[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's Mad Men. Read at your own risk.]
"The moon belongs to everyone. The best things in life they're free."
The coup led by Roger Sterling in Mad Men's midseason finale may not be as impressive a feat as the Apollo 11 crew landing on the moon, but both could have easily ended in disaster. And while both missions were successful — though in the case of Sterling Cooper & Partners, with one casualty — Don Draper is reminded once again that success isn't the only thing that matters.
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While the nation was anxiously waiting to hear (and see) if Neil Armstrong & Co. would make it to the moon, Don (Jon Hamm) was dealing with his own crisis. Just days before his triumphant return to glory in the Burger Chef pitch meeting, Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin) fires Don for breach of contract for his stunt during the Commander cigarette meeting. Don storms into Jim's office, where the men exchange heated words ("You're just a bully and a drunk ... a football player in a suit," Jim says) before Don calls an impromptu partners' meeting in the middle of the office. Most of the original Sterling Cooper contingency (save for Joan, who's tired of Don costing her money) vote against Cutler's underhanded maneuvering in this situation, which grants Don a temporary stay of execution.
Reading the writing on the wall, Don calls Megan (Jessica Pare) to share the bad news. However, when Don suggests that he'll now have the chance to move to Los Angeles as Megan had hoped, she is hardly welcoming. In fact, during the course of their conversation, it becomes clear what's been coming for months. Their marriage is over, and although Don wants to take care of Megan as long as she needs, she's ready to move on.
Back at the office, Roger (John Slattery) goes to Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) to bemoan Cutler's slow takeover of the company. And even though Bert voted against Cutler firing Don, he appreciates Cutler's vision for the firm's future and doesn't seem to actually want Don around. "No man has ever come back from leave -- not even Napoleon," Cooper says, making sense of the episode's title, "Waterloo." But will this be Don's last battle?
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Not necessarily. Mere hours after Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind ("Bravo," Bert muses at the turn of phrase), Roger receives word that Bert has passed away. As Roger, Joan and Cutler convene in the offices to make arrangements, it becomes clear that Cutler, now with enough votes, will indeed kick Don to the curb. Roger calls Don, who is in Indiana for the Burger Chef meeting, to let him know what's happened. After hearing the news, Don insists to Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) that she has to make the pitch. He doesn't want to leave her with nothing if he wins the business and is then canned. (Peggy's reaction is priceless.)
However, Peggy absolutely kills it. Using the moon landing as her own launching pad, she talks about how the televised moment seized the nation's attention — that in one moment, the separated masses were connected over this one feat. That connection, Peggy argues, is what people are starving for. We're not sure that people are really starving to connect over Burger Chef burgers, but, hey, the client eats it out of Peggy's hand. (The secret smile between Peggy and her mentor Don before she continues is, just like last week's slow dance, perfect. Don taught her very well. Bravo, indeed.)
Meanwhile, instead of moping over Bert's death, Roger is perhaps haunted by their last exchange, during which Bert lamented the fact that Roger isn't a leader at the agency. So Roger calls on Jim McCann to let him know that he's aware McCann-Erickson is losing Buick to SC&P. But rather than gloating, Roger wants a favor: He wants McCann to buy out SC&P, allow the firm to continue operating as a subsidiary and make Roger president. The upside: Don would keep his job and Cutler would be stopped from ascending the throne. The downside: McCann insists on Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) being a part of the team, just as Ted (whose depression has become so severe he threatened to crash a plane he was flying with Sunkist clients) wants to get out of advertising altogether.
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When Roger shares his master plan with Don, Don doesn't seem impressed. (After all, he has turned down working at McCann at least twice.) "I just want to do my work. I don't want to deal with business anymore," Don says. Undeterred, Roger takes the idea to the partners, most of whom marvel at the boatload of money they will earn by selling out. (Poor Harry Crane hadn't signed his deal yet, so he's not a partner, and therefore, locked out again.)
There's just one sticking point: Ted wants out, so signing a five-year contract sounds like madness. And now it's Don's turn to pitch. Don, who despite his personal differences with Ted, knows the way his creative mind is wired, appeals to his desire to do good work. Don also makes sure to point out all the crap he's endured this season just to stay in the game. "You don't have to work for us, but you have to work," Don says. "You don't want to see what happens when it's really gone."
With that, Ted is on board. And, hilariously, so is Cutler. ("It's a lot of money!" he insists when Roger questions him.) Don leaves the meeting, job secure for now, and learns from Peggy that they won the Burger Chef account. "They saw what I saw," Don says as he gives his protégée a congratulatory hug before heading back downstairs. "Back to work," he says.
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But is he? He might have sold Ted on their collective ambition, but as he's heading back to his office, Don sees a vision of Bert Cooper, who does a (shoeless!) song-and-dance number as Don looks on. While it was a fitting send-off to one of the show's quirkiest characters (and a use of Morse's talents from days gone by), it's a not-so-subtle reminder that life isn't always about happy endings. The best things in life — love, included — are free, doesn't have any of them, just a handful of money. He's successfully worked his way back into the office hierarchy, but he's still alone. Or to put it in Bert Cooper-approved Napoleonic terms, Don's no longer in exile, but that doesn't mean his own personal Waterloo won't find him in the show's final seven episodes.
A few other thoughts:
• I absolutely hate that AMC is splitting the season up over two years, but given the one-two punch of these final two episodes, I must say I'm as intrigued as ever to see how the show wraps up. When Mad Men is at its best, it's very hard to beat. And right now, it's firing on all cylinders.
• Sally's teenage love story kind of got lost in this episode, as the Francis household was mostly a staging area for another group of folks to watch the moon landing. (Betty's friends and her kids came to visit.) And even though Sally had eyes for the hunky older boy (and even tried to adopt his cynical disdain for NASA), it was the geek with the telescope whom she kissed. (Also, we can't believe Sally's all grown up... and striking the infamous smoking-Betty pose.)
• Both last week and this week offered glimpses of regret with regard to Peggy's maternal dilemma. Her relationship with Julio has been strange and sad, but it was hard not to feel for Peggy when she cried learning that the one person in her life was about to move to Newark. But, hey, she got the hunky handyman's digits!
• Even in grief, Roger Sterling is the funniest character on TV. "Every time an old man starts talking about Napoleon, you know he's going to die," he says after Bert's death.
• But it's actually Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) who wins the one-liner battle of the night. Whether disgusted by Don and Megan's bad news ("Marriage is a racket") or Ted's ambivalence about the McCann buyout ("Not only are you lazy, but you're also selfish!") he had this gem when Cutler tried to ax Don: "That is a very sensitive piece of horse flesh! He shouldn't be rattled!" Never change, Pete. Never change.
• Considering Bert Cooper's musings about Ida Blankenship's death in Season 4 ("She was an astronaut!" he said, remarking about how high she climbed in life), it's fitting that he died after watching a successful space mission, no? Also, it was interesting to hear Roger compare Ted's suicidal threats with Sunkist to Lane Pryce, the only other major Mad Men character to have been killed off.
What did you think of the finale?