“She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She was an astronaut.” – Bertram Cooper (d. 1969)
There is something to be said for a man that came from an older generation, but was happy to stick around and admire the changes happening around him, rather than reject them. Bert Cooper seemed fascinated by man exploring the final frontier of space. I liked that about him. It was not a huge aspect of his character, but Bert has never been a huge aspect of Mad Men. Now he is gone, but dammit did I have a sense of loss take hold of me from that news. The man was more comic relief mixed with wry soothsayer, than a plot driver, but “Waterloo” found a way to make Bert as important as the moon landing, which just so happened to be the last thing he would get to enjoy in life. Bert too was an astronaut.
“Waterloo” was a terrific hour of the series that now only has several hours left to truly close its doors for good. While I am not quite sure where things are headed, even if this episode pretty much ends with a return to the status quo of a few years ago (beyond a few employment shifts), happy endings for everyone may or may not be what Matthew Weiner intends for his cast, who are all truly terrific in this episode. I may keep using the word ‘terrific’ by the way, because I don’t think the other synonyms are going to do enough justice to the quality of this episode.
Let’s start with Ted Chaough, who may have been given the least to do, so far this season. Incredibly disillusioned by his work, he is literally messing with the lives of his clients, after flying the people from Sunkist over the farmlands of Orange County, CA (oh how times have changed). When we check in with him again, he is lounging in his office, drinking plenty, and ready to leave the advertising business for good. Given the drama involving him and Peggy last season, it is understandable to see how his move to LA means distancing from everything, but the idea of Don successfully pitching him the opportunity to keep working could mean more of the Chaough man in the future. I just wonder if Roger has any more moves to continue building the company back to his original people.
Roger delivered in spades this week. After having some sort of unclear ‘eureka moment’ a week ago, his plans are revealed in full. Pulling a reverse from the events set in motion at the end of season 3, Roger wants to let McCann purchase SC&P, which ultimately makes the partners a lot of money and stops Cutler from getting rid of Don. While Roger has had to go to certain lengths to make himself not seem as irrelevant as Bert in the past, “Waterloo” affords him the opportunity to show him making the kind of decisions that Bert may have actually conceded as being quite clever, even if he did not agree. Given how we have to focus on so many characters, I continue to be impressed by what John Slattery has been able to provide to this series, beyond his witticisms, which are always gold. It is the kind of solid work that allows you to understand how sad Roger truly is, without needing to see him burst into tears over the death of one of his oldest friends.
Speaking of old friends, we check in with the Francis residence, finding one of Betty’s old friends and her two sons staying for some amount of time. We learn as much as we need about Sally, who is secretly smoking and kinda crushing on (eventually) both of the sons, while Betty’s status is only given the quickest of thoughts (Don means little to her and she is amused by Sally’s behavior around the older visiting son). Still, having a check-in with this home factors into one of the key moments of “Waterloo”, which is seeing various families and groups of people gather around to watch the moon landing.
It is not too surprising that the Francis residence is the only one to feature some bickering about the spectacle on display (Oh, the dark clouds that loom over Henry and Betty), but even without shallow comments concerning the budget, there is a sense of awe in the faces glued to the TV in that house, just as there are in the Sterling residence, the hotel room with Don, Peggy, Harry, and Pete, and of course Bert Cooper’s home. I may not be old enough to have experienced this event, let alone know of some sort of relatable live news event offhand that was not a tragedy, but was widely viewed with awe on television, but I loved what everyone was doing with this scene, which was reacting. Even Don, a man who practically defines inscrutable, was wowed by this event enough to call his family and talk about how awesome it was. Don has other things too deal with too, which he is fortunately able to pass off to Peggy.
I’ll get back to Don, but it is now time to address how, yes, terrific Elisabeth Moss is in this episode. This is the kind of work that stems from being able to fit into the groove of a character so wonderfully, after spending so much time playing her, but that does not make what Moss conveys in two key scenes any less amazing. The first is a scene involving Julio, her young neighbor that is distraught over having to move to Newark. While I suppose it was fairly obvious to some, this episode was the first time I realized that Julio is about the age of the child Peggy gave up at the end of the first season, wherever it may be now. Watching Peggy react to the idea of this boy, who she has no connection to, other than simply being happy with entertaining his presence, was heartbreaking in a way that was completely sold to me through Moss’ face, as she hugged the a saddened Julio and attempted to comfort him.
The other key scene is actually more of a triumph, as Don provides Peggy an introduction at the meeting with Burger Chef that comes after a night where Don explained, “I wouldn’t do this, if I didn’t know you could.” With the mutual respect back in place, after last week’s wonderful episode, seeing that turn into a hand off in a pitch meeting was easy to believe, but even more wonderful to see, as Moss completely nailed what it means for Peggy to be in a situation that she has learned to be incredibly confident in, regardless of her nerves and costume worries beforehand. Using sound design to put us in the mind of her character, Matthew Weiner’s direction for this episode kept me incredibly pleased in the way it allowed me to feel Peggy’s dread be immediately washed away by the simple fact that she knows how to kick ass when the time calls for it.
The time certainly called for Don to get a win, but only after watching his life slowly fall to pieces. While Don even expressed to Ted that he knew what it was like to have nothing, this episode did plenty to put us in full worry mode, as far as the world of Don was concerned. Thanks to Cutler, Don’s possible exit from the company was put into motion (with some dark work on this episode’s musical score to go with it), only to be tabled for a little while, after a vote. Things only got worse for Mr. Draper, after a phone call from Megan, where the inevitable finally happened. The best thing about this phone call though was the adult-nature of the conversation. Instead of needlessly spelling out what is going on, some long pauses and dawning realizations made the facts all too clear. “I’ll always take care of you” and “I’ll be fine” were simple enough phrases from one person to another, with mutual understanding winning out over drawn out arguments.
With little to go on, Don at least made what he thought was the smart move by trying to help Peggy out. It mattered little, aside from Peggy dominating the pitch meeting and ultimately landing Burger Chef, because Don did end up keeping himself intact anyway. After convincing Ted to come aboard this new ship, which has plenty of chances of making at least some of the key staff miserable (despite the large amount of money that Cutler is so taken by), Don finds himself back on the path to the top, much like a rocket breaking out of the atmosphere and into space. Being happy to be doing his work, it is exactly why Don plans to do just that at the end of this episode, but not before he is greeted by a departing image of Bert Cooper, singing and dancing to the tune of, “The Best Things in Life Are Free.”
This final scene, along with being a delightfully fine sendoff to Robert Morse’s presence on the show, leaves me with plenty to think about. Given that I now have almost a year before I can see how “The End” half of this season plays out, the final image of “The Beginning” half of this season is Don showing emotion and feeling taken aback by the loss of an important man. While that importance may have been more implied to us, compared to the characters on this show, a new emptiness is now apparent, and I will be truly compelled to see how Don and Roger and Pete and Joan and Peggy and Ted and everyone else continue to function in a world that continues to change around them. This ever-changing company has now lost a man from a much more conservative time. The ones in charge are also from a time that is not quite up to date. Will they stand down, or take the reins and explore, like astronauts?
Any Other Business?
- Movie of the Week (that Megan is going to see): The Wild Bunch – A western taking place at the end of the era of cowboys, forcing people from an old generation to move on or get out of the way.
- If the last we ever see of Lou Avery is seeing him told off by his biggest supporter, Cutler, I will be just fine with that.
- Meredith will probably cherish Don’s handkerchief forever, assuming she doesn’t already have a doll made out of his hair.
- Bobby Draper and Henry Jennings from The Americans have something in common – they both want to learn more about space via telescopes (they’re also mostly unimportant on their respective series).
- “What do I do now?” – Sally is going to have a great time when she gets to college.
- “You’re not a partner yet”, “No you don’t,” “Goodbye Harry” – So much putting down of Harry Crane this week and I loved it.
- “Bravo” – Indeed Mr. Cooper, indeed.
- Thanks to everyone who has been keeping up. I guess we’ll all be back in 2015 to find out who drinks themselves to death first.