Monday, June 2, 2014

Mad Men Season 7, Episode 7: Waterloo (Recap)

When we first met Bertram Cooper, in Mad Men Episode 1.02 "Ladies Room," he said, in his own inimitable way, as he left the frat atmosphere in Don's office, "So much yarn, so little time."  Time finally ran out for Bert Cooper on July 20, 1969, just after man first set foot on the moon.  "Bravo," he said of humankind's great accomplishment.  And "Bravo" we all said not just to the founding father of Sterling Cooper but also to the actor who brought him to life - Tony Award-winning Robert Morse.  In Bert Cooper we saw a man spanning two centuries, from the opening of the Eiffel Tower and the painting of Van Gogh's Starry Night in the late 19th Century to men soaring on a rocket beyond that tower, through that night, to place a flag on a distant orb.  He embraced the future while still being a relic of the past, an Ayn Randian iconoclast with a taste for Japanese design, a childless man with strong paternal instincts.  He was the glue that bound the agency through its many incarnations over the near-decade that we've been following it.

So cut him a little slack if he decides to do a song-and-dance number for Don Draper before he shuffles off this mortal coil.

That final image, of the fantasy-reality line being blurred with the former "How to Succeed in Business" Broadway star doing an MGM-themed dance number for his last hurrah, was brilliant and ridiculous, the height of artistry and the nadir of Matt Weiner's hubris.  How you perceived that scene - and I loved it immediately - may depend on whether you took the blue or the red pill when you started your Mad Men ride.  It is a surreal look at a place and time, almost like how our memories ever so slightly skew the story of our lives.  Nothing is quite the way it seems, yet the overall feelings are real.

The feelings brought forth in this episode were very real.  The common experience of all the characters on the show was watching the moon landing on TV.  For that one moment in time, almost everyone in the country was focusing on the same thing, sharing in that pride and wonder.  But how that moment was observed was so different for everyone.  Don, Peggy, Pete, and Harry sharing the experience not with family but in a hotel room, hours before a crucial presentation.  Betty spending it with friends and family including her daughter who alternates between becomingher mother's  doppelgänger to becoming her own person with her own opinions and views.  Roger, not watching with some whacked-out group of hippies higher than the astronauts, but with Mona, their son-in-law, and their grandson.  And Bert, experiencing the moment alone with his housekeeper, beaming with pride and joy.

The news anchor's failure to pick up the second part of the famous quote.  Neil Armstrong's muffing of the first half (leaving out the "a" that makes all the difference).  The scratchy, wiggly black and white picture, so different from the crystal clear images beamed back by the Mars rover decades later.  It gave a sense of being there in that moment.  I was ten at the time and remember it.  It was a moment that the country needed, turning attention away if only briefly from the war in Vietnam, the counter-culture, the disintegration of the family, the growing malaise, and the other turbulent changes the late sixties wrought.

Peggy tapped into the chaos and the need for comfort and togetherness in her Burger Chef presentation. Reminiscent of Don's Carousel pitch that closed out the first season, her story was one borne of nostalgia for the family table of old, full of sentimentality and longing.  She - representing moms everywhere and playing that role by using her neighbor Julio to stand in for the child she could have had but doesn't - takes control of the room and sells the hell out of the pitch while Don looks on, grinning like the proud papa he is.  Yet, it wasn't a passing of the torch so much as a sharing of the light.  Finally, Don is willing to let others shine bright.

The arc of Donald Draper over these past seven episodes has been stunning.  He went from humiliated and debased to triumphant and esteemed.  The pariah who scared away the Hershey clients was the superstar whose presence was the key to closing the McCann Erickson deal.  And how did he accomplish this transformation?  By following Freddy Rumsen's advice and doing the work.  No Superman/Batman moves here, no sleight-of-hand.  Don put his nose down, put his ego aside, and worked.  His growth was earned.

And what growth there was.  Last episode, when Don remarked about how he used to solve problems - abuse the people whose help he needed and then take a nap - was the first real glimpse that Don was admitting what an a-hole he'd been.  The Don of old was so self-absorbed, so keen on developing and maintaining his image and mystique, that he couldn't have let any truth ever slip through like that.  But now he can admit the games he played and how he hurt those around him.  He had a chance to put his own interests first, as he always had in the past.  Make the Burger Chef pitch, win the client, and try to save himself at the firm.  Instead, he gave up all that to Peggy.

Don couldn't be with his kids to watch history being made, but he reached out to them and in that brief exchange with Sally may have helped her steer a path towards happiness.  Rather than embracing the cynical at such a young age, she quickly set herself on a better course.  Rejecting the handsome jock in favor of the nerdy stargazer was another step off of Betty's well-worn path.  

The old Don may have done or said something he regretted almost immediately to Jim Cutler when it became clear his job was in danger, or maybe he would have just run, but instead he stayed and fought for his job.  And he used his experience down at the bottom of the ladder to save Ted from making a similar mistake.

This episode, this season, was about getting what you always wanted and yet finding that it wasn't what was really important.  Ted and Pete got LA and both of them missed what they left back in New York.  Peggy got the big account, but what she really craved is family.  Don got his job and position back, yet he had no one to share it with.  The next half season will hopefully find everyone, with work taken care of, focusing on what will make them truly happy.  Bert has provided the road map for that discovery, "The Best Things in Life Are Free."


I don't know why there's so much hate out there for Harry Crane.  I love how he was the one person to tear up at the astronauts landing on the moon.  It was a nice call back to his emotional exit at the end of Season 1's finale when he left the room after the Carousel pitch in tears.

Bert gave a fine tribute to Ida Blankenship after she passed on that made his death after seeing the great achievement of the Apollo astronauts fitting: She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the thirty-seventh floor of a skyscraper. She's an astronaut.

Roger lamented to Don that his final words to Bert were the lyrics to a song, so perhaps Don's hallucination was triggered by that. That song lyric "let's have another cup of coffee and let's have another piece of pie," is from the 1932 musical Face the Music.  It was sung by a now down-on-their-luck group of folks waiting for things to get better. 

The hunky teen visiting the Francis house was wearing the #32 - looks like the jersey of then-Heisman trophy superstar Trojan OJ Simpson.

Julio asks Peggy for a Popsicle.  That brand was one of Peggy's first major pitches (Ep. 2.12 - The Mountain King) and she came up with a sentimental angle tying into the idea of breaking it and sharing it with someone you love. 

There was a fifteen second pause after Don said to Megan that he could finally move out to LA, broken only by him asking if she were still there.  That was all the proof he needed that their relationship was over. Unlike his violent, emotional breakup with Betty, this marriage didn't explode, it died from lack of interest.

Peggy said to Don that he'd never seen her present before and that was true, but it was also true, as he told her, that he had "overheard things."  Specifically, when she presented the Heinz Ketchup pitch right after Don did, he listened in with his ear pressed against the door. 

We knew Meredith had a crush on Don, but watching her "comforting" him after he received his termination letter was priceless: "M: Tell me what I can do. D: You can get my attorney on the phone. And we can't do this. M: You're right. Not right now." 

So much meta-commentary on the show - Lou referring to "Don Draper Dinner Theater," Pete saying "the Don Draper show is back."  Even Jim Cutler talking about being "backstage" to what Don was doing. 

Roger and Don have done everything in their power to avoid going to work at McCann and now their salvation comes from letting themselves be devoured by that same huge company.  Perhaps the deal won't go through.  Don's off-handed comment about Bert's sister still being alive leaves open the possibility the deal could be halted.  But perhaps their surrender is a sign that there are worse things than giving in. Roger valued Don,  Don valued his coworkers, and the rest of the partners valued cold hard cash more than keeping Sterling Cooper small and unencumbered.  This play was a Hail Mary on Roger's part to keep from losing everything - and very possibly to prove Bert wrong.  Because Roger finally acted like a leader.

Don tells Sally not to be so cynical when she mimics the football player's comments about the space program. That harkens back to Bert Cooper calling Don cynical after the latter penned the  New York Times ad that nearly destroyed the company in episode 4.12 Blowing Smoke.  It was in that scene that Bert announced he was leaving the firm and that they had created (in Don) a monster (an accusation repeated the next year by Peggy).

So where do we go from here?  It's possible the purchase doesn't go through and we spend some episodes on the two sides wrestling for control, but I think that's unlikely as there is so little time left.  Instead, with their financial futures secure, I believe Don, Peggy, Pete, and Roger will focus on achieving non-material happiness.

Don has felt unloved since birth and has never let any evidence that he was loved interfere with this deep-rooted self-I loathing.  There was a small crack in this shell when Sally told him she loved him early in Season 7.  Now it's time for Don to explore whether he is capable of accepting love - and giving it.  He did the first selfless thing we'd seen him do when he let Peggy (whom he loves in a way, even if he doesn't realize it) give the presentation and his feelings of pride watching her pitch must have reminded him of the feelings he discovered he had for Bobby after they went to the movies together. The problem with hoping Don also finds romantic love before the series ends is that there doesn't seem to be enough time for him to find and build a new relationship, so that leaves him with repairing an old one.

Peggy has struggled with being at the forefront of a movement that didn't even have a name at the time.  She was blazing a trail for herself as a woman in a man's world and made certain sacrifices along the way.  Now that she's turned thirty and achieved career satisfaction and success, the lack of someone to share that with leaves a huge hole.  With Ted coming back, she might look to him.  But I'm not sure he's emotionally stable enough to give her what she needs, especially if he has to hurt his wife and children in the process.

Pete is free once more and on his way back to New York.  He and Peggy have never actually had a relationship and when they had their fling they were in a different place emotionally and career-wise.  Now they're nearly equals (true, he's a partner and she's not, but the disparity between them is not that great any more).  Pete showed he could be interested in an ambitious career-minded woman, but he has unresolved feelings for Trudy that will have to be worked out.

Roger's true love is Mona.  That's obvious.  He blew it once but perhaps their new role in helping raise their grandchild will bring them back together.  Roger was in an extended childhood until Bert Cooper died.  Before that he had ridden the cushiony coattails of a rich and successful father and an indulgent mother all the way into his fifties without breaking a sweat.  Finally, when Bert called him on not being a leader, and when that failing was about to result in him losing everything that mattered, Roger took the first steps into adulthood.  Maybe he can put away the LSD, hippie girls, and naked parties and be a grownup.

The number one song this week?  In the Year 2525 by Zager and Evans.  As the space age hit its apex, thoughts and fears about the future ("some machine doing that for you") were rampant.  


Ted: Good spot for smoldering wreckage.

Lou:  Shall I invite them to "Don Draper Dinner Theater?"

Meredith:  I know you're feeling vulnerable, but I am your strength.

Jim:  You know, Ted and I, whenever we would hear that your agency was involved, we'd always be so intimidated.  What's that man up to? Such a cloud of mystery. Now that I've been backstage I'm deeply unimpressed, Don. You're just a bully and a drunk. A football player in a suit. The most eloquent I've ever heard you was when you were blubbering like a little girl about your impoverished childhood.

Pete:  That is a very sensitive piece of horseflesh.  He shouldn't be rattled.

Joan: I'm tired of him costing me money.

Julio:  I don't wanna go to Newark.
Peggy:  Nobody does.

Bert: No man has ever come back from leave. Even Napoleon. He staged a coup, but he ended up back on that island.

Bert (to Roger):  I'm a leader and a leader is loyal to his team.  Don doesn't understand that. But I do. And you have talent and skill and experience. But you're not a leader.

Pete:  The Don Draper show is back from its unscheduled interruption.

Don:  Sometimes actions have consequences

Peggy:  I have to talk to people who just touched the face of God about hamburgers!

Jim:  I hope you all realize this is a pathetic ploy and a delusion.
Roger: It is until everybody votes on it.

Don: You don't have to work for us, but you have to work.  You don't wanna see what happens when it's really gone.

Oh how things have changed:

Does anyone still follow the "don't swim within an hour after eating" rule?
Suicide count:

Ted cutting the engine, discussing why the astronauts might be better off if they didn't make it, saying that signing a 5 year contract would be for the rest of his life.

Pete refers to Lane Pryce.


  1. How does a nicely-written piece like this not even get good enough editing to catch the incorrect form of its first "it's?" (It's "it's," and it should be "its.")

    1. Easy! Ever since I started writing, I've needed to reread my work about a dozen times to catch things. I usually combine words because I write too fast (find the thing becomes fing) and I often substitute homophones. But I'm glad when people catch the errors because I'd like to have a pristine article!

      Of course, now I wonder how many typos this comment has!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. A very very nice review!
    Thanks for your work.

  3. A beautiful review and analysis. Can't wait for more episodes and more of your work!