“The moon belongs to everyone!” Mad Men reaches season seven halftime
And we’re at the halfway mark for the strangest season of Mad Men yet. Season seven started elegantly, and has reached the end of the first part of the final season, mixing the epic drama of the ad agency with some of the more surreal moments in the history of the program. Matthew Weiner gave himself the challenge of concluding quite an expansive story, and I believe he is en route to accomplishing what most television directors can’t these days, and with a flare that we never would have expected.
Expectations were running pretty high for this halftime finale, folks wondering about the ad pitch for Burger Chef, the aftermath of the computer at SC&P, and of course the ultimate fate of Don Draper. But no one expected the occurrences in this truly incredible (and story dense) episode.
The installment began with Draper seeing a letter penned by Cutler urging Don’s removal from the company, and in California Ted nearly losing it whilst piloting a plane with potential clients. Draper and Pete seemed to finally unite against Cutler’s automatization of the company (no one likes Harry Crane), and Sterling tried to get Cooper on his side about Don’s behavior. Right at the start, tensions were high, all of this overshadowed by the impending pitch to Burger Chef. Peggy had a sweet moment with Julio, realizing she had missed out on motherhood, and then all of a sudden the entire cast was glued to the television to watch Neil Armstrong land on the moon. As another critic pointed out, it was a genius move to have the cast react to this momentous occasion, reactions speaking louder than conversations.
The moon landing gave each character a change in perspective. Suddenly, Don realized he’d been out of the game too long, and offered Peggy the chance to do the pitch, handing over his mantle so as to begin moving forward. Her pitch was inspired, harkening back to Don’s Kodak pitch many seasons ago, a truly remarkable piece of television work that reminded us why we fell for Mad Men in the first place. And Sally, having seen the expanse of space, fell for a nerd (watch the episode for some of Kiernan Shipka’s best acting to date).
There was considerable heartbreak, though. As Armstrong took his first step, Cooper took his last, passing away just after witnessing the giant leap. Sterling had one of the best moments of the episode, a somber, silent moment taking Bert’s name off his office door, quickly followed by Cutler’s most aggressive and inhuman one (the moment he found out he tried to use it to get rid of Don for good). All of this in one incredible evening, written and performed flawlessly.
The only weak part of the episode was Sterling’s decision to finally sell the agency to McCann Erickson, the looming nemesis of SC&P. As plot arcs go, this is one that undoes a lot of story told up until this point, and acts mainly as a way to thwart Cutler and keep Don Draper from leaving. Roger as a true leader of the company should be excellent to see, but the acquisition by McCann more or less smooshes many smaller developments in the show. Not to mention a very, very short marriage ending conversation between Megan and Don. It all seems too neat and tidy, which could be false security (let’s hope so).
After all’s said and done, though, the most beautiful moment of the entire episode, and maybe of the season, came right at the end, when Don walked away from Cooper’s death announcement to the company, only to hallucinate a song and dance number by none other than Bert himself. Some have speculated that his spectacular send off was put in as an homage to the actor’s musical theater career, but I believe it was Weiner loosening the hinges on the whole shebang. Don’s seen things before, and imagining Bert singing “The Best Things In Life Are Free” with five backup secretarial dancers only further proves that Draper may fall apart completely. Stylistically, it was surreal and comical, but rather bittersweet, as the final shot showed Don alone, experiencing a fantasy of something he may never get, the best things in life Bert sang about. It was a brilliant sendoff for the character, and an inspired premonition into the final episodes of what will go down in history as the greatest show on TV.