Mad Men – Fly me to the moon.

May 26th, 2014

(Beware: heavy spoilers ahead)

Viewers in the US end their week with Mad Men, Game of Thrones or (when it was still on the air) True Detective, but over on the continent we begin our weeks with them. And what better way to commence a week with an episode as remarkable as “Waterloo”, which also proves to be a strong (Mid)Season Finale of a show that revolves around people, families, connections and growth.

The episode is written by Carly Wray and Matthew Weiner and directed by Weiner. It takes place around the time of the first manned moon landing on the 20th July of 1969, giving the remaining seven episodes next year six months of the 1960s to round up Mad Men’s experience of a decade in the US, i.a. with ‘perceived’ minorities such as women and “citizens of colour”, as Martin Luther Jr. put it in his 1963 speech, gaining rights and establishing their part in society and turning everything upside down.

Fly me to the moon

The moon landing was broadcast live back in the day. My stepfather often told me the story of how he sat in front of the TV set with his family and the neighbours and really anyone who didn’t have a TV at that time to follow this spectacular event. They’d stay up day and night and everyone was awake to concentrate on what was happening at that precise moment up in the sky when Armstrong went outside to step foot on the moon. A small step, a huge leap … you know it.

In Waterloo we see families, nuclear ones as well as patchwork families and work families, gather around the television set and watching it together. The TV set, as later set out by Peggy in her Burger Chef pitch, brought together families, but also distracted them. It was a part of their home and that home could be messy.

The previous episodes as well as this one point out just how much of family his work environment is for Don. Even as everything is falling apart, his marriage being over, his imminent departure at SCDP lurking around the corner, he spends that miraculous evening with Pete, Peggy and Harry Crane. “The strategy” concluded with a shot of Peggy, Pete and Don eating their family dinner at Burger Chef. He seems content and at ease, a Don we haven’t seen in a while. Partly this was his fault, having alienated his children, in particular Sally when she saw him cheat on his then-wife Megan, and having lost his mojo as work and having to fight to get acknowledged again. Sitting around a hotel television set with his colleagues seems to be where he can be himself. Maybe not the Lone Ranger he used to be, but more of a team player (still in alpha male position, nonetheless). And a litte bit wiser and more perceptive about his surroundings.

Later on he calls his daughter and sons, bonding more with Sally than in a long time. Sally as well as Peggy appear to be the persons with whom Don can truly be open and honest. Don seems to think Megan should belong in this category as well, but the real connection always lay with his daughter and his protegé. It was good to see him being able to talk to his daughter, her being an equal but still his offspring, whom he tells not to be too cynical (like Betty, I suppose. We get to see a lot of Betty in Sally, from her smoking to her cynicism to her beauty, which everyone complements with “You look just like your mother.” What a burden for our young Francis-Draper girl).

We get shots of other families as well, Roger and his first wife, their son-in-law and grandchild watching as the family that needs to stick together, although Roger and Mona Sterling (Slattery’s real-life wife Talia Balsam btw.) had been divorced for at least seven years at that point. After their daughter joined a hippie cult they seem to have joined forces and take responsibility for their family (But that’s a whole other chapter!).

Julio and the landlady

A different kind of family attached to the moon landing is played out prior to the actual landing. Peggy, who had given up her and Pete’s illegitimate son years before, has the frequent visitor Julio, a ten year old neighbour-boy, sitting in front of her TV set. Once he finds out that she won’t be at home on the actual landing date he starts to cry. Not because he can’t see the landing (which still seems important to him), but more so because his mother has planned to move to Newark and take him with her. This scene represents a lot of what Peggy has had to give up for her career and her independency as a woman. The ten year old nearly mirrors the age her biological child would be now, and her loneliness, being a proud rental building-owner and successful creative director, can’t be bypassed. The plumber/craftsman working in her apartment seems surprised by her landlady status, but once he starts scribbling something down on a notepad she gathers herself and expects an exploitation of her female role. It might not be the exploitation she suspected it to be, he only gave her his number. But the way she shifted her attitude between being interested in a guy in her apartment to being cautious and tough in regard to dealing with a craftsman/plumber/carpenter, who might not be doing the job the way he’s supposed to do it owing to the fact that he has to deal with a female rather than male landlord, is quite telling to what treatment Peggy is accustomed to.

Hungry for a connection

At first glance the central pitch seems to be the Burger Chef one, which Don hands over to Peggy, after getting the call that Jay Cutler definitely wants Don out of the company after Bert’s passing.

The acting is superb: From Peggy’s surprise of getting to present the pitch, to her view of the situation right before the pitch, all muffled voices and blurry execs surrounding her. Don looking at her, approvingly and her perfect delivery of the pitch. This was her “carousel”, Don’s most moving and emotional pitch from Season 1. But the main pitch was the one Don gives to Ted Chaough, when all the partners are gathered in Roger’s office. We have all waited for a reformed and newborn Don. We went through Dante’s seven circles of hell with him, we saw him cheat, lie, drink, cheat, sweat. This time (maybe not, but man, do I hope he has indeed changed), this time seems like the moment he got the message and genuinely transformed himself. Ted was 99 % sure that he had to leave the advertisement world. He had a pretty convincing death wish (Pete’s amazing statement: “The clients want to live, Ted!”) and was even referred to as the new Lane Pryce – and we know how that ended. Don’s short, yet effective speech directed right at Ted, making the others seems obsolete, is the pitch that stuck just as powerful as Peggy’s.

Let me just quickly jot that down for you:

Don: “Ted, what if I told you you could just write copy. Don’t find clients. Do not worry about partnership quarrels or stock options. Just go back to creative.”

Ted: “I have that right now, and I’m miserable.”

Don: “No, you don’t. I’ve really lost this last year. And I realized, I would do anything to get back in. And I did anything. I wrote tags. I wrote coupons. Things I hadn’t done since I first got my start. I know you. I know the man who I walked into Chevy with. You don’t have to work for us. But you have to work. You don’t wanna see what happens when it’s really gone.”

Don in both situations is ready to move on from old power structures. With the introduction of new players, the disappearance of the old and aged (sorry Bert), the first steps on the moon and the installation of the IBM machine, the world has changed drastically. And Don seems to join in that change.

The best things in life are free

We can now dreamily dance into a year of blissfully waiting for the final seven episode of a show that excels in writing and execution and brings us random amputations of nipples, soft shoe dancing without shoes and young women seducing the nerds at the outside telescope during the moon landing of 1969.