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'Mad Men's' Beautiful Midseason Finale Reminds Us The Moon Belongs to Everyone

By Sarah Carlson | TV Reviews | May 27, 2014 | Comments ()


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Want more Mad Men discussion? Be sure to subscribe to the Not Great, Pod! podcast featuring me and Messrs. Corey Atad and Kevin Ketchum. Feel free to give us a rating, like us or follow us, and please shoot us an email with your questions, comments and crackpot theories at notgreatpod@gmail.com. Also, check back the last Tuesday of each month beginning in June as we review key episodes from the series and discuss how they led us to where we are now.

This week’s special guest is Pajiba’s very own Dustin Rowles!

Don_Hotel_MM7.7.jpgFor those who doubt that Matthew Weiner is telling a story of redemption with Mad Men, may I suggest you embrace Don’s advice to Sally in the Season Seven midseason finale, “Waterloo”: Don’t be so cynical. Redemption is at Don’s fingertips — he is capable of changing for the better. That doesn’t mean he’ll end up happily ever after, and who would want that? But the look on his face as he imagined the dearly departed Bert Cooper singing “The Best Things in Life Are Free” at the office, and the way he leaned on the edge of a desk to gather himself once Bert waved goodbye, says everything. It’s not about the money, which he’ll gain plenty more of now that McCann Erickson is buying 51 percent of SC&P — Dream Bert wasn’t there to warn him against it. (Bert probably wouldn’t have done that in real life.) No, the vision represents everything clicking for Don, from his relationship with Peggy and his willingness to let her land the Burger Chef pitch on her own to the words he offered Ted about the importance of creating, which he was really offering to himself. He had to hit bottom, and he had to in many ways start over at the agency, but he eventually did it. Once he set his pride aside, he found he was actually willing to do anything to keep working — to work for the sake of the work, not for the money it brings in. He needs that creativity, and he needs the connections he’s built with loved ones such as Peggy and Sally. He’s learning, and he knows it. Redemption is possible.

The moon landing served as a way for most to connect, but their hunger extends beyond the shared experience of a seemingly miraculous event. It goes back to what we saw with the excellent “The Strategy,” and the need for family, no matter what form it takes. Peggy’s beautiful Burger Chef pitch perfectly spelled out this desire, not to mention the overall theme of the show:

That’s a lot to live up to. Because I certainly can’t tell a better story than the one we saw last night. I don’t know what was more miraculous — the technological achievement that put our species in a new perspective, or the fact that all of us where doing the same thing at the same time. Sitting in this room, we can still feel the pleasure of that connection. Because, I realize now, we were starved for it. We really were. And yes, we’ll feel it again when they all return safely. And yes, the world will never be the same in some ways. But tonight, I’m going to go back to New York, and I’ll go back to my apartment and find a 10-year-old boy parked in front of my TV eating dinner. Now, I don’t need to charge you for a research report that says most television sets are not more than six feet away from the dinner table. And that dinner table is your battlefield and your prize. This is the home your customers really live in. This is your dinner table. Dad likes Sinatra; son likes The Rolling Stones. The TV’s always on, Vietnam playing in the background. The news wins every night. And you’re starving. And not just for dinner. What if there was another table where everybody gets what they want, when they want it. It’s bright, and clean, and there’s no laundry, no telephone, and no TV. And we can have the connection that we’re hungry for. There may be chaos at home, but there’s family supper at Burger Chef.

Peggy_Pitch_MM7.7.jpgHer imagining of a place “where everybody gets what they want” harkens back to this season’s premiere and the paradise she, Don, and others were striving to find. As it turns out, the paradise is right in front of them — their family members are right in front of them. Peggy realized that when her neighbor Julio told her his family was moving away, and as she hugged him and wiped tears from her eyes and reassured him that his mother does in fact care for him, she in many ways became that “voice of mothers” she didn’t think she understood. Coming to terms with her past and present circumstances combined with fully coming into her own at work and in her creativity is how she will find contentment, and the same goes for Don. Finally admitting his marriage to Megan has failed is a step in the right direction, and their phone conversation, while painful, is touching. Her silence at his suggestion of his moving to L.A., followed by her simply saying “Don,” is enough for him to know it is over. It’s time to move on.

Money still played a prominent role in the finale, and perhaps Bert’s song and dance routine speaks to the partners’ error in opting to sell the majority of shares to the very company they broke off with Puttnam, Powel, and Lowe in 1963 to avoid. The news that they could become millionaires certainly changed Joan’s tune after she shocked Don by voting to have him ousted. Cutler, too, switched sides, forgoing principals for the large sum of money due him. Roger orchestrated the maneuver to keep the agency from ending up only being Harry (who waited too long and missed his chance at partner) and the computer thanks to Cutler’s trigger finger, but whether the gamble works is anyone’s guess. Cutler could be Napoleon in this Waterloo metaphor, having underestimated his opponents and losing the battle. Or maybe the agency itself has found its Waterloo in this deal. No matter what, though, this first half of Season Seven has shown that the key players know how to rebound. If they have to start over one day, then that’s what they’ll do.

“The Best Things in Life Are Free” is a fitting and moving way to say goodbye to Bert and Robert Morse, the first character who has been with the series from the beginning to die. It was off screen, and while unexpected, it wasn’t upsetting. We saw Bert watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and utter his famous line, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It’s hard to think of a better event to witness before one passes on, and the song’s line “The moon belongs to everyone” is a lovely reminder of the shared experience of watching the landing and the connectedness for which everyone strives. Even Sally, after parroting the cynicism of the son of one of Betty’s friends, gets to partake in the magic as the other son shows her the stars through his telescope. “Isn’t that better than TV?,” he asks her. “It is,” she says, and then she kisses him. It’s almost a thank you kiss — a thank you for being genuine, and for reassuring me that it’s OK to look to the heavens and to remember what is truly important. It is more than OK — it is necessary.

Sally’s a survivor, just like her father. She may not need redeeming, but she clearly longs for a connection with family. Maybe she’ll find a way to form her own family with friends, or maybe she’ll stick it out and embrace her relatives. Substitute “work” with “family” in Don’s pitch to Ted, and you come up with advice all of the Mad Men characters need: “You don’t have to be a family with us, but you have to have a family. You don’t wanna see what happens when it’s really gone.” Open yourself up to others, and remember what matters in life. The best things, naturally, are free.

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Thanks for reading. See you for the final half of Season Seven in 2015.

Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • babykangarootribbiani

    This episode and "The Strategy" really just left me in such good spirits after watching them. They made me wonder what they could do in the last seven episodes to bring this beautiful masterpiece to an end, but they made me think that Don and Peggy and Pete and Sally, they;re going to be okay.

  • logan

    I wouldn't mind seeing Don with Peggy. However I dont think it's era appropriate but it would be a sweet ending. I think its more logical a guy like Don ends up with a pretty and happy to stay at home wife so he can work his 50 hours a week in peace.

  • Ruthie O

    I actually hope the series ends with Don single. The whole series has had Don looking to other people (especially women) to make him happy, hence all the super intense affairs and the quick marriage to Megan. He always believed that the right woman would take all his problems away. But they didn't. Don has to learn how to find happiness and satisfaction in himself. I don't think he needs to be alone forever, but in the realm of the show, the happiest ending for Don I can think of is him learning to tolerate or even love himself as himself.

  • Guest

    So Lou (along with Cutler) is gone now right? Both Don and Ted (if he bought Don's pitch) just want to do creative work and not lead so maybe Peggy will finally get her due and be given Lou's job.

    *On Cutler, while yes he did vote to take the deal does he really have any say since it was Roger's coup? I hope he ends up out on the street but it probably won't play out that way.

    As much as I enjoyed the first part of this season I still have to say FVCK YOU to AMC and Weiner for splitting it until 2015.

    See you all in 2015 SC & P, which with McCann's acquisition I assume will go back to just being Sterling Cooper.

    Roger - “we finally turned this place into a legitimate threat, and they’d like to neutralize it with cold, hard cash.”

  • Ruthie O

    I think Don will resume as Creative Director, but also, Lou seemed ready to leave the agency regardless. He never got the respect he felt he deserved, and now with the tobacco debacle, he seemed halfway out the door anyway. Have fun with those (soon to be banned) cigarette ads, Lou.

  • I'm not directing this at you Ruthie, so I apologize in advance. The whole tobacco TV ads issue is being overblown. They didn't have the 21st century mindset that if a marketing avenue closes, just pocket that money. The cigarette companies knew this was coming so they just poured that money into sports sponsorships and magazine ads instead. The back cover of every magazine, save for "Highlights for Children," from the time of the ban to the mid-90s had a cigarette ad. The TV ban was barely a speedbump for those companies.

  • Jifaner

    I remember every magazine my mom got back in the 80s had a Virginia Slims ad on the back. You've come a long way, baby!

  • Ruthie O

    Thanks for the clarification! It makes a lot sense that the tobacco companies would be prepared for the ban. Many decades later, they are still around and doing quite well for themselves, so they weathered the storm of government interventions quite nicely.

  • Lou will be gone, because Roger's vision of the company would have himself as President and Don in his "rightful place" as creative director. Cutler presence is 50/50 depending on how the deal is structured. He knows with Roger in charge his role is going to be dusting the main frame with Harry. So, he might offer his complete stake to be part of the 51 percent McCann buys.

  • Guest

    +1.

    *Only Ted was a must for McCann so as much as I've enjoyed H.H. it will be nice to see Cutler gone.

  • Ryan Ambrose

    So many great lines from this episode that would make for wonderful tombstone material,

    "The clients want to live too, Ted!" - Pete Campbell

    "I'll take the deal!" - Harry Crane (looking forward to his spin-off series with that IBM supercomputer)

    And can we take a minute to appreciate how much of a scene stealer the actress who plays Don's secretary, Meredith, has been throughout the series? Every time I see how absentminded yet solicitous she appears I crack up, that's some bona fide comic timing there.

    Overall it was a brilliant episode, it might as well have been a series finale.

  • Jifaner

    I laughed so, so hard at that Campbell line. He's such an ass but I love him anyway.

  • BWeaves

    1. Sally is really growing up. She looks beautiful. Also, that top with the laces she wore during the moon landing. I had that top! I had the whole outfit. I was having sartorial flashbacks.

    2. Don's secretary cracked me up. I kept thinking, she's going to kiss him, and then she did, and it was creepy.

    3. Harry may have missed his chance at becoming a partner, but he did it so his wife would get less in the divorce. I'm still not sure how I feel about that strategy. He wins when he loses.

    4. Since Burt's sister was a silent partner, I wonder if we're going to see her next year.

    5. Will Ted leave his wife, now? I can almost see that happening if he decides to move back to NY and join creative again, with Peggy.

    6. I loved everything about this episode.

  • mswas

    Sally holds her cigarette just like Betty does.

  • On Point 4, his sister was a partner in the old firm I think and so she's still raking in the Putnam Powell & Lowe profits.

    I'll add a No. 7. It was soooo Pete Campbell that he knew every partner's ownership stake off the top of his head.

  • Guest

    On Point 5 - I'm really hoping Ted's return doesn't mean he will end up with Peggy. I'd like to think Peggy has grown and I hope she has put Ted behind her ("with things finally getting back to normal
    "her words to Don).

  • pthalio

    Peggy needs to be with Stan, and I will not accept anything less...

  • Ruthie O

    Me too, mostly because we need to see that hot handy man again. He was super hot and seemed impressed rather than intimidated that Peggy owned the whole building.

    Rawr.

  • Ryan Ambrose

    I kept murmuring at my TV when Peggy was alone with Don in her room, "please, don't kiss", "please, don't kiss", "plea-...".

    Now I'm afraid they might play a romatic angle with Ted back in NY but I'm sure Weiner is too clever to go that route.

  • Guest

    I've never thought Don would end up with Peggy, so it never crossed my mind when he knocked on her door.

    On Ted: Watching Peggy's wildly erratic behavior towards Ted in the first few episodes of the season I am hoping she finally put it behind her and will just move on.

  • Ruthie O

    I have loved every minute of this season. The first few episodes were slow and depressing, but that's exactly what redemption looks like. Don is learning how to be a better man, and that takes suffering and mistakes.

    Also, I was so happy to see Dawn bring the meeting to order. Even though we haven't seen much of her since her promotion, it seems she's settled in nicely to her new role as Queen B of the downstairs.

    AND OMG, CAN WE TALK ABOUT THE HILARITY THAT IS MEREDITH?!?!? I love that she is this season's comic relief. The look on Don's face during that kiss was just perfection (and another reflection of his growth).

    Lastly, I have loved these recaps. Between Sarah's musings and TLo's analysis, my appreciation of Mad Men deepens each week. Thanks for a great half season of writing! Can't wait for the next installment. This episode was the first time I really realized how much I'll miss these characters.

  • MrsAtaxxia

    Meredith's truly spectacular misreading of that situation was comedy gold, and Don's totally bewildered and then incredulous expression was the perfect response.

    And speaking of comedy, can we talk about Pete's newest gem: "That is a sensitive piece of horseflesh and he shouldn't be rattled!" Ahhh. Pete Campbell, freaking out as only Pete Campbell can.

  • Ruthie O

    Pete Campbell is GIF machine. He's my favorite TV asshole, but sometimes, he just speaks the truth: "THE CLIENTS WANT TO LIVE TOO, TED!"

  • MrsAtaxxia

    Oh god YES. When he looks at Joan and just crows "I HAVE 10 PERCENT!" So Pete. So perfect. SUCH an asshole.

    I AM GOING TO MISS HIM SO MUCH.

  • Marc Greene

    And being disgusted with Ted for being "selfish" almost immediately after. I loved it.

  • BBB40

    I love that Bert wasn't wearing shoes.

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