Despite the fact that a death wish and a death bookend this episode, “Waterloo” sets Mad Men on a positive trajectory for the final episodes. This is an especially powerful and emotional episode that unites Don, Peggy and Roger in rejuvenated relationships.
The July, 1969 moon landing mesmerized the world, and kept everyone on edge hoping for the astronauts’ safe return. “Waterloo” draws on the emotions of that event as the backdrop for the next stage of SC&P’s evolution. Ted pulls a bonehead “death wish” stunt with the Sunkist client, leading to his announcement to Jim that he’s burnt out and wants Jim to buy out his interest in the agency. Jim brushes this off, and makes another move to oust Don from the agency.
Jim’s bold move intertwines with the death of Bert Cooper to trigger a series of maneuvers by the partners. The setbacks and bounce backs that follow create a roller coaster ride of emotions. Don challenges Jim’s unilateral decision to fire him and wins a shaky vote of confidence, only to have it disappear with Bert’s death. Bert’s death motivates Roger to heed his “final” admonition to step up and be a leader. Don’s transformation from a self-centered, pompous, creative drunk to a conscientious, sober, creative leader and mentor seems genuine and complete. Don and Peggy move forward to a wonderful new place in their relationship. Inspired by Don, Peggy finally blossoms into the star creative director she aspires to be. Roger and Don restore their leadership in the agency and the partners finally unite under a common purpose – money. The door to the next and final iteration of SC&P is opened.
Jim Cutler’s crusade to rid the agency of Don is on hold due to the possibility of the assignment of the Commander brand from Phillip Morris. Lou informs Jim “Commander cigarettes is dead” because they are consolidating it with other Phillip Morris brands at Leo Burnett. Jim tells Lou “There will other tobacco opportunities now that people know we’re available.” Lou snaps back that it took him ten years to build his tobacco resume and that Don’s performance at the Commander meeting “turned me into a joke.” Cutler tells Lou, “We don’t owe you anything, and you’re a hired hand.” Take that.
With Commander off the table and Lou put in his place, Jim makes a unilateral decision to fire Don for breach of contract. True to form, Jim delivers that news to Don in a letter from SC&P’s attorney attested to by all the partners. Sensing that something is amiss, Don bursts into Cutler’s office and says, “You set that meeting to force me out of the agency. What was I supposed to do?” Cutler tells Don that he is not intimidated by him and says, “You’re just a bully and a drunk.” Jim invites Don to take a swing at him. Perhaps the old Don might have thrown a punch, but the new Don fights fire with fire, summoning all the partners into the hall for a very public partners meeting and asks for an immediate vote on his termination. All the partners, except Joan, express their surprise at Cutler’s bold move and Don wins by one vote. This is clearly a case of Jim overstepping his bounds and, in some ways, acting a bit like the old Don. The partners have every right to be upset and leery of Jim’s motivations and trustworthiness. Joan sums it up perfectly and tells Cutler, “You shouldn’t have done that.”
Bert’s Passing, Roger’s Resurrection
After learning of Bert’s death, a clearly shaken Roger reaches out to inform the partners, meeting Joan and Jim at the office. At SC&P, after Roger removes Cooper’s nameplate from his office door, an emotional Joan hugs Roger and offers condolences. Then, without missing a beat, Joan wants to immediately start calling clients and Cutler’s returns to his obsession with Don’s ouster. Jim reminds them that with Bert gone, he now has the votes to fire him. He says it’s time to look toward the “agency of the future,” with “media buys pinpointed with surgical accuracy,” and that agency doesn’t include Don.
Roger is frustrated and disgusted with both of them and wryly asks, “Is this what would happen if I died?” Roger calls Don in Indiana and tells him about Bert’s passing. They share very real and raw moments of sadness and it’s clear that Bert meant a lot to both of them. Roger also tells Don that Cutler is already talking about getting rid of him now that Bert is dead. Roger says to Don, “Now I’m going to lose you too.” After this conversation, both Don and Roger take positive steps to work for the greater good of the agency. Don decides to seize the moment to motivate Peggy and insulate her from any fallout from his impending ouster. With Bert’s words about leadership echoing in his mind, Roger steps up and takes control of the agency’s future to provide a new path forward that definitely includes Don. Shining moments for both of them.
Passing Of The Torch
Rehearsed and ready to go, the Burger Chef team flies to Indiana. They all watch the moon landing and go to bed expecting to deliver their planned pitch the next morning. After his call with Roger Don takes action. The eve of a new business pitch is intense, pressure filled and sleepless. News of this magnitude could seriously disrupt and deflate a new business team if not handled correctly. Sometimes it is best to hold the news until after the presentation.
Don decides to let the team know and then does everything he can to help Peggy win the business. Don goes to Peggy’s room, announces the change of plans and tells her that she must lead the Burger Chef presentation. Don explains the ramifications of Bert’s death on his job security and says, “If I win this business, and then I go, you’ll be left with nothing.” Peggy is hesitant and nervous, but Don encourages her and offers to practice the pitch with her. The next day at the Burger Chef presentation, Don introduces Peggy by lauding her knowledge of the Burger Chef consumer and her creative talent. He then says, “Every brand has a story and here’s Peggy to tell you the Burger Chef story.”
Peggy takes a page out of Don’s playbook, and begins her story by drawing on Armstrong’s walking on the moon and how it provided an uplifting, emotional connection that people hunger for. Everyone in the room is spellbound and the client urges her on saying, “That is beautiful.” Peggy explains how Burger Chef offers a place where “we can have the connection we’re hungry for.” Then Peggy delivers the slogan “There’s family supper at Burger Chef.” Don knows that she’s nailed it and smiles. It doesn’t get any better that that for a creative director. This is Peggy’s “Carousel” moment.
McCann Sterling Cooper
While the team is pitching Burger Chef, Roger is pitching Jim Hobart from McCann-Erickson on the wisdom of McCann’s purchasing a 51 percent interest in SC&P. This is Roger at his best, using the threat of competition on Buick, and the promise of Don’s creative mastery to create the case for operating SC&P as an independent subsidiary.
He cites McCann’s purchase and operation of The Marschalk agency as precedent. Roger proposes that he would be president and run the agency “without Jim Cutler and all that baggage from CGC.” Jim says he’ll think about it, but tells Roger it won’t work without Ted Chaough: “GM thinks he and Don Draper are one person.” So, in one brilliant move, Roger secures the agency’s future, eliminates the annoyance of Jim Cutler and enriches the partners financially.
Roger also knows that they have been down this road before with McCann and that he will have to overcome some partners’ perceptions that working for McCann is worse that being in hell. Hopefully he can convince Don and Ted that the promise of independence is real and that they will have creative freedom. When Don arrives home, Roger tells him about McCann’s offer and explains that he’d be president and Don would keep his “real job.” Don pushes back, but Roger convinces him by saying, “Cutler’s not going to stop until the firm is just Harry and the computer.”
The next day, Roger tells the partners about McCann’s offer and says, “We finally turned this place into a legitimate threat, and they’d like to neutralize it with cold, hard cash.” Harry tries to join the meeting and is dismissed and told, “You’re not a partner yet?” Jim immediately resists, Ted says he’s done with advertising and the other partners are skeptical. When Roger lets them know that they each would have five-year contracts and that a 5% stake would be worth millions of dollars the tide turns.
Without Ted there is no deal, so Don delivers a heartfelt pep talk to Ted telling him that now he can be relieved of management burdens and “get back to creating”. Don tells him that he knows what it’s like to not have work and says, “You don’t want to see what happens when it’s really gone.” Ted agrees and so does Jim saying, “It’s a lot of money.” With the deal done they head out of the office to let the staff know about Bert and Peggy gives Don the news that they landed Burger Chef. The pieces are falling into place.
The McCann acquisition has historical validity. In fact, McCann did purchase Marschalk in 1954 and it operated as a smaller independent subsidiary. In 1960 the agency was renamed McCann-Marschalk and flourished for a few years. Eventually, the agency floundered and went through a number of transitions and consolidations within IPG and the Marschalk name disappeared around 1990. As pointed out in other reviews, agency acquisitions are tricky, delicate and difficult to manage.
The insulation of independence helps forestall the inevitable, but eventually the culture and ethos of the smaller agency fades away and disappears. This is what will likely happen to SC&P under McCann. The McCann acquisition also hit home with me personally. In 1988 I was President of London based Geers Gross advertising and McCann purchased our US operation in New York. We did not operate independently and the agency’s clients and personnel, including me, were absorbed into McCann New York. I was asked to sign a two-year contract and after fulfilling my obligations I left McCann to pursue other opportunities. I returned to McCann in 1995 and worked there for another eight years eventually retiring as Vice Chairman of the agency. My experiences at McCann were very positive and I still treasure the relationships I made.
As Mad Men heads into its final run, some people will be notably absent. Megan is history as Don’s wife number two. While Bert will be at the agency in spirit, it’s highly likely that Lou and Jim will be excess baggage and exit SC&P. It also remains to be seen how Harry will take being screwed out of his partner “payout.” We’ve also seen the last of Sally the child as Sally the young woman steps out.
The episode ends with Don’s vision of Bert singing an uplifting version of “The Best Things In Life Are Free.” “Waterloo” delivers a hopeful ending that is, hopefully, a precursor of Mad Men’s final chapter.