Saturday, 16 October 2010

Mad Men 4.6 'Waldorf Stories'


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

Drinking and resentment were at the core of ‘Waldorf Stories’ as we hit the mid-season point of Mad Men’s brilliant fourth season.

As the staff at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce prepare for the Clio Awards at which they are nominated for Don’s now infamous wild west Glo-Coat commercial, we have many of the staff just wanting their credit…

Roger wants to be congratulated for discovering the cash cow that would become Don – though through a series of flashbacks we learn that it was more Don pushing Roger than the other way round; and ultimately a liquored up Roger offers Don a job and then can’t even remember the next day… or did he? (More on that later)

Peggy feels pushed out as she claims to have had the original Glo-Coat idea that developed into the finished ad yet she doesn’t even get to attend the awards ceremony – the altogether more glamorous Joan going in her place.

And Pete worries that old rival Ken Cosgrove is going to steal his thunder again now that the old head of accounts is back on the scene.

For the most part, ‘Waldorf Stories’ was an episode with grown men and women acting immaturely over petty ego-driven things.

Then we have Don, who goes from top to bottom in a matter of hours. Don was back to his brilliant best last week in making an impression of the Honda people but this week he was back to the Don in a downward spiral that we’ve seen for much of season 4.

After the elation of winning the Clio – following a nice scene in which he and Roger were both holding Joan’s hand under the table (is there a more important person at SCDP than Joan?) – Don soon was back to his recent booze-hound persona, going on a massive bender with Roger only to have to return to the office for a meeting with Life cereal.

Luckily the staff that didn’t make the cut for the awards had plied the Life people with enough liquor that Don and Roger’s inebriation wasn’t as noticeable to them. Don slurred his way through his pitch only to have the representatives knock it back.

Fuelled by a sense of invincibility following his award win and a belly full of scotch Don then tired to pitch a new strap-line to them there and then, eventually reeling off the only original idea Roger’s wife Jane’s annoying cousin had in his book when he interviewed for a job at the start of the episode.

Life loved “the cure for the common cereal” and with that Don, Roger and Joan headed back out into the night; Don completely ambivalent to the fact he’d just stolen someone else’s pitch.

Don struck out with Faye Miller again during the celebrations and ended up in bed with a jingle writer – the depth of Don’s plummet to as close to rock bottom as one can get only really evidenced by another beautiful time-lapse shot similar to the one in ‘The Good News’ in which night turns to day and we assume it is now the morning after.

The problem is it isn’t the morning after – it is the morning after the morning after and Don now has a different woman in his bed – a waitress whose name he doesn’t even know – and he has no idea what day it even is.

Don only snapped from his drunken slumber by an angry Betty phoning him to tell him he is over two hours late to pick up the kids. Don’s day only goes from bad to worse as Peggy arrives to inform him that the pitch he sold the Life people on was actually Jane’s irritating cousin’s.

Peggy isn’t as judgemental of Don’s drinking in that scene as I expected, even when he reveals he has no recollection of ordering her to spend the weekend in a hotel room holed up with new creative Stan Rizzo.

Maybe the realisation of how destructive his drinking may be the spark that finally snaps Don out of the downward spiral he’s been on since Betty threw him out, the fact that Danny (Jane’s cousin) won’t take a pay-off and just go away meaning Don has to hire him can only help to make Don see the negative influence his drinking can have on both himself and the agency.

Danny’s hiring was juxtaposed nicely with the flashbacks to how Don got his break through Roger – both due to the hirer getting so drunk that they did something that they couldn’t get out of the next day and the out and out persistence of the young upstart.

Peggy’s scenes with Rizzo at the hotel allowed her to claim another victory over one of her male co-workers. The nudity-obsessed Rizzo finally being called on his liberated ways by Peggy and being the first to blink as they both sat nude trying to think up a slogan for cough drops.

I’ve always found Peggy weirdly asexual but that scene was the first time I’ve actually found her sexy in any way. As a character she’s come such a long way from Don’s receptionist of season 1 and though she tries to present an image of being uptight and a little bit of a priss (telling her boyfriend she’s a virgin) we get to see enough of her outside of SCDP that we know that is about as far removed from the truth as you can get.

Pete meanwhile, after being almost likeable for most of the season, slipped back into his snivelling ways as he felt threatened by Ken’s return. Once Ken was big enough to acknowledge Pete as the man in charge though, Pete’s demeanour altered immediately, like a child getting their own way.

Speaking of children, Ken (who I’m glad to see back) was brought back to the fold because, according to Lane, “Roger Sterling is a child” – the ‘S’ in SCDP is now nothing more than a figure head and that has to be what is motivating his pouting over Don’s attention – which Joan calls him out on.

In closing: another great episode in what I feel confident in saying is Mad Men’s best season to date.

Bullet Points:

- In addition to the time-lapse sequence another nice bit of camera work I enjoyed was how Don and Roger in Roger’s office cut to Don and Roger’s first meeting with Don’s smile as the constant between the two scenes.

- Interesting to see Joan and Roger’s early relationship during the flashback and just how contrasting their development as people has been – Joan has grown-up so much from a girl who would be easily impressed by a mink fur, whilst Roger, if anything, has regressed back to as Lane put it “a child”.

- I know Don was acting like a giant douche, by going on the mother of all benders and then losing a weekend but I still can’t feel sympathy for Betty at all. She was well within her right to lambaste Don for forgetting the kids but the way in which she did it and how she behaves in general just make it so difficult to elicit any sort of compassion for her.

- As alluded to above, there is some debate on forums and blogs as to whether Roger really would have offered Don a job whilst drunk.

From what we saw from Don in the present it certainly is the sort of thing that we know can happen when completely blotto at work, but that look Don gave in the elevator in that great final scene would seemingly suggest that the master liar had just pulled a fast one on the unsuspecting Sterling – and maybe that is why Don was seemingly reluctant to actually give Roger the props that the silver fox felt he deserved.

What does everyone else think?

Mad Men continues Wednesday @ 10pm on BBC4.


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