It's always telling when the creator writes the episode, and "Man Men" mad man Matthew Weiner wrote "Waterloo," the mid-series finale of season 7.
Yes, you know you're in for something big, because the guy who came up with all of this, the mastermind behind it all, is pulling the puppet strings again. And this episode did not disappoint.
In the “previously on ‘Mad Men’” we get an indication we’re going to see a little more Ted on this episode. And the first we see him he’s in a small airplane with the Sunkist clients. He cuts the engine and expresses what Jim will later call “a real feeling of wanting to die.”
He wants to quit SC&P.
Lots of people are unhappy at the company in the first act of season 7’s mid-series finale.
Lou comes into Jim’s office and complains to Jim that Don Draper ruined his career in advertising with tobacco clients. Jim mentions another possible lead.
“Shall I invite them to Don Draper dinner theatre,” says Lou. “I’m gonna crawl out of this place, with nothing to show.”
But before we get ahead of ourselves, we begin the episode with Bert Cooper watching the takeoff of what will eventually be the moon landing. The episode hits us over the head with the uncertainty that was in the air. Would the astronauts ever actually get to the moon? This is overkill, but it’s also great, because kids who learn about the moon landing now must take it for granted that the astronauts actually made it there and there was a really good chance that they wouldn't. I know I didn't think about this stuff when I learned about it.
Anyway, then we're at Betty’s place, some houseguests have arrived and Sally’s giving the eye to one strapping young man.
Then we see the creative team of SC&P rehearsing for the Burger Chef meeting. The mood is light and fun. They have it in the bag … as long as those astronauts land on the moon!
Peggy comes home to her place. She meets a handyman named Nick. There’s a little bit of sexual tension between the two. He’s a strapping guy too.
So thus far our three themes are hot guys who arrive unexpectedly, SC&P dudes who want to quit and nobody knows if the astronauts are going to land on the moon.
Anyway, back at la casa de Betty, Betty’s friend asks Betty if she ever talks to Don. She eventually says, “I’m starting to think of him as a bad old boyfriend.” Yowch!
Sally has a with-the-times hairdo and she’s all gussied up for this guy.
Then Don’s secretary wants to speak with him.
“You got this letter this morning, and it’s very upsetting news,” she says. “Are they firing you?”
Don has received a letter for “breach of contract” for attending the Commander Cigarettes meeting.
His receptionist kisses him, and Don tells her to get his attorney on the phone.
He rushes into Jim’s office to confront him.
“You think you’re going to throw me out of my own company,” he yells at Jim.
Then Jim's like, "You want to take a swing at me? It would save us all a lot of trouble."
Don rallies all the partners together and holds the damning letter up and is like, "Did you know about this?"
Nobody did. He proposes they vote on it. The only people who want to vote Don out are Joan and Jim.
Then Pete delivers one of the funniest lines of the episode. He yells at Jim furiously and says, "That is a very sensitive piece of horse flesh! He shouldn’t be rattled!”
Back from commercial break, Julio comes to visit Peggy and asks her if he can watch TV. She says no, but she asks him to help her pick an outfit for the big Burger Chef meeting. Then we learn that Julio and his mom are moving. He’s not happy about it, so Peggy gives him a really sweet maternal hug. She promises to visit him all the time.
In Don Draper land, he’s also choosing an outfit for the big Burger Chef meeting. He calls Megan, who is just sitting around looking hot in a period-specific bikini. Everything is in a yellowy haze.
He tells her honestly that he might have been fired, and tells her he might move out there, and asks if it’s what she wants him to do. Then without the words being said, we get the sense that they’re about to split up. Man, not a great day for the important things in Don’s life.
Roger storms into Bert Cooper’s office. He’s pissed about Jim’s actions and he’s speaking highly of Don. Bert is not a fan of Don and tells Roger he didn’t want Don to return from leave.
“No man has ever come back from leave,” reasons Bert, “not even Napoleon.”
There’s the titular reference!
Then we see the plane headed for the Burger Chef meeting, people keep talking about how if the astronauts don’t make it to the moon, they’ll have to postpone the meeting for a year. Don is on that plane! He’s not been sacked yet!
Back from commercial break again, we see everybody in their separate places watching the moon landing. Sally runs out to tell her hunky peer, the creative team who have traveled to Indiana for the Burger Chef meeting are watching in their hotel room, Roger Sterling is watching with his grandson and the members of the family who did NOT join a cult. Bert Cooper is watching with his maid.
Don calls Sally in a fit of what must be patriotic pride about the moon landing combined with paternal obligation and also he probably calls her because she’s the only person he still has any real connection with.
“It’s such a waste of money,” she says.
She doesn’t really feel that way. She’s just parroting what the hunky dude said.
In a later scene Sally kisses one of the visiting kids, but not the hunky one. The kid is kinda thrown. He says, “What do I do now?”
Just then, the kid’s mom calls him in. “It’s bedtime!”
Roger gets a phone call while sitting in the afterglow of watching the moon landing.
“Aw shit,” he says.
Something bad has happened.
Bert has died! So that opening bit about him watching the rocket take off to get to the moon? Yeah, that was foreshadowing.
Roger meets Jim and Joan at the office. Jim gives Roger his condolences as everybody acknowledges that Sterling and Cooper were obviously the closest friends in the company. I mean, they’re the only names left in the company’s moniker.
And then within the same breath of offering condolences, Jim wants to talk about getting rid of Don.
“Cooper’s been dead an hour and you’re prying his hand open,” Roger criticizes Jim.
Let's talk a little bit about how awesome John Slattery is. We always give him props in these recaps for how the post-LSD Roger Sterling just DGAF! And he's awesome for that, but when he actually does give a f—, he's even better!
Also, I went digging through YouTube to see if I could find some clips of what Slattery was all about back in the day, before he played a 1960s dude with a white flat-top and found this 1980s gem!
Yes, that's our man, delivering the Academy Award-winning line, "Hi, I've been looking all over for this terrific video cassette I heard about..." What agency wrote that ad? Would SC&P ever churn out such beauty if we fast-forwarded a decade?
Annnnyway, Roger calls Don to tell him the news about Bert. His voice is wavering when he says, “and now I’m going to lose you too.”
Roger Sterling sentimentalist is a great thing. Remember when he was bawling about the janitor who died and left him his shoeshine kit? Touching stuff.
“Every time an old man starts talking about Napoleon, you know he’s going to die,” he tells Don.
Don needs to take some sort of action now that he knows one of the major partners has died and his job is REALLY at stake. He tells Peggy to give the Burger Chef presentation. He reasons that if she wins the business, it will be hers. But if he gives the presentation and is forced out, then she won’t be able to keep the business.
The next morning, Roger meets with the guy from McCann and asks if he wants to buy SC&P.
He stipulates that he’ll buy it if he gets Don and Ted. After they won Chevy, they’ve been a real threat to McCann, so having them on the team would be pretty sweet.
When Peggy is watching everything in slow motion as she prepares to give her presentation in the next scene, it’s a great piece of cinematography and it captures the out-of-body sensation of having to deal with a major professional moment quite accurately.
“Most television sets are no more than 10-feet away from the dinner table,” she begins after Don introduces her. “That dinner table is your battlefield and your prize”
As she wraps up, she says, “There may be chaos at home, but there’s family supper at Burger Chef.”
Peggy nailed it! She really is the best Peggy she can be! (You did read that caption of Peggy that we showed earlier, right?)
Don comes home from his trip to see Roger standing by his door. He tells Don about the McCann deal.
“Roger, I just want to do my work," Don tells him. "I don’t want to deal with business anymore.”
When we next return from commercial break we’re in the SC&P offices. Jim is ready to begin and he takes the floor and is like, “I thought we’d start with a poem for Bert and then we’ll deal with Don’s departure.”
In the same breath again!
But then Roger’s like, “Actually, not so fast …”
He tells them about the McCann deal. Jim is fuming! He really just wants Don the hell out of the company! Why? Is it really just because he’s a loose cannon?
Roger tells the team the specifics of the sale. Basically it would mean they’d all become millionaires because of the percentage s of stake in the company they hold. Everybody’s impressed but Ted is really insistent on wanting to get out.
He says that if the contract is five years, it will be the last five years of his life. But they persuade Ted to take the McCann deal. In particular, Don tells him he also won’t have to deal with the business side of things, he’ll just be able to do the creative stuff.
They convince him!
As the team walks out of the conference room, about to do a memorial for Bert, we learn that they also got the Burger Chef account. Woo-hoo! Right on, Peggy!
As Don walks down the stairs, uninterested in hearing a eulogy for Bert, he sees what is unmistakably the ghost of Bert Cooper.
Wait, why would the creators of “Mad Men” use such a device? It’s so out-of-character! Well, it’s actually AWESOMELY out-of-character!
The ghost of Bert Cooper does an elaborate song and dance with the girls of SC&P dancing with him. The song he delivers is “The Best Things in Life are Free,” made famous by The Ink Spots.
It’s the first time since Roger’s first trip that we’ve seen a glimpse of the surreal in “Mad Men,” and it’s beautiful. And it’s a surprising mid-season end. There’s no real cliff-hanger. Everything’s looking pretty good for everybody. Even for Bert, and he’s dead!