Monday, May 26, 2014

Mad Men S7E7 - Waterloo

Napoleon's reign lasted over a decade and through his own will and genius the French emperor expanded his country's footprint, accumulated vast wealth, and made more than his fair share of enemies. Of course, his overthrow, brief return to power, and ultimate defeat at a place that, two centuries later, is now part of our lexicon as a place where you make your last stand, suggested that last night's "mid-season" finale, Waterloo, would result in someone's undoing. The obvious candidate was Don Draper, who, like the little French general, was mercurial, fearless in the face of opposition, reckless, and ultimately undone by his own ego. He was the only one who did not know his indefinite leave over Thanksgiving 1968 [1] was meant to be a graceful exit for committing the high crime of honesty in front of a client, but having (mostly) toed the company line after his return, he became the target of a palace coup by Jim Cutler, who leveraged Don's interruption of a meeting with executives from Phillip Morris [2] into a breach of contract action to terminate Don's partnership with the agency. 

Ultimately, Waterloo was much less about Don than Roger, his on again, off again, partner in crime and whose tortured relationship over the years could fill its own lengthy analysis. Roger Sterling was always the ultimate example of a man "to the manner born" - his father established Sterling Cooper with Bert Cooper way back in 1923 [3] and shortly thereafter, a long and fruitful business relationship [3] with American Tobacco, maker of Lucky Strike cigarettes, basically ensured that Roger would have to do little else besides count his money (and conquests) until he passed to the great beyond. But a funny thing happened on the way to "you know where." [4] Roger took some off-handed advice given to him by Don in a dimly lit bar one boozy night that set off a series of events beginning with Roger's decision to leave Mona for Jane. [5] The resulting financial squeeze made him vulnerable to a pitch to sell the agency to Putnam, Powell, and Lowe. [6] In the merger, he did not rank a box on the updated organizational chart, [7] but that mattered little as long as tobacco money continued to roll in. When the partners hung out their own shingle, it was American Tobacco that provided the ballast to do so.

When that seemingly never-ending stream of revenue dried up, [8] Roger was at sea. For a while, he took to trolling Pete Campbell, going so far as sneaking a peek at his calendar, where a planted 6 AM meeting with a representative from Coca-Cola sent Roger on a wild goose chase. [9] But somewhere between his LSD awakening, [10] seduction of Megan's mother, [11] and letting Don loose with Dow Chemical, [12] Roger got his mojo back. Sure, his bedroom had turned into a low rent 60s version of Caligula [13] and his daughter alit for upstate New York, leaving young Ellery in her family's care, [14] but Roger Sterling was again an account man, if not a leader of men. 

So it was interesting that the fulcrum for Waterloo was a very un-Roger like power play to protect his erstwhile Don Quixote instead of jettisoning him and cruising through to retirement on a wave of Harry Crane's spreadsheets and Jim Cutler's Vitamin B-12 shots. [15] Bert's lecture that Roger was not a leader surely stung, so perhaps in Bert's memory Roger finally decided to act instead of count his money. And sure, Roger's motivations may not have been entirely noble - after all, he was able to recover Joan's million dollars (plus an additional half million!) she thought Don lost when he torpedoed her, Bert and Pete's plan to take the firm public, [16] affirm his position as President of the firm while having the benefit of McCann's deep pocket, put Jim Cutler in deep freeze, avoid having to make Harry Crane a partner and oh yeah, pocket a nice payday for himself - but he still closed the deal. Not bad for the low low price of having taken a shvitz and held an early morning meeting with Jim Hobart. 

Roger's efforts to pull Don's chestnuts out of the fire were met with a surprising resignation from the enigmatic Mr. Draper. Perhaps it was, as the sound in his voice on that long-distance call with Megan indicated, a weariness over the constant battle just to get his job back, or the renewed bond he had with Peggy, but Don was surprisingly non-plussed when Roger presented him with his plan; [17] however, when it came time to sell the idea to the one person who they absolutely needed - the hollowed soul of Ted Chaough - Don poured on his incandescent charm, offering Ted the opportunity to go back to the roots that grounded them both - the purity of the pitch. In the balance, Don also put a lie to Jim Cutler's belief that Don was a charlatan - an all hat and no cattle illusionist whose fragility and weakness was exposed before the executives from Hershey's. [18] 

For Don, a man who once refused to sign a contract [19], to agree to both become part of McCann and sign a five-year contract to do so may seem surprising, but after watching his protégé slay Burger Chef he knows the future is in good hands. The juxtaposition of Peggy's pitch to Don's iconic Kodak speech [20] is interesting. The latter was delivered at a time when the country was looking hopefully to a new tomorrow, but Don's pitch was all about looking toward the past, about going back to a place where we know we are loved. [21] Now, the country had met its future - literally, men had landed on the moon less than 24 hours before the Burger Chef presentation - but Peggy leaned on the same yearning for a simpler time to close the deal. In a present that felt more disconnected than ever, when the communal experience of staring at the television deadened peoples' lives as the mood music of chaos, war, and unrest filled the screen, she offered the exact form of nostalgia Don did so many years ago - a place where we get what we want - a connection with the ones we love. 

That Don was sitting there as Peggy had the executives eating out of her hand was no doubt a point of pride, but, with the new corporate plan in place, may have been a more concrete handing off of the baton as Peggy assumes a greater role and Don a more secondary one. This generational transition was similarly done in 1963 when Roger spoke of both the decades of work he and Bert had put into the company but also identified Don as his partner "for the next 40 years." [22] Now, just six years later, it is Don who has found a mellower place that will surely be tested as it appears Ted will be returning to New York and another ghost is added to the list of those who seem to haunt him. [23] 

And to you, readers, I want to thank you for reading my recaps and sharing your thoughts about Mad Men as we all look forward to next year.

You can also follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy


1. In Care Of, Season 6, Episode 13. 
2. The Runaways, Season 7, Episode 5. 
3. The firm's creation is dated to the 40th anniversary party held in late 1963. The Gypsy and the Hobo, Season 3, Episode 11. 
3. The press release SCDP issues announcing its severance of ties with American Tobacco notes their nearly thirty years of work for the client. Chinese Wall, Season 4, Episode 11. 
4. The Doorway Part I, Season 6, Episode 1. 
5. Six Month Leave, Season 2, Episode 9. 
6. The Mountain King, Season 2, Episode 12. Of course, Don was on a walkabout in California dealing with his own drama and might have been able to head off the whole thing at the pass. 
7. The nascent elevation of Guy MacKendrick was mercilessly snuffed out by Lois and her rogue driving skills. Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency, Season 3, Episode 6. 
8. Hands and Knees, Season 4, Episode 10. 
9. A Little Kiss Part I, Season 5, Episode 1. 
10. Faraway Places, Season 5, Episode 6. 
11. At the Codfish Ball, Season 5, Episode 7. 
12. Commissions and Fees, Season 5, Episode 11. 
13. Time Zones, Season 7, Episode 1. 
14. The Runaways, Season 7, Episode 4. 
15. The Crash, Season 6, Episode 8. 
16. For Immediate Release, Season 6, Episode 6. 
17. As Don noted, when McCann acquired PPL (and Sterling Cooper) back in 1963, instead of being a cog in that large machine, he, Roger, Bert, and Lane formed their own agency. Now, six years later, they were running into the arms of the suitor they had collectively rejected. Shut The Door, Have A Seat, Season 3, Episode 13, Waterloo, Season 7, Episode 7. 
18. In Care Of, Season 6, Episode 13.
19. Seven Twenty-Three, Season 3, Episode 7. This was the nadir of Don and Roger's relationship, with the former making a condition of his signing a contract that he and Roger have no further contact.  
20. The Wheel, Season 1, Episode 13. 
21. Indeed, instead of going with the obvious pitch of the Kodak Carousel being a "spaceship" Don referred to it as a "time machine." The Wheel, supra. 
22. The Gypsy and the Hobo, supra. 

23. RIP Bertram Cooper, you soup sipping, avant garde art collecting, ball-less wonder. I didn't like your shabby treatment of Don of late, but, like your one-time secretary Ida Blankenship, who you once called an astronaut, you died watching the real ones land on the moon. 


  1. Peggy's pitch and this season were a triumph. Until next year, man. Thank you so much for your fantastic recaps!

    p.d.: "Ball-less wonder", that's pure gold.

  2. Don mostly deserved Bert's love taps since Megan was snatched out of the secretarial pools. But agreed, some instances were shabby - his slap at Don for recruiting the Company Leasing company comes to mind. Don didn't know that Bert told Roger (and may have shaded the truth about it) that "Leadership" was the reason he voted Up to keep Don in the fold. This may have colored his episode-ending of Bert somewhat.