When Michael Jackson died, I was watching a movie at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. My friend and I both had no idea what happened, until we left the theater and went to a bodega. Michael Jackson played on the speakers. We walked into the Greene Grape, a gourmet grocery store. Michael Jackson was also playing on the speakers. We asked the butcher, did anything happen? And he said, yes, Michael Jackson died. Once I knew that it was like the whole world flowered — I heard Michael Jackson’s music streaming out of car stereos, out of bars, out of half-open windows, like everyone was in mourning.
It was, as far as I can recall, a unifying event. You could talk about it — Michael Jackson’s passing — with everyone you met. It was easy to make a conversation that night. Events like that are happening less and less these days. They turn the world slightly strange and magical for a second or two on the rotation. The usual bullshit falls away.
The moon landing is one of those events for the characters we love in Mad Men. In one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind, Roger and Betty and Sally and Don and Peggy and Bert Cooper are all looking, really looking at the screen, watching the grainy images and marveling over man’s ability to see the stars (the stars, the universe, and the moon hanging heavily over season seven, especially in Don’s drunken conversation with the computer guy).
But before we get to the moon landing, there’s a lot more plot there. And perhaps we can start with Ted in his tiny, hilarious plane. He is flying the Sunkist reps over the land, and Ted cuts the engine. He wants to die, sort of. Sunkist wants to live, and they’re freaking out, rightly.
Lou walks into Jim’s office, telling him that the Commander Cigarettes deal is dead, cracking wise, “should I invite them to Don Draper dinner theater?” The first of a couple of cases of people saying Don Draper, the full name. What a name, Don! You have to say all of it for the full effect.
Over in Betty’s House of Rye, there are guests. Betty’s college friend has come for a week in the country, or New York, or something, with her two teen boys in tow: one is nerdy, and one is a hunky football player. Sally shows the football player his room. It all feels like a stiff setup for bad jokes.
In Burger Chef-ville, Peggy, Pete, Harry, and Don are going over the final preparations for their presentation. Peggy has the line: “Behind every great ad is a story, and here to tell you that story is Don Draper…” But the moon is on her mind — if it’s a disaster (which was what people expected at the time), her presentation would be ruined, delayed, and there’d be the potential of somebody else getting it.
Peggy goes home to her house, where it is wicked hot. It is July. There is a hot handyman in her apartment. He gives her his number so he can come over and do work sometime, and there is ten-year-old Julio just sitting there watching TV, Peggy’s faux son.
But if it was hot in New York, it’s hotter in Rye, where Sally’s hunk of teenage temptation is standing in the kitchen, ostentatiously shirtless. Sally comes down in her lifeguard red bathing suit looking quite dolled up, Betty-style. Her hair has a kinda bouffant-y height. It looks like it took awhile. Betty notes, “She has never worn lipstick to the pool before.” Shenanigans ahead!
Don receives a letter in the office. It is a “breach of contract.” Jim has made his power move — Meredith explains it to Don, completely unaware of the office politics behind it, making her own move as potential “comfort”. “I know you’re feeling vulnerable,” she says, “But I am your strength.” She goes in for a kiss and Don is totally befuddled. It’s hilarious. Don tells her to call his attorney and goes down to Jim’s office, where Jim calls him a bully and a drunk, a football player in a suit. No effect there, so Don calls all the partners in a circle, asking about the letter. It’s Jim, and Joan, actually, versus everyone else.
Pete yells at everybody for rattling Don before Burger Chef, calling Don “a sensitive piece of horseflesh.” Joan’s sick of the fact that Don’s shenanigans cost her money.
Before the Burger Chef team heads off to Indiana in the morning, Peggy has a moment with Julio. The kid’s moving, probably, and he’ll miss her. She cares about him, in her own way, in this sort of weird ghost of the woman I could’ve been sort of way. But they’re both well aware of the for-now set up of their relationship. Peggy tries to tell him she’ll visit in Newark and the boy notes, rightly, that she won’t.
Don makes a call to Megan and, by doing so, severs his own tie — to love, to California, to the promise of rebirth and manifest destiny. He confesses to her that he’s about to be fired, that he thought if he kept his head down and did his job, things would work out. He offers to go to Los Angeles, and Megan just doesn’t say anything, leaning on her beautiful green phone. She’s done. He’s been done in his head. Maybe they’re done forever and ever and it’s time for a trip to Reno.
Cooper tells Roger that he’s not a leader. They have the votes, save “Benedict Joan,” to figure out this Don situation, but it’s the biggest potential split the company’s seen.
The Burger Chef team is up in the air — Pete tells Don that “marriage is a racket!” in response to wherever things are with Megan.
Then all our characters are busy watching the moon landing. In suburbia, Bobby and Gene run inside to watch the TV. Roger’s with Mona and his son-in-law and his grandson in a helmet. The Burger Chef team watches, Peggy and Don next to each other with two pilfered beers. Cooper is be-robed and sitting next to his maid, marveling at it with a “Bravo.” The Rye moon landing is interrupted by a call — it’s Don, talking to Sally. Sally quotes hunky teen about the landing costing too much money. Don tells her “Don’t be cynical.” What happens next will shock you. Maybe.
Roger gets a call. Death, as it has before, has come to SC&P. It’s Cooper. Joan and Jim come in to handle the information, and Jim is nearly crowing at the fact that he can get rid of Don. He hasn’t gone full Aaron Echolls yet, but I’m pretty sure his villainy cannot get even worse, not even if he kills Lily Kane. Roger is feeling like the two are stomping on Coopers, and, to an extent, his grave.
Sally is outside looking at the stars with the nerdy boy. Sally smokes. The nerd tells her how to look at the stars in the telescope. He’s a young man of vision, trying to see stuff as it happens. So she kisses the nerd. His name is Neil. And before anything else can happen, he’s called inside. Sally remains in the backyard, smoking, eerily Betty-like in her power.
Don gets the news about Cooper. Roger says that “he’s very proud of you.” They’re two men lacking a dad figure now. Don goes to Peggy’s room. There is, as has been the last two episodes, just a soupçon of sexual tension. But Don’s there to be supportive. Peggy’s going to give the presentation. She’s terrified. What can you say about hamburgers to people who’ve just touched the face of God?
In the morning, Roger’s wheeling and dealing. Making deals. He’s proposing, to the guy from McCann Erickson, that maybe they buy a 51% stake in Sterling Cooper & Partners, and the smaller agency can run as an “independent subsidiary” within the business, bringing relationships with car companies like Buick over to McCann. But for the deal to work, everybody has to bury the hatchet with Ted Chaough. (And Ted needs to get over his ennui, naturally.)
Peggy is at David Lynch’s Burger Chef meeting. The soundtrack is all big faces and the thumping of her heart. When Don introduces her, she’s ready: “Here to tell that story is Peggy Olson.” Peggy is marveling at what it’s like to be united by man doing something wonderful. “We’ll all still feel the pleasure of that connection.” She brings it back to the dinner table. The family table is in trouble, as are all family values, perhaps, but at the dinner table, everyone’s united. By Burger Chef.
When Don comes back to his place, Roger is there. He presents the deal. Don is in, since Jim will not stop until the firm is just Harry and the computer. (Jim, aka Harry Hamlin, aka People‘s Sexiest Man Alive of 1987, is clearly not long for the world of Mad Men. Will miss you in your ’60s finery, handsome Harry!)
The next day, the partners are united, ready to O Captain my Captain. Before they break the news of Cooper’s death to the firm, though, Roger has a proposition. Joan and Pete are stoked: Pete chirps, “I’ve got ten percent!” The sale will make all the partners 1969 millionaires (real money) but Ted’s not interested. It would be the rest of my life, he says. He’s done.
And then, finally, we need one more pitch. A pitch coming from Don. Don tells Ted how he can enjoy the work. It’s a what would Cooper do answer to the question. Don gets quiet, and Zen, and he tells Ted that it’s not about the office politics (irony, as that’s what all of Mad Men is about); it’s about the work. Don wrote tags and Don wrote coupons this season, and it was a way to get back to the work, what he loved best, and Ted can get there too. Don’s ahead of him in the wilderness, and he’s reaching out his hand, offering to be a Virgil.
The deal is done.
Walking out of the office, Don bumps into Peggy. They got Burger Chef. Roger makes a speech about Cooper. Don ducks out to go back to his office, ready to do the work. On the way, he’s stopped by a vision. It’s a shoeless Cooper, and he’s got a song in his heart. A song-and-dance starts, Cooper with a rainbow of dancing secretaries behind him, and the song is “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” Don is looking at the ghost with wet eyes. He’s letting go of something. He’s starting anew. He’s at a turning point. He may have the DTs. He looks like a child. Bravo.