“Mad Men” ended the first half of its last season with a bang: The final episode of Season 7a, “Waterloo,” was an exceptionally busy hour, featuring huge changes coming down at Sterling Cooper & Partners and a major event in Don Draper’s personal life.
Before you tune into the return of “Mad Men” on Sunday (April 5), take a look back at “Waterloo.” Here are 19 things you’ll probably want to keep in mind.
1. The episode takes place during the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in July 1969, and a sense of excitement and, initially, anxiety about it hangs over just about every character.
2. Ted (Kevin Rahm) is really, really depressed, scaring two Sunkist executives half to death in a flight in his small plane. He later tells Cutler (Harry Hamlin), “I want to do something else, somewhere else. You’re gonna buy me out.”
3. Speaking of Cutler, he’s at his most peevish and Machiavellian in this episode. He starts off, however, being a jerk to Lou Avery (Allan Havey), which is not at all bad.
4. Betty’s (January Jones) old friend, Carolyn Glaspie (Kellie Martin), and her family come to stay with the Francises. Sally (Kiernan Shipka) immediately seems to take a liking to Carolyn’s football-stud son Sean, while seemingly ignoring the slightly younger, nerdier Neil.
5. Peggy is installing acoustic tile on the ceiling of her Upper West Side brownstone. This is not an important detail, but it’s painful to anyone who watches any sort of home-renovation show.
6. Don gets a letter signed by the other partners — but really just from Cutler — saying he breached his contract by interrupting a meeting with Commander cigarettes two episodes back. He’s out.
7. Don’s secretary, Meredith (Stephanie Drake) is absolutely on fire in the scene where Don gets the letter, skirting an extremely strange line between mothering him and coming on to him. Just look how she motions him to have a seat:
“Look at you; you’re so confused,” she tells him. “I want you to listen to me. I know you’re feeling vulnerable, but I am your strength.” She kisses him, and Don’s confused/amused reaction is priceless.
Meredith: “Tell me what I can do.”
Don: “You can get my attorney on the phone. And we can’t do this.”
Meredith: “You’re right. Not right now.”
8. Don confronts Cutler, and soon the other partners gather outside Roger’s (John Slattery) office. Roger and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) are enraged at Cutler’s power move; Cooper (Robert Morse) is nonplussed. Joan (Christina Hendricks) sides with Cutler — “I’m tired of [Don] costing me money” — but knows he overstepped.
9. Harry (Rich Sommer), who hasn’t signed his partner agreement yet, shoulders his way into the impromptu meeting and gets shud down, hard, by Joan.
10. Don calls Megan (Jessica Pare) to tell her he’s about to be fired and says he can move to L.A. when the deed is done. Megan is all:
Despite the eye roll, what follows is a really lovely, underplayed scene by both Hamm and Pare, as Don realizes his second marriage is over.
11. While watching TV coverage of the moon landing, Roger gets a phone call: Cooper is dead, having passed happily just after seeing Neil Armstrong step on the lunar surface. He, Joan and Cutler all head to the office, where Cutler badly misreads the room and tries to push for a partner vote on Don’s ouster right away. You’ve seen the episode title is “Waterloo,” have you not, Jim?
12. Neil, tired of the news coverage of Apollo 11, goes outside to look at stars, and Sally joins him while sneaking a smoke. He shows her how the telescope works, and she responds by kissing him. “What do I do now?” Neil asks aloud before he’s called inside. That’s the last we see of Sally in the episode, but it’s further evidence how awesome she is.
13. After hearing the news about Cooper from Roger, Don tells Peggy she has to lead an important pitch with Burger Chef the next day. He explains his situation, saying that if he makes the pitch and then gets canned, the client might bail too. She protests, but a pep talk from Don — per usual, he shows the best side of himself to Peggy — helps her warm to the idea.
14. Roger meets with an executive from McCann Erickson, which tried to buy Sterling Cooper earlier in the life of the show. Roger is in a better negotiating position now. “I have a vision,” he says, echoing a Cutler line from earlier in the episode. McCann is interested, but only if Ted is part of the package.
15. As the SC&P team begins its pitch, we see the back of Peggy’s head, framed much the way Don’s was in the pilot and in every opening credits scene since. It’s a brilliant shot — including the illusion-shattering moment when she turns her head and lets out a nervous cough. She nails the pitch, of course.
16. After Don and Co. return from the Burger Chef meeting, Roger calls the partners in and masterfully sells the McCann deal, emphasizing how much money everyone stands to make — in the seven figures. Ted remains a wishy-washy mope until Don works a bit of his own magic on him, and even Cutler ends up going along with the deal: “It’s a lot of money!”
17. Adding insult to injury, not only has Harry’s dallying on the partner deal cut him out of the windfall, but Roger also dismisses him even more harshly than Joan did earlier.
18. As Roger announces the deal to the staff, Don walks downstairs, where he sees … Bert Cooper. “Mad Men” gives Tony winner Robert Morse a lovely send-off with a musical number. (Watch it here.)
19. About that song choice: “We ended with ‘The Best Things in Life Are Free,’ and I think that’s very clearly — it was chosen for a reason,” Hamm tells Zap2it and a handful of other reporters at a “Mad Men” press junket. “To say that to a person who makes his living in advertising is pretty clearly a lesson, or meant to be a lesson. So big picture, we’ll see how that lesson is learned, or if it is. That’s as cryptic as I can be.”