Mad Men’s Season Seven, Episode Seven (“Waterloo”), the half-season finale, may look a bit like a rerun of Season Three’s “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” and Season Six’s “For Immediate Release”both episodes in which a crisis precipitated a remaking of everyone’s favorite ad agency. But “Waterloo” is not repetitive. It is an episode full of revaluations, in which people and things oft disparaged or stigmatized come in for second looks.
Let’s begin with the character no one wants to read about: Harry Crane, whom all Mad Men viewers and most Mad Men characters would be happy to see expelled from the agency and the series. Since his Season-One introduction, Harry has grown tubby and sleazy, while making himself loathsomely essential to his employers. As head of the Media Department, he is the smug herald of a grim future. In Jim Cutler’s words: “Computer services. Media buys pinpointed with surgical accuracy. It’s the agency of the future.” Since his long-term value allows Harry to hang around where no one really wants him, we tend to find him on the wrong end of jokes. So, in this episode, Harry becomes the butt of some comic business involving his too-late arrival to the SC&P partner party, as million-dollar buyouts are being allocated. (Harry: “What’s going on?” Roger Sterling: “None of your beeswax.” Harry: “I’ll take the deal!” Roger: “Goodbye, Harry.”)
This misfortune is framed as a comeuppance. Earlier in the episode, Harry referred coarsely to his estranged wife, who has been delaying their divorce in anticipation of his partnership: “Jennifer’s stopped talking about divorce till after I get that money.” So Harry has been dragging his feet on the partnership, and consequently misses out on his million, because he resents giving money to his wife. Contrast the Draper marriage, which ends with a phone call during this episode. Don readily tells Megan, “I’ll always take care of you. [W]hatever you need. I owe you that.”
Does anyone remember at this point that Harry began his Mad Men life as the nice guy in the office? His short-sleeved shirts, which we assume Jennifer had picked out, declared him the one man at Sterling Cooper who was not contesting alpha status. Early in Season One, he sucked a lollipop while advising Pete Campbell not to stray from his new bride. The wandering lusts of the married man, said Harry, must be satisfied in a hands-off manner: “the flirting, the double entendres, enjoying the company of women in the limited way a married man can. I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s plenty for me.” Later in the season, when Harry strayed more seriously with his secretary, his broken glasses declared his shattered self-image. He confessed the transgression to Jennifer and accepted his penance, which was to spend mournful nights on the couch in his office. (This is the same guy who is now such a nonchalant adulterer, he turned up with a prostitute at Megan’s L.A. party in Episode Five and no one was surprised.)
That office-couch exile brought Harry into contact with Don for a late-season encounter that proved rather mysterious and moving. Don, pulling an all-nighter on a pitch for Kodak, listened to Harry’s ruminations on the Lascaux cave paintings, “seventeen thousand years old”: There were “all of these handprints, tiny by today’s standards, with paint blown all around them. I thought it was like someone reaching through the stone, right to us.”
This notion of Harry’s, that visual records might connect people across time, inspired Don’s career-best “Carousel” pitch in the Season One finale. People forget this: Don’s great vision of nostalgic connectedness was plagiarized from Harry Crane. There is in fact a side of Harry that can inspire and be inspired, that runs on a sense of history and human significance on the civilizational and cosmic scales. The writers have not lost track of this side of Harry, even while they have upped his odiousness. Season Five saw him out of sympathy with Pete Campbell’s fretting over the first NASA photos of Earth (“They don’t make you feel vulnerable?”): “I like the pictures of the Earth,” intoned Harry. “I find them to be majestic.” And in this episode, Harry is the one character who rises to his feet in rapture upon the newsflash “ARMSTRONG ON MOON.”
Not that he isn’t a sleaze. But his space-rapture is a reminder of how drastically some characters have changed, and what complexities their changeable psyches may contain. As Harry was once the ingenuous nice guy, so current nice guy Ken Cosgrove was once as likely as any of the junior oafs to snap a bra strap. People may change, and amid change they may surpriseas did Harry in Episode Five with his loyalty to Don, in warning him of the plot to land Commander Cigarettes. Hence Don, during the debate over whether to make Harry partner: “Say what you will, he’s been very loyal.” Say what you will, he is not merely a sleaze.
And say what you will, Roger Sterling is not merely the beta-male heir to an advertising fortune. After a premier episode that portrayed him as out-of-his-mind decadent, Roger has been presented appealingly, in various registers, throughout this half-season.
Roger as Patriarch: See his anger and anguish over the cultish dabblings of his daughter Margaret, and her abandonment of his grandson Ellery. Roger as Pal: See his missing Don, his inviting Don back to work, and his defending Don from the partners who wanted him out. Roger as Executive: See his conviction of Don’s importance to the agency, and his preference for the way of creative genius to the way of “Harry Crane and the computer.”
Roger as All of the Above: In this episode, he is called away from a patriarchal moment (watching the moon landing with ex-wife Mona to his left, son-in-law Brooks to his right, and grandson Ellery on his knee) to mourn the passing of his surrogate father, Bert Cooper; he further mourns, “Now I’m going to lose [Don] too,” since Cutler will have enough partner votes to oust his pal; and then he masterminds a buyout by McCann Erickson with the goal of restoring SC&P to something like his vision for it.
Second look at Roger the Executive? Bert’s last words to Roger condemned him as “not a leader”: He has no vision; he is no Napoleon. Roger inherited his job from his father and has always been something of an overgrown child. But on the day after Bert’s death, the partners’ meeting provides visual confirmation that Roger is the new alpha. Ted Chaough slouches on the sofa, dressed in a warm brown that matches the California office in which he does nothing all day: He is checked out. Don and Cutler, each dressed in blue, sit forward with hands or elbows on their knees: Each is anxious to connect with Ted. Roger alone is kicked back in regal black. With a glance, he deputes Don to pitch to Ted, and at the first sign of wavering he barks, “Ted’s in.” Thus is the deal closed. Cutler has sneered at Roger’s ambition to head up the new SC&P: “And you’ll be our king.” Present tense, dude.
Not just disparaged people, but stigmatized things come in for second looks in this episode. Start with money. There is a momentous reconsideration of McCann, the ultimate big-money firm. Don reminds Roger how they once stole their own firm from Puttnam, Powell, and Lowe rather than be sold to that “sausage factory” McCann. Roger concedes that McCann is “in the acquisitions business,” but his new theory is that corporatism, in moderation, may not be all that bad. A small firm taken on as an independent subsidiary might gain just the right combination of creative autonomy and financial stability.
In any case, there is no shame in pursuing big moneynotwithstanding the series’s intermittent and heavy-handed comparisons of SC&P to a bordello. Asked why she has voted to kick Don out of the agency, Joan Harris answers: “I’m tired of him costing me money.” Don, for principled (or egotistical) reasons, has occasionally done mischief to everyone’s financesabove all, as Bert notes, when his fit of pique at a Jaguar exec blew up the agency’s public offering, “cost[ing Joan] a million dollars” in Season Six. (Immortal Pete line on Don’s destructive whims: “You’re Tarzan, swinging from vine to vine!”) As all the agency brass know, Joan had literally whored herself to land that Jaguar account. When Don threw the account away, not only did he make Joan’s humiliation pointless (“I did all that for nothing?”), he also cost her a major payday. It was money she was after all along, and money she is still after.
But wanting money does not make Joan a whore; nor does it make her feel like a whore. Joan is unapologetically mercenary, emphasis on “unapologetic.” When Roger tells her how much her five-percent stake will be worth upon the buyout, she flusheswith delight, not shame. The perky way she shoots her hand up for the buyout vote declares: Ain’t no shame in my game. Note that Cutler, too, raises his hand after having lobbied hard the other way: “It’s a lot of money.” Shameless, this guybut at least he can admit that big money is nice to have.
Contrast the “unselfish” selfishness of the Creative types who say they don’t care about money: Don and, more stubbornly, Ted. Don initially resists Roger’s buyout plan, protesting that he only wants to do creative work and is tired of worrying about “partnership votes [and] stock prices”: “I don’t want to deal with business anymore”implying that he would rather see SC&P dissolve than let it become corporatized by McCann. Roger insists on the reality of the business side, which to ignore is selfishness (“Tarzan, swinging”): “And what about everyone else? We all send out resumes?”
Roger’s argument prevails with Don pretty easily. Ted, who is as crucial as Don to the McCann buyout but far more demoralized, proves a tougher get: “I am done with advertising. I’m going to have plenty of money from selling my partnership as it stands.” But Ted is proposing not just to turn down the big money for himself, but to ruin everyone else’s shot at millions. He is called out for it by Joan (“You have got to be kidding me”) and Pete (“You’re not just pathetic, you’re selfish!”).
Pete looks and sounds ridiculous here, as he always does when he is angry; but, as so often when he is angry, he is not wrong. Earlier in the episode, he had a fit over Ted’s antics with the Sunkist execs and burst out, “And the clients want to live, too, Ted!” Ridiculous-looking and -sounding, but not at all wrong. (Related: How is it that Don, for telling a traumatic life story in a pitch meeting, gets pushed out of the agencywhereas Ted, for toying with suicide while two clients are on his plane, gets a moderately stern talking-to?)
Money is useful. When Roger intercepts Don in the hallway of his apartment building, ready to pitch the McCann buyout, he is greeted with, “How’d you get in?” To which he answers, “Money.” And we are not to endorse the Judas-like frugality of Sean the high school football player, who protests the moon landing in these terms: “I’ll tell you what’s incredible: It cost twenty-five billion dollars! Because there’s no problems back on Earth?” On the phone with her father, Sally paraphrases the jock: “It’s such a waste of money. We’re going to be going there all the time while people go hungry down here.” Money should be spent, if at all, on the starving poor, rather than on anointing the feet of Christ or (as the poet said, and Peggy will quote) “touch[ing] the face of God.”
Don rightly scoffs at this idea (“Don’t be so cynical”) when Sally parrots it on the phoneand we are reminded of his recoiling, in Season Five, from Lane Pryce’s anti-spending slogan: “Pennies make pounds. And pounds make profits!” In a fit of very British thrift, Lane was complaining that the Creative Department had been too prodigal with its ballpoint pens. Mad Men seems to consider that there is something un-American about begrudging money for creative and aspirational projects.
So Bert sings in his postmortem finale that “the moon belongs to everyone.” Well, yes and no. If the moon is “priceless,” it is so only in the MasterCard sense. It has a price tag, we have been told, of twenty-five billion (and the Randian Bert might ask the Soviets, space-race losers, whether they are finding that “the best things in life are free”). Like McCann, the Americans and the Soviets are in the acquisitions business. And while it may be wrong to ironize a song-and-dance number that seems intended as a nice send-off for a venerable actor and a semi-venerable characterstill one notes that the whole tradition of the musical spectacular is a tradition of lavishly bankrolled excess. The maximalist use of orchestra and chorus and costuming and set design suggests that nice things are not free. One would note this, if one were to ironize, which one shouldn’t, because how often does one see eighty-six-year-old Robert Morse doing soft-shoe in argyle socks?
Finally, television. In the familiar critique, and in Peggy’s Burger Chef spot, television is what severs the connections between people. The TV dinner is stigmatized because it arrays the family in front of the television rather than around the table. “What if there was another table”ideally in a well-lit Burger Chef franchisewith “no TV? And we can have the connection that we’re hungry for.” Hence the slogan: “Family Supper at Burger Chef.”
And yet Peggy’s preamble to her Burger Chef pitch contained this admission against interest, in reference to the moon landing broadcast: “I certainly can’t tell a better story than the one we saw [on television] last night. All of us were doing the same thing at the same time. We can still feel the pleasure of that connection.” Last night it was television, not the dinner table, that notably fostered human connections. And so it goes in Peggy’s own life, as the neighbor boy Julio hangs around Peggy’s apartment eating her popsicles while watching her TV and activating her maternal instincts. Second look at the TV dinner?
Granted, the moon landing broadcast was “event television” (“All of us were doing the same thing at the same time”) of the sort that, we are told, barely existed in 1969 and certainly does not exist anymore. Peggy’s reflection on it is a nostalgic moment on a cable drama in a fragmented market. Mad Men has always been a niche show. It makes a virtue of this (its “appeal is becoming more selective”) by positioning itself as a “prestige” drama. But the writers’ ambition is always to “tell a better story,” and according to Peggy, the best story is the one that gets everybody doing and thinking and feeling the same thing at the same time. So was it the moon landing, or was it the connection of every human with all of humanity, that allowed television viewers on July 20, 1969 to touch the face of God?
Whicheverthis episode wasn’t quite that. Maybe in the next half-season!