I still can’t believe last night’s “Mad Men” finale was all we’ll see until next year. It feels like such a tease to have the last season split into two years’ worth of episodes. But those are the vagaries of television, so we have no choice but to spend a year pondering last night’s show and what it might mean going into the last round of episodes before we say goodbye forever to Don Draper and the gang.
I, for one, think Don’s fortunes are looking up. Megan’s gone? Good riddance. Roger Sterling’s re-energized and re-focused on business? That can only work in Don’s favor. The question is what does Don really want now? Does he even lust for success in the ad business anymore? Judging by the starry look in his eye during his hallucination of Bert Cooper singing and dancing to “The best things in life are free,” it’s hard to tell.
Mad Men’s Game-Changing Midseason Finale, “Waterloo”: One Door Closes, Another Opens
There was plenty of moving and shaking at SC&P during the final episode of the AMC series ’til 2015. [Warning: SPOILERS]
Before we do anything, let’s pour out a glass of Canadian Club for good ol’ Bertram Cooper (Robert Morse). The curmudgeonly co-founder of SC&P is no more.
Though he resembled a spooky plantation owner, with his Colonel Sanders facial hair and seemingly endless array of bowties, Bert was a gentle, eccentric soul whose cunning only bubbled to the surface when the future of the company was at stake. He was the man who, when Pete attempted to blackmail Don about his deserter past, brushed it away like a gnat—only to shove it back in Don’s face to close the Conrad Hilton deal. He was the man who, after Don impulsively wrote the post-Lucky Strike New York Times op-ed “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco,” told the macho ad man what everyone was thinking: “We’ve created a monster.” He was the man who, yes, had his testicles unnecessarily removed.
Bert, you’ll be missed.
Now let’s get down to business. The midseason finale of Mad Men, titled “Waterloo,” opened with Apollo 11 taking off toward the moon. Then we cut to Ted, mid-midlife crisis, who abruptly decides to cut the jets while piloting Sunkist clients over NorCal. Apparently, the marginalized SC&P partner, who’s been operating on an island in Los Angeles, still harbors resentment with the rest of the SC&P gang—Don Draper, in particular—for torpedoing his Ocean Spray deal in favor of an $8 million ad package from Sunkist. Ted wants out of the ad biz.
Things then transition to the women. One of the many fascinating things about the AMC series is the way the plights of Sally and Peggy mirror one another—two fighters who refuse to be restrained by the iniquities of the time. Here, both gals are momentarily sidetracked by a couple of hunks—Sean, an oft-shirtless meathead with a pending scholarship to Rutgers catches Sally’s eye (who begins dressing Valley of the Dolls-y to impress him), while Nick, a sweaty fill-in super, leaves Peggy fumbling for words. But both are set straight by Don. First, he calls out Sally for being “cynical” when she echoes Sean’s critique (“…it cost $25 billion!”) of the moon landing. She sees the error of her ways and plants a kiss on his nerdy, astronomy-obsessed brother, Neil (like Neil Armstrong, duh). Peggy’s intervention comes a bit later.
Don, meanwhile, has apparently hit rock bottom. He receives a letter alleging “breach of contract” over his sabotaging the Commander Cigarettes deal. Don confronts his bespectacled nemesis, Cutler, who issued the letter, and the latter makes clear what we’ve known all along: he hates Don. “You’re just a bully and a drunk,” he says to him. “A football player in a suit.” But Cutler jumped the gun, filing the breach paperwork without the other partners’ knowledge. Don convenes all the partners in the middle of the office to tell them the news, and Roger and Pete won’t have it. Neither will Bert, who was blindsided by the move. Joan, however, votes to oust Don. “I’m tired of him costing me money,” she tells Roger. Grudges don’t vanish easily in the cutthroat world of Mad Men, and Joan still has it out for Don over Jaguar, while Pete still worships him in part due to the time he “fronted” his $50,000 cut to the late Lane Pryce to keep the firm afloat.
And if things weren’t bad enough for Don, after he breaks the “breach” news to Megan, she decides to dump him by phone—while lounging in a bikini sipping white wine. “You don’t owe me anything. Goodbye, Don,” she says, teary-eyed.
Everyone gathers at their respective homes to watch Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon. It’s an interesting about-face since technology, which has long divided the firm (Cutler and the IBM), can also be a force for good, bringing people together. During the moon landing, Roger receives some sad news: Bert Cooper passed away. So, Roger, Joan, and Cutler convene at the agency—Roger to pay his respects at Bert’s office, Joan to draft an obituary, and Cutler to… bury Don once and for all.
“Well, as tragic as this is, I for one am happy that we have a chance to have a conversation with the clients about the future of this company, and to give Don Draper his send-off along with Burt,” says the callous Cutler, adding, “Roger, I know what this company should look like: computer services, media buys pinpointed with surgical accuracy… it’s the agency of the future.” Roger and Joan stare at each other in shock and disbelief, with the latter finally realizing just how heartless and Draper-obsessed Cutler is.
Realizing his days are numbered, Don pays a visit to Peggy’s hotel room the night before the gang’s Burger Chef presentation and tells her she’s going to take the lead. “You must have heard that they’re trying to get me out,” he says. “If I win this business and I go, you’ll be left with nothing… You win this business, and it will be yours.” Don has long served as Peggy’s Virgil, guiding her up the ranks of the patriarchal ad biz and here, when all is lost, the main thing on his mind is securing his mentee’s future, and assuring her that the glass ceiling doesn’t apply to her.
“Well, I can’t just say what you’ve been saying. I’m a woman. I’m the voice of ‘moms,’ remember?” says Peggy.
“I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t know you could,” replies Don.
Taking her inspiration from Don—and poor Julio, her cute 10-year-old apartment-mate who’s leaving town—Peggy exploits the men’s excitement over the moon landing and uses it to her advantage, selling them on the idea that Burger Chef offers a respite from the “chaos” of the news, and dubbing the campaign: “Family Supper at Burger Chef.” She knocks it out of the park.
For weeks, Don has been mobilizing his troops—Harry, Pete, and Peggy—for a fight with Cutler. After all that maneuvering, however, it was sneaky ol’ Roger who saved the day, convincing the McCann Erickson exec he met at the NYAC steam room to purchase the company and insert Rog as el presidente:
“I think you should buy the whole company because I have a vision: all our accounts, our cutting-edge computer, and the employees I know to be worthy as an independent subsidiary of McCann. You just lost Burger Chef, we may win it, and you’d still have it—and I’d still have my company without Jim Cutler and all that baggage from CDC.”
They’ll also have Buick, which means Ted needs to join Team Roger/Don in order for the deal to work. It’s a tough position for Don, since Roger is essentially making him choose between his future and the future of SC&P, and Peggy’s happiness. But Roger convinces Don that Cutler is hell-bent on liquidating the company until there’s nothing left but “Harry and his computer,” so Don makes his final pitch to an over-it Ted:
“I know you. I know the man I walked into Chevy with. You don’t have to work for us, but you have to work. You don’t want to see what happens when it’s really gone.”
Ted takes the leap, and the future of SC&P—and Don Draper—is secure (for now).
“Waterloo” closes with a predictable ode to Robert Morse, the 83-year-old actor who played the late Bert Cooper. Don, exiting the office, hallucinates and sees Bert doing a song-and-dance, flanked by a gaggle of secretaries, to the tune “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”
The moon belongs to everyone
The best things in life they’re free
The stars belong to everyone
They cling there for you and for me
It may seem random, but in addition to the song referencing the moon landing, Roger also called Don earlier in the episode experiencing regret over the fact that the last words he said to Bert were the lines of an old song. The outro was a tribute to Morse, who’s best known as the lead in the Broadway and film versions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which won him the Tony in 1962, and contains the famous line: “So you are now a vice president… You have done beautifully. Unless you are vice president in charge of advertising. In that case, you are in terrible trouble.”
As for Don Draper, we’ll have to wait ’til 2015 to see if that’s the case. And as for poor Betty, well, she’ll be fine. She speaks Italian.