Mad Men season finale recap: Fly Me to the Moon

Bert sings a fond farewell as Roger proves himself a leader with vision
Ep. 07 | Aired May 25, 2014

Peggy nails the pitch despite Pete's stink-eye. She weaves the moon-landing into her introduction, waxes on about family dinners in the age of television and Vietnam, and nails the landing with their "There's family supper at Burger Chef" slogan. "That's beautiful," blurts out one of the execs. (Is it? I'm still meh on this SC&P stroke of brilliance.)

The gang returns to New York, where everyone is gathered for Bert's funeral. But there's business to discuss too, the McCann offer to acquire 51 percent of the agency. "How much?" interrupts Joan, who really must have gambling debts we don't know about. Roger plays the room perfectly, though Cutler obviously wants no part in something that might rescue Don, and Ted still has the look of a hostage. Harry tries to barge in again, but since he had haggled with the terms of his partnership, he still isn't allowed to sit with the grownups.

Unfortunately, Ted has no interest in working. He's miserable if you haven't noticed. "You're not just pathetic!" yells Pete. "You're selfish!" Almost on cue, Don begins to sell Ted on the deal, how he, Don Draper, knows what Ted Chaough is going through. But he's gotten back to the basics during his probation, back to doing what originally made him fall in love with advertising in the first place -- writing coupon copy. Come back to New York, Ted. Come back to the land of the living. Come back to us, Ted. "So I'd move back to the city?" Ted asks, essentially clinching the deal. Even Cutler votes yes once he sees the writing on the wall. "Well, it is a lot of money," he explains.

The office is gathered for a little Bert Cooper tribute, but Don isn't staying. On his way downstairs, Peggy grabs him to tell him they got the Burger Chef account. Where are you going, Peggy asks. "Back to work," Don says with a smile.

As Don heads to his office, though, he hears "Don, my boy." He turns around to see Bert smiling at him from the bottom of the stars. "The stars in the sky; the moon on high..." he begins. And then... a full song and a dance number of "The Best Things in Life are Free," from the 1927 musical, Good News. Unforgettable and inexplicable, the scene is unlike anything Mad Men has even attempted. This wasn't "Zou Bisou Bisou." This was a fever dream that can't easily be explained. I half-wonder if Ginsburg heard the same song before checking out. Is this Don's "Daisy"?

On its surface, "Waterloo" is a feel-good episode -- Bert's passing notwithstanding. Peggy nailed the presentation, Roger became a leader with vision, Don is back and a mensch, and we landed on the moon. But it's called "Waterloo," and Bert's warning could reverberate during the second half of the season, which won't arrive until 2015. "No man has ever come back from leave -- even Napoleon," Bert said. "He staged a coup but he ended up back on the island." Is this Don's glorious return, with loyal soldiers rallying around the flag? Or is it a last gasp before the ultimate fall. In a way, you could argue that's what the moon landing was that for America: this historic geyser of optimism and wonder in the midst of Vietnam, assassinations, and civil strife, with all that Nixon's presidency would become looming.

Is Don destined to be sent back to his island, his own private inferno? I still worry about him.

A Few Thoughts on Sally Draper

One particular moment from "Waterloo" gave me chills. After kissing Neil, the star-gazing brother, Sally lit up a cigarette in the backyard. She's fixed up her hair and was wearing lipstick, looking very grown up. Looking very Betty. In fact, as she took her first puff, she held the exact Betty Francis smoker's pose, with one elbow learning across the wrist of her other crossed arm. It was eerie.

Sally clearly is dazzled by Neil's older brother, Sean, a handsome hunk with an athletic scholarship to Rutgers. (Betty may have been dazzled too.) He's a surly teenager, unimpressed by the space program, what with all its waste. Twelve seconds after hearing him whine, Sally parrots his drivel to her father, who calls to commemorate the moon achievement.

Not long after, she kisses Neil under the stars. Poor Neil says, "What do I do now?" It was such a Betty move, such an Estella from Great Expectations move. I think I was so disturbed by it because of the recent positive interactions between Sally and Don. It gave me hope that despite living with an emotionally cruel mother, Sally (and the boys) were going to turn out okay. That they were more Don that Betty. But that's unlikely, isn't it? And as anyone can attest, you bump heads hardest with the child/parent that is most like you, and Sally has been extremely hard on her mother this season. Might she now be heading for her Betty phase, just as she begins to realize her sway over young men? That would break my heart.

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