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‘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.
If 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:
— 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.