Just imagine if Jon Hamm had won the award for outstanding actor in a drama series on the same night his character, Don Draper, won an award for the Glo-Coat advertisement! Alas fate went the wrong way tonight, and the closest we got was Jon Hamm going up along with everyone else for the outstanding drama series award. Still, it was pretty damn timely (or planned) to see an episode featuring an awards show on Emmy night.
Coming off of its third Emmy triumph, Mad Men gave us “Waldorf Stories,” an episode which seemed unusually pointed. There’s a big difference between Mad Men and the rest of the nominees, in that Mad Men doesn’t derive drama from ratcheting up drama in life or death situations, instead placing characters in different situations and using rich dialogue to move things ahead without overdoing the tension. While “Waldorf Stories” didn’t have any heart-pounding moments, it lacked much of the subtly we’re used to.
We’re presented with a set of flashbacks, revealing Don’s entrance into Sterling Cooper. He’s a bright-eyed fur coat salesman who creates the company’s advertising, in stark contrast to the Don we know today. This Don from the past is awfully chipper and hounds Roger for a job, until finally, Don squeezes in, somehow convincing Roger he was hired earlier.The episode ends with Don following Roger onto the elevator with a sly smile. What can we say–it’s Don Draper!
In the present timeline, we see a similar situation unfolding. Jane’s cousin Danny (Jonathan from Buffy) comes in with his portfolio, an utterly pathetic stack of ads–“[Product], the cure for the common [product type]” and random ads from magazines. There’s no way he’s getting anywhere, and he clearly lacks the trappings to become the next Don Draper.
But a unique opportunity arises. Don accepts his CLIO for the Glo-Coat ad–seeing a drunken Duck Phillips led out during the ceremony, an obvious example of what Don could become–and returns to the office to present an ad for Life cereal. Totally drunk, Don struggles to keep things together and his initial slogan, “Eat Life by the Bowlful,” is rejected. Grasping for a quick end, Don spitfires terrible one-liners until he comes upon Danny’s line, “Life, the cure for the common breakfast,” which the Life executives take to.
Later, Peggy jumps on Don’s appropriation of Danny’s phrase, and Don has no move other than give Danny a job. As has been the pattern this season, Don is taken down a notch, this time to Danny’s level. Physically, he towers over Danny, but in reality, the ideas coming out of his head are no better. The young, fresh-faced Don Draper who looked to Roger is now the new Roger, a drunk who relies on others to get things done.
The rest of the episode features Don’s continuing descent, which may have hit a low point. He ends up leaving the CLIO afterparty with a brunette woman–on Friday night–before waking up with a blonde woman–on Sunday morning. An entire day lost, and Don has no answer for his problems. Halfway through the season, and Don is still falling.
This season, we’ve seen Peggy make large growth in the reformed company and come into her own. Broad recognition for her work, however, is still not there. Don casually brushes off her input on the Glo-Coat ad and Stan, the new art director, spits her words back in her face. As she sees her effort and contributions discounted and ignored, Peggy no longer has stable ground to stand on. She’s sort of floating in the wilderness, trying to find who she is and how she fits in. From her “display” in the episode and direct talk with Don, we see her supreme confidence in herself and her abilities; however, if no one else notices, why does that matter? In many ways, she’s still living in Don’s shadow, Don having discovered her and putting her where she is now.
But she sees Don flounder under a sea of alcohol and realizes that she can be more–even better than Don. And while the distinct parallel in the flashbacks is that Don is the new Roger and Danny is the new Don, Peggy is more apt as the new Don. For one, she has legitimate skills unlike the pathetic Danny, and Don used some guile to get the job rather than have the job fall on his lap through coincidence.
Ken Cosgrove, to the initial dismay of Pete, may be sticking around for a while. Lane convinces Pete that it’s the right move to make, a pragmatic one which would score big dividends. Pete accepts and invites Ken to talk–but makes sure to tell Ken that he’s the top dog now. With his recent confrontations with Lane and Sterling, Pete is flexing his ambition–much as flashback Don did–to move up the ladder, quoting the ending song.
Last week, I talked about whether Betty would turn around at one point, and increasingly, it looks like she either won’t or drop very, very far before climbing back up. Likewise, her purpose for existing on the show decreases as her behavior becomes more slanted towards simply being an angry bitch. In “Waldorf Stories,” all she does is yell at Don over the phone. Maybe she has a point about Don being late, but it was hard to see from Betty’s point of few when she berates Don in a harsh, witchy tone. What’s the point of her calling Don? Surely the writers could have come up with something else for Don to figure out the day without making us dislike Betty even more.
I had more problems with “Waldorf Stories” than any episode this season–from Don’s wildly aberrant behavior to the possibility of seeing Danny in the future–but the flashbacks brought a fresh perspective to Don and Roger’s relationship, and it could have been the foundation to a great episode had the rest of the episode been up to par.
- Imagine if Mad Men were on HBO. Peggy…
- Joan and Roger must have had a really long affair lasting more than a few years if Don joined just as they met.
- Joan holding Don and Roger’s hands at the award ceremony. How sweet.
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Tags: Mad Men