I finally caught up on the Mad Men mid-season finale last night and ... well, look, if you came here looking to read insightful commentary from a well-informed viewer, I'm sorry to report I am not that person. Over the years I've often found Mad Men impossible to enjoy because of its determined downward spiral, and so I've been a halfhearted fan at best.
Still, the last few episodes have been immensely satisfying and even -- dare I say it? -- hopeful, don't you think? Particularly Sunday's episode, titled "Waterloo." If you've seen the midseason finale and aren't worried about spoilers, here's what series creator Matthew Weiner had to say about how Mad Men ended the first half of its very last season.
So, seriously. What was UP with Bert Cooper's song-and-dance number there at the end?
I came into the season with the idea that Cooper would die, he’s of an advanced age. He would die during the moon landing and it would send the power dynamic at the agency into a tailspin, and Don would see his ghost singing that particular song. (...) I picked that song and Bert's death during the moon landing from the beginning of the season to make a statement about the fact that this has been a striving for success on Don Draper's part in a very new way. I wanted to add a little coda on the end of this event of selling the company. It's Don saying to himself, I guess in some weird way, money isn't everything.
In thinking about this scene, it seems to me that it was a strange and joyful way to say goodbye to a very strange and enjoyable character, but it was also a moment that underscored everything that had happened throughout the episode. It was a message for Don, but also perhaps a moment to reflect on Peggy and Roger's turning points, Sally's choice to turn her attentions from the cynical beefcake to the nerdy star-gazing brother, and even Megan and Betty separating themselves from Don.
Given the optimistic tone to the last few episodes, is Don really making lasting changes in his life?
This story began with Don eight weeks after the Season 6 finale, the shortest time lapse we’ve done between seasons. He’s lying to Megan, he’s fighting to get back in his business, he knows that he needs to change. He’s alienated Joan, cost her the equivalent of 7 million dollars in today’s money. He’s destroyed his relationship with Peggy by driving a wedge between her and Ted. And he’s been ousted from his own agency. Can Don work his way back up? That’s the story that we tried to tell in seven episodes. The first half of the season was about wanting to change, and deciding to change. Don blowing everything up last year, with Sally walking in on him -- that was the moment of change. The question is, has the guy learned anything? Now he’s paying attention to the work instead of the mechanics of the agency, and finally giving Peggy an opportunity to shine. He was pushing her on the bicycle -- he let go [Sunday] night and watched her ride away.
The amends Don seems to have made with Roger and Peggy -- those are good things, right?
I always take it from the character point of view. I think he concentrated on what he could control. On some level the work set him free, he got his drinking under control. It’s also what he said to Ted -- paying attention to other things. Of course some of his relationships are still a mess; we tried to do a very realistic version of Don and Megan’s relationship disintegrating. He took it very seriously; this was his second marriage and he wanted to make it work, even though in some ways the marriage was over as soon as she decided she didn’t like advertising.
But I think viewers get a sense of the bittersweetness. Materially, everyone is doing well, they’re all rich, but it’s only part of life. Now it’s what we are left to deal with. With Bert’s ghost, that was a slightly immaterial moment there -- that’s what that midpoint is about.
That's an interesting comment: "In some ways the marriage was over as soon as she decided she didn’t like advertising." I'd never thought about that before, and I'm not even sure what it means -- he needs to be with someone who shares his work passion?
Speaking of that last point, we've seen Don and Peggy grow closer in recent episodes. And he came to her hotel room in Sunday's episode. So ... are they ever going to ... ?
I'm gonna admit it's not on our mind. To me that's more almost a cliché scene: It's backstage, she looks awful, he comes back and says, "The star's sick. You're gonna go on, kid." That's what I wanted it to feel like. Again, it's about how real can you make it. Don comes to Peggy's bedroom? Maybe it's part of showing their relationship doesn't have that aspect to it.
Within the show we wanted to start Don and Peggy as far apart as possible because that's where we left them. Part of the story of the season was them repairing their relationship. It has the structure of a romantic relationship but to me it was about: Don cannot give Peggy confidence and Peggy cannot give Don integrity, both of them have to earn it for themselves.
What do you think is going to happen in the final seven episodes of Mad Men?
Image via AMC