History is a funny, funny thing, especially in the world of Mad Men. For the most part, show creator Matthew Weiner and his colleagues try to avoid showing actual historical events in their entirety. But there are times, especially in the 1960s in general and 1969 in specific, when history makes every single person shut the door, have a seat, and pay heed as history plays itself out. (And yes, that parody of the title of the Season 3 season finale “Shut The Door, Have A Seat” is important as there were many callbacks to that seminal episode).
As I said way back in my preview of the first half of the season, 1969 was one of the most eventful and divisive years in American history; with some of the most iconic, inspiring moments of American history existing cheek by jowl with some of the most horrific (lest we forget, three weeks from the landing on the moon would be the Manson Family murders of Sharon Tate and friends, which has been looming over the show since last season). And just like that tumultuous year, in the world of Mad Men when something good happens, something tragic happens.
It would take the death of that Randian iconoclast Bert Cooper to rally his erstwhile sons and daughters into action. In his second to last moment when he talks about Napoleon’s escape and eventual defeat in Waterloo, it inspires Roger to do something we are not accustomed to him doing; take control of his company (you will recall that it is Sterling Cooper and Partners – Roger’s father had more shares). Lest we forget, Roger’s last conversation with Bert was Bert’s very Randian view of leaders and who to have on the team, and making it well aware that he didn’t think Roger was a capable leader with a vision. Lest we forget, Bert’s last word was “Bravo” to Neil Armstrong, for being the swaggering alpha male and actually setting foot on the moon. In fact, the timing of his death is a nifty callback to his eulogy of his former lover Ida Blakenship back in Season 4; “She was born in 1898 in a barn, She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She’s an astronaut.”
In fact, this whole episode, like the snake eating its own tail, was loaded with callbacks from the past of these characters, but with a completely new spin:
* Peggy’s pitch to Burger Chef was very much her version of Don’s famous “Carousel” pitch at the end of Season 1. She took the pain of her life (the echoes of the child she gave up which came back in being the surrogate mom to her neighbor Julio, the fact that everyone stopped to watch the moon landing, etc.) and transformed it into a personalized, compelling campaign. It was a dazzling moment to watch At long last, she IS Don Draper 2.0.
* Megan’s phone call with Don ending their marriage was very much like the same one Don and Betty had when their marriage ended at the end of Season 3. A simple, quiet ending.
* Speaking of endings, the scene when Roger, Joan, and Jim at the office late at night was a callback to the night of Roger’s heart attack in Season 1 when Bert called Joan into the office to send telegrams to the clients.
* Finally, all of Roger’s back dealing to broker the deal with McCann-Erickson was not only a callback to the times Roger has managed to surprise everyone with a big opportunity (for example, the Chevy pitch), but served as an inversion to the Season 3 finale, when Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was formed because McCann was buying Sterling Cooper.
If anything, while we’ve been waiting all season for Don to step up and rally, what this season really was about was the ascendency of Roger Sterling. John Slatterly was on fire this episode, firing off the traditional Sterling zingers in the face of losing the real father figure in his life. Watching him slap Jim Cutler and “Benedict Joan” into submission was awesome to see.
Don really didn’t do much this episode, which was odd seeing him in such a passive position, but his two big actions counted. He gave Peggy the confidence she needed to nail the pitch to the ground, but more importantly he pulled Ted Chaough back from the brink of his death wish; serving as model and caution to Ted and showing him what happens when things go out of control.
Meanwhile, in a strange callback, Sally started showing signs of her mother in flirting with a hunky jock houseguest, all giggly and cooing and parroting his opinions. But when it came time to kiss a boy she went with his nerdier brother, clearly rattled by her father’s gentle reminder to not be cynical and think for herself. Once again, Kiernan Shipka nailed it in her scenes, but what’s amazing is how she’s physically channeling the ticks of both Jon Hamm and January Jones in her characterization of Sally.
Finally, in the last scene and biggest callback of the show, Don once again has a vision of a dead person, but this came in the form of a benevolent Bert Cooper soft-shoeing (in stocking feet no less!) to the song “The Best Things In Life Are Free;” an ironic choice given who’s singing it. But there was nothing ironic about that scene; a glorious send off to the character, and an inspired send off for the great Robert Morse. As I’ve said since day one, Morse’s casting as Bert has been one of the great meta jokes in television. After all, who better than the man who created to role of J. Pierpont Finch in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying play the head of this company. So to see Morse show us that he’s still got it (and how! In fact the staging was reminiscent not of Morse’s iconic number in that show, but of this iconic company number). It was a deliciously audacious, and surprisingly upbeat, coda to this half of the season.
But where do they go from here? Tune in to the next episode… in 2015!
Photo & Video Credits: AMC Television / Lionsgate Television