Mad Men, Ep. 7.07: “Waterloo” caps off a strong half-season with flourish

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Mad Men, Season 7, Episode 7: “Waterloo”
Written by Carly Wray & Matthew Weiner
Directed by Matthew Weiner
Aired Sundays on AMC at 10pm EST

Mad Men has come and gone in 2014, given the impossible task of handling one of the series’ biggest shake-ups in the space of seven episodes. With Don Draper out of a job (kind of), the journey from episode one to episode seven has involved some seriously moving pieces, almost all of which have contributed to the Mad Men story in major ways and see their natural breaks or conclusions here in “Waterloo”. The episode, which uses as its period and thematic center the moon landing, has everything this show has to offer, from death to rebirth. Its emotional poignancy comes from familiar Mad Men routes by letting certain characters reach and understand points themselves, but it also provides departures worth contemplating (see: Don Draper’s face above). Speaking in general, arbitrary terms, this probably isn’t the strongest Mad Men (mid-)season finale, but this isn’t a series that deals in that kind of product—trying to craft individual episodes. It is, simply and powerfully, the end to another chapter in Matthew Weiner’s magnum opus.

Three stories that aren’t Roger’s machinations to have SC&P bought by its competitor stand out in rather striking ways, beginning with the dissolution of Don and Megan’s marriage. After a season six in which Don spent much of his recreational time cheating on Megan with Sylvia, these episodes have shown what happens to this couple when both have come to understand one another. Megan, better than anyone (having been Don’s secretary and wife), gets Don. She knows—relatively—what motivates him, what annoys him, and what his basic wants are. That she was willing to put up with his actions from last year and try to mend their marriage here is a huge testament to that initial love they had for each other way back at the end of season four, one full of spontaneity and hope (from their perspectives; certainly not from ours).

And, really, Don has been trying as well. When he first told Megan about being put on leave and she thought he had been spending his time sleeping around again, he pleaded with her that he had been “good”. Indeed, women (and that includes Megan, unfortunately) have been so far removed from his mind this year as sexual objects that it’s factually incorrect to hold onto the opinion that Don Draper is a character who doesn’t change. If Don is going to go back to being the genius creative director he needs to be though, that means Megan gets lost in the crossfire. Their phone conversation in “Waterloo” is among the more heartbreaking moments of the series, as it is an example of two people reaching a point of helpless acknowledgment.

There was a time when both characters loved each other, but Don can’t be the husband Megan wants him to be and Megan can’t be where Don would prefer. She belongs to California now, much like her precedent (Anna Draper) did. Don even offers to take care of her in a similar way. “I owe you that,” he says. “You don’t owe me anything,” Megan responds, in what is—for my money—the episode’s biggest gut-punch. I can’t imagine Megan being a part of the final seven episodes, since this is the perfect conclusion to her arc. Better to think about what she has meant to Mad Men as an alternative to a character like Betty and how both her life and Don’s have been affected permanently because of their tumultuous relationship.

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The second of “Waterloo”‘s surprisingly heartfelt moments comes in Peggy’s interactions with Julio, her neighbor. Throughout his various appearances in these episodes, Julio has been a wonderful source of comic relief, imposing his presence on Peggy by using her television and (apparently) eating all her popsicles. Among the many important threads in Mad Men that Weiner has seemingly put on the back-burner indefinitely, Peggy’s pregnancy and child are only ever dealt with peripherally or through subtext. Since season one, Pete and Peggy have interacted numerous times, but they have done so without directly acknowledging their history or Peggy mentioning her pregnancy specifically.

These sequences with Julio, however, are certainly better informed by that knowledge of Peggy’s backstory. Knowingly or not, Peggy has been a better mother to Julio than his biological one (based on his information; unless I’m drawing a huge blank, we haven’t seen his mother). When he tells Peggy he doesn’t want to leave, she tells Julio that they’re probably moving because Julio’s mother loves him. But Julio says “She don’t care about me,” and Peggy can do nothing but hold him and cry for a moment. Most of her time in Mad Men has been used to let Peggy grow into an independent, strong, driven character. She may be thirty, but she’s accomplished a great deal in that time, so if she doesn’t fall into the nuclear family concept, that’s because she has become the modern working woman.

That said, some kind of dependence or external presence is clearly lacking in her life. After stabbing Abe and being cast aside by Ted, she’s not been given someone else to share her life with—and it really does seem like a lonely life being at SC&P—and the suggestion that that absence might be a child she can help raise and support is not surprising given that Peggy is more of a leader than a partner.

This is evidenced by her presentation to Burger Chef, which she knocks out of the park after Don drops it on her with just a few hours to prepare. Don knows how to bring out the best in Peggy, and Peggy rises to his challenges with aplomb. She is at once captivating and and controlling as she delivers the “Family Supper at Burger Chef” material, genuinely getting into the heads and hearts of the company’s representatives. Through smart utilization of the moon landing and an understanding of the contemporary, chaotic household and dinner table, she pitches the hell out of it and rightfully wins the account.

It took five episodes of Peggy being kind of pathetic for her to reach a clearing with Don last week and to step into herself completely in this finale, and even if those aspects of the first episodes dragged a little bit, the moments in these later ones more than make up for it. They prove why she is best suited to the role of Mad Men‘s second character, because the things she shares with its first character and how those two inform one another makes for the most narratively rich pairing in the series. Whatever happens with the buyout and whatever place Don finds himself in when we return next year, one thing is certain: Peggy will be doing just fine in her job.

So, to get to that buyout: it’s also worth noting Roger’s resurgence as an important character this season and as a loyal ally to Don Draper. It takes the death of Bert Cooper to force him to deal with his lack of leadership, but once he does, he honors Bert’s memory by crafting a vision of his own—one that doesn’t allow Jim Cutler to break up the agency that Roger and Don have worked so hard to create and maintain. As with last season’s merger with CGC, the inner-workings of Roger with McCann and his getting them to buy SC&P as a subsidiary are legitimately exciting in a way that Mad Men rarely goes to with its advertisement plots. Usually, the most memorable episodes of the series are made so through character-based moments (both positive and negative, Joan’s and Lane’s biggest ones falling into the latter category), so it’s wonderful to see “Waterloo” have another Big Picture thread that lands well alongside great character beats from multiple areas.

After essentially losing his daughter to a hippie commune, Roger’s been challenged as much as anyone in the season, feeling pressure in both personal and professional areas. The most admirable response to that is the one we see from him, which is standing by his beliefs and his friends and making sure he leaves a legacy he’s proud of before he’s ready to begin thinking about getting out of the business. Within the finale, it’s a powerful punctuation mark of a decision for all the partners. Looking ahead, it’s the perfect way to introduce the final batch of episodes. There may be a lot of bad blood between some of these people, but Roger has found a way to work around that to create a situation that works out for everyone.

– Sean Colletti

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Other Thoughts:

— RIP, Bert Cooper. I’m not even going to try to unpack that closing musical number, because I’d rather it just exist on its own. It’s a beautiful piece of work that many will undoubtedly have issues with for deviating from the tone and boundaries of realism in Mad Men, but oh well. It’s as good a send-off as any for Cooper and ties in nicely—”The moon belongs to everyone”—with what the finale is doing as a whole.

— I never want to go into a plane with Ted.

— Cutler’s dismissal of Lou with “Get back to work” and the wave of his hand is something I wanted so badly to see. Thank you.

— A few Pete Campbell moments that make me happy he is such a dick, because it’s so fun to watch:

1) “I have a joke, too.” “No you don’t.” To be fair, Harry’s jokes probably aren’t that great.
2) “Lane Pryce.” Too soon, Pete. Too soon.
3) “I haven’t heard anything.” “About what?” “Burger Chef!” Pete doesn’t understand why everyone else isn’t waiting anxiously to hear back.
4) “I’ve got ten percent!” In the immortal words of Bert Cooper: bravo.

— It wasn’t Pete being a dick, but another Campbell Classic: “That is a very sensitive piece of horse flesh! He shouldn’t be rattled.”

— Awkward Sally is awkward around Sean (hey!) and wears lipstick. She also smokes like her mother and kisses Neil, who doesn’t know what to do after that.

— Awkward Meredith is even more awkward around Don. “I am your strength.” What can she do for Don? “You can get my attorney on the phone.” The way she holds out the handkerchief as Don simply doesn’t care enough to look her way is probably the best part of that entire sequence.

— “I’m deeply unimpressed, Don.” Cutler has been backstage, but he doesn’t know Don as well as he thinks he does.

— The animosity between Joan and Don (mostly on Joan’s side) is kind of unearned. Hopefully, this is something that either gets dropped completely or addressed directly next year. I don’t need Joan acting petty after her wonderful scene with Bob Benson.

— As is the case with season finales, Weiner directs here. The shot which stands out the most to me is Weiner pulling the camera down behind Peggy’s head at the beginning of that presentation scene while she’s having difficulty hearing everything going on in the room.

— “Where are you going?” “Back to work.” Back to work indeed, Don Draper. For all its focus on recurring flaws and its relatively somber material, this has been a very optimistic set of episodes for Mad Men. Here’s hoping that trend continues into the final stretch and that Don is able to get back to being Don Draper without any unnecessary obstacles.

— That’s it for Mad Men this year. While the seven-seven split allows the series to stick around for another year, this half-season has gone by too quickly for me. In any case, thank you for reading along. No doubt you’ll be seeing these episodes represented in some form or another when it comes time to year-end lists. Until then!

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