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May 27, 2014 - 1:51am

'Mad Men' RECAP: Finale shoots for the moon



Chloe Gilke: While most of this season saw the careful structures of power and politics torn down and uprooted, mid-season finale "Waterloo" proved that there is hope for building something beautiful from the wreckage. The episode started with unease across the board — Don's job in jeopardy and marriage officially in shambles, Bert Cooper's death, fear for the safety of the moon travelers and Peggy lamenting the impending loss of surrogate son Julio. But, Roger saved the day with a buyout from McCann Erickson, Peggy's flawless pitch won BurgerChef's business and Neil Armstrong & Co. made it to the moon safe and sound. Not to mention, Robert Morse delivered the first musical song and dance to make me cry since the graduation episode of "Glee." "Waterloo" put angst on hold to showcase the optimism, pride and spirit of change that the moon landing inspired. Peggy put it best — that fervent hunger for connection.

Akshay Seth: It was brilliant on Weiner's part to use the moon landing as a way to weave together every character's story arcs to close out the season. After a season filled with episodes concentrating on specific personalities, it was refreshing to switch so fluidly between all the different dynamics that make this show stand out. The most intriguing of those, especially coming off last week's absolutely killer episode and the official Burger Chef pitch looming hours away, was the Peggy-Don relationship. Don's decision, upon learning he may finally get the sack, to pass it back to Peggy as a way of ensuring she may hold on to the business should he leave, was surprising on many levels. It underscores Don's respect for Peggy's considerable ability and is a much-needed confirmation that he's finally beginning to make amends for his actions last season. Also of course, it set up Peggy for that Draper-caliber, smile-inducing pitch (and Elisabeth Moss for the best Emmy highlight reel I've seen in recent times).  

Maddie Thomas: The triumphant moon landing was the perfect cap on these seven episodes, which saw Don rise from the ashes to regain (most of) his glory. Professionally, Don has, against all odds, succeeded. But that pitch from Peggy is a firm reminder that it's almost time to pass on his creative legacy. The concept of Peggy becoming Don's successor has existed ever since Elisabeth Moss was billed second in the credits of “Mad Men” ’s very first season, but wow, it’s gratifying to finally see that transformation happen for real. Despite Don’s professional success, his personal life took a few hits this week, including a final, graceful breakup with Megan over the phone. “Waterloo” ’s images of family togetherness — Betty and the children at the Francis household with friends, Roger and Mona on their couch with Marigold's son — only underline Don Draper’s new reality: he may have managed to regain his status on Madison Avenue, but now, outside of his work, he is truly alone. 

Chloe Gilke: Don and Peggy also found themselves facing similar situations, with their "families" fallen to pieces and their reinstated office power as a source of "connection." Finally, we saw the consequences of Peggy's choices back in season 1 catch up with her. Perhaps the most Emmy-worthy moment was her heartbreaking hug with Julio, which brought up all of Peggy's memories about the child she gave up to pursue her career. Her reassurance that Julio's mother did love and care about him was more a mantra to herself than comfort for the boy. After seasons of avoiding that plotline, revisiting it before her big, heroic Burger Chef pitch was especially poignant. Also, though there was nothing on the level of last week's slow dance, Don and Peggy had some lovely moments in this episode — sharing the only two beers in Indiana while watching the moon landing, his proud smile as she delivered that flawless pitch. Even if we have to wait ten months for another episode, I'm happy leaving "Mad Men" with the Peggy-Don supportive dream team back in full.

Akshay Seth: And just when we thought Roger Sterling was out of the game for good, he became another person in this episode I actively rooted for — the sole SC&P partner who acted to preserve the agency after Bert Cooper's untimely death and Jim Cutler's attempts to ice out Don for good. As you pointed out, the theme of family preservation was apparent in this entire finale. Accordingly, Sterling's actions to safeguard whatever tattered notion of family/the old guard he could still cling to after losing Cooper were propelled by the almost childlike quote he uttered to Don: "I don't want to lose you too." It'll be interesting seeing how well Sterling is able to adapt in filling Cooper's place as president. In the meantime though, we should probably start writing those dissertations on why Morse is a better dancer than I will ever be. It was definitely the most bizarre thing Weiner has thrown at us since the infamous Ginsburg nipslip, but I think the message, tied up in the "money can't buy you happiness" song choice is clear — you're not out of the shit yet, Dick.  

Maddie Thomas This was a great episode for Roger. It seems like maybe Bert's death finally inspired him to re-evaluate his priorities. Also, I totally agree with you — Bert's final dance was so weirdly perfect. The song lyrics, especially, tying the moon to yet another of "Mad Men" 's great themes, was the bow on top of this neatly wrapped seven-episode arc. Since we're already ruminating on familial ties, I'd like to add that Sally's story this episode was so wonderfully telling (and youthful!) Her hair and make-up, her choice in who to kiss and her final drag of a cigarette were phenomenal moments showcasing how she really is the product of both of her parents, whether she likes it or not. Switching gears, though, for an episode with a title like "Waterloo," the actual battles fought in the offices of SC&P were fairly tame. The most confusing part of the attempted shutout of Don Draper was Joan’s stance. Am I forgetting a major plotline that could’ve made her despise Don as much as she seems to? Or is she truly just all about the bottom line? 

Chloe Gilke: I also thought it was pretty strange that Joan would be so ambivalent about letting Don go, especially given their history (he comforted her post-divorce, they shared the occasional flirtation). I think since his over-sharing incident last season, she's just been slow to trust him again (their interactions in the last few episodes have been awfully cold and businesslike). Speaking of strictly business, Megan finally broke up with Don, and like a true pro. She let him stumble over his words a bit (poor Don was disappointed that Megan saw "The Wild Bunch" without him), but her silence communicated everything. She wasn't interested in a reunion or his return to L.A. or that myth of a happy family he could only offer from thousands of miles away. Don already picked his mistress — advertising. Though, that didn't stop dim, misguided Meredith from trying to kiss him (in the second most awkward kiss of the episode. Sally and Neil by the telescope?!)

Akshay Seth: "What do I do now?" is my new favorite pickup line by the way, and also probably the greatest bit of dialogue I've seen this entire season. In any case, this kind-of final episode ended on a much more hopeful note than I had anticipated. I'm not sure what that means in the grander scheme of things, but one thing is for certain: Weiner loves toying with his viewers. Leading up to this finale, the internet was ablaze with rumors of Don getting fired and beginning his descent into obscurity. Weiner addressed those concerns in the very beginning of the episode, and though the firing was a constant threat for the entire 47 minutes, you got the distinct sense that even if it happened, Don would be OK with it. He seemed much more concerned in ensuring his relationship with Peggy, the undeniable future of the company, his legacy, remained intact.

Maddie Thomas: I suppose we were looking for trouble in the wrong places. Obviously it’s gratifying to see Don succeeding at his job, because we root for that handsome face, but it’s even more satisfying knowing that, going into a ten-month hiatus, Don’s professional life is on track. He’s got his status back, he’s got his mojo back and he’s about to make some serious bank from the sale to McCann Erikson. It’s exciting because that means the last seven hours of this series will draw focus to Don’s personal life. It’s time for Don to find his own moon — and as hallucination-Bert reminds him in song-form, money’s not the way to do it. Weiner has been describing this first chunk of episodes as “The Beginning” and the final seven as “The End.” If Don’s professional resurrection is only the beginning, then the last seven episodes are sure to be monumental — maybe even more monumental than a mutilated nipple or a dead guy soft-shoeing.