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'Mad Men' recap: Whose 'Waterloo' was it, anyway? (UPDATED)

By Marisa Nadolny and Kathleen Edgecomb

Publication: theday.com

Published May 26. 2014 2:13PM   Updated May 27. 2014 8:27PM

Dear Marisa,

Don't know about you, but I'm glad we're taking a break. The story is moving too slowly for me and it's getting frustrating. I mean, why did they throw that whole Sally story arc in last night? To show she's turning into her mother?

And didn't they hit us over the head with the whole "we are a community" because we all watched the same event on television? Although millions did watch Armstrong walk on the moon, I don't think that kind of viewing was new. Didn't everyone watch the Kennedys’ funerals together?

At first I thought we were going for the Everyone-Has-Lost-Something theme:

Roger feels like a loser and actually loses Bert Cooper, which I thought was an unceremonious way to oust the old man. Was he wearing shoes when he kicked? We'll never know. Although Don did see the ghost of Burt doing an old soft-shoe routine, minus the shoes. What????

Peggy lost her 10-year-old best friend who is moving to New Jersey.

Don lost Megan.

But then Roger finds out he is a leader and pulls together a merger that will benefit all.

Peggy finds her voice and successfully pitches to Burger Chef: "Everyone is starving, and not just for dinner...”

And, yeah Megan is moving on. Is she the first to dump Don?

There were some shining moments, too:

Rick has no eyelashes, gasp!

Don's just a bully and a drunk, “a football player in a suit.”

Ted doesn't want to be a shill for the man anymore, as he sits in his California office drinking screwdrivers and watching soap operas.

The partners are going to recite Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain,'' when they announce Cooper's demise. One of the best poems, ever.

And my favorite moment was when Roger said he should have known Cooper was going to die: "Every time an old man starts talking about Napoleon, you know he's going to die."

There were a lot of loud phones ringing last night, too.

Yours,

K

***

My poor frustrated KE,

I'll try and offer some sunshine here, as last night's “Mad Men” left me in near rapture, despite it's ominous title of "Waterloo."

Seriously, I nearly cried when Peggy made her Burger Chef presentation. The whole notion of we humans being hungry for connection really struck a chord with me — here's a man on the moon, far, far away, disconnected from our human home and it's sparking family get-togethers and national pride. It seemed such a modern observation for Peggy to make; therapists talk about the benefits of "connection," you know? It's not always part of casual/business conversation, but it’s something we all understand. Peggy, of course, is an excellent observer of human behavior and finds a way to make a bittersweet thing like detachment and connection the foundation of her pitch. Even one of the Burger Chef dudes had to remark, "that's beautiful." I loved it, love her, and love Don for having both the personal and business savvy to put that ball back in her court.

Also, loved that whole image of Peggy in her curlers, bemoaning Indiana's lack of liquor when the pitch lands back at her feet.

I'll never get tired of watching the Sterling Cooper family coalesce, even if it is for something as cliche as watching the moon landing together. Even Peggy's scene with Julio was beyond sweet. Maybe she is the voice of moms, after all ... her concern and comfort to the boy rang very true. I truly didn’t think Peggy had that left in her, and it really made me happy. (AND, she scored hot handyman's number. Yay!)

I really enjoyed that whole sequence of "families" watching Neil Armstrong take his famous walk: from a hotel room in Indianapolis, to Roger's fancy digs complete with little boy in space helmet, to Betty's houseful, to a near solitary Bert Cooper, who went out with a bit of a bang. (And remember when Mrs. Blankenship died? He called her an “astronaut,” and his end in front of more astronauts is quite lovely.)

Here's my thoughts on Sally, which did seem a little ill-fitting at times, but I think there was a nice lesson there. Like most teenagers, Sally's in transition and trying to figure out her place in the world. She's caught between old, little-girl, Glenn-befriending Sally and her adolescent image of Adult Sally — she's trying cigarettes, lipstick, that ridiculous hairstyle and existential detachment on for size, like we all did. When she echoes Handsome Boy's dismissal of the space program as being too expensive and negligent of life's more earth-bound problems to Don (something Handsome Boy likely parroting from someone else), we and he just KNOW that's not the real Sally talking. That's Sally presuming she's saying the right adult thing. Don immediately notices, doesn't buy it, and gently chides her for such cynicism by asking her if that's something she'd like her little brothers to hear and repeat. No shaming, just a question to the real adult that's brewing in Sally. And, of course, Sally being smart Sally, gets it (Don's stock still holds a little value to her) and sets her sights on a more introspective, self-assured boy, Neil. She seals her choice in sensibilities with a kiss.

Here's another weird theme from the episode: money. We've got buyouts, contracts and deals all over the place. When "Benedict Joan" refuses to support Don at the impromptu partners meeting she says it's because she's "tired of [him] costing her money." WTF Joan? And then, when it's clear that the partners will all make some serious dough in the merger, she changes her tune. I realize she's got a baby to take care of, but such blatant money-motivation does not become her. Pete, yeah, I expect that. Jim Cutler, ditto — although greed aside, we see that it doesn't take a whole lot to shake Jim loose from his convictions about where the company should go if he gets paid. Jerk.

And what did softshoe Bert say to us at the episode's end? "The best things in life are free." I wonder if that was a warning of sorts to us all: money isn't everything, and keep that ambition in check, lest we all become Jim Cutlers or half-mad Ted Chaough. Sometimes, maybe it's best to just get back to work.

Mellow,

M.

PS. Robert Morse (Bert) did some time on Broadway, so his fanciful exit from "Mad Men" must be, in part, a nod to his long, storied career.

PPS. While "O Captain" is a lovely poem, the suggestion of it for memorial purposes as delivered by Jim Cutler degrades the intention. Print it.

***

Dear Mellow M,

Wow. You bought that whole we-need-to-connect pitch. Thinking that watching the moon landing is going to bring people together is like thinking that going to Burger Chef will make the family closer. Yes it’s a nice thought, but really, it’s just marketing.

Yes, Betty had a houseful of people watching the moon landing, but when the TV goes off and the lights go on, they'll still be dysfunctional and mean to one another.

And Roger's little blended family — ex-wife, son-in-law, and grandson — all snuggled on the couch seemed cozy, but jeez, I don't think Roger really likes any of them. OK, maybe the kid.

And Bert Cooper — he was watching this historic event by himself — until he yells as his maid to stop vacuuming. And he apparently dies alone, sitting on the couch. I don't know. Didn't seem like any human connection there.

Call me a skeptic, but I didn't get any warm fuzzy feelings. I saw a bunch of lonely, unhappy people who for a brief moment happened to be watching the same thing on television. Wait, did I just describe us “Mad Men” fans?

You see, it's all an ad. Go to Burger Chef and your family will become close. Drive a Chevy and you'll get the girl. Smoke Kools and you will be cool. Watch “Mad Men” and you will be part of a community.

Anyhoo ... sorry I didn't get back to you sooner. I was out in the backyard yesterday with my family — connecting.

Happy-in-reality,

K.

***

My dearest K,

Forgive me for the delay in getting back to you this morning. I was busy crying my fool eyes out after your massive reality check. Now, if I’m not mistaken, didn’t we BOTH get a huge kick out of following the royal wedding on television a few years ago? Didn’t we discuss with relish the queen’s lovely yellow ensemble, etc? Like Don, I’m going to attempt to call you out for uncharacteristic cynicism. As the resident Gen Xer here, cynicism is MY job, thank you very much.

And see that’s the thing. I’m no consumer/capitalist cheerleader and tend to dismiss most popular culture as crap. But when good stuff like “Mad Men” emerges, I’m in and I’m thrilled to see good art reach so many people.

As for your excellent points about marketing and commercialism, sure, I suppose once the lights go up, everyone will go on being jerks to one another, but isn’t that simple moment of togetherness and connection worth anything? Dunno. The ad men can go about their pitches in any number of ways, but Peggy and Don types find the aesthetic in the mundane, instead of shoving cartoon rabbits or Crazy Eddie (remember him?) down our throats. Adverts aren’t going away, but they CAN at least try not to insult the customer in the process. Of course it’s all marketing, but a little artistic touch never hurt anyone – even if it’s on a Sunday night in front of the television. I think these moments of connection and art cumulatively make us better thinkers, writers, observers of humanity. You don’t have to buy into something to realize its value one way or another.

But allow me to lighten up a bit and point out a few of my favorite moments from the episode. First, as Sally and Neil share their sweet little kiss, the moment is unceremoniously broken by Neil mom, who shouts into the night “Get in here! It’s bedtime!” So much for any budding mojo there!

And Roger, in making his case for the McCann buyout, notes that Jim Cutler won’t stop until the company is only “Harry Crane and the computer.” Truth.

Speaking of Harry, great moment #3 came when Harry, on the verge of partnership, loses out on it once again. Instead of taking the initial deal and forgoing negotiation like Don advised, Harry delayed too long and missed the boat. When he attempts to insert himself in the meeting and asks what’s going on, Roger dismisses him with a “none of your beeswax. Get out.” HA!

And speaking of Roger, do you buy him as a leader?

PS. As for Bert Cooper's solitary death, I think that's a demonstration of a generation fading away on its own terms. Bert wasn't buying a lot of what the future was selling -- including hippie love, togetherness, etc. He probably preferred a solo samurai death.

Another cup of coffee, another piece of pie,

M.

***

Dear M, 

Perhaps I came on too strong. I agree advertising is creative and can be artistic, too. But it is propaganda and that irks me. 

But with that said, I love "Mad Men" and the issues it makes us ponder and then discuss.

Yours in community,

K.

***

Mdme. K, 

No harm, no foul. Here's an example of advertising NOT sucking me in: I'm SO not watching that computer drama, "Halt and Catch Fire," that AMC mercilessly promoted throughout this "Mad Men" season. For one, I couldn't give less of a care about the birth of the PC, and for another, if the network is going to smack me over the head with that much promotion, I must go full-on contrary and ignore it. I call this the "'American Idol' gauntlet." Anything THAT much in my face can't possibly be any good. 

See? Lots of anti-propaganda sentiment in this girl! 

Just tell me one more thing and I'll go away: is the new Sterling Cooper going to make it? I worry; I think Bert's song and dance wasn't inserted in there to be merely cute (although I fear as much; god forbid Matt Weiner throws in some "Lost"-ian or "Sixth Sense" twist in there!). I just wonder if Bert was trying to tell Don more than just to stop and smell the roses.

Luvies,

M.

***

Well Luvie,

I agree on the “Halt and Catch Fire” promos. Doesn’t look or sound good to me. And another thing, the networks always promote new shows as the best new — comedy, drama, game show — whatever when the first episode has yet to go the air. Now that’s propaganda.

So, not sure about the success of the new Sterling Cooper. But here’s my prediction: Peggy marries the fix-it man; she ascends to a big time corporate position and is the bread winner; they have a couple kids; he becomes Mr. Mom because he has a more flexible schedule. He buys up apartment buildings in the neighborhood and rehabs them. They never move to the suburbs.

Don just keeps working and dies young from lung cancer.
Roger has a heart attack or stroke and his ex-wife takes care of him for the rest of his life.

Sally gets married, has a couple kids, stays in the suburbs and remains as miserable as her mother ever was.
’Til we meet again in 2015. Yikes, that sounds like a long way off.
K

***

Au revoir, sweet Kathleen! Until we meet again!

Heart,
M.

We're on twitter: @edgecombday and @TheMDesk.

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