“They saw what I saw”
And with that, the Draper torch has been passed. An incredible amount of hype and hesitation has been attached to the mid-season finale for Mad Men Season 7, and it’s safe to say that Waterloo delivered on every note it had to. From the rocket lift off at the episode’s opening to Bert’s musical number closing- this was everything a break episode needed to be.
Much of this season has been about Don’s return to work. In the first few episodes, this return was hyped (within the show) as being a return to glory. Pete was longing for his mentor’s comeback, Peggy knew the spectre of the giant was looming and Roger missed the man who made his agency great. Yet upon return, Draper was relegated to tagline copy writing and work generally ‘below his level’. The six episodes preceding have had a real “oh, Don will be making a pitch soon” vibe to them all, and this was the episode to deliver it. Yet what we were given was something much more meaningful.
We will get to that, yet an awful lot happened here and as the episode itself did, we better look at all the peripheral characters first. The moon landing, undeniably the biggest US event of 1969, took place during this episode and we were suitably given a shot of each major character’s life at this turning point before and during the event. Betty and Sally, who have inhabited a fairly removed world to that of Don since Sally’s ‘wag school in the city’ episode, were given a small spotlight here. We see Sally in a plaid shirt, a conceptual link to her father, with hair like Betty’s. Despite her protestations, she is utterly her parent’s children. Betty was positively beaming to see her take after her mother and dress up (or down) to catch the attention of the hunky house guest they hosted. Betty herself gave the young man the once over with her eyes! Here’s to you, Mrs. Francis
After his rather prominent role in the previous season, it’s been odd seeing Ted Chaough so sidelined throughout these episodes. Yet, as has been the case for this season, this move has had internal logic; Ted is alone. His loneliness comes to the front early on here, teasing the Sunkist executives with a mid-air plummet in his plane (delivered in front of a wonderfully naff green screen). As the episode goes on, the image of the only aviator in the series drinking along in his office during the actual moon landing was terribly miserable. What became of this man after leaving Peggy Olson? Peggy herself continued her knife edge dance between misery and contentment- losing her surrogate family to a new state and succeeding in new business realms she wouldn’t have dreamt of five years ago. Draper v2.0 confirmed.
Yet it was Roger and Bert who dominated the episode’s set up. Bert’s death following the moon landing (and his typically Randian exclamation of a calm “Bravo” about the whole affair) wasn’t necessarily a shock- the man’s been increasingly sidelined and less important as the story has gone on- but its effect on Roger (and SC&P) was the game changer. Roger’s immediate sorrow at losing his long term mentor and fried was crushing enough, but his frank admission to Don “Now I’m going to lose you too” was the perfect heartbreaker. John Slattery has long been the underrated gem of the series, and this episode had the man delivering the goods in droves. His quick changes from sorrow, to anger at the rest of the firm using the opportunity to quickly vote Don out, to resignation to losing what he had, to changing gears into kicking (business) ass and taking names mode was as exciting as it was essential for the series. This is the final series of the show- we knew changes were going to happen, yet seeing them as they occur, particularly at the hand of Roger, was amazing. Having the men of the show carry out business has always been a guilty, Entourage style pleasure, and this was no exception.
Yet where was Don this whole time? In this episodes, Don served more as a channel for greatness than a catalyst for it. Take Peggy’s pitch- this was a moving and beautiful moment. She used her own experiences as someone longing for a family and traditional meal and spun it into an exception piece of advertising gold- this was utterly her Carousel moment. Don was there to show her the path. For all he knew at the time, this could’ve been his final moment as an employee- the Burger Shack pitch was supposed to be his Hail Mary, his saving grace. Instead, he opened the door for Peggy to do what she was always bound to do. And the acquisition from McCann Erickson- this is exactly the kind of move Draper would’ve pulled in earlier episodes. Hell, it was crazily close to the original establishment of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and the merger between that firm and Cutler Gleason and Chaough. Yet this wasn’t Don’s doing- Roger pulled this one off. Yet compared to Peggy’s moment, where he set it up, here he dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s – delivering what was probably his purest and most honest ‘pitch’ of the season to Ted. Life gets rough when you’re not working, he knows it. Ted might think things are bad now- yet he has no idea how bad it can really get. What does this mean for Don? Is he the man he wanted to be? Don’t forget, just last week he told through tear stained eyes that he’s afraid that he “never did anything, and that [he] doesn’t have anyone”
As we draw to the close of the first half of this season, where are we? We see Don, ostensibly, back where he wants to be. He has no chocking contract anymore, he’s now crazily wealthy and he’s surrounded by people he knows do great work. Yet the second Draper marriage is in tatters and he’s seemingly not seen his children in weeks. As the circle turns, we again see that Draper can either be happy or successful. He has to choose, and as he saw Bert dance his way off into the beyond, those teary eyes were struggling to comprehend a life in between.
Loose End Observations:
- So much happened here I didn’t even get to talk about Megan. We can agree that her and Don are through yes?
- Sally’s first kiss! And how charming that after being reprimanded by her father for being cynical that she would go not for the jock, but for the reverse Draper – a dorky and bookish space nerd.
- Betty’s eggs looked horrible. I cannot imagine a worse meal.
- While they didn’t compare to the Chip N Dip and Howdy Doody Circus Army lines, Pete again got the killer lines this (half) season with “That is a very sensitive piece of horseflesh. He shouldn’t be rattled!” and his exuberant “I’ve got ten percent!” Oh Pete, never change
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Thanks a lot for reading along with me these past seven weeks. I’ve enjoyed this half season more than either half of season six to be honest, and I’m very excited to see where we all end up next year- despite my anxiety regarding a world with no Mad Men. Keep your eyes on The Iris in the months to come, where I’ll be doing a final retrospective of each season in the lead up to the final run of episodes in 2015.