In case any Mad Men fans ever wondered whether Matthew Weiner might one day set a musical number in the agency—complete with girls in jewel-tone dresses whirling manila folders in the air—the answer is yes, he would. This episode sent two characters—Megan and Bert—out of Don’s life, and it’s a testament to the kind of show Mad Men is that it was the twinkly-eyed old man, not the bombshell, who wished us goodbye with a dance routine. (Although the show also didn’t hesitate to give us one last look at Megan in a bikini.)
Bert’s soft-shoe from beyond the grave was surprising, genre-busting (Don sees ghosts now? Dancing ghosts?), and overall, very sweet. He sang “The Best Things in Life Are Free”, including the line “the moon belongs to everyone”—appropriate, given the episode’s Apollo 11 theme. I couldn’t begrudge Matthew Weiner this sentimental flight of fancy; if science can put a man on the moon, why shouldn’t television make a dead man sing about it? And the sweetness was in keeping with the rest of the finale, which saw our heroes succeed, and their foes vanquished.
Perhaps the most surprising thread here was Roger’s—or rather, the fact that it was Roger who was driving the episode. After Cutler moves to oust Don from the firm—when Don crashed that meeting with Commander, he apparently violated his contract—Roger consults with Bert about what to do next. Bert suggests surrender. “You have talent and skill and experience,” Bert says, “but you’re not a leader.” The verdict is kindly meant, but it stings. It’s a funny predicament to put a supporting character in—to suggest his problem is he’s not in the lead. But Roger does sometimes seem to play a supporting role in his own life, offering wry quips from the sidelines rather than forward motion.
After Cooper dies, Cutler has the votes to kick Don out of the firm. That’s when Roger sets out to achieve something real, using steam-room gossip (and a desire to prove Cooper wrong) to broker a deal with McCann. It’s not the moon landing, but the conglomerate will buy 51 percent of SC&P, and keep it basically intact. The plan will save Don’s job, net the partners millions each, and leave Roger, not Cutler, in charge. It was a satisfying blow against Cutler, the man who is “not going to stop until the firm is just Harry and the computer.” (Harry, too, gets screwed—his partnership is pending, so he won’t be eligible for the McCann millions.) And thus our villains get their comeuppance, although Cutler will still make bank, and Harry—poor Harry, I forget why we hate him, except that he’s such a clod.
Still, why Roger? I think perhaps it has to do with the episode’s larger theme. Peggy’s Burger Chef pitch pits chaos against connection. Don’s phone call to Sally pits cynicism against wonder. The moon landing—which to this day remains the most astonishing human achievement of all time—bolsters the case for connection, for wonder, for belief in the possibility of doing something amazing. To place Roger, that glib gadabout, into a heroic role? Well, it’s as unexpected as if he’d literally turned up Sally’s lifeguard suit. It’s a joy to watch him pull it off.
As for the rest of our heroes, Peggy, bolstered by a Draperian pep talk, nails the Burger Chef pitch (and scores the phone number of a handsome handyman). Sally stops chasing the handsome but sour Rutgers prefrosh and plants a kiss on the nerd who showed her Polaris instead. (“What do I do now?” he then asks. Not that.)
For Don, meanwhile, the threat of losing his partnership forces him to consider what he really wants. (Not his secretary Meredith.) He should just walk away, but he can’t. He considers moving to L.A. with Megan, but—though she’s willing to wait and see The Wild Bunch with him—when he asks about a true reunion, she gives one of the more eloquent screen silences I’ve seen. Don knows this means goodbye. He realizes that he cares too much—earnestly, improbably—about the advertising work he does for SC&P. He doesn’t want to give it up. Advertising is his moon landing.
This was a joyful, pleasurable, hopeful episode, and there’s much more to dissect here. (Peggy and the neighbor boy! Ted and his ennui in that plane!) I’ll leave you guys to it. But one note of concern: This is the end of the first half of the final season. Everyone we like is up. Everyone we don’t like is down. Does that mean we’re due for dire reversals when the next mini-season airs? Will the series finale—once it arrives in 2015—now inevitably end in misery? Now that I’ve seen how well Weiner does hope, I hope not.
If you’ll excuse me, I have to go talk to people who just touched the face of GOD about HAMBURGERS.