Mad Men’s Don Draper began 1969 unemployed, feeling sorry for himself, in an unhappy marriage, practically estranged from his daughter Sally, and lonely enough that he took a shower and put on a suit to meet with his former secretary once a day, who he’d try to convince to stay longer than the three minutes she’d pop in. And for that brief moment of human connection, Don Draper had to pay her. Don Draper was a broken man.
Six months later, he’s as happy and confident as we’ve ever seen him, and it’s real confidence, not Don Draper bluster. Somewhere around the time that Freddy Rumsen told Don Draper to “Do the work,” Don finally checked his ego. He did the work. He ate the sh*t. He got his job back. And now he’s set to make millions. But more importantly than that, he’s got his soul mate back in Peggy Olson. He and his daughter have never been closer, and in Roger Sterling, he’s found a true best friend and a new leader, someone who finally fought for him.
It wasn’t an easy journey for Don. “Waterloo” began with a letter that Jim Cutler’s attorney had drafted terminating Don’s employment for breach of contract. No one took it harder than poor Meredith, who attempted to parlay Don’s imminent dismissal to her advantage. “I know you’re feeling vulnerable, but I am your strength … Tell me what I can do?”
Oh Meredith, don’t ever change.
When Don confronted Cutler about it, we realized that Lou “You’re Just a Hired Hand” Avery was never the real villain of this season of Mad Men. It was Jim Cutler all along, and the episode was his Waterloo. “You’re just a bully and a drunk. A football player in a suit,” he said to Don, which might have described Draper in 1968, but hardly the kindler, gentler Don Draper of 1969. Eat a dick, Cutler.
Joan’s not much better, at least from our perspective. She didn’t know about the termination letter, but she didn’t care, either. “I’m tired of this costing me money,” Joan said coldly. What the f*ck, Joan? She may be waiting for true love, as she told Bob Benson last week, but she’s also in it for the money. I partially understand Joan’s transformation: Men have screwed her for so long that they can no longer be trusted, but money — and the stability it can bring to her family — can. Personally, I think part of it is still a sense of shame that Joan feels around Don, who gave her an out two seasons ago and attempted to stop Joan from sleeping with Herb Rennet by appealing to her dignity. This is the look that Joan gave a devastated Don the morning after she slept with Herb, and I don’t think that she’s ever gotten over her own sense of shame. Don is a constant reminder of it.
Pete’s man crush on Don, on the other hand, could survive a nuclear holocaust. “That is a very sensitive piece of horse flesh!” Pete tells Cutler, sticking up for his guy at whatever the costs.
Meanwhile, Ted wants out. He’s miserable in California. Miserable in his job, and probably miserable without Peggy. Briefly envying the astronauts and their possible death, he kills the engine on his plane and scares the sh*t out of their Sunkist clients (he was probably even more sad about the terrible green screen in that scene), before later asking Cutler to buy him out. NOT GREAT, TED.
Elsewhere, Don — sensing that he was about to get fired — decides to make the best of a bad situation and at least salvage his marriage, but as suggested in last week’s episode, the curtain had closed on Megan and Don. The phone conversation with Megan went something like this:
Don: I can move to California now.
It was painless. All of the work toward the divorce had been done over the last season and a half. The phone call was just a formality, and an excuse to see Megan in a bikini.
The centerpiece of the “Waterloo,” of course, was the moon landing. It’s what brought everyone together. Roger with his ex-wife. Betty with her old college friends. Don with Peggy, who sat on the bed and watched like adoring big brother and sister, while their squirrely little brother Pete sat on the other bed. “Hot damn!”
And, of course, Bert and his maid watched together. “Bravo!” were Bert Cooper’s final words before passing away. It was understated, so perfectly divorced from melodrama, and so fitting on the low-key Mad Men. We should’ve known because even Roger noted the foreshadowing: “Every time someone talks about Napoleon, you know he’s going to die.”