Mad Men has often been described as a show about nothing; meaning that there is no overarching plot development or end goal in mind. It’s simply a series of vignettes as these people go through their lives. It is not a label to be taken literally. The pitch, so to speak, for this show is about one thing, and one word, only: connection.
The people that reside in the Mad Men universe are dying for it. They marry and divorce and seduce and fight and find friendships in slow dances. Every thing that they do is to find someone else. Don Draper has ruined every relationship that he’s ever had because the connection he craved could never be filled by sex and power, the two things that came easiest to him. Don’s fulfillment ultimately came with his daughter, at his most vulnerable.
This episode was set during the launch of the Apollo 11 team and the landing of the moon. The event permeated every action of every person on the show. Ted, in one of the opening scenes, is flying an airplane with representatives of Sunkist. He has slowly been sinking into a pit of despair, and being up in this airplane makes it even worse. He cuts the engine, letting it float along in the currents, sitting stoically as Sunkist has a collective meltdown.
No lie, I thought Ted was going to kill them. The way he stared ahead, out of the plane windshield, was legit. I don’t know how I would’ve felt about that, had it gone down that way, but I was spared that particular line of thinking because the very next scene Ted is being talked to by Jim Cutler while a fuming Pete Campbell is close by. Ted is done, totally done; he wants SC&P to buy out his shares and let him be free. Jim, in his most condescending, paternal voice, puts Ted off for now.
Fun fact: Jim Cutler flew planes over Dresden. Didn’t say what type, but the implication alone is enough to make Cutler seem like even more of douche. I’ll give it to Weiner; when he makes a villain, he makes a villain.
The Francis Family makes an appearance this episode. A mother, a father, and two kids are coming to stay with the Francis’s for an undetermined about of time. The family has two kids: an older boy who looks like he’s in college (or close to college age), and a younger brother closer to Sally who is much more nerdy. He’s a space geek; the first words he speaks are to his mother bemoaning the fact that his telescope was left behind.
Sally and Sean (the older boy) make eyes at each other immediately, and Sally shows him where his room is. Neil, (the younger brother), is taken by Bobby to his room, where Bobby has a telescope Neil can use. Betty is her usual douchey self; instead of just telling her kids to come downstairs, she insults them in front of a whole room full of people. Because, of course, in Betty’s world, appearances are everything, and God forbid those people think that Betty allowed her kids to be five seconds late downstairs.
Betty and Carolyn are in the kitchen, smoking cigarettes, discussing their lives. Neil is at the kitchen table, eating. Carolyn talks about Sean was offered a scholarship from Rutgers to play football, but seems to have little interest or passion. All Carolyn, at that age, thought about was “going to Paris”. Now, she’s married to Rick, Sean’s father, and things are different. Not bad, but different than she originally wanted.
At the office, things are going bad for Don. He’s received a letter from the attorneys of SC&P, citing a breach of contract and an impending firing. Meredith, Don’s secretary, is distraught over the news, and she kisses Don (who, hilariously, looks like he just saw a comedian bomb on stage). Don politely rebuffs her, and asks her to get his attorney on the phone.
I cannot even explain to you how funny that scene was. Meredith is so into Don, so wanting to help him and be with him in his time of need, and Don is just exasperated. God I wish I could bottle up the face he made; it was truly an Oscar-Emmy-Golden-Globe-worthy face.
Don goes in on Jim Cutler. He marches up to his office and tells Jim, in no uncertain terms, that he’s not taking away the company that he built. Jim is smug, still, thinking he has the upperhand. But Don isn’t finished; he didn’t come upstairs just to piss on Jim Cutler. He marches over to Roger’s door (who hasn’t yet seen the letter), and rips it open and brings Roger out into the hallway too. He calls Joan, and Bert, and Pete, and all of the partners are standing outside of Roger’s office.
Roger is furious; all of the partners names are on the thing, and only Cutler approved it. Cutler tries to hide behind “parliamentary procedure”, as Don puts it, so Don turns it around; he demands a vote on the revoking of his partnership and his firing. When the vote goes for him, he locks eyes with Jim Cutler, and says: “Motion denied.”
It’s a really incredible moment for Don. You forget sometime how imposing he is, and how big of a man he is. Jim Cutler is a bean-counter nerdling whose only goal is to make as much money as possible. As much crap as Don has pulled over the years, he’s still our protagonist, and he’s actually committed to improving himself, and I can’t root against that. I can’t. I’m too American.
Joan, formerly one of Don’s closest friends, has completely turned on him. He “cost [her] money”, so he has to go. It’s a funny little statement, because coming from Cutler or Cooper or Roger, it sounds appropriate; coming from Joan, it sounds super shallow and self-serving. Joan is playing by their rules now. But even Joan, who is decidedly anti-Draper, knows that Cutler made a mistake. He gave Don an audience, and that audience didn’t like being used by Cutler. Chaos is, as they say, a ladder, and Don Draper was born and raised on that ladder.
Roger and Bert Cooper have a conversation in Bert’s office; Roger is more than a little surprised that Bert supported Don. But, as Bert explains, he’s on Don’s side only because Don is on his team. Don has earned his loyalty (for now), and while he wouldn’t mind Don being gone, he would never push out someone who was on his “team”. Don’s problem is that his decisions are never about team, but about himself; same for Roger, which is why he’s never taken the reigns of the company or his life in the way that he should’ve. Bert believes he is a leader, and a leader sticks to his team. I have to agree with him; in the midst of all the back-stabbing and money-grubbing, Bert Cooper has always come out on top.
Peggy is at her apartment, packing for Indianapolis and the Burger Chef presentation. She can’t decide between a more masculine outfit and a more feminine outfit. Julio, the young boy from upstairs, comes down to watch tv. Peggy and Julio are obviously close; he watches tv with her instead of his own mother, and people mistake him for her own child. Peggy asks Julio to help pick out one of the outfits, but Julio just wants to watch tv with her. Peggy can’t, but Julio begs her; his mom has a new job, so she’s going to move her and Julio away. Julio doesn’t want to go, and hugs Peggy. The two start crying, and Peggy tries to convince him that she’ll visit, but he’s too smart for that. It makes me wonder; how many of the toilet overflows and other problems were just an excuse to get Peggy to come up to their apartment? How long before Julio ran out of excuses and just straight-up ran to the only person he felt helped him when he needed it?
The mother dynamic is as much a part of Peggy’s personality as anything else. Ever since she gave her child up for adoption, she’s wondered whether she did the right things in her life. As she said with Don, she’s looked through the windows of a hundred station wagons, wondering if and where she went wrong. But she didn’t go wrong; she chose a life for herself. That life isn’t perfect, but it is the one that she’s worked her whole adult life for, and she’s done it in a world that would be glad to shuttle her off to the suburbs in a white dress and white gloves and pearls and coiffed hair and three little babies in the backseat. There are benefits to being a mother, and a wife; there’s nothing wrong with that choice. But Peggy made her choice, and at our worst and most vulnerable moments, the grass always looks greener on the other side.
So, Peggy tells Julio to watch television while she packs. He stays with her a little while longer. They spend the last bit of time they have together as they always did: comfortably. Julio just wants to watch the space landing with her.
Back at the Draper residence, Don calls Megan to tell her about his possible firing. Even with the “motion denied” speech, he’s still at great risk. Megan suggests that it’s time to move on, like the company wants him to do, and Don say’s he’ll move out West to be with her. But the relationship is already over; Megan doesn’t want him in LA. Don gets it quickly, and doesn’t fight it; whatever love they had for each other quickly faded under the weight of their personalities. Megan was barely mature enough to babysit children, let alone be married to Don, and Don is a chauvinistic and self-absorbed prick. Neither is the same person they were when they got married, but now they want different things. Don tells Megan that he’ll take care of her, as long as she needs, as he “owes [her] that.” It’s a really sweet, really revealing moment, and it’s played so perfectly. I really, really loved the conversation between the two; they needed to be over, and it can only get better for them emotionally from here.
Don, Peggy, Harry, and Pete all hop on a plane and travel to Indianapolis. Peggy is freaking out about the astronauts dying, saying they’ll have to put off the Burger Chef presentation for “a year.” Pete and Don have a conversation about him coming out to California permanently. When Don explains about Megan and he, Pete automatically offers his support. Pete’s loyalty to Don is almost endearing. It’s these moments that make Pete such a difficult character. For as badly as he treated Peggy in the last episode, he really does hold her in high esteem (in his antiquated ways), and tries to show that in such bad taste. Pete is fascinating.
They arrive at the hotel, and all gather in one room for the moon landing. Peggy bought two beers for Don and herself, and it’s noticeable how close Peggy and Don are sitting. There’s nothing sexual about it; they are simply close to one another as this incredible moment approaches. Everyone on the show is watching it: Roger with his grandson (clad in a space helmet), Bert with his maid, Sally with everyone in the house. They are all frozen as the ship lands and Neil Armstrong takes a step out of the capsule. Sean, the beefy Rutgers boy, mocks the moon landing; it’s so expensive, he whines, what about the problems on Earth? Sally, enamored, parrots the same line to Don, who rebuffs her. Harry is super emotional; he gets to his feet and is about to cry. There is complete silence, and then-
“That’s one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”
Look, I’ve heard those words a billion times. I’ve read those words a billion times. I’ve seen the footage that the show used of the moon landing. And I can tell you with absolute certainty that I have never gotten chills as I did watching these men and women and children scoot closer and closer and closer together to watch a man step on the surface of an alien world. It was astounding; it was a masterclass in art as expression. Bert, on his living room couch, smiles and says “Bravo.”
And then he’s gone. And everything changes. Bert Cooper is dead; pour out a spirit of elderflower. He’s dead, gone, not longer after the moon landing, and Roger is devastated. Roger loved that man; he’s known him his whole life and learned from him his whole life. But now he’s gone, and it’s like he lost his father again. Roger goes to the office at one in the morning and slides out Bert’s name from his office Joan comes, too, and she and Roger hug. All of this tension built up, all of this goodwill, and it all tumbles downhill like so many dominoes. And then Jim Cutler. He wants to get right on the business side of things, and to jump on firing Don. Cutler clearly doesn’t give a damn about Cooper the way that Roger and Joan do; Roger asks Joan if she’ll let the company do to him what they’re doing to Cooper.
Roger, of course, calls Don. Don, in contrast, to Cutler, is visibly moved and only concerned with Roger. Roger is sitting at the office, in the dark, watching the news. Roger is angry, and sad. Roger makes a plan.
Sally, tired of watching tv and wanting to smoke a cigarette, goes outside to hang with Neil. He shows her Polaris, and she kisses him. Sally is learning, it seems, to not compromise on men. Don’t get into Sean because he’s pretty; make sure he’s also the man you’d want to spend a lifetime with. And when Don, the man Sally most respects in her life, points out how cynical her words and whether she wants her brothers to talk like that, she learns a quick lesson. Not to say Neil is better, but at least he has hope.
Don goes to Peggy’s room but doesn’t tell her about Bert’s death. Don knows that in all likelihood he’s going to get fired from SC&P, and that leaves Peggy in a bad spot. If Don goes ahead with the presentation, he’ll be able to get a job at another place easily; he comes with a free account. But Peggy will have nothing, no leverage, left at the mercy of more men who only see her as a novelty chew toy. So he gives her the presentation. It’s yours, he says; we have a few hours, let’s practice. And they do. And the next day, at the presentation, Peggy is nervous.
But then Peggy speaks and she spins a tale. She tells them that people are starving for connection, and that moments like last night bring people together in ways that are otherwise impossible. And it’ll happen again when the astronauts come home safely. Everyone will crowd around the dinner table and flip on the television and watch them come home; all previous problems forgotten for that moment. But it wont last.
But what if it could?
“Family Supper is at Burger Chef.” That’s the tagline. At Burger Chef, it’s clean. It has no laundry to do. No kids to ignore. Everyone has the same goal and feelings, and that connection we crave will always be in a place where everyone wants the same thing. Burger Chef loves it.
It’s the most amazing pitch in the history of pitches, including the Carousel work. Peggy, given only a few hours of concentrated practice, stepped up and hit a home run. She was at a major disadvantage, and she hit a home run, straight out of the park. Peggy was an astronaut. Peggy has become everything she ever wanted.
But she’s not the only one.
Roger cooks up a deal with McCann; bring in SC&P as an independent subsidiary. McCann is interested in taking out a burgeoning threat, and agrees, pending a partner vote at SC&P. Roger calls in all of the partners, sits them down in the office, and tells them the plan; if they sell, they will all get their partner shares bought back for them, and individually they’ll make over a million dollars. Joan and Pete are immediately in; but they don’t really matter at this moment, because McCann wants both Don AND Ted to come on. Ted, as previously stated, wants to quit and won’t agree to it. Don, who was against the idea when Roger told him about it, tells Ted that as bad as it is doing what he’s doing, it’s even worse not doing anything. He offers Ted the opportunity to come back to the city and work strictly in creative, to which Ted accepts. When they take a vote, even Cutler is for it; when asked why, he says that it’s a lot of money. He’s not wrong.
Don walks away from a gathering crowd; Roger is about tell them about Bert and the McCann deal. But before Don can get back to work, he see’s Bert, and Bert calls out his name. He spins, and dances, and gives Don the farewell befitting Bert Cooper. Bert sings that the “best things in life are free”, and he dances away, and everything is back to normal. Don is moved by this vision, and leans against a desk.
Bert was right, you know; Don would sacrifice the team for his own benefit, and Roger would do the same just to keep the peace. That isn’t leadership material. But with Bert’s death, both decide to be better. And they are.
And for the first time in a long time, the future is brighter than the past.
See you next season.
[Photo via AMC]