Saturday, 16 October 2010

'MAD MEN' 4.6 - "Waldorf Stories"

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Another week, another exemplary episode of Mad Men. "Waldorf Stories" was doubly fascinating because of flashbacks to the recent past, explaining how wunderkind Don Draper (Jon Hamm) got a job at Sterling Cooper after bumping into Roger Sterling (John Slattery), and the theme of people taking credit for other people's work stretched well over the whole hour.

The hour began with Don and Peggy (Elisabeth Morris) interviewing wannabe-copywriter Danny Siegel (Danny Strong) for a job at the agency, but quickly discovering he's a joke -- armed with a portfolio crammed with other people's ads, and original slogans all based on the idiom "the cure for the common cold". Unfortunately, Danny is the cousin of Roger's wife, and Don's under pressure to employ him to spare Roger a marital headache, although he initially sticks to his principals and refuses to play ball.

Roger, still dictating his autobiography, reminisced on his role as the "kingmaker" of the firm (particularly when Don won a respected Clio award for his Glo-Coat TV commercial), with a flashback to the day Roger met Don. It turns out Don was an enthusiastic fur salesman with a side interest in advertising, who realized Roger's connection to Sterling Cooper while helping him choose a present for then-mistress Joan (Christina Hendricks), and resolved to catch himself a break by leaving his portfolio inside the fur's packaging and arranging a "chance meeting" with Roger to take him for a morning drink. It's always fascinating to see Don in his pre-Sterling Cooper days, as Hamm plays him like an excitable, naive puppy, and it intrigued me that Don was still very much "Dick" when he first met Roger, so the formation of his "Don" persona seems to have been symbiotic with his rise as an ad man.

The climax of the episode revealed that Don actually got a job because Roger offered him one while intoxicated, but couldn't remember the day after when Don arrived to start work. However, knowing that Don's a gifted liar and hustler, I had to wonder if Don's plan was to get Roger drunk and pretend the offer of work had been made and accepted. If so, Roger has no claim on Don's success whatsoever, but Don is happy to let him believe he was more active in his ascendancy than he is?

In the present day, Don proved himself guilty of accepting undue credit or manipulating the truth to his own ends. He failed to acknowledge Peggy's help with the Glo-Coat commercial that makes him an industry star at the Clio's, and success went to his head during a weekend of drunken antics to celebrate. Not least, Don arrived tipsy at a pitch meeting for Life cereal ("Eat Life By The Bowlful"), and after his work was met with an unsure reaction he desperately appropriated Danny Siegel's slogan "a cure for the common breakfast" to clinch the deal, while drunkenly rehashing his superlative pitch for the Kodak Carousel camera from season 1. Fortunately, despite Don's shambolic behaviour and spinning eyes, the clients were happy with his impromptu work adjusting the campaign to their taste, although Don's mistake in using Danny's slogan forced his hand into giving the young man a job to ensure the agency isn't sued for plagiarism down the line.

There was an amusing subplot for Peggy herself, as she was asked to work alongside SCDP's new art director, Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson), on a Vicks campaign. Stan turns out to be a bit of a male chauvinist and sees Peggy as a repressed woman who's ashamed of her own body. When they're both sent to a hotel room to hammer out the campaign over the weekend, Peggy manages to claim a moral victory by stripping naked and demanding Stan do the same, to prove she's no prude and is a liberated woman. The increasingly uncomfortable and distracted Stan eventually cracked, hurrying to put his clothes back on and calling her "the smuggest bitch in the world." A really fun subplot for Peggy, who came out victorious against a rather awkward male opponent.

Finally, there was Pete (Vincent Karthesier) discovering that his old friend-turned-rival Ken Cosgrone (Aaron Staton) is joining SCDP, bringing some lucrative accounts along with him, prompting Pete to stamp his authority on Ken by arranging a tête-à-tête to make him realize the shift in power has fallen in his favour, and he'll have to tow the line. Ken appeared to acquiesce to the quiet word from Pete, who is indeed a partner with the firm he's joined, but it remains to be seen if Ken will cause problems, particularly as Lane (Jared Harris) clearly rated him more highly than Pete back in the Sterling Cooper days.

"Waldorf Stories" offered an insightful peek into the origin of Don and Roger's curious relationship, and gave us another rather tragic look at Don's spluttering life this season. He seems to pinball from success to failure; winning the Clio for some remarkable advertising work, yet immediately celebrating by going on a bender that sees him once again strike-out with Faye (Cara Buono) at a bar, almost scupper the firm's Life cereal account, then fall into bed with a random woman (waking up with a different woman entirely!), and sleeping so long that he missed his Sunday get-together with his kids, to the annoyance of Betty (January Jones). Also interesting to see that Don had apparently let slip to his bedroom conquest that his name is "Dick", possibly meaning that his two personas were becoming blurred all weekend and we ended up spending some time with a strange, clownish hybrid of the two. Hamm certainly seemed to enjoy playing Don as a bleary-eyed buffoon.

A really strong and perceptive episode. I'm still pondering the final scene, too: was Don's hiring a freak accident from a drunken Roger (who's been taking the credit like a wise mentor for years now), or did Don completely hoodwink Roger into giving him a job he was never offered?

  • This episode featured the return of Duck (Mark Moses), who appears to have fallen off the wagon and is now an embarrassment that Don and Roger take great pleasure in watching get escorted out of the Clio's for disruptive behaviour. But it got me thinking: did we ever get a sense of what happened between Duck and Peggy in season 3? I can't remember their romance reaching a conclusion. Did they just quietly drop that idea between seasons?
  • Did you notice that Betty was the model for Don's self-made advert for Heller's Fur?
WRITERS: Brett Johnson & Matthew Weiner
DIRECTOR: Scott Hornbacher
GUEST CAST: Matt Long, Cara Buono, Jessica Pare, Jay R. Ferguson, Danny Strong, Kevin Rahm, Mark Moses, John Aniston, Tim De Zarn & Becky Wahlstrom
TRANSMISSION: 13 October 2010 -- BBC4/HD, 10PM