'Mad Men' Recap: Don Draper finally starts to win again in “Waterloo”

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Burt Cooper says goodbye in "Waterloo"

In this mid-season finale, written by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, we experience the denouement of several recently prominent storylines. Throughout a jam-packed episode that's set over the backdrop of the moon landing, Don Draper seems to be turning over a new leaf as he battles for his job and navigates the peril that comes with finally deciding to embrace reality.

If the moon landing's presence in “Waterloo” was designed to beseech us to reflect on the paradoxical nature of man—at once god-like and insignificant—then it certainly worked. For the characters of Mad Men's world, the NASA triumph served to put things in perspective and open up the questioning of priorities. Will the glow of the televised event painted on his face, Don calls his kids. Burt looks as happy as a child. Betty and family marvel at the magnitude of the moment. Even Roger seems to have a moment, while watching with his ex-wife, wherein a lifetime of 'the grind' seems to momentarily be lifted from his back.

The most important thread that runs through this episode involves uncertainty surrounding Don's future at SC&P. Don receives a letter, ostensibly form all the partners, stating that he is in breach of the addendum to his contract. The addendum, you will recall, states that Don cannot entertain customers alone, cannot drink on the job (except for when business calls for it), cannot deviate from the script at meeting, and must report to Lou Avery. Upon receiving this letter Don shows us some of the personal growth that we've long been hoping for. Refusing his secretary's poorly-timed advances, Don marches to Jim Cutler's office and demands “You think you're gonna trow me out of my own company?” Ever the glib stoic, Cutler claims that Don's breach of contract is a “cut and dry” issue. When pressed, Cultler launches into a seething tirade against Don, questioning his talent, claiming that his mystique is a lot of hype, and remarking “Now that I've been backstage, I'm deeply unimpressed.”

Instead of fighting further, Don rallies the partners and finds out that only Joan was aware of the breach letter's existence. Don insists that the group vote on his expulsion from SC&P and, despite being voted out by Cutler, Ted Chaough (in absentia) and Joan, the votes are in Don's favor. But we know now that he is on far shakier ground than he ever anticipated.

In a moment of excruciating uncertainty, Don calls Megan to talk things over, which is really a big step for him. The call provides a new clarity for Don, but not in the way you might expect. Confronted with Don's suggestion that he could possibly use his departure from SC&P as a chance to move to California with her, Megan issues a puzzling silence, followed by an admission that there is nothing left between them. It is finally the end of a relationship that just never seemed to go anywhere for either party involved. We get the sense that Don is more relieved than anything.

Knowing that a victory would do little to help his precarious position at the company, Don does one of the most self-less things we have ever seen him do—he gives the Burger Chef pitch to Peggy. He tells her that he wants her to be able to claim it for her own, by winning it herself. His care for her future at the company is matched only by his unwavering confidence that Peggy, who is a bit doubtful of herself, is more than capable of hitting a home run on this pitch. Peggy reluctantly accepts and ends up delivering a stirring pitch that rivals some of Don's best stuff. This moment truly marks the crossing of a threshold for Peggy. So impressive is her pitch, that one of the Burger Chef executives at the meeting dumbfoundedly exclaims “That's beautiful.” Meanwhile Don looks on like a proud dad. It is another important moment of growth for Don and for his relationship with Peggy.

Before SC&P can even get word back about Burger Chef, the episode is shattered with the death of partner and lovably cantankerous grandpa Burt Cooper. Immediately upon receiving the news, in the dead of the night, Roger heads to the office and is met there by Cutler. In a disgusting, if not surprising, show of callousness, Cutler mentions Don's now imminent departure to a distraught Roger, who blows up over it.

Now obsessed with saving Don and crushing Cutler, Roger meets with a big wig from McCann Erickson and the two hammer out a plan. McCann Erickson is to buy a 51 percent interest in SC&P, effectively meaning they will no longer have to compete against each other. McCann gets Burger Chef back and a chance at Buick, SC&P will be run by Roger. With a massive individual boon making it nearly a forgone conclusion, Roger brings the proposal to the partners. A tense battle ensues, but Cutler finally relents. The vote is unanimous: SC&P will be a part of McCann, Don stays and Cutler goes. And just like that, things seem to be heading in a promising new direction for most of the show's characters. How long can that last? We'll have to wait a year to find out.

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