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Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men. (Michael Yarish/AP)
Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men. (Michael Yarish/AP)

Mad Men recap: The winners and losers of the mid-season finale Add to ...

This recap of Mad Men’s mid-season finale contains spoilers.

The best things in life are free, good ol’ Bert Cooper warbles posthumously as he performs one last soft shoe (minus the shoes) through the about-to-be-forever-changed hallways of Sterling Cooper & Partners – or at least, in Don’s always-on-fire imagination. But the Rolling Stones-loving generation of Sally Draper and Sean, the Francis residence’s shirtless young house guest, knows better – everything comes with a price tag. The moon landing may have captured the world’s collective, and thrilled, attention, but it’s really just a $25-billion distraction. “Because there’s no problems back on earth?” spits Sean, in disgust.

In this crucial mid-final-season finale, everything is a negotiation. Romance it all you want – you can even dress Burger Chef up to be a metaphor for the human condition – but it always comes down to cold, hard cash: Don offers to “take care” of Megan; Benedict Joan thrills at her impending payday as McCann Erickson prepares to buy a majority share in the firm; even Jim Cutler ultimately succumbs to the allures of the windfall, despite the fact the deal will save his nemesis Don’s job. How did Roger manage to get into Don’s well-secured building so he could pounce at his doorstep? “Money.”

As season seven kicked off mere weeks ago, Globe Arts' Maggie Wrobel evaluated how the show’s characters were faring, assigning them winner or loser status. Marsha Lederman checks back in at the mid-season mark, and is surprised to find that everyone we cheer for (plus Pete Campbell) seems to be on the upswing. With the exception, of course, of poor Bert. But what an exit. “Bravo.”

Joan Harris

Season opener: Winner

Using her years of experience at the company, Joan has quietly emerged as a serious power player where it seems to matter most: behind the scenes. This time, she saves a major account (and Ken’s butt) by doing what she does best: speaking her mind. It’s clear there’s more on the horizon for the agency’s resident bombshell.

Midterm update: Winner

In 1966 money, $1.5-million is a fortune – and the nearly always composed Joan seems positively giddy at the prospect. You can practically see the future she’s envisioning: a home where she and baby Kevin can enjoy the company of proper live-in help, rather than Joan’s meddling mom. Yes, once Don gets his groove back in the new world order, her Et tu, Joan? behaviour may cost her – but she’s now set for life, and she can swivel those hips right out the agency’s doors with impunity.

Pete Campbell

Season opener: Winner

Who’d have thought it: L.A. agrees with Pete. Clad in plaid pants and a Lacoste polo, he takes Don to a diner for lunch (“Iced tea, please”) and, later, to the west-coast offshoot of the agency, his pert, blonde, real-estate agent in tow. In Los Angeles, he tells Don matter-of-factly, “the air is brown. But I love the vibrations.”

Midterm update: Winner

“Marriage is a racket,” Pete observes, commiserating with and in his uncomfortable way, trying to comfort Don, as their fellow passengers extinguish their cigarettes in preparation for take-off to Indianapolis. By the end of the episode, Pete – who last week seemed weirdly rattled by Trudy’s moving on – had found his fortune independent of his ex-wife (and, more to the point, his father-in-law). Not that he’s softening. Trying to persuade poor, stressed out – and possibly suicidal – Ted to accept the McCann deal, despite the fact that Ted’s desperate to leave advertising, Pete spews: “You’re not just pathetic; you’re selfish.”

Megan Draper

Season opener: Winner

Like Pete, Don’s wife (at press time, anyway) has settled into L.A. life nicely. She picks up a visiting Don in a sexy little sports car, and an even smaller dress, a sky-blue version of the frock she wore for her performance of Zou Bisou Bisou in season 5. They have dinner with her agent, who announces that she’s in the running for a big part in a network show. It quickly becomes evident that, currently at least, Megan is what Don is not: comfortable.

Midterm update: Winner

With one final – again – phone call, Megan gets what she wants: a no-fuss split from Don; he even offers to pay the freight. She refuses, which makes you wonder – given acting career disappointments that have led to stalker-like activities, how is Megan paying for that sweet pad in the Hollywood Hills, that little convertible, and that giant telescope without, as Don’s “niece” Stephanie would have put it, running out of bread? Is there someone else in the picture? Perhaps a looming starring role? In any case, Megan qualifies as a winner simply by the fact that she is still alive and has not succumbed to the Internet’s certainty that she would share the fate of Sharon Tate. (So far.)

Roger Sterling

Season opener: Loser

The first shot of Roger places our fun-loving silver fox in the aftermath of yet another Bacchanalian evening – lithe, naked bodies all around him – fumbling for the receiver of a ringing phone. At the other end is his daughter, Margaret, inviting her father to brunch. He’ll come if there’s vodka, he says, and ends the episode where he began, in bed with a group of young, nude free spirits, but looking more lost than ever.

Midterm update: Winner

This episode presents a giant leap for Roger. Have we ever seen him so powerful, so in control? In the absence left by the death of his mentor, Roger steps up into the captain role and schemes a future for their company that includes Don Draper – and will make them all rich(er). Things seem to have calmed nicely on the home front too – with daughter Margaret still off free-loving on the commune, Roger is taking an active role in raising her son. So Roger’s orgies appear to be on hold, for now. He has more important things to do.

Peggy Olson

Season opener: Loser

Poor Peggy. After ending last season on a high note, in a plaid pantsuit and Don’s office, she’s struggling at work (where new boss Lou is, in his words, “immune to [her] charms,”) and home (where her tenant keeps clogging the pipes by flushing inappropriate things down the toilet). Peggy ends the episode in tears, crumpled on the floor of her apartment.

Midterm update: Winner

Every ad tells a story, Peggy knows, and she has nailed the art of the Draperesque pitch – even in the uncomfortable circumstance of having to talk to people who just touched the face of God about hamburgers. To the Burger Chef execs, she waxes poetic about the importance of human connection, even as that’s being lost to the allure of technology, in the form of the living room TV set. “The news wins every night, and you’re starving,” she says. “And not just for dinner.” Outside the boardroom, we see evidence of connections starving Peggy has made, and may make: Don, of course, but also Newark-bound Julio, and handsome handyman Nick (to whom she offers an iced tea – the same drink order placed in the season’s opening episode by Pete, who fathered then-naïve Peggy’s child back in season one). She may feel over the hill at 30, but Peggy, it seems, is finally on a roll.

Don Draper

Season opener: Loser

The odds are stacked against Don (largely his own doing), but our antihero is at least attempting to do right. After snuggling up to a sultry brunette (Canada’s Neve Campbell) on his flight home from visiting Megan, he rejects the stranger’s offer of “getting a ride.” When he heads to his apartment, we learn that Freddy Rumsen has been acting as a proxy for Don’s ideas, pitching the benched ad-man’s ideas as his own, with Don’s approval. Why? Who ever knows with Don. Draper ends the episode sitting, blank-faced, on his balcony. Alone.

Midterm update: Winner

“The Don Draper show is back from its unscheduled interruption,” Pete declares, and indeed after paying his dues the second time around – writing tags and coupons – and coming this close to losing his job in this episode for breaching his contract, Don is making his second Madison Avenue ascent. True, he’s lost Megan, but Don has re-established other crucial connections: to Peggy, Roger, and he’s working on Sally. On the night of the moon landing, he urges Sally, who has adopted Sean’s disapproval for the event, not to be so cynical. Don believes – like the song says – that the moon belongs to everyone. As Sally is instructed to do by Sean’s decidedly nerdier little brother, Don is ready to tilt his head back and open his eyes really wide. “Isn’t that better than TV?”

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