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Mid-season finale review: 'Mad Men' - 'Waterloo': The best things in life are free
Cutler tries to push Don out, Peggy gets a big opportunity, and man walks on the moon
* It can't be overstated how good John Slattery is in this episode. He's always great with a one-liner (and his pleasure at kicking Harry out of the partners meeting was a thing of beauty) and also excels in those moments when life forces Roger Sterling to take it more seriously now and again. Cooper's death, though, brought out a whole new level of both melancholy and empathy in Roger, and Slattery played it wonderfully.
* Last week, a curtain literally closed as Megan flew back to California; here, the metaphorical one shuts on her marriage to Don. What makes the scene so effective and sad is how subdued it is. No fireworks, no yelling, no pleading. They've been trying to make this thing work for months, and it hasn't, and they both realize it — Don doesn't need anything more than Megan's long pause and the sound of his name to know that it's over — and don't have to fight any more. If the agency is going to keep that California office open (assuming Sunkist doesn't bail as a result of Ted's mid-flight shenanigans), there may still be reason to see her one or two more times, but it doesn't feel all that necessary; assuming the story stays in 1969, Bob Benson is much more relevant to what's coming next than Megan is.
* And with the marriage over, Don will have to see "The Wild Bunch" on his own. Given his understandable concerns about his own age and potential irrelevance, how will he feel watching a story about a bunch of Wild West relics who go down in a blaze of glory?
* Among the best moments of Peggy's pitch was the mention of the 10-year-old boy who would be waiting in her apartment — not a lie, but a very strategic omission of facts — and the way it played off of the poignant earlier Peggy/Julio scene. Julio's only a little older than Peggy and Pete's son would be, and we've seen over the last few weeks that Peggy has some regrets about giving up on motherhood, even though we can imagine how miserable she would have been during the intervening years. When Peggy tells Julio that his mother is moving to Newark precisely because she cares about him, she's not only making him feel better, but making us aware of the maternal instincts she once worked so hard to suppress.
* That was CBS' coverage of the moon landing that everyone was watching, and sure enough, both veteran astronaut Wally Schirra and Walter Cronkite had difficulty making out Neil Armstrong's entire "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" line. (And that's ignoring the eternal debate over whether he meant to say — or even did say right as the audio glitched — "one small step for a man," which makes the second part make more sense.)
* Sally, in discussing the financial waste of the Apollo program, is convinced that we'd be going to the moon constantly, even as matters on Earth worsened. Instead, Neil and Buzz would be the first two of only a dozen men to walk on the lunar surface, and we haven't been back there since Gene Cernan climbed back aboard the Apollo 17 lunar module in December of 1972.
* It wasn't quite "NOT GREAT, BOB!," but Pete's "Marriage is a racket!" interjection on realizing that Don and Megan were calling it quits was another reminder of what a great comic weapon Vincent Kartheiser has been for this show.
* Peggy's line about people who just touched the face of God is a reference to the John Gillespie Magee Jr. poem "High Flight," which Ronald Reagan would quote in his speech about the Challenger tragedy, but which has previously appeared on "Mad Men" in season 2's "Maidenform," where Pete catches a TV sign-off that includes a recitation of the poem.
* In contemporary money, Joan's payout alone will be over $9 million, and she'd get $2.35 million upon signing.
* Given Don Draper's complex professional history, is it any wonder that bubble-headed Meredith assumed news of his imminent firing would be the perfect time to make a move in hopes of becoming the new Megan? I'm not sure what was funnier: Meredith trying to assume control of the conversation and comfort Don, or Don's baffled reaction to the pass she's making at him.
* "Mad Men" continues to mine actresses from 1990s teen dramas — and/or "ER" alums — as Kellie Martin from "Life Goes On" turns up as Betty's old friend Carolyn.
Finally, thanks for another great (half) season of "Mad Men" discussion. It's always a pleasure to see all the smart things you guys have to say about this show, whether in great times (Don and Peggy's dance) or in strange times (Ginsberg's nipple). Assuming I can pull it off over Memorial Day, I should have one more piece of "Mad Men"-related content on Tuesday morning. UPDATE: And here it is: an interview with Matthew Weiner about this half-season and what it's like to be writing the series finale right now.
But for now — and for the last time in quite a while for a new episode of this great damn show — what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org