'Mad Men' Mid-Season Finale Recap: Death, Change and a Musical Number
'Mad Men' Mid-Season Finale Recap: Death, Change and a Musical Number
Morgan Glennon
Morgan Glennon
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
This week on the mid-season finale of Mad Men, Burt Cooper becomes an astronaut like Ida Blankenship, Don passes the baton to Peggy and Roger stages yet another agency coup.

It's a big, ambitious and action-packed finale to send the show off in style until its return. It's also a more hopeful ending than anyone would have guessed, given where we left most of the characters last season. I guess the best things in life really are free. Bravo, Mad Men. Bravo. 

Going Out in Style

So let's talk about that musical number because it's strange and jarring, while also being oddly emotional and thematically perfect. Mad Men hasn't really had its weird episode yet this season, and it might not get the opportunity thanks to season 7's unique truncated storytelling. 

Seasons' past have seen Don and the staff on pills or Roger on acid. These weird episodes often played with the very narrative framing of the show. It's been quite some time since we saw Ken Cosgrove dancing with a cane, so the musical number at the end of the finale is a nice, weird, but also emotionally resonant bit of whimsy. 

It's also a great sendoff to Burt Cooper, who has truly been one of the most consistently funny characters on the show. His final moment is an appropriate "Bravo" for the moon landing, and his musical number implores us to consider that the best things in life might just be free, even if Roger's newly-struck deal just made all of the partners very, very rich. 

Roger Wakes Up

It's Burt's death that finally snaps Roger out of sleep mode. He's been sleepwalking through his professional life for years now, and certainly for the last few seasons. Roger has been more than happy to experiment with drugs and free love and leave the company planning to the others. 

Unsurprisingly, this turns around to bite him when he wants to save Don from ending up on the chopping block for violating his contract. When Don shows up at the meeting for Commander cigarettes, he breaches the section of his contract specifying he not have contact with clients without approval. 

Jim is gunning to get rid of Don, and Joan is willing to vote him out of the company as well. Burt stands by Don, but only out of loyalty, not because he particularly wants to keep Don around. He tells Roger that he isn't much of a leader, and it's certainly true.

Once Roger finds out Burt is dead, he's beside himself. But he becomes even more upset when Jim turns a touching and human moment of mourning for Burt into a craven conversation about calling clients and forcing Don out of the business. "Is this what would happen if I died?" he asks Joan.

So Roger takes a meeting with the guy from McCann, who is interested in pursuing Buick and impressed with their agency's ability to land a big car account. He's willing to buy SC&P as a subsidiary of McCann with Roger as president, but he needs the car dream team. That means Roger has to get not only Don, but also Ted on board. 

Easier said than done, since Ted is borderline suicidal, pretending to let his plane plummet from the sky with terrified Sunkist executives on board. In the meeting, Don convinces Ted that he would miss the work and uses himself as an example. While Ted is vacillating back and forth, Joan and Pete look like they're sharpening their knives in case he says no. 

While Pete has always been staunchly pro-Don, Joan has gone over to the anti-Don side. Her motive given is money, since Don has cost her plenty in the past. One might also wonder if it might have something to do with Don being the only one who tried to stop her from bartering herself for the Jaguar deal. I wish we had more insight into why Joan is so steadfast in her disapproval of Don this season. Obviously, Don Draper is far from a calming presence in any office, but they always seemed fairly chummy in the past. 

Don uses his ability to read people to quickly turn the tables on Jim, showing Joan that a 5% stake in the new company would equate to over a million dollars for her bank account. Suddenly, keeping Don around doesn't look so bad. 

Roger gets his majority vote, and the company is moving to McCann. He also saves Don from his breach of contract woes and saves himself from becoming obsolete. His fear of Jim turning the company into "just the computer and Harry" has been postponed.

It's a big move on Roger's part, the kind Don is usually the one instigating. But Don has let go of a lot of his bravado since he agreed with Freddy to do the work. He's happy handing over the pitch to Peggy and genuinely proud of her accomplishment. He's happy to stay out of the business end and let Roger work his magic. He's even fine with respecting Megan's wishes to leave him behind in New York while she continues her life in California without her husband. This seems like a Don Draper more at peace with himself and the world. 

Peggy Takes The Lead

Peggy is having a weird few days. First, she finds a cute repairman in her apartment, but bristles when she thinks he's remarking upon her single status. Then she gets genuinely upset when she learns that Julio, the neighbor's boy who always watches TV in her apartment, will be moving to Newark. "I'll come and visit all the time," Peggy lies. "No, you won't," Julio points out. 

Peggy even tears up when hugging Julio goodbye. This whole season, Peggy has seemed even more on edge than usual about her romantic prospects and her status as a single woman. This was way before we started talking about "having it all" and "leaning in." Peggy has certainly sacrificed a lot for her career. While she's climbed the corporate ladder, her personal life has certainly suffered in different ways than her male colleagues.  

Yet it might all be worth it for a moment of magic like Peggy had in the Burger Chef pitch. Peggy is ready to pass Burger Chef off, with pleasure, to Don. With their relationship repaired, their bond is possibly now stronger than ever. 

But when Roger calls Don to tell him the writing is on the wall, Don immediately goes to see Peggy. If Don pitches Burger Chef, the account might leave when Don is shown the door. He knows Peggy has to pitch the account now so the business can stay with the company if he's kicked to the curb. It's the kind of action that is hard to imagine Don taking previously; it's almost selfless. 

Don tells Peggy he knows she can do it, but Peggy is incredibly nervous. All episode, she worries the astronauts in space won't make it -- not because she's worried about Neil Armstrong and company, but because she's worried about the effect it could have on the Burger Chef pitch. It's a cold-blooded way to see the world, but it's no more coldly pragmatic than Jim taking Burt's death as an opportunity to get rid of Don. National tragedies and victories are always backdrops for everyday tragedies and victories. 

Peggy nails the pitch, weaving the recent moon landing into the Burger Chef story about a decaying sense of community. It seems particularly interesting in light of what's happened in the years since the moon landing. Television has become ever more fragmented, and the nation rarely holds its breath while gathered around the soft glow of the screen anymore. Peggy talks about a sense of community that is rapidly eroding, but can be found at the table of a local restaurant. 

The finale opens with the agency more scattered and split than ever. Jim and Joan want Don out, Ted wants out in general and Roger feels like he's losing his grasp on his former home. But Burt's death, in its way, unites the agency back into a community again. 

The best things in life -- like sitting around a TV watching history in action, like sitting around a dinner table, like rediscovering a sense of community -- are free. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have millions of dollars on the line as motivation to put your community back together. 

So thanks for everything, Burt. Thanks for your weird Japanese fixation, for making people take off their shoes in your office, for your one-liners and your sassy facial expressions. Thanks for giving us one last gift: a musical number with a nice soft shoe. Rest in peace zooming around the atmosphere with that other office astronaut, Ida Blankenship. 

Elsewhere While Mankind Took One Large Step...

-- The comic tragedy that is the life of Harry Crane continues. Since Harry hadn't yet signed his partnership papers, he'll be left out of profiting from the lucrative merger. (And probably won't become a partner after all with Roger in charge.) Which means that by being a little late on the draw, Harry just missed out on millions of dollars. Also, his wife wants a divorce. 

-- Don and Sally have a great phone conversation after the moon landing, where Sally initially parrots what the cute boy visiting her house says about the moon landing being a waste of money. Don tells her not to be so cynical, and later she's more interested in star gazing with the nerdy younger brother. 

-- Looks like Megan and Don are finally done for good. When Don mentions that his firing means he could move out with her full-time, Megan is absolutely silent, telling Don everything he needs to know about the state of their relationship without words. Don promises to take care of her because he owes her that much. "You don't owe me anything," she responds. I wonder if this is the last we'll see of Megan. 

-- Burt's last words? "Bravo!" 

What did you think of the mid-season finale? Did you love the musical number? What do you think of the agency merger? And what will you miss most about Burt Cooper? Sound off in the comments! 

(Image courtesy of AMC)