If you’re a Mad Men fan, join us regularly for Mad Men Musings – a space to discuss selected highlights, low points, or just plain water-cooler worthy moments of each episode.
One final Mad Men Musings until next year! (Why, AMC, why?!) This mid-season finale offered us the vast and sparkling firmament: there’s just something about the scope and distance of the moon and stars that reminds us of our own human smallness, our temporality. And there’s two ways to think about that…you can get all nihilistic and decide that nothing matters, or you can dig your heels in and fight like hell. For Don, Roger, and Peggy – in a tender, graceful, and moving farewell until next year – the good fight continues.
We open on the cusp of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, which coincides with Ted Chaough’s semi-breakdown – while flying the Sunkist execs in his tiny plane, Ted cuts the engines. As Pete’s been pointing out, Ted is thisclose to losing it; he’s depressed, petulant, and wants out of advertising.
Side note: what the heck was up with that shot of the plane, seriously? It was so funny that I couldn’t even worry about Ted’s reprehensible behavior.
Back in NYC, the gang is gearing up for the Burger Chef pitch. Peggy’s role is to introduce Don in reverent tones, and Don’s role is to dazzle everyone. Their excitement over the prospect, however, is tempered by the looming moonwalk – if it fails and tragedy strikes, they’ll have to shelve the pitch.
And Don has a nasty little surprise letter waiting for him, delivered by his ridiculous secretary Meredith. Remember that Commander Cigarette meeting, the one that Don crashed? Apparently, that’s a violation of his new contract, and now all the partners want him out. Meredith is more than willing to “comfort” Don, but he literally couldn’t care less.
When Don confronts everyone, it turns out that the termination letter was drawn up solely by Jim Cutler. Don forces the partners to a vote – and only Jim and Joan (WTH, Joan?) want him out, so Don stays. Joan snips that she’s tired of Don costing her money, but Pete chides Jim with a classic Pete line: “That is a very sensitive piece of horseflesh – he should not be rattled like this!”
Shaken by the turn of events, Don calls Megan. He tells her what happened, that he’s thinking of just packing it all in. A fairly heavy meta-convo ensues, in which Megan tells Don maybe he should move on and asks him if he’s tired of fighting. When he points out he can probably move out to LA now, there’s a pause, and then Megan simply says, “Don” – one little word fraught with all the tension of their failed relationship.
As it turns out, their marriage ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. This feels right; their union’s been on life support for so long now, and it truly feels like there’s nothing left to say. (Plus, she already got that fondue pot, so she’s set.)
Don tells Megan he’ll always take care of her, but Megan demurs, saying he doesn’t owe her anything, and they say a teary goodbye. We’ll have to see what happens, but I for one hope this break up sticks.
Peggy has her own break up, of sorts, with her neighbor/tenant Julio. His mom is moving them to Newark, and Julio doesn’t want to leave. He hugs a tearful Peggy; she promises to visit all the time, but he knows she probably won’t. This was so heartbreaking, you guys; every time I see Peggy with Julio, even when she’s just grousing at him, I can’t help but think what a good mom she’d be, and what she gave up all those years ago. I just want her to have all the things – a fulfilling career and a kid. Funny how things stay the same, right?
Oh, and Peggy also got a phone number from the dude working on her apartment, but I don’t care because Julio and Peggy forever! Also, after the dude said to her, “You sure have a lot of books,” I couldn’t help but think of that great John Waters quote: “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t f*** ‘em.” I’m guessing work dude doesn’t have a ton of reading material at home, so Peggy, take a pass on this one.
As the moonwalk officially airs, everyone’s watching entranced. Bert Cooper is watching on the couch, and the last word we ever hear him say (not counting his later song) is “Bravo.” Roger is watching with Mona, his grandson, and Marigold’s husband. Don, Peggy, Pete and Harry are watching from their Indiana motel room (they’re pitching Burger Chef the following day).
And now a brief detour: over in the Francis’ mansion, Betty and company are watching as well. Betty’s college friend, with her two sons in tow, (one hunky, and one nerdy) is visiting…OMG, Kellie Martin from the show Life Goes On! I didn’t recognize her until her hair was down, but then she was unmistakable. Sally is the most done-up ever, with full-on Bardot hair and lipstick, and it seems clear she’s crushing on the hunk.
After a call from Don, where he chides Sally for being cynical, she goes outside to smoke and runs into the nerdy son; he shows Sally Polaris through the telescope. (I love the metaphor of Polaris, the North Star – it points you true north, like Penny being Desmond’s constant in Lost). Sally does something most unexpected: she kisses him.
And then she smokes, looking like the spitting image of her mother, right down to her bored, full-of-ennui stance. I loved this small moment – it was like the dark horse behavior of Don, coupled with some Betty mannerisms.
As all our respective players watch the moon landing, marveling at the spectacle before them, Roger gets the call: Bert has died. He goes to the office and meets Joan and Jim. Jim barely manages to unctuously murmur a condolence before he starts in about jettisoning Don, yet again. Way to be totally inappropriate, Jim.
Roger calls Don and fills him in, and Don in turn tells Peggy she should give the Burger Chef presentation tomorrow. She doesn’t think she can do it, (especially because there’s NO LIQUOR!!) but Don assures her she’s got this.
And she does – in the presentation (where Don so sweetly introduces her) she skillfully weaves together the great achievement of the moonwalk, the collective ties of family, and leaving the chaos of the modern world for the perfect Burger Chef family dinner. The looks she and Don exchange rival their dance last week – so much communicated by their eyes meeting and a shared, secret smile.
Meanwhile, Bert’s death has lit a fire under Roger. He and Bert didn’t always see eye to eye, but they had a long and important history together. In their last conversation, Bert told Roger that he wasn’t really a leader, but Roger seems determined to prove him wrong.
Accordingly, he meets with McCann and works out a deal: McCann will purchase SC&P at a 51% share, while allowing SC&P to remain as an independent subsidiary. This means five year contracts for the SC&P partners, and McCann stipulates that Ted must be part of the deal. Plus, the partners all make mega bank.
Don is initially wary – after all, they started their own company to get away from the control of the fat cats. But what does he have left, at this point? His work, that’s what, and this is the best way to beat Jim at his own game and try to flourish. During a partner meeting, Ted takes some convincing, but Don wields his golden tongue and Ted comes around.
Joan, upon hearing the news that this new move will garner her a cool million dollars, looks ready to cry tears of joy – this means real security for herself and her family. And Jim, of course, jumps on board when he realizes which way the wind is blowing. (Sad trombone for Harry, who didn’t actually sign as a partner yet and is thus excluded from this deal). Go, Roger, go – Bert would be proud, don’t you think?
On his way out of the meeting, a radiant Peggy tells Don they landed the account. And then, the strangest thing happens: Don sees Bert, (in his stocking feet, naturally) launching into the song “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” accompanied by a bevy of twirling secretaries.
It was a surreally sweet send off, surely a nod to actor Robert Morse and his Broadway background. And yet, it was a bit jarring for me – I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. It left Don with a simultaneously astonished and pleased look, and I suppose I fall somewhere on that spectrum as well.
Here’s hoping that the rest of Season 7 provides a true north for the gang. Wish on some stars, everybody.
Readers: As always, I’ve enjoyed your savvy commentary! What was your favorite moment of the finale? Do you think Don is ready to make lasting life changes? And what did you think of Bert’s razzle-dazzle “ghost” as the end note?
all photos: via AMC
Amity writes and teaches in Central PA. Her obsessions include: Rodarte (she can’t afford any Rodarte, mind you, but a girl can dream), espresso, books, vintage/thrift fashion and fountain pens. She thinks you should dress like a weirdo once in a while, just to shake things up.