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"Mad Men" Meets Its "Waterloo" With a Song in Its Heart

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire May 26, 2014 at 12:14PM

"Mad Men" ends its seventh season on a high note, but does that leave it anywhere to go but down?
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Mad Men

The seventh season of "Mad Men" his its midway point, and its last episode until 2015, with a song in its heart -- specifically, "The Best Things in Life Are Free," which Bert Cooper returned from the grave to croon to a teary-eyed Don Draper. It was a surprising move, to say the least, and one not without its detractors -- my own take on that, and the rest of the episode, is here -- but there's no question it left us with a strong image to contemplate over the long break until the show's finale seven episodes.

In its final season, "Mad Men" has knocked off characters and finalized stories with greater aplomb than any show since "The Wire": They'll be done with every one of them in seven hours, so why not give Ginsberg a psychotic break, or send Bert Cooper off to the great agency in the sky? But "Waterloo" also ended with a heavy note of uncertainty beneath its moment of triumph. Don Draper has kept his job, and made himself and SC&P's other partners millionaires in the process, but is that what he wants? And if not, what does he want? In the language of Peggy Olson's Burger Chef pitch, a rival and a deliberate bookend to Don's iconic carousel speech, what's he starving for? We'll have to wait until 2015 to find that out, as well as to find out whether Don's appetite will, or can, ever be satisfied.

Reviews of "Mad Men's" "Waterloo"

Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter

Blunt, well-told, beautifully written and superbly acted -- everything we expect in a "Mad Men" episode, and, if you're looking at the structure as a whole, a wonderful place for a pause. I suspect that the seven hours that remain will focus on Don deciding what's important in his life -- how to take the omnipresent unhappiness of his life and find a way to make it work as 1970 rapidly approaches. There's no need guessing at that.

Alan Sepinwall, HitFix

What gave the proceedings that added kick was how so much of it felt like a summation of the previous six-plus seasons. Roger Sterling, who coasted through life after inheriting his half of the business from his father, proves Cooper wrong while living up to his mentor's ideals and fighting to keep the business together. Don, who has so often not been a team player, hurting others in his quest for self-preservation, seems to realize he's run out of chances when Roger tells him about Bert's death (and Jim Cutler's power play), and decides to sacrifice for the sake of the team he's leaving behind. 

Sonia Saraiya, A.V. Club

In this episode, our characters become the last people left standing up, and they start to put things into place for the future. Don yields his pitch to Peggy; Sterling Cooper & Partners yields its company to McCann. Roger realizes there’s no one left to be more adult than him; he’s got to be responsible for himself. Megan and Don let go of each other, and Cutler lets go of his dream of the future. And Bert yields to death, because that, and the moon, is the only thing that belongs to all of us.

Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post

What is true connection but an ability to see someone else's point of view? What is connection but a desire to put someone else's needs or a larger goal first? Don didn't need to let Peggy land the account. He could have gone out on top and garnered the Burger Chef account as a final "screw you" to everyone on Team Cutler. But he didn't do that. In one of his darkest hours, he didn't fall down a rabbit hole of self-absorption and pain. He didn't crawl into a bottle and drown in narcissistic angst. On his way out the door -- which is where he thought he was headed -- he tried to help his protegee attain a meaningful achievement. He got nothing from that, aside from a powerful rush of pride.

Sean T. Collins, Wired

With all this focus on Mad Men’s women, you might not even notice how little Don actually does in this “mid-season finale.” Megan ends his marriage. Jim Cutler attempts to end his career. Roger cuts the deal to save it. Pete showers him with much-needed praise. Peggy pulls off the big creative masterstroke. Cutler even neuters Don’s would-be replacement Lou Avery. All that’s left for Don to do is persuade a burned-out Ted Chaough to avoid the underemployed purgatory he himself endured, a task that takes all of one minute to accomplish. For the rest of it, Don’s just a viewer, no more of a participant than he is in the moon landing he watches in an Indianapolis hotel room.

Libby Hill, RogerEbert.com

"Mad Men" has always been a show about duality, as evidenced most obviously with Don Draper and Dick Whitman. What "Mad Men" understands perhaps better than any show in history is how lives are privy to split; paths dividing at a fork and a single choice changing the entire landscape of one’s life. There will always be another fork in the road, another separation to navigate. And if that's all life is -- a singular path to be walked, the choices unmade left in the shadows -- it would be difficult enough. But "Mad Men" also knows that though there are splits; there's never really a divide. Those other selves haunt us always.

Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture

Don's decision to give the Burger Chef pitch back to Peggy after Pete stole it away from her in "The Strategy" was mainly a tactical maneuver, but it was also subtly symbolic, as "Mad Men" gestures often are. It was of a piece with this season's many explicit nods to the idea of society changing and moving on -- giving up on old and useless power constructs, either by force or voluntarily. His continued tendency to barge into meetings notwithstanding, he's gotten a lot better about not needing to be the star of every moment of his waking life.

Ben Travers, Indiewire

Even with Don's new respectful attitude, it was Peggy's solo moments that stood out. She excelled in her role as point pitch woman, bringing home the deal with a personal touch all her own (and making a clearly uncomfortable Pete look like he was going to lose his lunch). But it was her scene with Julio that provided the episode its heart, reaching all the way back to the early days of "Mad Men" and reminding us of when Peggy had to choose between her profession and her child. As she told her intruding neighbor his mother loves him and "that's why she's moving," Peggy teared up, remembering her similar decision oh so many years ago. 

Allison Keene, Collider

At the end of "The Strategy" and through "Waterloo," it also became clear more than ever before just how much of a family Don’s dysfunctional work comrades were and are to him. But Don is nothing if not a man on the run, so while his desperation propelled him into this deal with McCann in order to secure his future under Roger at SC&P, it also tied him to a contract (which he's never had) and to a company he has done everything to run from during his career. Bert's ghostly musical number reminded Don that he's cemented now in a way he never has been before. And it rattled him to the bone.

Tom & Lorenzo

What’s more important is that Robert Morse got the “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” sendoff the show creators felt this song and dance man deserved. As we said above, it was wildly off model for the show (even though the series had more than its share of musical moments), but it was so full of genuine love and respect for the actor that we can’t complain. It was utterly charming, if utterly unexpected. After all, Bert’s final interactions in the story were decidedly negative, telling Roger he wasn’t a leader and essentially suggesting to Don that he kill himself and save the agency a lot of bother.  But here he was, happily singing and dancing his way to heaven, reminding Don that the best things in life are free. Why? Because his work is done. Don finally understands loyalty and Roger is finally a leader. He’s raised his boys.

Julia Turner, Slate

One note of concern: This is the end of the first half of the final season. Everyone we like is up. Everyone we don't like is down. Does that mean we're due for dire reversals when the next mini-season airs? Will the series finale -- once it arrives in 2015 -- now inevitably end in misery? Now that I’ve seen how well Weiner does hope, I hope not.

Logan Hill, New York Times

This season began and ended with a countdown. "Do you have time to improve your life?" Freddy Rumsen asked in the premiere. Like that Apollo countdown and Freddy's Accutron watch, Don's clock is ticking down. Seven more hours of television, then he's gone.

Scott Meslow, the Week

With just seven episodes left, "Mad Men" could take its story almost anywhere. The series could pick up one week after "Waterloo," or six months, or five years, or 20. But wherever we rejoin the narrative, there's one central question left to be answered: whether or not Don Draper can ever be redeemed. "No man has ever come back from leave," says Cooper, ominously. "Even Napoleon." It's a dark prophecy -- but it's also a prophecy that he personally disproves at the end of the episode, when he marks the multimillion deal by returning from the grave and reminding Don that the best things in life are free.

Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times

For fans of "Mad Men" and other "prestige" TV, the Burger Chef pitch can almost be read as a meta-commentary on the state of the medium in 2014. Despite the myriad distractions and alternative viewing options available to us, millions of us still like to tune in live (or close to it), usually on Sunday nights, to a handful of essential shows like "Mad Men." While nowhere near as miraculous as a moon landing, this routine is wonderfully comforting, which is why it's sad this series has just seven episodes left.

Noah Feeney, Time

Don is far from taking part in a 12-step program here, but Sunday's episode almost felt like a mission to make amends. It's hard not to imagine "Mad Men" ending with Don trying to right his wrongs before the world simply moves on without him

Jace Lacob, BuzzFeed

Perhaps it's the sight of a man walking on the moon -- or the death of "giant" Bert Cooper -- that snaps both men out of their respective reveries, but Don and Roger both prove that they might just have the right stuff to steer the agency headlong into the future. After all, the telescope that appears throughout "Waterloo" (Bobby's initially still in its box, Megan's on plain view on her balcony, and elsewhere) points toward the stars, toward the future, toward the unknown, toward the bright and burning possibilities of what comes next.

Katey Rich, Vanity Fair

There are only five months left in the 60s following the July 20 moon landing; how much story is left to unspool? How are we, TV viewers like Don Draper in that we’re never satisfied with what we get, going to feel when it’s all over? If the end of "Mad Men" is really trying to convince us that Bert is right, and the best things in life are free, then the final episodes have a lot of work to do. But I think it’s right, Don's tear-filled eyes be damned, to be a little skeptical. It is, after all, just another idea that some smart man in a suit is trying to sell us.

This article is related to: Mad Men, Jon Hamm


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