Season 7, Episode 7: “Waterloo” | Date: May 25, 2014
Don Draper (Jon Hamm) shows up at Peggy Olson’s (Elisabeth Moss) hotel room door. It’s late on July 20, 1969. Men have walked the surface of the moon for the first time. A nation — a world — os gobsmacked.
Don isn’t here for that. Word has come from New York. Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) is dead. And Don may well be dead, too. Without Bert, Don cannot survive a partners vote to fire him after his bravado in a meeting with a tobacco company. Don believes his days at the agency he helped found are limited.
So he goes to Peggy. They are in Indianapolis, Indiana, to pitch the fast food chain Burger Chef. The plan was for Don to make the pitch. But if Don makes it and they win, and Don is fired, Burger Chef will move on and Peggy will be left with nothing.
So Don does what we have rarely seen him do before: He acts completely in the interest of another. He saves Peggy. The person about whom Don cares the most is finally and fully revealed: It’s Peggy.
We’ve already seen Roger Sterling (John Slattery) prove Don is his one true friend. Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) is in love with money, or at least the independence and security that money can bring for her and her son.
It’s a beautiful moment for Don. It’s the kind of kind strain that we always wanted to believe was there behind all those cigarettes and underneath the ocean of liquor. It’s an act of love. We’ve heard Don say he loves different people — wives, girlfriends and children — but the declaration often came as an act of desperation.
This moment, though, in a hotel room in Indianapolis, Don gives himself up to help Peggy, the heir to his creative genius.
Peggy, of course, nails the presentation and lands the account. Roger rangles a buyout that appears to end Jim Cutler’s (Harry Hamlin) vengeful efforts to oust Don. Roger, too, seems to see his Grinch-like heart three sizes. Before he died, Bert and Roger had a heart-to-heart. Roger, Bert said, is not a leader.
Roger was hurt, but motivated. He became a leader. He negotiated a deal that saved his friend, saved his company and made himself president. He is a failure as a husband and father, a lover and even as a good man. But maybe just this one thing he can do right.
It was not all bliss. Don and wife Megan (Jessica Paré) finally split in a tearful, but gentle conversation. They were a continent apart even when they were in the same room. Don was unfaithful and she was disconnected. She made Don better, maybe even happy. But Don only has one love: the work.
Peggy, too, struggles with her internal conflict. She learns the neighbor boy, who eats her popsicles and watches her television, is moving away. She cries as the boy hugs her, both for the lost of her surrogate child and for the absence of motherhood and family in her own life. This boy would be about the age of her own son that she gave away so many years ago. Elisabeth Olson handles the scene deftly and with the sublime skill we have come to expect from her in each outing.
The episode also defines what is seldom understood about the first moon landing: People were worried those astronauts were going to die. From the purely selfish standpoint, our ad men realized their deaths would wipe out their chances of winning a big account. But the anxiousness that gripped them is also a metaphor for people on the verge of doing something great: There is always some fear that it won’t work.
Still, the wonderful machinations of these characters in this well-told episode leaves me worried. These are not happy people and not given to happy endings. Seven episodes remain. They’ll be aired in spring 2015.
Too much can happen and these people trend toward sorrow and self-destruction. Again, the moon landing serves as a guide. There are those that would argue all the goodwill, all the hope that moment inspired marked the apex of the American century.
Corporate greed, meaningless wars, social unrest, technological terrors and a general selfishness that drags down and sometimes buries our nation’s altruistic philosophical foundation. In other words, it’s all downhill from here.
That said, if you’re going to write out a character through death, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite as wonderful as Bert Cooper’s final moments in “Waterloo.”
It’s almost enough to give you hope.