Aren’t we delighted as events play out, and Jim Cutler is foiled in his attempts to oust Don? And who could’ve imagined that it would be Roger to turn the tables on cold, calculating and cagey Cutler!
This juicy jaunt entertains with everything expected of Matt Weiner. “Story” is crucial as AMC TV loves to remind us, and it is echoed in Peggy’s pitch (set up by Don), with the fates of our favorite characters altered in admirable manner.
I’ll offer a tidy round of applause for Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Robert Morse, and Elisabeth Moss in particular, delivering delicious performances in a tight, light, and supremely satisfying “semi-end” to the season.
Moon Landing, Anyone?
The moon landing on July 20, 1969 is an ideal vehicle for focusing the viewers on the status of our main characters. Moreover, Matt Weiner uses an historic and mesmerizing moment to illustrate that amidst social upheaval and Vietnam gore, the nation shared a singular experience of wonder as Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface.
We observe: Don, Peggy, Pete and Harry watching from the edge of their beds in the middle of Indiana; the Francis-Draper Clan with friends and kids gather around the TV console; Roger and ex-wife Mona are enjoying this time watching with their grandson. We remember this event brought people together, restored a measure of perspective, and sparked a certain hopefulness.
Don’s desire to reach out and connect with his children rings real to me: he speaks first to Sally, wants her to appreciate this achievement and not be (falsely) cynical about it. And then he asks to speak to her brothers.
Of course, Don’s feeling especially cut off at the moment, certain he’s about to be axed from SC&P just when he thought he was safe again, and having just been given the very subtle heave-ho by Megan only hours earlier. He needs this bigger picture, this sign of something more significant, and the connection to his children in the face of pending losses.
The elder statesman of the agency? Bert Cooper sits on his living room couch in a red robe next to his black maid. (Behind him, I couldn’t help but jealously note what appears to be a Pollock!) Is that all the family he has? (We learn later that apparently there’s a sister.)
Surprise, Surprise: A One-Two Punch
One of the pleasures of this episode is its returning emphasis on the primary players, and also the elements of surprise delivered as a one-two punch. Cutler dares to try to take down Don, with a letter on his desk at the office informing him he’s fired due to breach of contract. (He stepped in without approval and tried to save the Commander cigarettes deal.)
The minutes that follow the arrival of that letter? The adrenaline-fueled reaction? Don is every inch a man who is fighting for survival. He bellows: “Roger, get out here!” and “Joan, get out here!” Then “Find Pete!” And as the partners gather spontaneously, a quick show of hands saves his job.
Phew! That was close! But what’s up with Mrs. Harris who votes against keeping our hero? That little twist is followed by Roger terming her “Benedict Joanie” as she, to our surprise, sides with pushing Don out. She says it’s because she’s tired of him costing her money. (But why did she really vote that way? Is another reason for animosity lurking?)
And the next surprise comes hard and fast, as Roger receives a phone call just after the moon landing that Bert has passed away, apparently sitting on his couch.
Cue the coup… Bert isn’t dead one hour when Cutler is ready to bury both him and Don. (Joanie, meanwhile, though she comforts Roger, will have the obituary ready in an hour… Say what?)
So we’re on the edge of our seats once again, wondering how in the heck DD will manage to be rescued this time. Can he rescue himself? Doesn’t he need allies?
As in any good battle, it takes more than strategy. Leadership is key, and Bert has already given Roger a lecture on the topic.
Roger Steps Up
Kudos in this episode go to John Slattery and Elisabeth Moss. Roger finally steps up to the plate and flexes his muscle at more than lifting a cocktail glass (or the latest drug). Certainly, his last dealings with Bert light a fire under his typically lackadaisical derriere:
He storms into Bert’s office: “What are we going to do about Cutler?”
Bert says: “No man has ever come back from leave… not even Napoleon” and he reminds Roger that while he doesn’t care for the man, “Cutler has a vision… You have talent and skill and experience… but you’re not a leader.”
Roger leaves irritated, and his last words to Bert are:
… Let’s have another cup of coffee; let’s have another piece of pie…
Incidentally, that’s a line from a 1932 Irving Berlin song, as I interpret it, a bit like “don’t worry, be happy.”
Bert’s final observations on Roger’s lack of leadership combined with the elder’s quiet demise motivate Mr. Sterling. He pursues his contact at competitor McCann-Erickson, and he brokers a deal in which he can save Don, make a few million, and oust Cutler at the same time.
John Slattery gives us angry Roger, grieving Roger, and clever Roger. What a pleasure to see this character (and actor) allowed to fly.
Peggy Steps Up
Elisabeth Moss gets my nod for best performance of the evening. She hits a high note in every scene, from her dealings with the handsome handyman as she misreads his intentions, to the range of emotions on her face in consoling 10-year-old Julio.
When the child tells her he’s moving to Newark because his mother got a job there and he doesn’t want to go, he wraps his arms around Peggy’s waist and hangs on.
She’s utterly caught off-guard, and struggles for what to say: “Maybe you’ll have a yard.”
He tells her his mom doesn’t care about him. Peggy says: “Yes she does, that’s why she’s moving” adding that she’ll visit him all the time. But Julio knows better and replies: “No, you won’t.” And of course, he’s right.
In this brief exchange, Elisabeth Moss’s expression covers the gamut: surprise, confusion, regret, discomfort, and possibly in spite of herself, a measure of maternal love… which she then uses to her advantage in a reference shortly thereafter, when she plunges into the Burger Chef pitch.
Peggy has learned from the master, including how to do it her way – quietly and heartfelt, then commanding and confident as she takes the floor.
Peggy’s Pitch (Perfect)
Isn’t Peggy pitch perfect as she begins her presentation with reference to the moon landing?
… I can’t tell a better story than the one I saw last night… All of us were doing the same thing at the same time… the pleasure of that connection… We were starved for it. We’ll feel it again when they all return safely.
… Tonight I’ll go back to New York and find a 10-year old boy parked in front of my TV eating dinner… Most television sets are not more than 6 feet away from the dinner table. That dinner table is your battlefield… and your prize.”
The Burger Chef crowd is nodding. Peggy mentions Vietnam in the background, the news winning out, and
… You’re starving, and not just for dinner… What if there was another table where everyone gets what they want when they want? It’s bright, it’s clean, there’s no laundry and no TV. And we can have the connection that we’re hungry for. There may be chaos at home but there’s family supper at Burger Chef.
Bingo! (And might we substitute Smartphone, iPad or laptop for TV in this day and age?)
Final Notes and Mentions
- What’s not to love about Cutler dissing Lou as he’s bitching about Don? He says “We don’t owe you anything. You’re a hired hand.” Nice, Jim. Very nice. (We must admit that Harry Hamlin is coolly convincing in his portrayal of this unlikeable character.)
- Sally appears as a mini-version of her mother in this episode, complete with the emergence of a shapely figure, a bouffant flip, her eye for the young men, and a stance with cigarette that is quintessential Betty. Ironically, though an 18-year-old handsome hottie (with perfect pecs) is in the picture, she turns to the geeky younger brother and plants a kiss on his 13- or 14-year old lips.
- Harry, Harry, Harry. Can’t help myself. I’m happy to see this annoying character will not become a partner, though let’s give it to him for growing a pair in recent years, and understanding that computers are essential in the future.
- Peggy and Don together again. If Episode 6 gave us a poignant taste, this evening sealed the deal. Don’t we smile seeing this pair in synch, and Don finally giving his protegé the respect she’s due?
- Handling of the farewell between Megan and Don was understated and satisfying. Rather than hitting us over the head with something crazy, silence on Megan’s part says it all, when Don mentions moving to California. The marriage is done, and their closing conversation feels true to each character.
Don: “I’ll always take care of you.”
Megan: “I’ll be fine”
Don: “Until you are, whatever you need… I owe you that.”
Megan: “You don’t owe me anything… Goodbye, Don.”
Well done, Matt Weiner. No lawn mowers, no plane crashes, no real (Manson) mad men required.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
What’s next for the series final seven episodes to come in 2015?
That’s hard to say, though this viewer would wish for more of what we enjoy most – a lighter touch, solid plot, unexpected humor – might Bert and Blankenship be hanging in heaven together? – and please give us more machinations in the ad business. I also vote for fewer scattered scenes involving peripheral characters, and realistic resolution to some of the relationships.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have some sort of closure on Roger, Joan, and child? And what about Peggy as a mother, and the baby she had with Pete?
Cue the serial teasers:
Will Don ever find peace, and the sense of family he desires?
Will SC&P succeed as a subsidiary of McCann-Erickson with Roger at the helm?
Will we fast-forward into 1970 or later? Will we see more Betty? Will we see more Sally? Will Bert’s sister make an appearance to shake things up?
Personally, I love the gentleness in the final scene with Robert Morse as his sixties song-and-dance man “self.” Not only does he depart to the music of “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” but his impish grin is remarkably reminiscent of his performance in the 1967 musical about Big Biz in Manhattan, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
The last image of the season takes me back to the starkness of the scene at the close of Season 5 – Pete, Don, Joan, Bert, and Roger – their backs to the camera in the face of the agency’s expansion, and silhouetted against the New York sky.
But in this instance, Don Draper is alone. He remains on the first floor as staff gathers above to hear news of the changes. He leans against a desk, head bowed. The hero is dwarfed by the size and emptiness of his environment, and we imagine him feeling everything… fatigue, sadness, and relief.
You May Also Enjoy