We’ll have the full recap of “Waterloo,” the mid-season finale of Mad Men soon, but I thought we’d share a few thoughts on the final scene of the episode, which saw Bert Cooper — who died earlier in the episode after watching the moon landing — dancing into end credits to “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” Of course, it was Don’s hallucination, but the song choice could not have been more perfect for the episode.
Why? Because while the firm politics that will drive us into the next half season were a side story in the episode, “Waterloo” was really about connections. Peggy made that point in her pitch to Burger Chef. We’re all hungry, we’re all starved for connections, like the one that the entire country made when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. “The moon belongs to everyone,” Bert sings, calling back to that shared moment when millions of people were drawn together by something that didn’t cost a cent. It brought Roger and his ex-wife. It connected Betty to her old college friends. It connected Peggy and Don. “The stars belong to everyone,” Bert Cooper sings. Sally knows that, too. It was Polaris, after all, that connected her with the nerdy kid, Neal.
There’s also a brilliant irony in seeing Bert Cooper — a man who spent his life in advertising, a profession about buying and selling and consuming — proclaiming that “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” Here’s a guy who just died, and yet — at least in Don’s mind — he’s leaving with joy and a dance because he’s realized that there’s more to life than helping a client sell a car or a few burgers. There’s more to life than success.
And that is what Don Draper has learned this half season by reconnecting with Peggy Olson, by getting back to what he loves about his work: Writing copy, being creative. By reconnecting with Sally. The best things in life are not about the capitalist rat race. Don is connected to something else, something that’s beyond advertising. Don Draper is finally connecting with humanity. And it didn’t cost him a thing.