as Cooper noted), it only led to Waterloo.
    And the Moon Landing seemed like the beginning (re: Sally’s comment, now we’ll be going there all the time), but the Moon program would be defunded, in favor increasing the military spending of the SE Asian War Machine ironically (also mentioned by Peggy’s pitch). And the beginning of the merger is really the end of Don Draper and the show.

    Also, how can the best things be free, when the Moon Landing (the best thing America did), cost 25 billion?

    I think the musical number was a very ELABORATE LIE hiding an obvious truth –that the best things come with a heavy price. (i.e. Don will pay a heavy personal price, to get what’s best for him)

    Of course, elaborate lies (re: advertising), is what Don Draper does for a living, and what he does best in life. Heck, Don Draper’s life is an elaborate lie, in the life of Dick Whitman.

    Also, they talked about vision during the episode,and the only one who actually had one is Don – a vision of Bert Cooper “doing a song and dance” — which means making something more important than it really is. Is that commentary about the Moon Landing, an event we collectively make more important than it really was, was actually a “song and dance” for the American people.

    More Brilliant Food for thought (Burger Chef pun) from Weiner, and why Mad Men is so ahead of the pack.

  • jk

    This season, so far, has been far more exciting that last season. Can’t wait to see what happens next year.

  • Daniel O’Reilly

    R.I.P. Bert Cooper.

    Save for David Lynch, nobody does the creepy dream/fantasy sequence better than Matthew Weiner. Particularly amazing is how perfectly it doubled as a send off for Robert Morse (who won a Tony in 1962 for his role in How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying). The song is originally from the 1930 musical Good News.

    I’ve said it over and over and I’ll say it again. Don will never find himself until he completely abandons the Don Draper facade. And that won’t happen unless he moves away from the agency for good (or bad, or happy or sad…).

    • Strange

      Yeah, I see where you’re coming from. But leaving the agency would mean that everything he’s become and fought for means nothing. I’d like to see a combination of his former self with the bad ass he is as Draper if that’s storyline-possible…

  • Cedhollywood

    I can’t believe we have to wait till 2015 for the final shows?! AMC is gonna regret these split seasons with their shows. On a side note I wonder if as a nation would we still be so riveted,awed and glued to a tv if and when their was a man or woman landing on mars?

  • Jesse!

    Even if the series doesn’t end with Don in fact being “DB Cooper”, I wonder if when Weiner first started all this, him naming one of the main partners of the firm Cooper was a sort of small tribute to that event.

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