Mad Men Season 4 Episode 6: Waldorf Stories

Posted on August 30, 2010

We’re nothing if not completely oversensitive here, so when there was a tiny bit of complaining last week that our weekly Mad Men recap/review had gotten a little long on the recap and a little short on the review, we threw wineglasses into roaring fireplaces and rent throwpillows in despair, vowing to destroy all those who besmirched our good recapping names. We got over it, though. And fortunately for both you and us, this episode was one heavy on the subtext and somewhat light on plot, which means the themes were a lot easier to tease out. Ready? Let’s get to it.

There were two themes at play in this story. The one that permeated every line and scene in the story, the one that hearkens back to one of the major overriding themes of the show – class status – is the one that has to do with hierarchy.

The unseen hierarchies that dominate our lives even when we don’t notice them were all over Mad Men this week. It’s not just the haves vs. the have-nots; it’s the self-made men (or women) vs. the Silver Spoons. It’s nebbishy little Danny Siegel, constantly dropping Roger’s name in his interview, glossing over the fact that he has no ideas worth listening to. It’s a young, hungry Don buttonholing Roger and asking him “Weren’t you trying to get a break once?” Not realizing that Roger got his big break at his conception. It’s Pete Campbell furiously reminding Lane, “I’m a partner, dammit. I have the same status here as you.” It’s also Pete coldly informing Ken that “this is a small shop and I need to know you can do as told.” It’s Peggy reminding the new art director Stan of just what it’s like to be on the receiving end of Don’s fury (“Have you been yelled at by Don yet?” “I’m not scared of him. ” “So that’s a no.”). It’s Joan opening up the liquor cabinet and cutting Joey off at the knees for daring to think he warranted any service from her (“I’ll have a 7&7.” “You have legs. Don?”) It’s even Mrs. Blankenship, loudly proclaiming “I DON’T WORK FOR YOU” when Danny asks her to recommend a place for lunch. The world of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, for all its forward-thinking and modernity, is riddled with old world-style hierarchies and every single person involved knows their place. If they don’t know it, there’s always someone there to remind them of it.

The other theme had to do with people taking credit for the work of others; a theme nicely set up by Danny Siegel, who fills his portfolio with other people’s work. Obviously, the most overt example is Don inadvertently stealing Danny’s terrible tagline, but then we find out that Peggy thinks she had more to do with Don’s award-winning Glo-Coat ad than anyone will admit. We have Ted Chaough inexplicably parading around an actor at the Clios who’s pretending to be a general (at least according to Roger); we have horrible new woman-hating art director Stan Rizzo claiming that the Vick’s ad – which revolved entirely around priests and church – was mostly his idea and not Peggy’s; and finally we have Roger, who claimed for years that he discovered Don, only to have it revealed to us that he stumbled upon Don, blew him off, and got conned into giving him a job. Roger’s been taking credit for Don when in fact, Don made his own success.

This is something Roger resents terribly and probably can’t understand why. His privilege and his petulance are reaching alarming levels in the new SCDP regime (kind of like Don’s raging alcoholism) and while he always joked about no one understanding what he does, it’s obvious that this has become a real issue with him. He’s surrounded by go-getters and he’s never been one himself. So he entertains himself by attempting to write his biography, something that a lot of big name ad men were doing around this time, like David Ogilvy and Jerry Della Femina. Only, every time we hear him dictating chapters to his secretary, they sound ridiculously self-indulgent and pointless.

In fact, there’s something a little fatalistic about Roger lately. Strange how his season 1 heart attacks have hardly ever been referenced again, especially since he doesn’t seem to have made any changes in his lifestyle. For a while there, he was doing the old quitter’s dodge of bumming smokes off everyone around him, but he doesn’t even seem to be doing that anymore. With his tendency to look back becoming so prevalent lately, we’re really hoping this all isn’t a prelude to his upcoming death. He’s a prick and a racist, but we can’t help loving the snotty little prince just for his one-liners.

And how about that flashback? We’ve seen ’50s Don before, in both his Korean war flashback and his meeting Anna Draper flashback, all wide eyes and pompadoured hair. But we’ve never seen ’50s Roger, who only looks slightly different; a little more gray than white and a little pompadour of his own. And if the quick shot of Betty modeling her fur wasn’t enough to set off the Mad Men trivia fanatics, then the sight of ’50s Joan Holloway, in the full bloom of her dewey young Marilyn-esque self, perched on a hotel bed caused squealing all over the land.

But here’s the thing about that: we have a tiny little issue with it. As we said, a Mad Men fanatic would naturally love seeing a glimpse of Roger meeting Don or Betty’s fur ad, but revealing that the Roger and Joan affair stretched back over ten years puts a spin on their relationship it never had before. The scene in season 1 where it is revealed that they are having an affair not only doesn’t hint at the length of it, it hints at the opposite: that in 1960, when we first met them, Roger and Joan’s affair was a relatively new thing for them. At least that’s how that scene was written and played. Roger was giddy with the newness of it and Joan was practical about what they were doing. “I know men they way you know advertising,” she told him back then, “and I know the sneaking around is why you love it.” There was never any indication that their relationship was already at least 5 years old by then. And when did she fit in the time to have a fling with Paul Kinsey?

Ultimately, it’s not that big a deal to us, although it does make Joan seem a little more foolish in retrospect. “When I wear it,” she coos to Roger after he gives her the mink, “I’ll think of everything that happened the night I got it.” Still, did she not look DELICIOUS perched on that bed in her skin tight little black dress?

In fact, there were a couple other strange moments with Joan; moments that were either tantalizing or depressing, depending on how you look at it. We honestly don’t think there was ever a sweeter moment in the history of this show than when Joan sat there at the Clios, two powerful men on either side of her, both clutching her hands like nervous little boys. But here’s what caught our eye: Don turns to her just before they announce the winner and asks nervously “How do I look?” She assesses for just a beat and says “Great.” And she meant it. Then, when they announced his win – did anyone else catch this? – Don puts his hand on her hip and kisses her full on the mouth — AND SHE KISSED HIM BACK. We didn’t imagine that, right? Don and Joan had a full-on kiss that went way beyond a congratulations to a colleague. We’re not predicting anything (because that’s a fool’s errand with this show) but that certainly raised some possibilities in our minds. Honestly, we love Joannie too much to want to see her with Don, but we have to admit, we’d love just one scene where they just succumb to it and tear each other’s clothes off. We’re pretty sure if Don Draper and Joan Holloway had sex, half the eastern seaboard would have simultaneous orgasms.

And speaking of Don, he’s a bigger mess than ever. Even when he’s having a career high moment, he still manages to turn it into something dark and disturbing and hard to watch. In fact, we don’t know which was harder to watch, Don waking up after a blackout to find a woman (Hierarchy: struck out again with Dr. Faye, moved on to the Clio groupie who gives star-spangled blowjobs, woke up in bed with a waitress named Doris) he doesn’t know or remember in bed with him or Don drunkenly and cockily stumbling through the pitch for Life cereal (Hierarchy: “Joey, you didn’t start without me, did you?” “No, Don. I would not do that.”)

Actually, we do know. It was the pitch that was harder to watch. And that was because it deliberately called back to the greatest pitch Don ever made, the one to the Kodak people that left them breathless and teary-eyed. The one that starts off by referring to his old job of selling furs. The one that defined “nostalgia” as the “pain from an old wound.” The one that was so beautifully written it was almost poetry. No poetry this time. A lurching and burping Don makes his half-assed pitch: “I kept thinking about nostalgia, how you remember something in the past and it feels good, but it’s a little bit painful, like when you were a kid.” Not nearly as lyrical or emotional, just a string of words to get to the punchline: “Eat Life by the Bowlful.” No wonder the client was less than impressed.

Ultimately, it was Peggy who took on the role of Don’s conscience and literally ordered him to “Fix it.” We are LOVING their relationship right now. It’s far from perfect – he still gives her too much shit for stuff that’s not her fault – but they’re so relaxed with each other and even though he can be a bit of a dick to her, you can tell how much he respects her. “It’s a relief to see someone worse than me,” she says upon meeting Danny (hierarchy). “Don’t get used to it,” says Don; a sentence that’s both a warning and a compliment to her.

Still, Peggy was set adrift by Don, forced to work with the execrable misogynist Stan Rizzo, who fancies himself a nudist (among other things). Forced into a hotel room with him, where she has to put up with his constant insults (although to be fair, she gave as good as she got: “I know you’re ashamed of your body. Or you should be, at least.” “You’re lazy and you have no ideas.” “You’re a fruitcake, you know that?” “And you’re chickenshit.”), she did the most amazingly Peggy-like thing and yet we never could have predicted it.

If there’s one thing Peggy cannot stand, it’s people who think they know her. She got mad at Allison for assuming she slept with Don and she got annoyed with her boyfriend for assuming she’s some sort of repressed virgin. Stan thought he had a mousey girl on his hands. Stan doesn’t know our Pegs, does he? In the end, she got what she wanted, as well as a new title to be proud of (considering its source); Peggy Olson: the Smuggest Bitch in the World. When a man like Stan Rizzo calls you that, you should go out and buy yourself something pretty as a reward.

In an earlier scene she tells him about how she clapped when Don was nominated for his Clio. “He thought I was clapping for him.” “Who claps for themselves?” asks Stan, laughing at her. Well Stan, Miss Peggy Olson claps for herself because no one else will and it’s served her pretty damn well so far.

Honestly, once the clothes came off in that hotel room, we turned into old ladies watching our stories again. We lectured her through our TV screen. “Peggy Olson, don’t you DARE sleep with this man! He hates women!” We think there might actually be a bit of mutual attraction there – after all, they both shed their clothes pretty quickly – but we’d rather see her flirt with a priest or sleep with Duck again before she gives this one a go.

But we probably don’t have much to worry about with Pegs. As Stan shows Joey the boards for the Vick’s ad, he brags that most of the concept came from him. “That’s true,” says Peggy with a smirk. “I only had to change one…little…thing.” And holds up her fingers to illustrate just how little. God, we love that girl. But Peggy, so help us, if you sleep with this asshole and his gigantic man-panties, we’re writing you off. Worst taste in men EVER.

Bullet points:

* It probably doesn’t mean anything but there were two instances of people wildly misquoting something and completely missing the meaning of it. Danny’s “Well, aspiration’s as good as perspiration” and Roger’s hilarious “My mother always told me ‘Be careful what you wish for, because then you’ll get it, and people will get jealous and try to take it away from you.”

* Another minor motif. Roger to the guy posing as a general: “Name some aircraft for me.” Roger to young Don, who claimed he had a meeting in the same building. “Name some of the other companies in this building.” It’s a classic bully technique; zeroing in with laser precision on a perceived weak point.

*This is the second and third time this season we’ve seen Don go from daylight to nighttime or vice versa. The first time was when he sat up all night in Anna’s house after finding out she had cancer. Again in this episode when he had two blackouts, one in mid blow-job.

* “Things have changed in a permanent way.” Truer words have never been spoken. Was Pete being a bit of a dick to Ken? Sure, but it had to be done. Ken clearly wasn’t going to treat Pete like a partner unless Pete acted like one right from the beginning. So yes, it was Pete being petulant and cold once again, but for once, we were on his side. Now, if Ken actually does treat Pete with respect, that remains to be seen. If Ken brings in a big enough account, they’ll make him a partner in a New York minute.

* The Mets banner in Lane’s office. We don’t know why, but it just tickles us.

* Betty’s oft-referenced fur ad. Who ever thought we’d actually see it? Of course Roger dismissed it immediately because it was written from a woman’s point of view. “Why wait for a man to buy you a fur coat?”

* “You’ve crossed the border from lubricated to morose.”

* Y’know, we’re warming up to that Faye. Any woman who can take one look at Don Draper, see past the wrapping, and realize the man inside is a freaking mess, is a woman with her head on straight. “I think you’re confusing a lot of things at once right now.” There’s definitely an attraction there, but she’s too smart to fall for such a collection of red flags.

* We can’t ever imagine a scene in Mad Men with the words “My name is Don Draper and I’m an alcoholic.” It just doesn’t seem like the right tone for this show. Still, they’re going to great lengths to demonstrate just how bad his drinking has gotten. We had Freddie Rumsen re-introduced to remind us of that and just in case we’d forgotten, here comes Drunk Duck to hammer the point home. It’s one thing to wake up in bed with women you don’t remember, but for Don, the worst part about this episode was that he was forced to hire someone he didn’t want to and forced to use a tagline that he absolutely hated – and all because of his drinking. We don’t know what it’s going to take to shake him out of this freefall, but we suspect those last two things were major eye-openers for him.

[Photo credit: AMC TV]

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