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Predicting the ‘Mad Men’ Midseason Finale: What Might Happen in ‘Waterloo’?

Predicting the 'Mad Men' Midseason Finale: What Might Happen in 'Waterloo'?

As the seventh season of “Mad Men’s” first installment approaches its end,
we wonder what Matthew Weiner and crew will leave us with for the second half. More so, we have to
wonder what they have given us so far, with so much time to ponder before the four-time Best Drama winner at the Emmys reaches its final conclusion.

Sunday’s mid-season finale is entitled “Waterloo,” a reference to
the 1815 battle in present-day Belgium in which Napoleon’s return from exile
was finally thwarted. I have learned over the past several years to believe
that anything Matthew Weiner does merits attention. Way back in the Sterling
Cooper days, Harry Crane speculated about the firm opening a West coast office.
Then he looked like just another agency underling with big dreams, but
hindsight says it was a demonstration of the insight and future-mindedness that
just landed him a partnership. So, as Don remarked to Peggy in last week’s
landmark episode: “You think that’s a coincidence?”

“Mad Men’s” episode titles have always been crafted as
carefully as its fashion. As the series opens in a hazy bar to introduce
television’s most mysterious character, it is called “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Episodes that feature a dramatic change in direction have titles that elicit our
attention, as in “Shut the Door. Have a Seat,” and “For Immediate Release.” Season
7 has been light on the depth of the titles, which makes the inferences of the
next show that much more interesting. With that in mind, here is what these tags
have indicated through the first half of the final season, and what Don and the
rest of his army might face in “Waterloo.”

“Time Zones”

Perhaps the dominant yet often forgotten theme of the “Mad Men” saga has been the East/West coast divide, and the symbolism that comes with it. As in season 6’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” the Season 7 premiere addressed this directly in its title. It opens with a blast from the past as Freddie Rumsen delivers a pitch for, of all things, a watch (or, “a timepiece”). “Time Zones” introduces the cross-continental scope of the season, which has seen many major characters – Don, Megan, Harry, Pete, et al – in flight between New York and Los Angeles. In last week’s “The Strategy,” Bonnie tells Pete point blank something that has been subliminal ever since Dick Whitman ditched work to visit Anna Draper: that he is a different person on different coasts. They’re in love in Los Angeles, with that relationship taking root in “Time Zones,” but all of that falls apart in New York, echoing Don’s “We were happy there,” to Megan as their own marriage struggled back East.

“A Day’s Work”

Over the course of a single day, Valentine’s Day 1969, work
is replaced by actual, interpersonal relationships. This day begins with
Don, effectively unemployed and living alone, setting his alarm for 7:30, but
sleeping until noon before rising to eat junk food and watch television. For
Don, there is no work in this day. The nudge that this trivial lifestyle is all
in a day’s work for Don is a tough one to swallow. After all, this is a man who later
says that his job is to not know what’ll happen next but always to be thinking
about work. No work, it seems, is done by anyone, so Don is not totally alone.
Joan, who has become more important to the accounts department, spends her day
solving petty (not to mention racist) personnel problems. Peggy is in knots
over flowers that were not meant for her in the first place. The partners spend
the better part of their teleconference wrestling with technology. As the day
develops, it starts to work out. Joan is given an office upstairs and Dawn is simply
given an office. By the time night falls, Weiner gives a nod to his alma mater “The Sopranos” as Don and Sally hit the road and have a talk that they both
desperately needed.

“Field Trip”

This episode receives its name from Bobby’s school trip, for
which Betty tags along. “Field Trip” is a companion to “A Day’s Work” in several ways. While little work was done in the prior episode,
this episode can adequately be described as no field trip. Betty’s and Bobby’s
outing goes awry — the opposite of what Don’s relationship with Sally is doing — but the most important moment is when Don is welcomed back to the office. The
most unfamiliar trip Don takes is not to California, but to his very own
conference room.

“The Monolith”

The glaring exception to the notion that this season’s
episode names lacked symbolic depth, “The Monolith” is a return to office life as
usual. This is, of course, with a major change or two. The office is (literally)
torn apart by a large computer, essentially a gift from Jim
Cutler to Harry Crane and a knife to the ribs for creative. As stated with an un-“Mad Men” like lack of
subtlety, the computer is obviously a metaphor. This episode often, as in its
title, references “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in which the Monolith as a symbol
appears repeatedly to indicate a great step forward for man. While Harry’s
computer may not show change as material as the evolution from ape to human,
it is a significant blow for an era in which advertising was run by artistic
men in great suits, aka Don’s world. He smashes a typewriter (the technology of the past)
out of frustration from working under Peggy, but the computer (the technology
of the future) thrives. The species is moving forward, suggests the Monolith. The
computer, like Kubrick’s mysterious stone, does not simply appear once and then go away,
and neither do the “2001” references. Just before — rather, during — his impending breakdown,
Ginsberg emulated HAL when reading Cutler and Lou’s lips, as they hide their plot
behind the buzz of the machine (no, Michael, they are not “homos”).

“The Runaways”

It is not completely clear who the eponymous runaways are,
especially since this episode is more about characters running to things than away. There is
Stephanie, Don and Anna Draper’s niece who runs to her uncle when in
need of money. There is Don, who runs to California for Stephanie and then runs
into a meeting to try to save his job because he is “unbelievable.” Mostly
though, there is Ginsberg, who runs to Peggy when he finally blows a gasket. To
his credit, the phone was not working, and that was not his imagination. So
there’s that.

“The Strategy”

The finest and most important episode of “Mad Men”‘s seventh
has the simplest and most literal title. After what now amounts to
months of work on Burger Chef, Peggy is happy with the strategy, until she isn’t.
The conclusion of “The Strategy” has Don, Peggy and Pete looking like the most functional
family in the series, enjoying a meal at the fast food joint. The episode charts how they got there, finally together
again and finally with a great campaign. Every table is a family table at
Burger Chef, they suggest, but it seems that only Burger Chef has the only family table in “Mad Men.”


That takes us to the upcoming midseason finale where sides
have been taken. As usual, Don has Roger in his corner, now with Peggy, Pete
and maybe even Ted (no one knows better than Ted how hard it is to compete with Don). The conclusion last week with Joan and Roger suggests that
SC&P’s most powerful woman is on their side as well. Harry Crane is the
ultimate tossup. Jim Cutler, knowing that a war was coming, has been cozying up
to Harry and literally giving him everything his heart desires, right down to a

But Harry and Don go way back. He was the first media head at
Sterling Cooper and has already voiced his allegiance to his friend: “I’m going
to find a way to make sure you’re still important.” The Battle of Waterloo was
fought after Napoleon’s escape from exile and marked the end of his second attempt
to conquer Europe. If Weiner selected this as a title in the traditional Mad
Men metaphorical spirit, someone’s assault is going to end badly. Conventional
thought suggests this might be Don, who has been back at SC&P for about the
same amount of time as Napoleon was free before being defeated by an alliance
of European countries. The forces of Cutler and Lou, presumably with Philip
Morris in their pocket and some hazy McCann Erikson subplot brewing that cannot
be good for the autonomy of SC&P, seem ready to make a move. 

Harry as a partner — making the full name of the agency SCDPCGCHCC — may be the deciding factor. It
is not certain that Don himself plays the role of the defeated in the Waterloo
analogy. Cutler and Lou have been pressing for the removal of Don since before
he was even officially back. This quest is not going well. While increasing
Harry’s importance to lessen Don’s may have snuck through, the man himself is not
going anywhere. After a vintage Don move at the Philip Morris meeting, the tag
team of Cutler and Lou felt threatened. Last week, Ted and especially Pete endorsed
Don for presenting to Burger Chef. Cutler’s mutiny against the SCDP founding
partner and brain behind the SCDP and CGC merger could come to a bloody end on Sunday night.

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