MAD MEN: “Waldorf Stories”
Read on for my recap & review of Mad Men 4xo6, “Waldorf Stories,” aired Sunday, August 29th, 2010:
On Sunday night, before watching Mad Men, I watched the show win the Emmy for “Outstanding Drama Series,” for a third year in a row. Matthew Weiner and Erin Levy took home statues for “Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series,” for the phenomenal season three finale “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” At the Creative Arts Emmy Awards last week, Mad Men won for “Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series” and “Outstanding Hairstyling for a Single-Camera Series.” The latter was for the fabulous up-do created by department head hairstylist Lucia Mace, for the Roman get-away episode, “Souvenir.” Well-deserved awards all around. It was only fitting that while Jon Hamm attended the 62nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, the fictional Don Draper attended an award ceremony of his own, the CLIO Awards. Named for the muse of history, the CLIO Awards is actually a real organization, and according to its website, “is the world’s most recognized global awards competition for advertising, design, and interactive.” Yes, this week’s award themed episode was well-timed, and the CLIO Awards provided a fitting center piece for the episode airing the night of the Emmys.
Don Draper won the CLIO award for his work on Glo-Coat, the commercial that we watched him view back in the season four premiere. Featuring the tagline, “Foot prints on a wet floor are no longer a hanging offense,” the ad depicted a little boy in a cowboy hat hiding under a wooden chair in a darkened kitchen. The bars on the chair brought prison bars to mind, but then things brightened when his mother entered the kitchen, holding a bottle of Glo-Coat floor wax. This ad seems to be a proud accomplishment for Don. He watched it fondly, and seemed to have an emotional connection to the little boy under the table, despite his protests to the contrary in “Christmas Comes But Once a Year.” At the awards banquet, sitting next to Joan, he holds her hand in anticipation, and it is clear that he really wants to win. And he does. However, this little moment of triumph is quickly followed with oh so much decline. Oh, Don Draper, how far you have fallen.
Fresh from the victory at the CLIOs, a very drunk Don goes to a meeting with Life Cereal, and it is a disaster. His hair is a mess, his body movements are sloppy, and he is clearly not in control. To begin his presentation he states, “I know you want to associate it with health, but that’s not fun. […] And ‘life,’ that’s a scary word to anyone at any age.” His concept is to target the mothers’ fears about their children facing the “big bowl of life,” and wants to go for a deeper ad campaign than the clients desire. They think “it’s a bit smart for regular folks.” All they want, it turns out, is a slogan. Don’s co-workers look alarmed at this, worrying how Don will react, and try to step-in and take the pressure off Don. He won’t hear of it, however, and instead he lists off a number of slogans for the Life executives, each more clichéd than the last, including, “Cure for the common breakfast.” The Life Cereal execs jump on this one, but there is one problem. That slogan was an idea thought up by aspiring employee Danny, a cousin of Roger’s wife Jane, and played by Danny Strong of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls fame. In a meeting at the opening of the episode, Don and Peggy laughed his portfolio out of the room, but now, in a drunken stupor, Don actually steals his idea. Taking credit for someone else’s idea, an idea that’s not even a good one, at that? Certainly a new low for the creative Don.
“Credit,” and whether or not one is getting the credit that he or she deserves, is an important theme in this episode. Peggy is resentful that Don is the one who gets all the accolades for Glo-Coat. She feels that it was mostly her idea, and she is offended that Don does not acknowledge that, nor is she even permitted to attend the CLIO Awards. She has her revenge, of sorts, when she explains to Don the monumental screw-up that he perpetrated with Life Cereal. Peggy wins, again (but more on her other wins further on). Roger, meanwhile, resents Don as well. At the CLIO reception, he gets very drunk, and mopes about looking jealous of Don. He tells Joan, “He’s pretty proud of himself.” Joan notes that it’s an impressive accomplishment, and Roger points out, “They don’t seem to provide words for what I do.” She wonders what exactly that is. Valid question. Roger answers, “Find guys like him.” Hmmm … When Don’s award goes missing, Roger offers to return it, on one condition: “I’ll give it back to you if you just say one thing: ‘You couldn’t have done it without me.’” Don: “Did I not say that? That was wrong.” The two shake hands, though technically Don does not actually say “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
So, Roger “found” Don. There is a lot of back story there, and luckily for us, we were able to learn some of it, in a series of flashbacks. (Yay flashbacks! I love them so.) In some ways, “Waldorf Stories” is the “Out of Gas” of Mad Men, in which we learn how our characters first met. A delightful treat, indeed. About five years or so before Don’s success in season one, Don was a salesman, selling furs. Roger comes in, looking for a gift that says, “I’m getting to know you, but I don’t want to scare you.” He notices an ad in the store reading, “Why wait for a man to buy you a fur coat?” Roger thinks that’s “a dumb question,” to which I say, “Shush yourself, Roger.” He asks Don who does his work, and Don replies, “I do.” It’s a passion of his, so his boss lets him. When Roger hands him his card, Don realizes that he’s an ad man, and gets excited. Yes, this flashback era Don Draper was so young and full of life and ambition. But Roger is old and cynical, and he shuts the eager man down.
Cut to Joan and Roger in a hotel room. Our beloved redhead is the recipient of the fur cape, and she and Roger are at the early stages of an affair. Joan, like Don, seems younger and happier, and more hopeful. Her hair is down, and she is very playful with Roger, and they both seem to genuinely care about each other. Roger is angered, however, when he sees that Don included his portfolio in the gift box, and throws it aside without even glancing inside.
An uncertain number of days later, Don greets Roger in the Sterling Cooper lobby. After Roger sees through the thin pretense that Don is running into him accidentally, Don reveals that he left Roger multiple messages and says, “I just wanted to know what you thought of my portfolio.” Roger replies that he threw it out, and points out that “it was a bad idea” on Don’s part. Don: “Maybe it was a bad idea, but didn’t you ever try to get a break once?” This seems to soften Roger up a bit, and he asks where Don’s boss thinks he is. Don: “He knows I want to do what you do.” Don continues, saying that he’d do anything to buy him a drink and hear him talk about what he does. Roger snarks, “It’s 10am.”
Aaaaaand … cut to a restaurant, several cocktails in. Roger points out, “And how can I hire you, you know too much about me.” Don: “You know I’ve been discreet.” Roger: “Once you say that, you’re no longer discreet. There is more back-and-forth, and it becomes clear that Roger is wasted. Don walks him out, offering to get him a taxi. What happens after Don and Roger exit the restaurant, we don’t know (nor does Roger it seems), but we do witness the consequences. The next morning Don greets Roger at Sterling Cooper, and in response to his questioning, says that Roger told him to come in. Roger: “The hell I did.” Don: “You hired me.” Again, Roger clearly does not remember this, but he seems to accept it. Do you think Don actually got a job offer? Or is he manipulating drunk Roger’s poor memory for his own benefit? Don gets into the elevator with his new boss, a happy smile on his face, as the music plays. “Up up up the ladder of success. Once he let me share his dream, but now that they come true it seems … he doesn’t want my love I guess. Look there goes my happiness.” Yes, Roger discovered Don, but he was pretty much tricked into it. Still, Roger decides to take a chance on Don, and it paid off. So, does Roger expect more credit for that than it’s worth? I think Don and Roger would both answer that question differently.
In addition to the theme of “credit due,” this episode is also concerned with Don’s continuing decline. Yes, this episode was not a high point for Don’s character. Not only did we have Don’s professional screw-up with the Life Cereal, but his personal life is a mess as well. At the CLIO party Don hits on Faye, but she turns him down. Smart lady. However, Don just finds a lady who’s willing, and ends up in bed with her. When the camera fades into morning, however, Don wakes up with another woman, whom he seems to have no recollection of. It seems that he has gone on a bender, and has no idea what he’s done since the night of the CLIO Awards. The phone rings, and when Don answers, Betty yells at him for not showing up to pick up the kids. She and Henry had a very important brunch, which they have now missed. Don protests, “I’m coming on Sunday.” Betty: “It is Sunday.” He apologizes, but Betty is angry, and sarcastically responds, “Well thank you for the notice, Don. Thanks a lot.” After she hangs up on him, Don has to deal with the blonde woman in his bed. He references the name on her waitress uniform to tell her, “I had a great time, Doris. Really sorry I forgot I had plans.” Once she leaves, Don pours a glass of whiskey and lies on the couch. Sigh. Has Don hit rock bottom? Will he start turning things around now? Or will he sink even lower?
But enough about Don. Let’s talk about the real star of this episode: Peggy Olson. This is Peggy’s season, people. Everyone else is just living in it. As I already mentioned, Peggy spent the beginning of the episode resentful that she was not given proper credit for her work on Glo-Coat. She is not invited to the CLIO Awards, and instead is ordered to work with Rizzo, the new art director. And Rizzo? Well, he has nothing in common with my favorite Grease character, sadly. Instead, he’s a chauvinistic jerk, and it is hard to believe that he has any artistic talent (though Don says he is talented and experienced). He also dresses unlike any of our characters, sporting a leather jacket. He makes me miss Sal so much more than I already did. But Peggy is stuck with Rizzo, who is obsessed with nudity, is more concerned with flirting with secretaries than working, and constantly criticizes Peggy.
Not only is Peggy stuck with Rizzo, she ends up stuck with him in a hotel room all weekend, in order to make progress on the Vick Chemical account. As Peggy attempts to work, Rizzo reads a Playboy magazine and annoys her. When the subject of Don comes up, he notes, “I know you have a special relationship.” Peggy: “What does that mean?” Rizzo quickly explains that he didn’t mean anything sexual, insulting her in the process, and adds: “I know you’re his favorite. I bet he takes you hunting and lets you carry the carcasses in your mouth.” Well, that’s quite an image. Peggy gets fed up with all his bravado and asks, “So, why aren’t you a nudist? You talk about it all the time.” Rizzo replies, “In a liberated environment I might be. But in the presence of the pope, or say, you, it’s difficult.” Peggy: “You don’t know anything about me.” He really doesn’t. Rizzo: “I know you’re ashamed of your body. You should be, at least.”
And how does Peggy react to this? A snappy one-liner? A shrug and an eye-roll? An angry diatribe? Oh no. Peggy is way too awesome for that. Instead, she just strips down to her underwear, and tells him the truth, “You’re lazy and you have no ideas.” Rizzo is shocked: “You’re a fruitcake.” Peggy: “And you’re chicken shit.” In response to Rizzo’s dumbstruck expression, Peggy tells him, “I can work like this. Let’s get liberated.” As @HitFixDaniel noted on Twitter, that should totally be a tee-shirt. Peggy, you are my hero. Rizzo, however, does not take said liberation as well, though he does try to play it off at first, pretending it’s “fantastic.” He takes off his clothes too, but when Peggy removes her bra, it is clear that he is NOT handling this well. Peggy just casually says, “Let’s sell cough drops. Got any ideas?” Have I mentioned lately how awesome Peggy is? Because, seriously, she is so cool. He says he’s thinking, but it’s pretty clear that he’s not thinking of cough drops. When Peggy looks over, he says, “It’s involuntary.” Peggy just gets to work: “Now, I don’t think it’s hard to convince people that cough drops are medicine when they taste like it.” Ha!
Cut to sometime later, and Peggy and Rizzo are still naked. Peggy is pitching ideas, while Rizzo looks increasingly uncomfortable. Peggy doesn’t let the guy slide: “Anything you’d like to add? This pencil is a little dull. Maybe I should dip that thing in a bit of ink and write with it.” Ha! Rizzo: “Fine, you win.” He stands up and starts getting dressed. Peggy, feigning innocence, asks, “Win what?” Rizzo: “Win the prize for the smuggest bitch in the world.” He then leaves the room, saying that he has “to take a leak.” Peggy is pretty smug, but deservedly so. Smiling, she asks, “Hey Rizzo, I’m hungry. Do you want anything?” Hehe. The more uncomfortable Rizzo is, the more carefree and happy Peggy is. Love it. Peggy is so much cooler than everyone else.
AMC posted a nudity warning for “The Rejected,” two weeks ago, for a couple naked magazine photos. But there was no warning prior to this one. I wasn’t offended by either episode, but while we didn’t actually see naked body parts in “Waldorf Stories,” the episode seems far naughtier than “The Rejected.” In fact, this episode’s use of suggestion without actually using specific words, could teach a lot of television shows some alternatives to graphic sex. You don’t have to show or say everything to get the message across. I’m talking to you, True Blood. Side-note: According to Matthew Weiner, on AMCtv.com, the Peggy moment is based on a true story from one of the writers. I want to meet that writer and give her a round of applause.
- It was so much fun seeing Danny Strong on Mad Men, and he is perfectly cast as Danny (name coincidence much?). He really is a “superstar.”
- It was also fun to see Grace from Joan of Arcadia show up as Don’s one-night stand, Doris. Becky Wahlstrom was one of my favorite parts of that show.
- Oh, and one more casting bit: Victor Kiriakis presented Don his award! And yes, long-time soap-opera actor John Aniston is Jennifer Aniston’s dad.
- Roger is writing a book! How great is that?
- Ken Cosgrove has joined SCDP. Pete’s reaction to this news was hilarious, as was the way that Lane manipulated him to get his approval. I like Lane more and more each episode.
- As suspense for the award was building, at the CLIO reception, Roger held Joan’s hand under the table. Adorable. And then Don did the same thing. Awww. What would those boys do without Joan? Less adorable was Don kissing Joan on the lips when his name was called. Hands off! I’m going to interpret it as a platonic victory kiss, in the moment, but please don’t go there, show. Please.
- I didn’t write a recap last week, but I did record a podcast about “The Rejected” and “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” which you can listen to here or on iTunes.
- I was curious to see if Glo-Coat was a real company, and I discovered that it is, and also got drawn into watching a bunch of the company’s old commercials on YouTube. Fun times. SURFSTYLEY4 points out, “Johnsons Glo Coat thought up the hover skateboard years before the movie BACK TO THE FUTURE DID.” Amazing.