The history-making launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969 served as the backdrop for the mid-season finale of Mad Men last night.
Once the dust settled, viewers were left with the enduring image of Bert Cooper’s dancing ghost crooning “The Best Things In Life Are Free.”
While Cooper’s death indirectly threw a life-preserver to Don Draper’s career thanks to a business deal Roger Sterling cut with the McCann-Erickson firm, the theme of the show centered around many of the key characters growing up and moving on.
Days before Don is scheduled to give the Burger Chef pitch, he receives a letter from the agency stating he was in violation of his contract for interrupting a meeting involving Commander Cigarettes.
As his professional life returns to a crumbling state, his wife Megan ostensibly ends their marriage while out in California.
Rather than carrying his emotional baggage into another client meeting, Don learns from his mistake last year with Hershey. He lets someone else do the heavy lifting.
Don encouraged Peggy to give the Burger Chef pitch in part because of declining work status and his confidence in Peggy. Reluctant at first, Peggy gives in and decides to give it a go.
In a way, this was the proverbial passing of the torch.
Remember when Magic Johnson hit the junior sky hook (a modified version of the shot made famous by teammate and all-time great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals to beat the Celtics?
That was this. The old lion (Draper/Abdul-Jabbar) seeing the younger teammate (Olson/Johnson) thrive and succeed in a clutch situation.
It’s not an accident that Peggy got her mojo back once Draper returned from the wilderness thanks to a motivational speech from Freddy Rumsen to just “do the work”; and the tandem’s Frank Sinatra moment during “The Strategy” from a week earlier.
The Burger Chef pitch was the crescendo of a topsy-turvy first-half for Peggy, who deteriorated into a scorned lover over the season’s start due to her falling out with the suddenly morbid Ted Chaough. For Peggy, a light at the end of the tunnel finally developed.
Elsewhere, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner used death as a primary backdrop in the show proceedings on Sunday night.
As a near-suicidal Chaough drank his problems away while watching soap operas and longing for an escape out of the advertising business, firm owner Bert Cooper left in a far more peaceful fashion.
Bert’s death forced Roger to become something his mentor said that he wasn’t – a leader.
Sterling resuscitated Draper and Chaough’s decaying work corpses through deal with McCann-Erickson to buy 51 percent of the firm, while holding the suddenly despicable partner Jim Cutler at bay at the same time.
Yes, it was an all-star performance by Roger, who also produced one of the top lines of the evening.
“Every time an old man starts talking about Napoleon, you know they’re gonna die.”
Bert’s spirit lives on in Roger, who is now firmly entrenched as the firm’s leader heading into the show’s final seven episodes.
As we approach the show’s final run in 2015, many questions surround the upcoming second half.
- Don is single again. Now, what?
- Will we finally see a Don & Peggy romance develop?
- How soon will Jim Cutler and Lou Avery end up on a boat and floated out to sea forever?
- Will Joan ever utter a positive word Don again?
- Speaking of which, can we make an episode solely dedicated to Don
- Will Ted Chaough rise from his mental fog to make a run at Peggy after being stuck in exile on the west coast? It appears that’s going to be a major angle heading forward.
- Betty and Henry Francis can’t possibly stay together, right?
- Will one of the cast members take the plunge of a building as suggested in the opening credits?
We have quite the wait until 2015 but if the first half is any indication, it’ll be more than worth the wait.