Mad Men S7 E7, “Waterloo.”

You never know what’s going to happen from one week to the next on Mad Men. The only rule that seems to be holding true is that the show is staying strictly within the chronological confines of the 1960s from start to finish.

 

This recently concluded mini-season, we’ll call it Season 7A, took place entirely in the first half of 1969. Considering Matt Weiner initially envisaged Mad Men’s final year as one long season rather than two mini-seasons, it is a good bet that when Season 7B picks up next year, it will play out over the latter half of 1969, finishing off the way 7A started.

 

That means we have Manson, Woodstock, Altamont, the release of the Beatles’ final album “Abbey Road,” and possibly Chappaquiddick to look forward to, not to mention the Miracle Mets’ championship run or the debut of the Brady Bunch that fall.

 

***

 

“Waterloo” advanced many Mad Men plotlines, setting the table for the final half-season in 2015, but the centerpiece of the episode seemed not to be any of the character drama, but the moon landing itself.

 

The Sixties was a milestone-addled decade, and Mad Men has portrayed its characters experiencing the real-life events of the times throughout the run of the series: The 1960 Presidential Election, the Cuban Missile Crisis, both Kennedy assassinations as well as that of Martin Luther King, the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and so on.

 

Usually when a big event happens on Mad Men it’s incidental to the characters’ lives, there’s a TV or radio on in the background as people stop to watch for a moment and comment (or not) while in the midst of their day. But Matthew Weiner decided to give the moon landing the Spielberg treatment, making it epic, anchoring every character in front of a TV set to watch the event with wide-eyed reverence, fully aware that they were witnesses to history being made. It felt more like The Wonder Years than Mad Men.

 

I was three when the moon landing happened. I have no direct recollection of the event myself, and no family anecdotes about watching it either. Weiner himself would have been four, about the same age as Roger’s grandson Ellery. There is a slim chance that Weiner would have been old enough to have any extensive remembrance either.

 

Maybe the four-year old Weiner, like Ellery, was at just the right age where sitting around with family and watching men land on the moon would have made an indelible imprint, one of his first lasting memories as a conscious human being.

 

Matt Weiner would have been Ellery's age in 1969.

Matt Weiner would have been Ellery’s age in 1969.

For a guy who was too young to actually experience the Sixties, Weiner has done a preternaturally good job of resurrecting the decade in exquisite detail. The moon landing could be the first event of the 1960s that Weiner can recall from personal memory, which might explain the childlike, oversized way it was portrayed on Mad Men.

 

Usually the show handles the big events (and there were many) of the decade in oblique, unexpected ways: The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy and King assassinations, the murder of the Chicago nursing students and the University of Texas sniper, Vietnam, the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

 

But for the moon landing, Mad Men chose to have each cast member in turn sit before the TV and be awestruck by the event.

 

I had always thought of the moon landing as just another of the many episodes that made up the Sixties, and frankly as more of a background story than a main event. By the time I was old enough to start noticing stuff like that, we were onto more somber things like Watergate, the energy crisis, and inflation. Astronauts seemed part of the vanished past that included things like crew cuts and 39-cent gas.

 

Of course, for the people living in real time through the Sixties, there might be reasons why the moon landing would have been legitimately miraculous, as opposed to someone like me who looks back with the luxury of hindsight and romanticizes the decade for all its chaos, its many protests, assassinations, riots, political dogma and fashion statements.

 

In hindsight, we know where these events started and ended, but in real time, people had no way of knowing what exactly was starting or how far it would go. The Sixties were full of surprises, and not usually the good kind. The moon landing would have been the welcome exception. And when we talk about the moon landing, let’s remember we’re talking about an eight-day event in all, a mission fraught with uncertainty at so many steps along the way. There was the blastoff itself; then there was attaining lunar orbit; then there was the launching of the lunar module (“The Eagle”) from the orbiting capsule down to the surface of the moon; and finally the emergence of the astronauts from the module and the historic footsteps during Primetime Sunday. And then they had to do it all again in reverse.

 

When was the last time a government agency was able to pull off something like that without a hitch? The mere fact of the mission’s success is enough reason for celebration, never mind the sheer thrill of witnessing the breach of that unthinkable frontier.

 

Previous astronauts had orbited the moon (Apollo 8 in Dec. 1968), but this marked the first time men would actually land on the moon and step out of the spacecraft, and the whole world would be watching. President Nixon had a now famous contingency speech ready to go, just in case astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin ran into some bad luck.

 

But of course, they didn’t. It went off without a hitch. The decade started with John Kennedy’s bold proclamation that we would have a man on the moon before the ‘60s ended. Nobody could have imagined how much America would change over the course of the decade. Kennedy himself would be murdered on film a few short years after making his proclamation, and the decade just seemed to spiral out of control from there. By 1969, every social convention that had seemed iron-clad when Eisenhower handed off the reigns to JFK had been toppled or was on trial.

 

But then, amidst the full-frontal flowering of the Age of Aquarius, here comes this beacon from the past, from the men in crew cuts engaged in Cold War against Khrushchev’s Soviets. Twelve years after the surprise launch of Sputnik (which happened the same day “Leave It To Beaver” debuted on television) shocked America into the Space Age, the crewcuts in the grey-flannel suits had come back to triumph even as the hippies were getting ready for Woodstock.

 

NOTE: Mad Men Season 7 made subtle references to another 1969 milestone that would have been very significant to the people around then, but would have all but disappeared from public consciousness in the ensuing years: I’m speaking about the death of Dwight David Eisenhower.

 

When we think of Ike, we think of his WWII service and his presidency, but not his passing. But for the World War II generation, Ike would have been the closest thing to a father figure they had. His death, just before the moon landing, would have left an imprint on them and served as another indicator of the changing of the guard that was taking place throughout the late ‘60s.

 

Indeed, the only reason I was cognizant of Ike’s 1969 death is because of the silver dollars that were minted in 1971, the so-called Eisenhower dollars, which showed a bust of the former president on one side and a commemoration of the moon landing on the other, forever tying Ike’s passing to the men on the moon.

 

The Eisenhower dollar was truly emblematic of the times. It was the first “silver” U.S. coin that was made primarily of copper and nickel, reflecting the fact that the U.S. had taken its currency off the metal standards, more or less devaluing the brand. Plus, it’s a huge, ungainly coin, the equivalent of early 70s American cars that just kept getting bigger and bigger until the gas shortage made them obsolete. Plus, the Eisenhower dollar’s debut was delayed a year (until 1971) because of Congressional squabbling over how it should be made.

eisenhowerheads

Father to a generation.

The Eagle has landed on the moon.

The Eagle has landed (note the earth in the background).

 

***

 

BERT

The episode begins with Bert on the couch, fixated on his TV console as the Saturn V rocket blasts off from Florida, launching the three astronauts to their rendezvous with destiny. Bert watches intently, eager to catch every moment of this historical occasion, but first he must order his off-screen housekeeper, Hattie, to shut off the noisy vacuum cleaner, pronto.

 

That is some Twentieth Century irony right there. The sublimity of the moon landing, the crowning achievement of a century of progress, is readily drowned out by the noise of the century’s baser machines, its vacuum cleaners and whatnot.

 

Bert is old enough to remember the first automobiles rolling down New York City streets, as well as the Wright Brothers’ initial forays into flying. For a man like Bert, who is such an admirer of science and culture, the placing of a man on the moon in his own lifetime is indeed a miracle to behold.

rocketlaunch

 

***

 

JULIO & PEGGY

 

Mad Men never did define the nature of the relationship between Peggy and the neighbor kid, Julio. Instead, they sketch the outlines and let you draw the conclusions. Although Julio isn’t particularly adorable or even empathetic at first glance, the relationship grows more endearing the more you watch.

 

Julio is on the soft side, the type of kid who probably gets picked on a lot. He lives in a bad neighborhood without a father, so TV becomes his ultimate escape valve, the way comic books might have for a kid of the previous generation. Julio’s apartment doesn’t have a TV, so he does all his watching over at Peggy’s, and their unorthodox companionship evolves out of that.

 

We know that Peggy is lonely. We also know that she had to give up her own child, who would be close to Julio’s age now. Surely Peggy knows that, too.

 

Think about Julio again: A latchkey kid from a broken home who gets through childhood by withdrawing into the world of television. That could be 80% of the kids in the Seventies.

 

Julio comes to Peggy’s ostensibly for the TV, but it means something more for both of them. When Julio blurts out that he and his mother will be moving to Newark, he and Peggy embrace and shed tears, knowing that it will mean goodbye.

But the saddest part is the follow-up scene where Peggy tries to placate the inconsolable Julio, offering, “you can watch TV while I pack.”

“Okay,” Julio responds brightly, reflexively switching on the set and assuming his TV watching position on the couch in one fluid motion, temporarily distracted from the bleakness that awaits him. It’s like putting a treat in front of a puppy to hide the fact that he’s about to be dropped off at the pound.

 

TV provides that momentary reprieve of instant gratification.

 

Peggy had explained to Julio that she would be in Indianapolis for business on Sunday. “But that’s the day of the moon landing!” he protests. Peggy relents and says she’ll leave him the key so he can come over and watch the landing on TV in her absence. “Just don’t try to use the stove again this time.”

 

But this particular weekend it isn’t just the kid. Everybody will be centering his or her schedule around the television in order to watch the moon landing.

 

***

 

BURGER CHEF

Don, Peggy, Pete, and Harry Crane are flying to Indianapolis to give their pitch to the corporate heads at Burger Chef. The partners, Don and Pete, sit up front together while Peggy and Pete sit a few rows back. They all appear to be flying in the same class.

 

The entire team is aware that their Monday morning account pitch is riding on a successful Sunday night moon landing.

 

By then the public had been following the progress of the Apollo 11 mission for several days. The folksy yet technical patter of the walkie-talkie-like banter between ground control and the astronauts (“Tranquility base here.”/”Tranquility, we copy you here on the ground.”) had by then made its way into the popular psyche, where it remains to this day.

 

Peggy and Harry look especially tense as they lean back and stiffly buckle themselves into their seats. It’s almost like they’re in a space capsule themselves. The voice of the pilot comes over the intercom, sounding compressed and folksy just like the NASA/astronaut radio communications do. The pilot gives a special message of hope and support for the men who are at that moment en route to the moon; in doing so the pilot ties all their destinies together, astronauts and ordinary citizens, all of them passengers in the miracle of flight.

 

The four of them, Don, Pete, Peggy, and Harry, are next seen in front of the television in a hotel room as the actual moonwalk takes place. All eyes are transfixed to the screen as Armstrong descends the ladder and plants the first human footprint into lunar soil, probing it first with his heel and toe as if climbing down into an untested swimming pool.

 

“Armstrong on the moon” flashes across the TV screen the moment Armstrong plants both feet. “Hot damn!” Pete says, as Harry Crane reflexively bolts upright out of his seated position as if witnessing a game-winning hit at the World Series.

armstrongonmoon

"Hot damn!"

“Hot damn!”

***

 

Meanwhile, back in New York, Bert is watching the moon landing from his couch, decked out in his kimono. Seated next to him is Hattie the housekeeper. There is no vacuum cleaner this time. The two of them stare intently at the television like they’re posing for Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

 

As Armstrong takes his fateful step, Bert utters a final “bravo.”

 

We later learn that Bert has passed away not long after this moment.

 

Bert was always an enigma wrapped in a kimono, clad in stocking feet, buying a Rothko. His van dyke facial hair, eclectic tastes and modern art collection made him seem like a beatnik in the early episodes of Mad Men, But we quickly learn that Bert is a staunch Nixon man who likes to namedrop Ayn Rand. Some beatnik.

 

As the firm’s most erudite member, Bert may have eloquently eulogized Mrs. Blankenship (as an “astronaut” fittingly enough), but as late as 1969 he’s still instructing the office manager to keep the black employees at a discrete distance. “They can work here, but I don’t want them up front where the clients can see them.”

 

Of all the names the Mad Men writers could have given Bert’s housekeeper, Hattie is a notable choice. It brings to mind Bob Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” a true-story ballad about a black barmaid killed by a wealthy young tobacco heir who received a slap on the wrist for his crime. The song came out at the peak of the civil rights folk music movement  in 1963 and painted a stark picture of the chasm between the serving class and those with inherited privilege.

 

And now, in the scene that matters most, Hattie shares Bert’s couch for the solemn, sublime moment of the moon landing, with all the closure for Bert this implies.

 

One other thing. In his final scene, Bert has almost reverted to little boy status, both in his wide-eyed enthusiasm for the moon landing and the way he is dependent on a matronly woman to take care of him. I’m inclined to see this as another “2001: A Space Odyssey” reference: As human beings land on the moon, a wise old man reverts to infant stage and dies in an epiphany of Monolithic allseeingness.

Bravo.

Bravo.

 

***

THE FRANCIS HOUSE

The Francises are having houseguests for the weekend: Betty’s old school friend Caroline, along with her husband and two sons–Sean a strapping, morose jock, and Neil, a nerdy space enthusiast who wears high-waisted cutoffs.

 

The dads barely register in this storyline. Betty’s eyes immediately pick out Sean the jock as the alpha male of the brood. “Call me Betty,” she insists, eyeing shirtless Sean like a side of beef. Wherever Betty is it’s always Payton Place. After she gives Sean the once-over, Caroline leans in conspiratorially to whisper, “I have to ask, do you still talk to Don?”

 

Betty dismisses Don as nothing more than a long ago high school anthropology experiment who barely warrants a thought at this point. She then nods approvingly to Caroline at Sally’s interest in Sean, pointing out that Sally has never put on lipstick to go to the pool before. They didn’t even mention Sally’s hair, which looks like it took at least an hour to style and will soon be under a bathing cap or soaking in chlorinated pool water.

 

Sally as a lifeguard is a bit of a stretch in itself. She really doesn’t have much of a swimmer’s build, does she?

 

As she hastily runs the gauntlet of Betty and Caroline in the kitchen, who are catcalling her with their eyes, Sally announces that she can’t stop to eat anything or else she won’t be able to go in the pool for an hour, resurrecting another old wives’ tale of Sixties childhood-that you weren’t allowed to get in the pool for 60 minutes after eating or you’d be struck with a debilitating stomach cramp.

 

Speaking of high school anthropology experiments, Sean the jock has more than a passing resemblance to date-murderer Joran Van Der Sloot. Adding to the effect, he’s wearing a replica OJ Simpson college jersey, which is a nice callback to the fact that in 1969 Simpson had just wrapped up a storybook college football career, winning the Heisman Trophy by the greatest margin of votes ever, and was about to turn pro that fall as the NFL’s number one draft pick.

 

Everyone is sprawled out across the Francis living room, gazing dreamily at the moon landing on the color TV console like the subjects of a space age Norman Rockwell portrait.

Only Sean ruins the moment by announcing that frankly he doesn’t give a damn, sneering that spending $25 billion to watch someone walk on the moon while people are starving down on earth is just plain gauche.

francishouse

Watching the moon landing at the Francis house.

 

Just then the phone rings. No one wants to get up. Betty tells Sally to answer it. It’s Don. All he has to do is ask, “what do you think?” He doesn’t need to say about what, because everybody knows he means the moon landing. At first Sally shrugs and adopts Sean’s cynicism. “We’re gonna be going there all the time while people are still hungry down here,” she pouts.

 

But Don uses basic psychology on Sally, asking, “Would you want your brothers to talk that way?” This approach seems to work on the girl. Afterwards, post-cynical Sally goes outside to smoke a cigarette, where Neil the nerd is looking at the night sky through a telescope.

 

“Can you see it?” Sally asks Neil.

“The moon? No, it’s already set.”

“Then why aren’t you watching TV?”

“I don’t want to listen to them, or the reporters. Besides, there’s other things to look at.”

“Like what?”

“Polaris…Take a look.”

 

“I can’t see anything,” Sally says, still reticent and skeptical. But Neil is patient with her. By the way, isn’t that how it is for most of us with telescopes? You peer into it and either see your own eyelashes blinking back at you, or some overexposed blur of light, or just pitch darkness like someone left the lens cap on, and you kind of give up on stargazing right there and never try again. That’s why so many telescopes wind up in the storage closet.

 

“I think I see it,” Sally says excitedly.

“Isn’t that better than TV?”

“It is.” And with that she plants one on Neil’s lips.

 

With perfect timing, Neil gets called in by his mom. Sally lights up her cigarette and stands in perfect Betty pose, but her eyes are locked upward, gazing at the stars with a seemingly newfound appreciation of just how vast the universe is and how little she knows about any of it. It’s almost as good as the look she gave Don in the closing scene of Season 6 when he took the kids to see the whorehouse he grew up in.

 

A lot of mixed messages are going back and forth in this storyline, but at the bottom of it all, Sally seems to be choosing life, or at least giving it serious consideration. She was presented with two brothers at the beginning of the show: Sean, which rhymes with Don (as in Draper), and Neil (as in Armstrong).

 

Foreshadowing of the Don/Sean parallel came in an earlier scene when Don Draper confronted Cutler about Cutler’s attempts to cut him out of the agency. Don got aggressive with Cutler, who responded, not altogether untruthfully, “you’re just a bully and a drunk; a football player in a suit.” He might as well have called Don a failed high school anthropology experiment in an OJ Simpson jersey.

 

Initially, Sally is attracted to cynical, arrogant Sean. But by the end of the scene she chooses Neil, the true rebel with a beautiful mind who has escaped the shallow gravity of the Betty/Caroline/Sean/TV universe. In that last scene, Sally is posing exactly like Betty, but she isn’t picking “the anthropology experiment” like Betty would have. For Sally, there’s hope. She’s not choosing Don Draper, the entitled womanizing corporate shill, she’s choosing Neil Armstrong the humble NASA engineer who’s more interested in building a better world than getting cheap thrills.

 

One of the less believable aspects of this scene is Sean the jock as social critic. Since when do arrogant jocks care about helping the less fortunate? I could understand Sean sneering at the astronauts for being goody-two-shoes, but thinking about the plight of the poor? That seems like a stretch.

 

On the other hand, generational politics would peak at the dawn of 1970 as the Nixon Administration deepened our presence in Southeast Asia. Membership in fraternities and sororities plummeted on campuses as even non-hippy youth were becoming cynical.

 

 ***

 

When Sally protests to Don, “People will be going to the moon all the time!” We kind of chuckle at the childish naivete. But how far off the mark was she from the premise of the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”?

 

If we could get a man to the moon by the end of the ‘60s like Kennedy said, think of what could happen by the year 2001. It made implicit sense that by the time that futuristic sounding year rolled around ushering in the new millennium, we’d be colonizing space.

 

“2001” and the Apollo moon missions were both feted regularly in the media at the close of the 1960s. Who was to say where the line between fact and fiction lay?

 

And are we really all that more sophisticated now? By the 1980s, lunar landings were a distant cultural memory and space shuttles were exploding on takeoff. We weren’t expecting to see moon bases anytime soon. But as late as 1999 we still had an exaggerated sense of the impact of technology and the magicality of the new millennium. Many of us thought that at the stroke of midnight, Dec. 31 1999, machines would literally grind the world to a halt because of a glitch in a data entry field.

 

***

The omnipresence of Bert Cooper for Roger.

The omnipresence of Bert Cooper for Roger.

 

Before passing away, Bert had time to impart Roger with one last bit of constructive criticism. He told him more or less, “Son, you’re just not leadership material.”

 

Roger retorts that Jim Cutler is about to change Sterling, Cooper into something unrecognizable.

 

“Maybe so,” Bert replies. “But at least he has a vision for this company. You don’t have that.”

 

Bert went out like Obi-Wan Kenobi, transferring the force to his protégé, Roger Sterling upon his passing. Bert’s transition plus the astronauts on the moon meant the stars were aligned just right to give Roger visionary CEO powers.

 

First Roger reached back to last episode’s uncomfortable, homoerotic/phobic shvitz with Jim Hobart, the headhunter from McCann Erickson. Roger calls Hobart out for an early morning sitdown at the remote diner where he used to bring Joan.

Discussing the merger.

Discussing the merger.

With the terms of a merger apparently hammered out, Roger ninjas his way into Don’s building and is waiting for Don at his door when he gets back from Indianapolis that night. Roger gets Don onboard with an inspired sales-pitch about their beautiful game and how Jim Cutler wants to destroy it all. “Cutler’s not going to stop until the firm is just Harry and the computer,” Roger warns.

 

He next lured Pete and Joan by floating an astonishingly high valuation of the company–$65 million was the sum ($400 million in 2014 dollars)–which makes Pete and Joan squeal like teenagers when they tabulate what their shares would come out to.

 

Roger lastly unleashed Don to pitch a very reluctant and burned-out Ted Chaough on what an exciting new adventure the McCann Erickson buyout would be. The moment Ted allows himself to think aloud about moving back from L.A. to New York, Roger pounces and closes the deal.

 

Bravo, Roger.

 

***

 

The men on the moon and the friendly ghost of Bert Cooper worked their magic on the Indianapolis team as well. Informed Sunday night by Roger that Bert had died, and that Bert’s death means Don will surely be voted out of the firm, Don selflessly hands off the next day’s Burger Chef pitch to Peggy, his long unacknowledged protégé, without telling her why. He becomes her Obi-Wan Kenobi. And of course, Peggy hits the pitch out of the park, bringing the Burger Chef men close to tears.

Everyone's favorite couple.

Everyone’s favorite Mad Men couple.

 

The protege and the mentor.

The protege and the mentor.

***

LOS ANGELES

Meanwhile, high up in the hills, Megan appears briefly on her deck in a self-absorbed cameo with a script in one hand, a drink in the other, and a phone cradled against her ear. Did you see the telescope on her deck? It’s probably just for show. Everybody had astronomy-fever that week.

 

Season 7A started out being very L.A.-centric, but at this point the city is written out of the script almost entirely, like Chuck from Happy Days. L.A. has been reduced to one scene of Megan getting buzzed on the deck in a bikini and breaking up with her husband over the phone.

Don and Megan break up over the phone, and Mad Men appears to be breaking up with L.A.

Don and Megan break up over the phone, as Mad Men appears to be breaking up with L.A.

 

All the other Mad Men and women are back in New York for the start of Season 7B.

 

***

“THE TV IS ALWAYS ON”

It’s tempting to say that the moon landing was the legitimate star of this episode. But there is another one, the moon landing’s silent partner, whose radiant glow is a little duller but ultimately more pervasive and enduring than the Apollo Mission’s. It is the eminence grise that facilitated almost every change of the 1960s, and is the biggest single object that makes us (Baby Boomers and beyond) different from them (The Greatest Generation and before).

 

I’m talking of course about television.

 

Peggy’s sales pitch to the Burger Chef people is a lamentation about how alienated people have become from each other in 1969, even families at the dinner table. “Dad likes Sinatra. The son likes the Rolling Stones. The TV’s always on. Vietnam playing in the background.”

 

Vietnam would stop playing in the background in a few more years, but the TV would stay on.

 

Peggy uses the previous night’s moon landing to show that no matter how far apart society is drifting, television is the one thing that can bring them all together. TV is where people turn to fill the void that everybody seems to feel now, which is why it is the perfect place for Burger Chef to run its “family-style” restaurant ads.

 

The TV is always on.

The TV is always on.

Indeed, while it was the momentousness of the moon landing itself that people were celebrating, the miracle they were really responding to was the fact that audio and video from the moon could be broadcast live into their living rooms.

 

Prime-time Sunday night was when people watched the Beatles and Elvis debut on Ed Sullivan, and now it was when they tuned in to watch a man address them from the moon.

 

All the Mad Men characters sat spellbound before a television set as Neil Armstrong took the giant leap for mankind. Whether it be Bert and Hattie, the Francis house, the Cleveland team, or the Sterlings, they all look like they’re sitting for a 1969 version of American Gothic. And we can imagine latchkey Julio doing the same at Peggy’s apartment.

 

Other than Bert’s subdued “bravo” and Pete’s impetuous “hot damn!” no one even uttered a word. They all just sat there looking at the TV monitor like 19th Century people posing for their first photograph: solemn, poker-faced, perhaps a little bit cowed by this new technology they’re witnessing.

 

***

 

“The TV is always on.” Yes, this episode of Mad Men is about the ascendance of television. It starts with Bert watching the rocket launch and hard cuts to Ted Chaough flying the clients over Southern California and cutting the engines to freak them out a little.

 

Next, Ted is having a conference call with the New York office, explaining his actions to Cooper and Cutler. It’s sunny in both time zones, which means that it’s early in the day where Ted is in California. Ted is glumly drinking screwdrivers (Don Draper’s morning depression drink of choice) and looking miserable as a soap opera drones from the TV. To explain himself, Ted contrasts the thrill of freedom and danger he gets from flying with the abject misery of being an ad executive, and assumes the others will understand completely.

 

Ted's doldrums.

Ted’s doldrums.

“Didn’t you feel that way when you flew over Dresden?” Ted appeals to Cutler, referencing his World War II experience.

“I wanted to live,” Cutler responds, Hamlet-like, unable to relate in the slightest to what Ted’s talking about.

 

When Ted’s up above the clouds he’s happy and alive. When he’s sitting at home, he’s drunk and miserable, and there is a bad daytime soap droning on to bring home the point. The TV is always on.

 

When Roger breaks the news about Bert’s death to Don over the phone, they’re both doing exactly the same thing, watching the moon landing on TV with a drink in their hand. Don’s in his hotel room; Roger’s at home. Bert had been watching the very same scene when he left this world. Everybody’s watching the television, but in a way it’s watching us; and the television never blinks.

roger

Roger calls Don.

donhotel

Don answers the phone.

 

 

When Don called the Francis house, the ringing phone threatened to break the spell of the televised moon landing. No one wanted to get up and answer it. Sally only got it because Betty ordered her to. In any case, Don knew the TV would be on and she would be watching.

 

Later that night, when Don called Peggy in her hotel room to let her know she’d be pitching the Burger Chef account, Don’s TV is still on, and it’s the shot of the moon landing they used for the MTV logo when that network debuted some 12 years later, reinventing television for a new generation of latchkey kids. And of course the episode started out with Julio bargaining with Peggy for a few last hours of television time. For Julio, the fantasy of the television always being on is the only thing that gets him by.

I want my MTV.

I want my MTV, 1969-style.

***

CODA

justabeautifulmadmenshot

bertdance

"The best things in life are free, Don."

“The best things in life are free, Don.”

The show seemed to conclude on a high note. Roger finds his brain, Don finds his heart, and Peggy finds her courage. The junior partners are all instant millionaires, and Bert’s doing a soft shoe from the great beyond, telling Don “the moon belongs to everyone/the best things in life are free.” It’s practically a Bollywood ending, with all the conflicts neatly resolved and everybody living happily ever after.

 

Or is it?

 

Don’s had hallucinations in past episodes, and this could all just be the last fleeting illusion of happiness before the dark days of Season 7B begin.

Don witnessing Bert's final adieu.

Don witnessing Bert’s final adieu, realizing it’s just an illusion.

 

 

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