‘Mad Men’ – ‘Waldorf Stories’: Who’s the big winner? Don Draper’s the big winner!

Senior Television Writer
08.30.10 275 Comments


A review of last night’s “Mad Men” coming up just as soon as I name some aircraft for you…

“You finish something, you find out everyone loves it right around the time it feels like someone else did it.” -Don

“Award or no award, you’re still Don Draper.” -Faye

As the scheduling gods would have it, “Waldorf Stories” aired opposite the Emmys, so at the same time “Mad Men” was on its way to its third consecutive Outstanding Drama Series award, plus a writing award for Matthew Weiner and Erin Levy for last year’s finale(*), Don Draper and company were sweating out how they would do at the Clio ceremony, and stressing out over who deserved credit for the award should they win it.

(*) And, sticking with the credit theme, note that when Levy, speaking first, said she should really thank Weiner, Weiner joked, “You do.”

Credit and awards for creative endeavors are both tricky ideas. How, really, is one supposed to look at “Mad Men” and “Lost” and decide which show is better from its radically different competition? And given the collaborative nature of making any TV show – or, in this case, a TV commercial – where do you draw the line at who is and isn’t credited for their contribution?

Credit’s on the mind of everyone in “Waldorf Stories.” Don gets to walk up to the stage to receive the Clio for the Glo-Coat ad, but he also laments that it doesn’t feel like something he did – which Peggy, who claims to have come up with the original idea of the kid (but not the Old West gimmick that made the commercial stand out) and now feels forgotten, would agree on. Roger wants to get attaboys for having discovered Don in the first place, even though the flashbacks to how Don was hired show us that he pushed for the job a lot more than Roger did. New Sterling Cooper art director Stan Rizzo complains that his old agency didn’t give proper credit to anyone but the people who worked on the infamous “Daisy” ad from the ’64 presidential campaign. Pete, who got passed over for head of accounts at the old agency, worries that all the work he’s done to build SCDP will be overshadowed by the return of Ken Cosgrove. And Don is so drunk when he makes a pitch to the Life cereal execs that he appropriates the “Cure for the common (insert-product-here” meme that littered the book of hapless SCDP wannabe Danny Siegel, and ultimately has to hire the kid to fix things(**).

(**) When lecturing Don on what he did, Peggy notes that sometimes you don’t realize where you got an idea from, and it’s worth mentioning that the Danny story is remarkably similar to a plot from “Trust Me,” TNT’s short-lived contemporary ad agency drama from a few years back. Tom Cavanagh’s character sells a client on a tagline that he later realizes was in the book of an annoying job applicant and has to offer the guy a job, though he ultimately comes up with a way to talk the client out of using the tag. I’m in no way suggesting Weiner and Brett Johnson copied that story – inadvertently using someone else’s thought is a problem creative people deal with all the time, and the kind of story I imagine Weiner heard a million times while researching the show – but just pointing how easy it is to even appear like you’re lifting someone else’s idea.

And here’s the thing about awards: they can be silly and arbitrary (as I noted last week, “The Wire” has zero Emmys; “FlashForward” has one), but sometimes they’re the best, or only way someone can feel like their work has been properly recognized. Don can dismiss the Clio as meaningless, and something that doesn’t change the nature of the work he does, but you can see just how desperately he wants it, and how pleased he is to get it – and then how much Roger and Peggy and even Pete let their self-esteem get wrapped up in feeling like they have a piece of that little gold statuette.

But the award doesn’t make anyone feel better for long. Peggy still has sour feelings about her contribution going unacknowledged (Joan gets to go to the ceremony instead of her) and then gets banished by Don to a weekend in a hotel with Stan. Roger pouts until Joan sarcastically calls him on it, and the best he can get is Don acknowleding that he couldn’t have done it without the man who “discovered” him. (And Don never actually says the words Roger wants him to.)

And Don? Hoo-boy.

After last week’s brief re-emergence of Draper Classic, we’re back to Don the lush this week, and it’s horrifying to watch. Don Draper is a smooth, controlled master of the pitch. He’s not this loud, sweaty, eager-to-please clown who won’t keep throwing out new slogans to the Life people. (In case we can’t tell just how impaired he is, we get to hear him race through a sloppy version of the nostalgia speech from season one’s “The Wheel” – and note that in the original he mentioned his stint working at the fur company – and the only reason it doesn’t seem worse is that the Life guys are on the same drunken frequency.) He uses Danny’s tag without realizing it, and after striking out yet again with Faye Miller – who may be intrigued by Don, but has the self-control to avoid him at his most liquid – he goes home with a woman from the Clio after-party…

… and wakes up more than 24 hours later with an entirely different woman in his bed – a woman who knows him as “Dick,” no less – and no idea who she is, how she got there, or even what day it is.

If this isn’t rock bottom for Don Draper, I’m not sure what it is.

We’re used to Don as master of all he surveys, not as a guy who – like Stan Rizzo after Peggy shows him who’s boss (more on that in a minute) – has to hide from a woman in the shower. Don used to treat Pete and Peggy like children, but in this one, they’re the grown-ups. Pete’s the only member of the Clio party who can tell it’s a bad idea to go back and try to pitch the Life people in their condition, and Peggy gets to sternly lecture Don and order him to fix the mess he made in appropriating Danny’s idea.

Really, it’s an entire hour of grown men acting like children. Roger realizes that the childhood portion of his memoirs keeps expanding, but he doesn’t do anything to stop it. We see how much Joan has matured since the day Roger gave her the mink coat and she was so impressed by him, while Roger only seems to be going backwards.

Lane outright calls Roger a child in talking to Pete about why the agency needs Ken – but he’s also doing it to defuse a vintage Pete Campbell tantrum. But if Pete is still fiercely protective of his turf, he’s also capable of being a grown-up when things go his way. (Aren’t we all?) Lane’s words soothe him, and when he gets Ken to acknowledge that he is the head man in charge, he then smiles and asks him how the wedding planning is going, and pretty soon there’s an impromptu party gathered for him in the conference room.

Stan Rizzo reveals himself early and often to be a man with the mind (and manners) of a teenage boy, rambling on about his liberated philosophies so he can belittle Peggy and justify goofing off. And Peggy brilliantly calls his bluff by offering to work nude – and proving that she can do it, whereas Stan gets both uptight and aroused at the sight of a naked Peggy casually sitting around(***) brainstorming cough drop ideas. It’s a triumphant moment in a season full of them for Peggy, who has grown up an enormous amount in the five years since she first arrived at Sterling Cooper. Don doesn’t acknowledge her work on Glo-Coat – and, again, we only have her version of what happened, and it’s entirely possible that she’s inflating her role just as much as Roger is when discussing how Don came to work for him – but he does let her talk to him like he’s the subordinate, and she gets to enjoy having the power position with Stan.

(***) Though given what we know today about what sort of disgusting things end up on hotel sheets, furniture, etc., Peggy and Stan might want to worry about contact dermatitis from spending so much time with their bare behinds on those chairs.

Peggy’s stunned reaction to the news of Danny’s hiring suggests she wanted Don to fix it the way he tried to at the beginning: by paying him a one-time fee to give up “cure for the common…” and then go away. But Danny – whom Peggy suspects isn’t quite the kid he claims to be – is persistent, in the same way that we see young Don was when he first met Roger Sterling. Though Don’s work of that period (including a fur ad with a young Betty) looks much more impressive than anything Danny has to offer, young Don is just as awkward and overly-enthusiastic as Danny (he hasn’t entirely shed Dick Whitman yet), and both get their jobs entirely because the man they’re trying to impress gets too drunk to realize what they’re doing. (I briefly wondered if Don had perhaps invented the job offer, knowing what we know about how Dick Whitman operates, but the parallels to Danny’s story are so obvious that I have to assume Roger really did blurt out a job offer, then blacked out and forgot it.)

It’s hard to imagine Danny growing into a charismatic force of nature like Don is (when he’s not blind stinking drunk), but then, it’s hard to look at the Don of the ’50s – so incapable of reading his audience that he asks Roger the cliched question about whether he ever needed someone to cut him a break – and picture the man he would become.

But if Danny does go on to have the career he dreams of – one where other would-be Dannys are putting his ads in their book the way he did with Volkswagen – I wonder if Don will one day insist on getting an attaboy for giving him his shot.

Some other thoughts:

  • The Clios also functioned as an excuse to trot out various members of the SCDP rogues gallery, including Ken (before we knew he was coming back), Teddy Chaough (with Roger hilariously mocking the weird spelling/pronunciation by calling him “Chow-guh-guh”) and a very much off-the-wagon Duck Phillips. I wonder if the show will ever feel the need to provide closure on his fling with Peggy, or if we’re just supposed to assume she eventually wised up and realized how much better she could do.
  • Our two new SCDP employees were played by relatively familiar faces. Danny is played by Danny Strong, probably best known for being Jonathan on “Buffy,” but who has an eclectic resume that includes an Emmy nomination (and a WGA win) for writing the HBO movie “Recount.” Stan, meanwhile, was played by Jay R. Ferguson, who’s bounced around a lot of TV shows over the last 20 years. His longest stint was as Burt Reynolds’ son for four seasons of “Evening Shade,” though I’ll always think of him as playing Ponyboy in Fox’s short-lived “Outsiders” remake, which failed to make stars of its entire cast the way the movie did.
  • Joan is no longer the head secretary, and therefore can order Joey to make his own drink, but she’ll still mix one for Don, and offer to do the same for Peggy. A definite hierarchy for the SDCP wet bar.
  • And speaking of Joan, it’s been established time and again that she could probably do everyone’s job at that agency better than they do it. We got a glimpse of her copywriting skills last season when she gave Peggy the pitch for her roommate ad, and here she comes up with a gem of a tagline for a potential fur campaign by telling Roger, “When I wear it, I’ll think of everything that happened the night I got it.”
  • Overall, Mrs. Blankenship is a joke that’s probably outlived its usefulness, but I have to admit to laughing very loudly at her off-camera “I don’t work for you!” in response to Danny’s request (at Don’s prompting) for a good place to eat.
  • Two Harry Crane notes: First, Lane calls him out for all his name-dropping, and now makes me want to pay attention and see how often he gets through a scene without mentioning the name of a famous person or prominent executive. Second, his attempt to stall the Life guys by telling them what happens on the next few weeks of “Peyton Place” – and the Life guys later complaining he ruined it for them – definitely played a bit like Weiner taking a shot at the spoiler community.
  • Speaking of the Emmys, Jon Hamm seems fond of submitting episodes where he gets to transform into someone other than the alpha male version of Don, and I wonder if he might be considering this episode a year from now (when he won’t have to fear losing to Bryan Cranston, since “Breaking Bad” season four won’t air during the eligibility period). Not only does he get to play a young and bumbling Don (getting the spirit of it right, even if he looks a bit too old to really pass), he gets to play a giddy Don (even before the booze starts flowing), and then the alcoholic mess of the episode’s middle passage. It’s probably not the most powerful episode he’s going to have all season, but it’s darned versatile.
  • More fodder for the people who saw the abundant chemistry Hamm and Christina Hendricks had in the lawnmower episode (which was Hendricks’ Emmy submission, though she lost to Archie Panjabi from “The Good Wife”) and either speculated on a past Joan/Don fling (which we have no evidence of) or just want to see them as a super-couple: as they’re preparing to announce the winner in Don’s category, he takes her hand just like Roger has, and when he wins, he kisses her on the lips. I don’t think it’s anything romantic – it’s just Don enjoying his moment by kissing the beautiful woman next to him (ala Adrien Brody with Halle Berry at the Oscars) – but still, I’m expecting a whole lotta Don/Joan fanfiction being inspired by this one.
  • Interesting re-use of the device from “The Good News,” where they showed us Don staying up all night by having Hamm sit in the same position while the light changed. Here, it happened twice, only instead of being awake and consumed with worry, Don was passed out and unaware how much time had passed. (The first incident was maybe the first time all season where Betty seemed like the sympathetic one in that former marriage.)

Let me remind you, as always, about the basic commenting rules (which I established at the old blog, where you can find my reviews of the first three seasons) – particularly the part about respecting other commenters (if you can’t disagree with someone without insulting them, your comment’s getting deleted) and the no spoiler rule (which extends to not discussing anything about the content of the previews for the next episode)

With that in mind, what did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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