Not as action-driven as AMC’s current flagship “The Walking Dead” or recently concluded “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” gave fans little reason to believe Sunday’s midseason finale would culminate with a massive cliffhanger.
Knowledge about the show’s storytelling habits did not, however, reduce the audience’s curiosity in “Waterloo,” the final episode of 2014. It similarly did not reduce expectations that the “Mad Men” universe–and the characters within that universe–would take a leap forward.
A giant leap, as it turns out.
Set against the backdrop of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the episode brought several lingering storylines–and one life–to a close.
Key storyline highlights follow:
— Ted Chaough’s ongoing misery reached a boiling point when he, while piloting an aircraft with his firm’s clients from Sunkist, teased allowing the plane to crash and his life to end. While he ultimately righted the flight’s course, he confirmed to Cutler that he wants to sell his SC&P shares and depart advertising.
— Phillip Morris opted not to book SC&P to run the campaign for Commander cigarettes. In the wake of the news, Cutler issues a memo claiming that by crashing the meeting with Phillip Morris, Don Draper breached his contract and would be subject to dismissal. An enraged Don temporarily avoids the dismissal by getting partners Pete, Roger and Bert to vote against the action (Joan, Jim and Ted–via Jim’s proxy–vote in favor of dropping Don), but the writing is on the wall regarding his future.
— Don acknowledges that his days are numbered in a long distance phone call with Megan. After noting that leaving SC&P would at least offer a chance to start fresh with her in Los Angeles, Don finds himself met with surprising silence from his wife. When she eventually responds, she makes it clear that the marriage is over. Neither moving to LA nor living with Megan (anywhere) is an option for Don.
— Don, Harry, Pete and Peggy head to Indianapolis to pitch Burger Chef.
— The nation watches the Apollo 11 crew land on the moon. During the broadcast, SC&P founder Bert Cooper passes away.
— In the wake of Bert’s passing, and with confidence that partner-to-be Harry will take his side, Cutler now has the voting majority to remove Don due to breach of contract. He will soon make the termination a reality. Upon learning of that reality, Don informs Peggy that he is handing over the reins to the presentation. She, not he, will present the campaign to assure that SC&P will be represented by someone who will be a fixture of the firm moving forward.
— Unhappy with Cutler’s plan to not only remove Don but effectively brand the firm in accordance with his own, futuristic vision, Roger follows up with McCann Erickson. After confirming his speculation that McCann was interested in SC&P due to its impending takeover of the Buick campaign (facilitated by Bob Benson’s transition to the GM executive team), Roger agrees to sell the controlling stake in the firm. McCann will buy 51% of SC&P but allow it to maintain its offices and operate as an independent subsidiary. Since Buick is central to the deal, Don and Ted–the two that helped SC&P land Chevy–must remain with the firm as part of the deal. All key executives must sign five year contracts.
— Roger proposes the terms to the partners. While Don hates the idea of working under McCann, he obviously has no choice but to agree — it is his ticket to remaining with the firm (and a significant amount of money from the sale). Pete and Joan enthusiastically agree based on the windfall, and Ted–following a pep talk from Don–also decides to remain on board. While the deal, by putting Roger in charge, effectively casts Cutler aside, he has no choice but to accept defeat and agree to the purchase. He will receive millions of dollars, after all.
— Because Harry had not yet signed his partnership agreement, he receives no proceeds from the McCann deal.
— As the episode draws to a conclusion, Don hallucinates a Bert Cooper song-and-dance number. The ghost of Bert, with accompaniment from some office secretaries, performs “The Best Things in Life are Free” from the musical “Good News.”
— An auxiliary storyline saw Carolyn, one of Betty’s college friends (played by Kellie Martin), visit the Francis household with accompaniment from her family. Carolyn’s older, handsome son seemed to initially catch Sally’s eye, but in the wake of the moon landing, it was the younger, geekier son who got a kiss from the eldest Draper child.