Mad men, “Recap the Recappers,” Waterloo [TV]
Oh, reader, old boy? That’s right, this recap belongs to everyone. The best things in life are free!
So here we are, the final week of Recap the Recappers. A final week to check in on Mad Men‘s seventh season, a meteor that became a tease. What is the lesson from this season? And how many times can a show gain thrills from small-scale corporate mergers? Spoilers follow, but let’s see which critics loved “Waterloo,” and which critics considered it, uh, their “Waterloo.” It’s Mad Men, Recap the Recappers, and it’s now! Thanks for reading.
12. Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter.
Blunt, well-told, beautifully written and superbly acted — everything we expect in a Mad Men episode, and, f you’re looking at the structure as a whole, a wonderful place for a pause. What does this mean for Don? What does this mean for Lou Avery (hopefully something bad)? What does this mean for Roger, who asserts himself as a leader when Cooper told him he wasn’t? What does this mean for Cutler, who is something of a no-talent weasel, or for Ted, who (like Don before him), is burned out and wants out? What does this mean for Joan, who has sold out any principles for the almighty dollar? And what of this New York-California split?
I don’t know. You’re a critic, and this is the finale, why don’t you tell us?
11. Willa Paskin, Slate.
I think [Ted], like Joan, was underserved this season. Ted has been hating on advertising and his life since the premiere, presumably residual ennui from the end of his affair with Peggy, but the distance between clean cut, kindly, responsible Ted and the wild-haired guy who would nihilistically cut his engine with Sunkist in the cockpit is far: It could have used some fleshing out. As is, it feels like a minor sideshow. After all, it took Don all of 20 seconds to get Ted to retra-verse this vast emotional gulf and to agree, once again, to be a fully invested ad-man.
Seems that the more we see of Ted – or the more writers uncover his character – the less impressive he is. As an alter ego to Don, does he serve any real purpose, now that Peggy has wandered back toward her mentor? Or is he supposed to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, who disappoints you at every turn. Better or worse than someone who disappoints you with misapplied nursery rhyme metaphors?
10. Mark Lisanti, Grantland.
We felt a little overdue for a pivotal death; the beast needed feeding before the show disappeared for another year. Would it be Teddy Chaough, so drained of life that even the restorative California sunshine couldn’t brighten his darkened soul? No, the despair card had been played too recently for Lane Pryce. How about Harry Crane, falling dead into Robert Evans’s pool after his heart exploded while trying to impress a struggling actress with his near-superhuman cocaine capacity? Not this time, kiddo. Pete Campbell, because that black cloud circling his head might soon send a bolt of lightning down to scorch his retreating hairline? Never. Pete Campbell will be with us until the bitter shitweasel end, because that’s the way things must be.
Bert’s number was up. He was a giant. A giant who got the farewell he deserved.
9. Sonia Saraiya, AV Club.
And for this show, there is no more powerful moment that says the past is over than killing off Bert Cooper and selling his agency before his body is cold. Bert was the past, and now the show’s sense of past is gone. The future is now, as Cutler intimates to Roger—SC&P is becoming “the ad agency of the future.” And that means the next crop of people to die will be those characters currently left standing in the halls of the Time-Life building. Great moments have a way of boiling down to the exact same feeling—a dawning realization that outside of the hustle to stay alive, the only thing that is waiting for you, for sure, is death.
Sonia nails this; perhaps that’s why Bert’s softshoe (sock?) dance number for Don was so striking, or why it was framed that way. Don realizes that amid his security, the firm’s next chapter, the self-actualization in work, that the only next thing – moon, planet, sun notwithstanding – is death. Bert’s taunting him.
8. Alan Sepinwall, Hitfix.
It can’t be overstated how good John Slattery is in this episode. He’s always great with a one-liner (and his pleasure at kicking Harry out of the partners meeting was a thing of beauty) and also excels in those moments when life forces Roger Sterling to take it more seriously now and again. Cooper’s death, though, brought out a whole new level of both melancholy and empathy in Roger, and Slattery played it wonderfully.
7. Mo Ryan, Huffington Post.
“Mad Men’s” particular kind of humanism — one that loves individuals, outliers and emotional connections more than insiders, blowhards and reliance on data — was all over “Waterloo.” And the moon landing was a brilliant vehicle for that kind of collective resonance and personal accomplishment. What this episode was after was a sense of wonder, and who wouldn’t feel that after seeing Don Draper act like a normal, compassionate, responsible human being. For once, Houston, we did not have a problem.
I suspect Mad Men is Don Draper’s redemptive arc. From insecure, boastful shell to rock bottom to failure to finally, accepting and caring mentor.
6. Starlee Kine, Capital NY.
Cutler’s such an odd man. He displays less emotion than the actual computer. He’s seen behind the curtain of the Don Draper Show and thinks he’s discovered the secret. There’s no great Oz, just a lonely man rotating one idea to the clients after another. If Don’s so unimpressive, though, why is Cutler consumed with destroying him? If Don’s so weak and powerless, how was he able to turn Lou’s entire career into a joke with just one meeting?
Cutler brought such a breath of fresh air to this series in its home stretch. Whether adversary, goofball, or dry wit, Harry Hamlin’s character was a welcome change, right down to his final line of the season. Perhaps Jim Cutler was always the antagonist at CGC, always hoping to poke the Clio-winning bear at SCDP. As we’ve seen throughout Mad Men‘s run, leopards never really change their spots.
5. Julia Turner, Slate.
Still, why Roger? I think perhaps it has to do with the episode’s larger theme. Peggy’s Burger Chef pitch pits chaos against connection. Don’s phone call to Sally pits cynicism against wonder. The moon landing—which to this day remains the most astonishing human achievement of all time—bolsters the case for connection, for wonder, for belief in the possibility of doing something amazing. To place Roger, that glib gadabout, into a heroic role? Well, it’s as unexpected as if he’d literally turned up Sally’s lifeguard suit. It’s a joy to watch him pull it off.
Perhaps SCP’s assimilation into McCann is Roger’s greatest coup and possibly his master stroke as a leader. Not to sound like a TED Talk, but all the characters pushed outside of their comfort zone operated at a stunningly high level. Peggy’s pitch. Don’s humanistic yield of the floor. Roger’s cunning. Even Harry! (Well, not Harry.)
4. Heather Havrilesky, Salon.
There is no escape from the mundane, but in fact, magic comes from the mundane. Magic comes from working very hard on tags (Don) or giving a lonely kid a popsicle and a hug (Peggy), or being with the people you love (Everyone watching the moon landing together), or seeing your understudy nail her client presentation (Don). Magic arises from the small things you do for other people, and from the small moments you experience all by yourself.
Have you ever scrolled through Salon’s front page? Good heavens, it’s a series of texts from the love child of CNBC and Slate, sent from his iPhone 5c from a freshman dorm at Princeton.
“I love television a whole lot, but I’d still rather have the moon.” – Molly Lambert, Grantland. (Photo Courtesy AMC)
3. Molly Lambert, Grantland.
But why not just see the sequence for what it really is: a sentimental showcase for the departing Robert Morse, who starred in the popular 1961 Broadway musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and the 1967 film adaptation. How to Succeed, with its mix of acidic cynicism and hopefulness (not to mention the very restricted gender roles), feels like the template for Mad Men’s first few seasons. Bert’s musical number was an indulgence, but it was an indulgence from a show that just spent seven of its final episodes proving it’d earned indulgences. Trying new things is crucial. How else are you going to get to the moon?
Like most critics, Molly was OK with the final, goofy musical number. Whether a showcase for Robert Morse, the former star of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (always a tongue-in-cheek nod to Mad Men’s period), or an earned indulgence, most critics went along with it. But “trying new things?” We just got the third agency-spinoff cliffhanger in seven seasons of Mad Men! What’s old is new again, and that seems like a lesson the show would like to slyly teach us. Also, as a rule I do not like to quote writers’ final paragraphs, but Molly’s is a thing of beauty. Go read it.
2. Todd VanDerWerff, The AV Club.
That’s interesting, because one of the things I’ve been struck by more and more this half-season is the way the show is signaling how all of these people are being replaced—and will replace others. The most obvious example of this is that giant computer, which Ginsberg ranted about until he finally broke with reality. But there are other examples strewn about the season: Lou Avery had replaced Don, something that both Peggy and the audience assumed might fall to her. Don’s children (personified both by Sally and by Bobby this season) are a new generation of Drapers, ready to step in where their father now stands. We like to think that we’re permanent fixtures, that our families or friends or places of business would not stand if we suddenly disappeared, but that’s not really true. Betty has moved on from Don—he’s just like a bad ex-boyfriend to her now. Megan will move on from Don. And without Don around, SC&P functioned just fine, with nobody really the wiser that the man wasn’t around anymore. We think that Don is important but mostly because he’s the protagonist of the story. Center this story around any other character (except perhaps Roger), and everything would seem that much different.
Todd didn’t earn no. 1, because he invoked China Beach, a show he discussed with another critic (obviously Sepinwall, because who else attempts to demonstrate encyclopedic knowledge of TV as a branding tactic?), and whether Mad Men would reset its table like China Beach for the final seven episodes. Or maybe they’ll reset it like Newhart! Or Quantum Leap! Or The Wire! Or another show tangentially connected that you want to prove you watched!
1. Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture.
Don’s decision to give the Burger Chef pitch back to Peggy after Pete stole it away from her in “The Strategy” was mainly a tactical maneuver (at that point in the story, Don didn’t know if he’d survive Cutler’s attempts to kick him out); but it was also subtly symbolic, as Mad Men gestures often are. It was of a piece with this season’s many explicit nods to the idea of society changing and moving on — giving up on old and useless power constructs, either by force or voluntarily. His continued tendency to barge into meetings notwithstanding, he’s gotten a lot better about not needing to be the star of every moment of his waking life. This is reflected in his pitch to Ted at the partner’s meeting where Roger reveals the McCann deal to buy them out and make them a boutique agency-within-an-agency: They’re both happier being purely creative and not sweating traditional leadership roles.
So it’s a victory for the Mad Men gang, another merger, another bait-and-switch, another profit. But perhaps the lesson of “the best things in life are free” isn’t a reminder of aspiring to the greatness of the moon, or taking comfort in the company of your peers. Perhaps it’s not happiness, perhaps it’s foreboding. I have a nagging feeling that the next 7 episodes of Mad Men won’t find bliss and success at SCDP. Instead, I think they’ll discover that McCann ownership comes with a lot more strings than make them happy. I suspect they’ll find that their offshoot is more demanding, less fun, and far more drudgery than past. I suspect they’ll deal with the reckoning of the end of SCDP, empire, shop, whatever. Roger’s leadership may well be mistake, Don’s temporary happiness fleeting, Peggy’s success swept under rug. The best things in life may well be free. Tons of money and corporate parents may not exactly fit in that concept. Bonus quote!
Every time the show cuts to the Francis household I roll my eyes a little, not because I don’t appreciate Betty (I truly do) but because this is Don Draper’s old, pre-divorce life. Without a dynamic connection to the heart of the series, the workplace, this material often feels shoehorned in, though at its best it’s like another parallel show that happens to be included in the main show, in much the same way that the new agency will be enclosed within McCann, I guess. But the awkwardness is always worth it for Sally, whose continued development is fascinating. Here we see her really coming into her own as an autonomous young woman and struggling to find her own identity even as she’s coping with the onslaught of hormones. I like how she parrots the hunky kid’s party line about the moon landing taking away money that could be used to solve problems here on earth (a common complaint at that time), then ultimately kisses the astronomer.
See you next year!