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Mad Men season finale recap: Fly Me to the Moon

Bert sings a fond farewell as Roger proves himself a leader with vision

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Mad Men

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss

Bravo, Bertram Cooper.

SC&P’s resident eccentric watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, and then keeled over dead. He died offscreen, with only a phone call to Roger Sterling to capture the initial shock. But just as audiences began to feel saddened and cheated that we’d not had a proper goodbye, writers Carly Wray and Matthew Weiner capped the midseason finale with a WTF song-and-dance hallucination that sent Bert off in style.

As suspected, the Apollo 11 mission plays a significant role in “Waterloo,” a reference to Napoleon’s convincing and final military defeat in 1815 after he’d escaped from exile. The world is watching on television as Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins lift off from Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969, including Bert, who wears a boyish grin as the Saturn V rocket successfully launches in to orbit. The only person not fascinated by the possibility of a moon landing is Ted Chaough, who is piloting some Sunkist executives above their California groves. He couldn’t be less enthused. First, he tells the execs that dying in space wouldn’t be the worst thing. After all, “All their problems will be over.” Then, he toys with the terrified passengers by turning off the engine and threatens to leave a smoldering wreckage on the interstate. We knew Ted was depressed, but he might be suicidal, and he wants to be bought out by the partners. “He’s off the deep end,” Pete later says. “…Lane Pryce.”

In New York, the entire Burger Chef business is indirectly hanging on the astronaut’s success. After all, no one will be buying a million-dollar pitch if the mission ends in disaster, but the creative team is still rehearsing and planning their trip to Burger Chef headquarters in Indianapolis. It’s a pretty basic walk-through, and when Don — who’s been hand-picked by Pete (over Peggy) to deliver the pitch — begins his spiel, Pete cuts him off as soon as he senses that Don is on. He doesn’t want Don to waste his A-game in the paddock. As he later tells Don on the plane, “The Don Draper show is back from its unscheduled interruption.”

But there’s a problem looming. Remember that preliminary meeting with Commander Cigarettes that Don crashed? Well, Jim Cutler views that as a clear violation of the stipulations that Draper agreed to when he was allowed back in the door at SC&P, and is preparing to fire Draper and strip him of his stake for breach of contract. A letter has been sent — signed in absentia by all the other partners — and it falls on Meredith to break the news to Don after she opens it.

Meredith sits Don down for the bad news and lets him know she’s there for him — in every way. “I know you’re feeling vulnerable but I am your strength,” she says, just before leaning in to kiss him. Dear, dear Meredith. How I adore her, and how I fear for her safety when she handles sharp utensils. I somehow imagine that she will work for another 40 years and turn into another Miss Blankenship. Or perhaps another Mrs. Stimler from Splash.

Don confronts Cutler, who’s oilier than ever. He baits Don into a confrontation, calling him a drunk and a bully, an empty “football player in a suit,” but Don doesn’t bite. Instead, he takes it up with the other partners, who had not been consulted before Cutler sent the letter. Roger is angry with Cutler. Pete is incredulous that Cutler would attempt something so drastic on the eve of of the Burger Chef meeting: “That is a very sensitive piece of horse flesh! He should not be rattled!” Don forces an impromptu vote, which he wins without Joan’s vote. She votes for his ouster, raising her hand to oppose him to his face. “I’m tired of him costing me money,” she sneers to Roger afterwards.

Cooper later says that Joan missed out on a million bucks when Don scuttled the deal to take the company public, but is anyone at home taking her side in this fight? The bitter anger that flashed in her eyes as the partners debated the letter was painful to witness, for Don and the audience. Last week, she was lecturing Bob Benson about true love. Now, she’s “Benedict Joan,” turning irrevocably on the man who once seemed like her closest office ally.

Shaken by the crusade to dump Don, Roger sits with Bert, who lectures him on leadership. Bert voted to keep Don — for now. But he’s not optimistic about the long-term. “No man has ever come back from leave — even Napoleon,” he says. “He staged a coup but he ended up back on the island.”

Bert admires Cutler’s vision for the company, and condescendingly tells Roger that his talents are valuable but leadership is not one of them. Hurt, Roger deflects the insult with a lyric from the 1930s Irving Berlin song, “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee.” Yes, Roger does have many talents.

NEXT: A whimper, not a bang. The end of a marriage