Mad Men Season 7 Episode 7 Recap: One Small Step For Don

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Fans are understandably upset by AMC's decision to split the seventh and final season of Mad Men into two truncated halves. It's a strategy that paid dividends for the Breaking Bad finale, but is unlikely to provide a similar ratings boost in this case.

In fact, it may well drive casual viewers away from the acclaimed series.

By contrast, in July of 1969, TV audiences the world over were glued to their sets by the prospect of men on the moon.

The characters of Mad Men have been foreshadowing Neil Armstrong's giant leap all season, but as is so often the case with events we anticipate, when it finally happens, it's pushed to the margins by things we never saw coming.

After all, SC&P (as usual) has plenty of drama to keep its troubled partners focused on the terrestrial day-to-day.

The Burger Chef pitch is drawing night, Ted Chough is having some sort of existential crisis, Peggy is receiving welcome attention from a strapping young dude, and most significantly, Don is being forced out of the agency due to breach of contract.

Predictably, Draper huffs and puffs and saves his job but only after being verbally neutered by Cutler in jaw-dropping fashion. It's a stunning development considering the way he loomed large over SC&P years before he was made partner.

Sadly, Don is emasculated again just hours later as Megan shoots down his plans for a West Coast reunion. So after a season of see-sawing, it seems Megan and Don are officially kaput. We'll see if it lasts.

The series spends more time on the moon landing than on any real-world event since the MLK assassination, but the thrill of space exploration is quickly overshadowed by some major drama back on earth.

Within minutes of Neil Armstrong's famous message from the moon, Sterling receives word that SC&P's eccentric co-founder Bert Cooper has died. Just as soon after receiving that news, Cutler seizes the opportunity to call for Don's head.

It's hard to imagine the towering Don of season one fighting for his job. It's just as difficult to imagine his precocious little girl from those days making moves on a nerdy young admirer, but as we learned last night, the sexually dominant apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

We also learned that the astronauts aboard Apollo 11 weren't the only ones performing daring and monumental feats during that fateful week in the summer of 1969:

John Slattery Image

Not only does Sterling strategically maneuver to sell the agency to McCann-Ericson and save his best friend's job, but Peggy receives Don's last-minute blessing to spearhead the Burger Chef pitch.

Recovering quickly from some early jitters, Peggy draws from recent personal experiences to deliver an improvised, emotional pitch that seemingly comes nowhere. 

It's a moment that calls to mind Don in his heyday, and like her mentor at his best, Peggy knocks it of the park. 

Unfortunately, it seems for a moment Ted Chough's emotional difficulties may stop Roger's covert deal in its tracks.

Roger calls a partners meeting and promises his colleagues a windfall from the McCann deal, but Ted balks, claiming he's disillusioned with advertising and would prefer to sell his share (thus spoiling the transaction for everyone involved).

Possibly inspired by Peggy's turn in the Burger Chef boardroom, Don uses his newly-rediscovered love for his profession to appeal to his former rival's better judgment. In the end, even Cutler votes in favor of the merger.

As Pete says,  "The Don Draper Show is back."

The half-season concludes with a heart-warming send off, as a specter of Cooper performs a shoeless soft-shoe for Don's eyes only.

It's a fitting tribute to a charmingly off-beat character, but Mad Men fans are now faced with the prospect of waiting almost a year to see the conclusion of the Dick Whitman story and many were likely hoping to see the show make some giant leaps in "season 7A." Instead, they were treated to a series of small steps.

Watch Mad Men online at TV Fanatic to hold yourself over until 2015.

Lane Price and Pete Campbell Fight
Lane and Pete go at it. Lane won the fight but this season, um...didn't end well for him.

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