Jim Cutler finally goes so shithouse crazy nobody can ignore it anymore; a continent away, his partner Ted is doing the same thing. Sterling becomes a hero, Cooper does a soft-shoe, Joan finally speaks up, humanity reaches the Moon and Don demonstrates everything he's learned in the midseason finale, "Waterloo."
The Burger Chef team are all set to present in a couple of days when Jim sends out a letter to the partners accusing Don of breaching his contract back when he crashed that cigarette meeting. Joan, whose is like five million dollars poorer because of Don's whims like that, is the only person who thinks it's even funny that Jim is firing Don for being Don. Everybody else just feels like Jim is being way too intense about Don all the time, which he is. (I think partly this is because he's jealous of Don and Ted's weird ESPs with each other, but also because Jim is not a creative person like them, and this blockage causes him to have Shitty Emotions.)
Luckily, Roger of all people has been setting up a coup with that McCann Erickson man who was so aggressive toward him during their vulnerably naked schvitz, and so now that Jim is becoming the next person in a long line of losing their shit because of a Don Draper obsession, Roger is just waiting to see how best to apply pressure to save Don and also the company, because Jim's becoming a robot drone of the computer future that Ginsberg's nipple tried to save us from, and eventually we will all be rendered unto the machine.
You know who is no longer being controlled by Don Draper obsessions, though, is like everybody else. Betty—who speaks Italian, yes, but also got her Anthro BS from Bryn Mawr—awesomely refers to him as a "bad boyfriend," somebody "a teenage anthropologist would marry." Megan breaks up their marriage sweetly and sadly over the phone. Peggy's the only one who needs a little push to remember how great she is without Don, and her eventual triumph in the Burger Chef pitch is only made sweeter by the admiring mentor on the sidelines, who decides in a moment of rare clarity to give Peggy—and the firm he might be leaving soon—a chance to shine without him.
In Indiana for the presentation, Don and Peggy join Pete and Harry to watch the moon landing together. Harry and Don cry the whole time, which is earnest and awesome, and Don even calls Sally to be dorky and sweet with her about it. Too bad she's got a crush on a hot teenage cynic, who thinks NASA's budget is wasted money, but when Don asks her if she'd want her brothers spouting such sour bullshit, she admits she sounds like a tool and later kisses a teen astronomer for showing her the north star.
Also watching are the Sterlings—Roger, Mona and that awful child of Marigold's, wearing a crash helmet in Roger's lap—and Bert, with his maid: A visual juxtaposition of all these characters edited together into a single time and place, calling each other on the phone, echoing each other's sentiments, and eventually becoming the main thread of Peggy's Burger Chef pitch, when she takes the execs' adorable glee over the moon landing and spins it into a Kodak-quality treatise on family, parenthood, postmodernity, etc., and eventually lands the account.
Meanwhile, Bert Cooper has died. Moments after getting to see a man walk on the moon for the first time, he goes to heaven to be reunited with his balls. Don comforts Roger beautifully, despite Roger's realization that he no longer has the votes to stay, but the death also means everybody has to report to the mothership, including Ted, which is when Roger springs his plan on all the partners at once: By selling 51 percent of the shares of the firm to McCann, the partners can keep the name and everything the same, make a million or two each, put Roger back on top, and keep Don where he does his best work.
Of course the hitch is that McCann wants the Dream Team that got Chevy in the first place, Don and Ted, but Ted right now hates work so much that he is literally suicidal (somebody actually calls him the new Lane Pryce at one point). Don tells him the story of Mad Men Season 7A, which is the story of a dude who was so desperate to work that he pretended to be Freddy Rumson, and discovered that we are only happy when we are creating, whether our art takes the form of advertising's transcendent and transpersonal manipulations, or all of America simultaneously watching mankind take to the stars, or even whatever it is that Harry does.
Ted and Jim are holdouts, of course—which sends Joan and Pete both into a hissing tizzy—but once Don starts working that seductive ESP on him it's only a matter of time before he gives in. And then, suddenly, Jim is okay with it too, so now everybody wins. Joan will finally get the money she missed out on when Don screwed her out of the IPO and Jaguar, the Californians can return to the city, and Pete's boyfriend Bob Benson is already inside at Buick. While Bert's last conversation with Roger was a bit heated—Bert calling him out as an ineffective leader; Bert flat-out over it with Don Draper's bullshit—it was exactly what was needed to get Roger moving, and we're left wondering if that wasn't the uncanny Bert's plan all along.
And so it is that as Roger's making the announcement of how he saved everybody from Jim—even Jim!—and made all of the partners (except Harry, whose contract is still unsigned and who can anyway go suck a bag of garbage any day of the week in my opinion) a buttload of money, Peggy comes to Don and tells him she's landed Burger Chef all on her own. I think it's a huge part of Don's growth over this season that he finally has stopped thinking of himself as a wunderkind and realized that he's now the Bert Cooper to Peggy and Pete's Don and Roger, and maybe that's why he's able to bring such comfort to Roger about Bert's death by reminding him just how proud and affectionate he always was toward his protégé.
A lot of Don's bullshit is a bit more acceptable for a young hotshot, but creepy when you are moving into the statesman part of your life, and it's nice to see him secure enough in himself to give up that control. When Megan eloquently says-without-saying that she wants a divorce, she gets none of the acid blowback Betty did; more than ever, this week, we see a Don who's not just repenting for his past mistakes out of emotional necessity, but out of a real, conscious desire to be a human being. "I'll take care of you," he whispers on the phone, "I owe you that." Can you imagine him saying anything in even that same zip code to Betty Francis? Not on his best day.
Meanwhile, the hot handyman in Peggy's building assumes Julio is her son, a mistake she privately cherishes, and we get to see this current phase of their relationship from a bit closer up: She keeps the freezer stocked with popsicles, she lets him come and go even when she's out of town. Somewhere along the line they have moved from curiosity and convenience to a serious relationship, and when Julio flips out about his mother moving them out of the city, Peggy nearly loses control herself. Whispering into his hair that it's going to be okay and that she'll come to visit him all the time, you catch a glimpse of the Peggy she allows herself to be with this boy, who—as was pointed out by a commenter last week—is just about the age of something that never happened: As Megan is in some ways an apology for the things Dick Whitman did to Betty Draper, Peggy's surprisingly rich relationship with Julio could be seen as healing her own (Don-inspired, note) breaks with historical fact.
So we end the season with Don, back in a solely creative position and with the handcuffs off; beaming at Peggy, whose life is finally beginning, and having helped Joan finally get her damn money already. Ted is back in the fold, and Jim has agreed to give up his obsessions with Don and Roger for a seat at the table. The last shot of the spring season is Bert waving goodbye, after doing a full-length song and dance routine—"The Best Things In Life Are Free," down to whirling secretaries in go-go boots, flapping paperwork around—in Don's imagination.
It's fine. It's a respectful sendoff for an indelible—if, to me personally, inscrutable—character that gave us the best of his era, even when it was technically the worst: Orientalist, objectivist, eccentric, annoying, but wise and kind and so much more interested in modernity, in the world-as-it-is, than he ever needed to be. Watching Don say goodbye, to this Uncle Iroh person who barely lived on the same plane of existence as anybody else, but especially Don, it's compelling how stricken he looks, in those last moments. It's the precession of years, of course, marching inexorably et cetera, but it's also: Would he have had those words of comfort so ready to hand, if he'd never thought of them before? "You know he was proud of you," Don says, of perhaps the show's ultimate father figure, to a mentor he passed up a long time ago.
And for the second week in a row, we end with corporate camaraderie, American hope; it's the bright future Don has sold to so many people over the years, but thanks to Neil Armstrong et al., it's a genuine moment for America. Every lie he's ever told, coming true right before his eyes. Is it any wonder he comes on so strong with Sally, begging her to believe that man can reach the stars; is it any wonder he bends over backwards to put Peggy in the driver's seat?
It's long been clear that Don Draper's power comes from the fact that believes whatever he is saying: He never tells a lie, even when he's lying. And because of his work, his art, a lot of those lies are about beauty, and honesty, and love, and loyalty, and desire, and faith. And this season in particular, it seems like those things have finally worn grooves in him; that he believes them even when the machine is turned off and he's at his rest. He sees the moon landing and he thinks, "I want to speak to my daughter about this event, she's a pistol and more like me than anyone in the world." He hears Bert Cooper's dead and he thinks, "It's time for Peggy to fly."
He takes the piercing brightness of "The Wheel" and the emotional depths of "The Suitcase" and the radical, ugly honesty of the Hershey's pitch, and he puts them together: Layering lies and feints and narratives until they palimpsest into something that looks like Don at his very best. Something more honest, perhaps, than simple honesty.
What does the world holds for him now, with Megan out the door, with his sexual stock so low at one point that his dumbass secretary thinks she's got a shot at the d? That is a brave new world right there and it's only these last seven episodes that have made clear Don's even got the option of evolving. What he, and Roger in a different way, have learned—what the young revolving cast of Creatives, over the years, have desperately tried to demonstrate, to no effect—is that the absurd burdens and presumptions of the age, of masculinity, of success, have exactly as much power as you give them.
(...When you're on top. Obviously Peggy's entire problem is that it's taken her ten years to even acquaint herself with the idea of reality; obviously Joan's power comes from playing within the system; obviously Dawn and Shirley don't get a say here.)
But in any case, we can say we've learned something central from Bert Cooper, which makes this the perfect time to say goodbye: The less Don tries to be a man, to be strong, to be in control, the stronger and better and wiser a man Don continues to be. Deal with that.