Episode title: “Waterloo”
Significance: At the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, Napoleon was defeated once and for all after his 100-day return from exile on the Isle of Elba. In 1969, Don Draper, back from exile for just about 100 days, escapes a similar fate thanks to the timely death of Bert Cooper, the cunning (and dare we say leadership) of Roger Sterling and the dollar signs in the eyes of Pete Campbell and Joan Harris.
Time passages: The episode takes place during the week of July 16-22, 1969, as Apollo 11 carries men to the moon for the first time.
Episode essay I:
Slowly but certainly, Don Draper, the swaggering Madison Avenue ad man, is reverting to Dick Whitman, the smalltown boy with a terrible history and a good heart.
The Don Draper of Season 1 of “Mad Men” would hardly recognize the man we encountered in “Waterloo.” The one stepping aside at the exact right moment to allow his protege to shine. The one calling his daughter at the exact right time for a talk about nothing that means everything. The one letting his ill-conceived second marriage go without drama but with a more heartfelt promise to his wife than any he’d made to her before. The one who’s sadly aware that actions have consequences. The one who just wants to do the work, clean and sober.
In an a mini-season about how the creep of television and technology connected us in so many ways but drove us apart in more important ones and left us starving for a simpler connection, Don Draper is somehow devolving into someone simpler. So it was fitting that he watched with a smile only true satisfaction can bring as Peggy called on all her inner angst to wow the Burger Chef execs. Just like Don’s epic Carousel pitch, she used the potency of nostalgia to tap into the fears of a roomful of jaded men and leave them on the verge of tears.
In many ways, those are the same reasons that “Waterloo” played as an apt series finale. Except, we know it isn’t the end. Which begs the question: What could be more apt than Bert Cooper soft-socking into the great beyond and reminding us there are more important things than money and power?
We know from “The Strategy” what the show’s main character fears and what he wants. He wants to do something and have someone. We’ve seen Don Draper take small steps in that direction in Season 7, but we’re wondering if it’s not Dick Whitman who needs to make a giant leap in the time we have left with “Mad Men.”
+ Part of the genius of “Mad Men” (and the genius of all great television) is how the tiny details surrounding the characters tie together so seamlessly over the years. In “Waterloo,” we had Peggy making the mom pitch and feeling maternal with Julio, who’s just about as old as the child she never knew. We had Bert Cooper dying on the night of the moon landing, hearkening back to his elegy for Ida Blankenship as an astronaut. Those tiny details are what separates real drama from TV drama.
+ In that regard, perhaps the only quibble we can muster for the first half of Season 7 is that Joan’s resentment of Don over money was not well developed enough to make her actions in “Waterloo” seem genuine.
+ We’ve seen some speculation that Sally’s attraction to the nerd over the jock in the episode was a surprise twist that we didn’t see coming. Our read was that Don’s phone call and specifically his point about cynicism helped his daughter have a change of heart.
+ And that pose by Kiernan Shipka with the cigarette? That would have worked for us for a final image of the series.
+ Speaking of which, we count four other scenes that would have been fine with us as the last “Mad Men” scene: Don and Peggy’s dance, the happy “family” at Burger Chef, Don’s glance at Peggy before her pitch and Bert’s wave as the door closed after his musical number.
+ As we (and thousands of others) foretold months ago, this mini-season ended on the moon, but if the premiere of the final seven is going to start at Woodstock, who will take us there? Sally is 15, but perhaps could swing it if she had a trusted compansion, say Glenn Bishop, who would be 18. Stan Rizzo might be a candidate, he’s got the pot smoking part down pat. Harry Crane, who missed out on becoming a millionaire by a few days might be a candidate to turn on, tune in and drop out. How about eternal teenager Roger Sterling? In any event, if that’s where we’re going in March 2015, we can’t wait to see what happens by the time we get to Woodstock.
+ We learned that Jim Cutler was a United State Air Force pilot who dropped bombs on the city of Dresden, Germany, near the climax of World War II. The firebombing of Dresden is considered one of the most brutal non-nuclear attacks in the history of warfare.
+ “The Wild Bunch,” which Don and Megan will now be seeing separately, was director Sam Peckinpah’s bravura 1969 film, filled with brutal, stylized violence, about a gang of aging outlaws trying to survive in a changing world.
+ Bert Cooper’s show-stopping, show closer, “The Best Things In Life Are Free,” was written by Jack Hylton for the 1925 musical, “Good News,” but became the centerpiece of an eponymous 1956 film.
+ Robert Morse, of course, has a Broadway background, most notably starring in both the 1961 musical and 1967 film adaptation of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
About last week: A sentiment we’ve expressed a couple times over the years is the idea that “Mad Men” is largely about convincing us the idyllic America of the ‘50s didn’t really exist. It didn’t really dawn on us until a few days later that Peggy expressed that exact sentiment last week.
From @aNdY_Be3: “Sally snogging the nerdy telescope dweeb instead of Muscles Magoo? I knew I liked the child.”
From @Mohn_Jichael: “Bert Cooper for all the 1969 Tony’s.”
From @JMaz: “Why don’t they just have Ted Chaough take Jim Cutler for a “plane ride”?
Lines of the night:
+ “You’re just a bully and a drunk.” –Jim Cutler
+ “Sometimes actions have consequences.” –Don Draper
+ “That is a sensitive piece of horse flesh.” –Pete Campbell
+ “No one comes back from leave, not even Napoleon.” –Bert Cooper
+ “Don….” –Megan Draper
+ “I’ll always take care of you.” –Don Draper
+ “Marriage is a racket.” –Pete Campbell
+ “I have to talk to people who just touched the face of God about hamburgers.” –Peggy Olsen
+ “You don’t want to see what happens when it’s really gone.” –Don Draper
+ “Bravo.” –Bertram Cooper
Next week: Ugh, there is no next week as “Mad Men” disappears for nine months or so before the final seven episodes run next spring, even though they are being shot as you read this (and won’t it be interesting to see how spoilerphobe Matt Weiner keeps that under wraps for that long).