Cutler tries to impeach Don, Peggy prepares for the long-awaited Burger Chef pitch, and the world settles down to watch men land on the moon...
This has been a turbulent year for Don Draper (Jon Hamm), but before a final tremor with Cutler (Harry Hamlin) trying to impeach him for breaking the terms of his new contract, things appear to have settled down. "Waterloo" was partly about the old ways giving way to the new: symbolised by man first setting foot on the moon (which feels more futuristic than SC&P's new computer), shown when Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) assumed Don's traditional role as 'pitcher', and driven home by the sudden death of company founder Bert Cooper (Robert Morse).
And while Don's can count himself lucky to be swept along in a windfall plan of Roger's (John Slattery) to have the company rescued from cold-hearted Cutler's machinations, by having an old rival buy them as an independent subsidiary for $65m, a spectral visitation from a dancing Bert (singing "The Best Things in Life are Free") appeared to give him pause for thought. While this mid-season finale ended on a note of triumphalism, with the partners set to each become millionaires, and Don having re-secured his tenuous position, is it possible the remaining episodes will have Don realise Bert's dancing spirit was right? Is his marriage to Megan (Jessica Paré), which has apparently ended emotionally, worth fighting for? Isn't his family the most important thing?
The death of Bert affected Roger the most, as he's essentially the protege of the unusual character—who vacillated from being endearingly eccentric (never wear shoes in his office!), to regrettably old-fashioned in his views (disparaging comments about a black receptionist working in a more visible location). Mad Men has partly been about the huge social upheaval that typifies the 1960s, so it felt perfect to have an episode where the figurehead of "the old days" died the same evening "the new age" began with Neil Armstrong planting a foot on the lunar surface.
But what was really exciting about Roger's story is seeing how much he values his friends and the core team behind SC&P, and essentially saved Don's career by setting up the McCann buyout with Jim Hobart (H. Richard Green). Good ol' Roger.
The least interesting storyline tends to involve Betty (January Jones), but at least she's more frequently a mere co-star to daughter Sally's (Kiernan Shipka) narrative these days. This week's sub-plot for Sally didn't feel essential, but it was a nice acknowledgement that Little Miss Draper's growing up fast. I liked how Sally's suddenly dressing to impress teenage boys (wearing lipstick to go swimming), and mirroring their cynical attitudes about the space race being a huge waste of tax payer's money. And yet, she found real joy and connection in her back garden, peering through a telescope belonging to a geek. The fact this budding astronomer was the nerdier brother of the much hunkier visitor to the Francis household was also a nice touch. Betty sees Sally as a younger version of herself, but she shows a lot more maturity and doesn't go for superficiality.
- Oh, poor Harry (Rich Sommer). He just can't catch a break, can he? Just when he was within sniffing distance of becoming a partner in the firm he's been loyal to for so long, a change of circumstances meant he was denied the chance. Will he now toil forever in his position, or grow some balls and leave?
- Where did Ted's (Kevin Rahm) hatred of advertising spring from? I don't recall this being foreshadowed in any way this season, so it did ring a little false. It seemed to exist purely to complicate matters with Roger's plan to sell SC&P, because Ted's vote wasn't a certainty and thus added some drama.
- Bert's last conversation with Roger involved telling him he isn't a leader of men (like Napoleon), and yet now Roger's going to be President of the new SC&P? It seems he's trying to prove his mentor wrong now he's gone, but I have to wonder if Bert was right and this new venture's consequently doomed to fail with Roger in charge.
- I loved that Bert's last line of dialogue was "bravo", in response to Neil Armstrong's now-famous quote "one small step for man... one giant leap for mankind". A fitting way for this advertising veteran to acknowledge good work, before he croaked. (He didn't die because of delayed shock over Roger entering his office with his shoes on, did he?)
- It was also great to see Peggy doing a fantastic job with the Burger Chef pitch. I'd actually have enjoyed seeing more of her spiel, as it was clearly her "Kodak carousel" moment (a season 1 Don Draper pitch that I still have fond memories of, because it was the first moment you actually sensed the power and persuasion of a good idea well-told on the show).
- Where do you stand on Bert's crazy song-and-dance routine? I thought it was good fun, but could have been better put together. But having a touch of Dennis Potter-style weirdness isn't something Mad Men really has any business doing. Its own silly moments are usually excused by the fact alcohol or drugs are a trigger, and always felt more natural and earned. Don having a sudden hallucination in the office, after receiving good news, was maybe a step too far.
It's unfortunate AMC opted to stretch Mad Men's final season across two years, because this slow-burn drama doesn't accommodate that scheduling very well. The show always seems to hit a narrative stride mid-season, which certainly happened in "Waterloo", but now viewers will have to wait a whole year for its return, just when things were getting interesting. I don't doubt they'll be worth waiting for, but the recent momentum will be gone, so I hope episode 8 hits the ground running. As for this mid-season finale, with some tinkering it could have been the series finale and I'd have been contented. The only real criticism is that Roger's plan is essentially yet another variation on the company undergoing a shake-up, which has already been done a few times on the show already. Just how many name changes and revamps can a firm have? Is that realistic, for the business sector and era?
How will the rest of season 7 play out next year? Any predictions? My guess is Don will realise (as Ted was beginning to) that his marriage and family is the thing that can truly makes him happy and fulfilled—not work, flings with women, or money—but maybe that's a bit trite.
written by Carly Wray & Matthew Weiner | directed by Matthew Weiner | 28 May 2014 | Sky Atlantic