THE LOOK ~ The dress looks like a giant bandanna: Red, white and blue, all-American. The look I went for was ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ This is sportswear. My hairstyle remains a nod to a Brit, Jean Shrimpton, but the cut of this dress is very 1969 California girl (and strikingly similar to what Bonnie wore on her shopping spree in S7E6.)
While the 1960s were heavily influenced by British and French pop culture juggernauts––The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Mary Quant, Shrimpton, Twiggy, Bardot, etc.–– the decade that immediately followed was all about the Americans.
In the 1970s, where ‘Mad Men’ is heading fast, British bands channeled American country-western, and rhythm and blues. One British band decided to call themselves America. The Eagles soared. Karen Carpenter’s voice graced the airwaves. Steve McQueen was the world’s biggest movie star. Mary Tyler Moore, ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels’ took over television. Speaking of which, there were those natural blondes: Farrah Fawcett, Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley. Fresh-faced, tan, sporty. Their look was all the rage, and Halston was the king of fashion.
The transition from the 1960s to the 1970s brought about a cultural shift towards all things sporty and American––but ‘Mad Men’ has always decidedly been about Americans. Megan, the Canadian, has been one of few exceptions, and we might see much less of her when the show returns. The other notable foreigner was Lane Price, who worried about the status of his residency in the U.S. until he (sadly) let his British stiff-upper-lip mentality get the best of him. And since the mid-season finale aired over Memorial Day weekend, this red, white, and blue bandanna dress also felt like a great fit for that American holiday. Especially because Vietnam War continues to loom heavy in 1969. What else might this dress signify?
THE ANECDOTE ~ The ‘Mad Men’ mid-season finale, entitled ‘Waterloo’, notably features the moon landing –– a major coup for The United States. Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. (My personal connection with this is substantial: my father was an aerospace engineer for NASA in the early-to-mid-1960s. His mission was helping to build the Apollo space shuttle.)
Meanwhile, when thinking about this bandanna dress, I started to think about biker counterculture in 1969. We’re sure to see or hear about Altamont when ‘Mad Men’ returns next year, either peripherally or directly. The Altamont Speedway Free Festival took place on December 6, 1969, and it came to symbolize the final nail in the casket of the peace-and-love movement of the late-1960s.
But let’s take a closer look at July, 1969, where the mid-season finale left off… ‘Easy Rider’ was released on July 14, 1969, exactly one week before the moon landing. Now it all makes sense. We know Ted Chaough goes to the movies. It’s very likely he saw ‘Easy Rider’ the week it was released. Right before his big move of frightening clients while flying them in his plane. And what about his being adamant about wanting out of the advertising industry altogether?
Supposing someone like Ted had just seen ‘Easy Rider’––kindly, idealistic Ted would’ve certainly identified with Peter Fonda’s character, Wyatt, who was also called Captain America(!). As in, the captaining of a plane. Just like Ted. Or the captain of a space shuttle on its way to the moon.
‘Easy Rider’ had a profound impact on men who longed for personal freedom, men who wanted to be cowboys riding away on their steel horses. While Ted’s predicament could have been explored much more deeply, (there didn’t seem to be adequate time to explore every vital character’s life in the span of those seven episodes), he was undoubtedly displaying this particular type of longing before he reluctantly agreed to ‘sell out’ again. It wasn’t directly referenced in ‘Waterloo’, but I strongly suspect Matthew Weiner and the ‘Mad Men’ writers were alluding to this counterculture mentality (one further catalyzed by the mainstream popularity of ‘Easy Rider’) via Ted Chaough’s strange behavior.
THE REVIEW ~ ‘Waterloo’, the mid-season finale of ‘Mad Men’, begins and ends with Bert Cooper. We first see Cooper sitting alone, watching the televised lift-off of Apollo 11. He stares in awe as the space shuttle launches, then utters a childlike, happy sigh. Cut to Ted Chaough, captaining his small plane, containing two nervous fellas from Sunkist. They talk about the Apollo 11 mission; Ted suggests that the astronauts might die, before he shuts off the engine mid-flight. While the clients freak out, Ted shrugs and says: ‘You wanted to go up in the plane. We went up in the plane.’ Cutler and Pete (needless to say) are furious with Ted when they discuss the incident later on the phone; Ted explains that he doesn’t want to die, he only wants out of the business.
Betty’s college friend, Caroline, arrives at the Francis home along with her entire family. This visit must be Betty’s way of driving home the fact that she went to college to Henry, and to her kids; she’s following up on her earlier declaration of intellect by introducing physical evidence of her academic history. Caroline has two sons: a nerdy teenager named Neil (in a much-too-direct correlation with Apollo 11) who’s upset because he can’t find his telescope, and the older teenager –– a tan and highly athletic type named Sean who’s considering football scholarships. Sean and Sally give each other the heavy look-over when introduced. Betty reminds Bobby that he has a telescope and Neil’s face lights up. Back at SC&P, The Burger Chef team meets for a final run-through of their big pitch. When Harry asks, Don recommends that he take the partnership deal he’s been offered, without negotiating. If only Harry had run out to sign those papers, then and there.
Peggy gets a date with Nick, the handsome repairman installing her drop ceiling tiles at home. ‘It’s so hot in here,’ she says. Ceilings in this episode (again, too-directly) allude to the space pioneers heading to the moon, as well as the glass ceilings that female pioneers like Peggy are tackling. Betty chats with Caroline in the kitchen; when the subject of Don comes up, Betty explains their current relationship: ‘I’m starting to think of him as an old, bad boyfriend. Someone a teenage anthropologist would marry.’ As if on cue, shirtless Sean (or mini-Don Draper) walks into the kitchen. Sally (or mini-Betty) also stops by, sporting a freshly styled ‘big’ hairdo and makeup on her way to life-guarding.
Clueless Meredith (apart from her obvious social limitations, the poor girl also has notably terrible taste in clothes) shows Don the Cutler-initiated ‘breach-of-contract’ letter –– which will quickly escalate into huge changes at the agency. Don, furious, confronts Cutler, then calls out all of the partners from their offices. When Harry shows up, Joan reminds him he’s not a partner yet. Bert yells at Cutler: ‘You had no right to put my name on that!’ They take a vote to keep Don. Pete is also infuriated by Cutler’s tactless move. Despite being the only other partner to vote against Don, Joan disapprovingly tells Cutler: ‘You shouldn’t have done that.’ Peggy has an emotional moment with Julio, the neighbor boy to whom she’s been a surrogate mother. He tells her he has to move away to Newark and that he doesn’t want to go. They hug and cry. While her ceiling now looks pristine, some aspects of Peggy’s inner life still need attention.
Don calls Megan, who’s sitting on her deck in a bikini, drinking white wine, reading a script. She also has a telescope nearby. It’s another thematic image –– one of looking out into the distance or the future –– that repeats in this episode. When Don brings up the possibility of a permanent move to L.A., something Megan seemed to have wanted for so long, she essentially ends their marriage on the phone. There will be speculation as to why Megan did this: why now, why this way? But Megan is pragmatic, focused. There has been a distinctive pattern with Megan during this season, and it rings true with a determined actress trying to make it in Hollywood. As an unknown starlet, being married would’ve never been a great selling point in landing her a role. Sad as it is to say, Megan is more focused on her career than on saving her marriage. (After all, being self-absorbed is a prerequisite for success in Hollywood.) While Megan had it in her to be an empathetic, connected human being, successful in some other type of creative field, this is the path she has chosen. And she is trying to stick with it. With their bi-coastal marriage, she felt like she could juggle both worlds; when Don offers to move (something she claimed she wanted, during times of frustration over her career) she immediately cuts off that part of her life in favor of the other. Which is why she cries and looks so terribly sad (and terribly sorry) when she tells him: ‘You don’t owe me anything.’ She feels guilty, because this is her choice. And she still loves Don. But again: she is being pragmatic. It’s a crushing scene for Don, and for those of us who rooted for them.
Roger and Bert have their final conversation, in which Bert is intentionally discouraging enough to compel Roger to rise to the occasion and prove himself a leader. Bert mentions Napolean and Waterloo. The Burger Chef team flies to Indianapolis. Pete compares Ted to Lane Price and suggests that Don heads up the L.A. office, and Don lets Pete know that ‘there’s no reason to go to L.A.’ Pete realizes Don and Megan have ended it and gives us another Pete Campbell nugget: ‘Marriage is a racket!’
The moon landing happens. Everyone watches Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon from their respective homes, with their respective families. Important to note: every member of the Burger Chef team watching TV together from their Indiana hotel room (Pete, Harry, Peggy, and Don) would have watched the moon landing alone, otherwise. So, as Peggy’s Burger Chef pitch suggests, Burger Chef even brought this team together, in this moment, as a pseudo-family. Roger and his family watch together, minus ‘Marigold’. Bert Cooper watches with his maid, and he says what becomes his last word on the show (until he sings us out): ‘Bravo.’ At Betty’s house, Sean sours the mood for everyone by sharing a popular sentiment among angst-ridden youth of the time: the cost of this mission was too steep. Don, being the loving father he is, calls to speak with his children so they may share this important memory together. Sally (ever the teenage girl) immediately adopts the cynical P.O.V. Sean just blurted out, but Don quickly manages to reverse this by asking Sally if she wants her little brothers to think that way.
Roger also receives a phone call in the midst of the moon landing and finds out that Bert Cooper, his father figure, has passed away. Cutler’s determination to rid the agency of Don, which he immediately mentions again, prompts Roger to take action against Cutler’s vision of the future, which consists solely of computers instead of people. (‘It’s the agency of the future.’) Speaking of futures, out in the backyard, Sally kisses the teenage scientist named Neil as if to reverse any indication that she is like her mother, someone who makes herself pretty and adopts a handsome guy’s thoughts instead of thinking for herself. When she kisses Neil, she offers herself hope that she has another future in store. Roger tells Don about Bert and they console one another. Don tells Peggy to deliver the Burger Chef pitch. Despite her trepidation, he insists she’s ready. He believes in her. Don is certainly doing everything right, and it’s inevitable that his luck is about to change.
And that change (for the future) does come, in the form of Roger as leader. Roger makes a deal with McCann Erickson to buy out SC&P. Meanwhile, Peggy delivers a flawless pitch and wins the Burger Chef account. The next day, Roger tells the partners they will be rich if they take the McCann deal. When Joan finds out just how rich, she’s immediately on board, and ecstatic. (Harry pops in for the meeting, but misses the boat, again. A huge boat this time. ‘I’ll take the deal! But he’s too late.) Cutler argues against the deal, and Don. Again. Roger explains: ‘All they care about is me, Don and Ted.’ Ted insists he doesn’t want to be in the business. But Don talks Ted into it by candidly describing his own recent struggles in trying to regain his career. They move to vote and everyone, including Cutler, votes yes. To everyone’s surprise. But Cutler explains: ‘It’s a lot of money!’ Consistent indeed. The mid-season finale ends with a surreal ‘soft sock’ dance and song by Bert Cooper. It’s an appropriate send-off for an actual song-and-dance man: ‘The moon belongs to everyone. The best things in life are free!’