Mad Men Season 7A Finale Review: Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, Life Goes On
Oh man, Bert Cooper is dead and it's not even the worst thing ever because Cutler got screwed over and Don had a vision of Sterling Cooper's late co-founding father tap-dancing his way into the feng shui'd executive suite in the sky. And behind it all, mankind's finest achievement to date (at the time)—the July 21, 1969 moon landing—provided an epic backdrop for the marvelous and mundane goings-on in the lives of SC&P's finest (and not-so-finest), as well as the suburgatory existentialism over at the Francis-Draper household.
Time may have appeared to stand still for a few moments on July 21, but plenty happened while "men touched the face of God": Sally Draper kissed a boy, Peggy panicked over her impending Burger Chef pitch, and Cutler kept at his supervillain routine. That the world stopped turning was only an illusion, and no one sees through a gimmick quite like Don. He's spent his lifetime playing the master illusionist, after all.
Despite putting on a good face and making one last effort, when Don finally found himself with the perfect excuse to move to California and be with Megan full-time—something she's been "wanting" for the last few episodes—Megan dropped the act and finally put their marriage out of its misery. Like Napoleon at Waterloo, the exiles pulled together a few dwindling victories, but ultimately lost the war.
Elsewhere, Sally Draper didn't have an original thought in her head. True to form for so many teenagers, she set to parroting the views of whoever her new best friend or potential boyfriend was at any given time. Don saw through her cynicism and warned her not to succumb to it—and it's telling that she then trained her sights on the nerdier of the two brothers who were crashing at the Francis house to watch the moon landing.
Peggy protested Don's decision to back out of giving the Burger Chef pitch, claiming she didn't have time to prepare and that Pete would never allow it, but Don knew it was the right move. Operating under the assumption that he would be fired following Cooper's death (and more specifically the death of the key support that Cooper had offered Team Draper), Don approached the Burger Chef situation both practically and symbolically. As Don explained to Peggy, if Burger Chef hired SC&P because of the pitch Don made, they would essentially be his client, and their loyalty to SC&P would be compromised if Don was ousted, essentially destroying everything that Peggy had worked on for the last few months.
This latest professional defeat also seemed to strike a chord with Don, fueling the idea that maybe his time with SC&P—or in advertising at all—was really, truly over. Peggy was his protégé, and despite a few bumps, she succeeded at every turn. However, it's been apparent for some time that Don, intentionally or not, has held Peggy back, or at the very least, she feels like he's held her back. Giving her back the Burger Chef pitch signified Don's acceptance of Peggy—finally—as his equal and his successor.
So, it'll be interesting to see how that plays out, since some late-night wheeling and dealing on Roger's part saved Don from the firing squad again and it seems that Roger is anticipating the partnership with McCann to restore the status quo around the office and bring back the good old days. However, while Roger's deal may've saved Don's job and severely limited Cutler's influence with regard to office politics, the reality of the situation is that time doesn't move backwards. Even Pete went so far as to declare that The Don Show was back on air, but it isn't and it can't be.
Peggy is truly Don's equal now, and her influence will only grow—as it should. Joan is no longer subservient to the good old boys in the office; she has power, influence, and now money, too. Ted and Don, once and still legends in their field, are changed men with different priorities and outlooks regarding their lives. And Roger, for his part, is in no way immune to the ravages of time: While his renewed interest in the company and his passion for the work harkens back to a pre-acid-tripping, pre-trophy-wife Roger, that particular version of the character was basically a little boy stuck in a grown man's body. Roger's father founded the original Sterling Cooper, and Roger grew up with his name on the door. The company was a birthright, but his responsibilities were more pageantry than anything else. He deferred to Cooper as the sage old leader.
The Roger we saw in "Waterloo," this Roger with "a vision," was a Roger who'd finally grown up. Yes, we've seen the guy strike out and make bold moves before—in establishing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, in divorcing Mona, in partaking of a good old-fashioned acid test. It's not that Roger was a passive character by any means, but his actions were generally for the benefit of Roger himself... or what he perceived to be his benefit, anyway.
Certainly, the move to sell out to the enemy stemmed from Roger's desire to stick it to Cutler and save his BFF Don's job, but Roger's vision goes beyond that. He sincerely believes that he saved the agency's world, and that a return to he and Don pulling the strings is the best possible situation for the future of SC&P. While their victory in this midseason finale was sweet, I can't help but question the vitality of Roger's plan. Man has landed on the moon. His daughter calls herself "Marigold." Sally Draper is kissing boys. Don has just added another ex-wife to the list. Bert Cooper is dead and gone forever. It's great that Roger has a vision, but it needs to be a vision of the future and not a nostalgia for the past. My concern is that Roger has become the Napoleon in his own life, and that his—and the firm's—Waterloo is yet to come.
Despite a slow start, the first half of Mad Men's final season ended on a high note, in terms of the characters' lives and in terms of the storytelling. Mad Men has never shied away from highlighting the various historical moments of the 1960s—JFK's assassination ruined Margaret Sterling's wedding, and MLK Jr.'s forced race relations into an arena that was previously off-limits—but for as huge and lingering as the moon landing was, what was most apparent in "Waterloo" was just how fleeting of an impact it had on the players in Matthew Weiner's world. Everyone was in the same place at the same time watching the same thing, and it was a good thing—it wasn't death, war, or tragedy. During one of the most pessimistic times in history, mankind achieved one of its most enduring symbols of hope and optimism. And it was beautiful, man.
But of course, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins hadn't even returned to Earth before everyone was back to business as usual, which is an important point to make as we gear up for Mad Men's final stretch of episodes in 2015. When the '60s draw to a close and the stories of Don, Peggy, Roger, Joan, and the others conclude, we will have witnessed only a fraction of their lives, a segment of the whole. We'll be able to interrogate and extrapolate based on what we know, but I don't doubt there will still be questions. We've watched these characters repeatedly get caught up in time and circumstance, and there has only ever been one way to truly halt time in its tracks. RIP, Bert Cooper, you will be missed.
– "The Best Things in Life Are Free" was so apropro. Don's job was saved by Roger playing on everyone's greed for more cash. All Don really wanted out of the deal was the ability to keep creating.
– Ted had a Don moment in his plane. I was really worried, and then I laughed really hard. Thanks for the emotional whiplash, Mad Men.
– Peggy got Nick the Handyman's number. Bow chicka wow wow.
– Mad Men versus AHS: Asylum: Who did the WTF song-and-dance sequence better?
– Predictions for 2015? How do you see Roger's plan working out?
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