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July 20, 1969
It is humbling to try to write about an episode of tv like Sunday's midseason finale of Mad Men, one which redeemed an occasionally scattered run of episodes with an hour of satisfactions both quiet and triumphant. It felt much like a series finale, and with a message not too different from that of the final hours of Lost: what matters is who we spend our time with, and how we treat them. The work matters more than the context, whether it's at SCDP or SC&P or McCann Erickson, just like it ultimately didn't much matter to Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Juliette who the Smoke Monster was or where The Numbers came from or who was on the second outrigger.

It takes maturity to recognize that we may be the supporting characters in someone else's narrative rather than protagonists in our own, which is why Don Draper's moves this episode were so gratifying to watch, while for Peggy Olson, the satisfaction came from seeing her do what we all knew she could. (For Roger and Sally, the joy came from their upending our expectations.)

So, please, take off your shoes, peer into the night sky, and let's see what people smarter than me had to say about it all, below the fold.

Matt Zoller Seitz:

The one quality that every great scripted show has in common is surprise. Whatever the show is, when you hear the opening credits you lean forward a bit, anticipating that you'll very likely get something different from but as good as whatever you were expecting, and that there's a chance you'll be gobsmacked by an out-of-nowhere plot twist or style choice. "Waterloo," the midpoint of Mad Men's seventh season, is a perfect example of what I mean. As written by Carly Wray and Matthew Weiner and directed by Weiner, it's not a pantheon episode in terms of structure — in fact it's rather choppy, and there are points where David Carbonara's score seems to be struggling to create the illusion of cohesiveness; but in sheer variety of startling momentary delights, it's aces, and the final three minutes rank with the show's greatest. ...

This musical number is for us. Don is merely the conduit, or the pretext, for its existence. And it's fun and surprising. When it was over, I said to my high school-age daughter, who watched it with me, "This is what it felt like for me when I was your age, watching Moonlighting every week." The modus operandi of Moonlighting was, to paraphrase the subtext of every statement made by a hippie or beatnik on the show: I don't need your rules, man. Anything goes.

Alan Sepinwall (who also interviewed Matthew Weiner):
But 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. Roger made the leap at the end of season 3 out of ego; he'd spent a year as a figurehead under British rule, and didn't want to become a cog in the giant McCann machine. But it's clear that he's making this move not because he dreams of being at the top of the organizational flowchart, but because the old man's death made him realize how hard it is to lose the people you care about at work, and how important it is to fight not just for Don, but for everyone else in that office whose name he can remember. And 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. He could go in there and dazzle the Burger Chef people and maybe make it slightly easier to get another job at another agency, but he doesn't want to screw over Peggy in the process. He knows she's great, that she can do it, and that she deserves it, and she proves him right — and that sly smile he gives her midway through the presentation was as powerful a denouement for their relationship as their dance the week before.

... I do wonder if Weiner might not be ready to pull a "China Beach" on us and use those final seven episodes to explore what happens to these characters over the next several decades: Bob Benson bumping into Sal at Studio 54, Joan adopting big shoulder pads and bigger hair in the '80s, Peggy being resentful of Apple's "1984" ad, and Don Draper somehow living to a ripe old age where he can feel annoyed about everything that's wrong in media and society — and maybe having a song of his own to deliver to the next generation on his way to slip the surly bonds of Earth.

Todd VanDerWerff:
We spend this entire episode—this entire season, really—waiting for Don to make a pitch. The premiere opened with Freddie offering a simulacrum of a Donald Draper pitch, and this episode opens with Don starting in on that which we crave. But that’s thwarted—instead, we get a chance to see how far Peggy has come, as she nails that moment in the room with Burger Chef. When we finally get to see Don make his pitch, it’s behind closed doors—to convince Ted that his impulse to get out of the advertising game and try something else is wrong. To get Ted to wander deeper into Hell.
There is so much more than this to discuss: Sally Draper's holding a cigarette exactly like her mother; hunky repairmen; Harry Crane getting shafted; Ted Chaough's flying skills; Pete's views on marriage; and, my goodness, poor Meredith, so ready to pitch in at a time of crisis.

Until next spring, y'all.

Originally posted to Adam B on Tue May 27, 2014 at 05:47 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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