Waldorf Stories: Mad Men, Season 4, Episode 6 (Commentary)
Aspiration’s as good as perspiration. ~ Danny
That’s not how it goes. ~ Don
There are several ways to succeed in life: You can know the right people, you can know the right things, or you can know the right things about the right people. In “Waldorf Stories,” we see examples of each: Roger and his hapless cousin-in-law, Danny, owe their careers to who they know, Peggy and Don owe theirs to what they know, and they also are canny enough to use what they know about others.
Applying for a job at SCDP, Danny confuses the old saying of Edison’s that success is 2% inspiration and 98% perspiration, because he’s clearly never had to work for anything in his life, and instead fills his portfolio with aspirational ads that he wishes he’d thought of. He admits that all he has in his favor is Roger and his ideas, which are actually only one idea, in which every product is the cure for the common something. Witless as he is, Danny is on to something, because it turns out that stealing is the cure for the common drunk.
It’s the opposite of what you expect -- that’s what I’m interested in. ~ Danny
Don reaches new heights in this episode – of both success and drunkenness – as he wins his first Clio award (for Glo-Coat), as well as indulging in a case of Gloat-Coat, when he makes fun of a drunken Duck Phillips who humiliates himself so badly that he has to be escorted out of the Clio ceremony at the Waldorf. “I feel like I’ve already won,” Don snorts to Roger, unaware that he’s about to show that while Duck can be a dick, Dick can also be a Duck (who his former British bosses said “never could hold his liquor”).
What do you say we put a cherry on this thing? ~ Don
High on more than his award victory, Don insists on pitching to a client, Life cereal, despite being so inebriated he can barely enunciate the copy, a shocking contrast to the crisp, persuasive pitches we’ve heard so many times. Danny may be “Roger’s idiot” who doesn’t know his irony from his idiom, but having made fun of Danny for putting other people’s ads in his portfolio, Don goes him one better and ends up pitching a version of Danny’s single slogan, “Life: the cure for the common breakfast cereal” when his original slogan is rejected by the client as “kind of smart for regular folks.” Acting kind of dumb for a special guy, Don reels off a series of terrible slogans before Danny’s bowls the clients over. Only Peggy realizes what Don's done, but he refuses to hear her concern and instead lectures her about getting another campaign (for Vick’s cough drops) done over the weekend, sentencing her to a form of jail that makes that one in the Glo-Coat commercial look as juvenile as the kids inside it.
Her cell-mate is the new art director, Stan Rizzo, who’s a walking encyclopedia of clichéd sexist comments, packing so many into a single sentence that I got the feeling the Mad Men creatives have been saving them up and were afraid the show would end before they got them all off the whiteboard in the writers’ room. He taunts Peggy for not being a real girl, saying she’s neither attractive nor sexy, either has or should have hang-ups about her body, must be on the rag, wants her to take dictation for him rather than listen to her ideas, sneers at the idea that Don would even consider having sex with her, compares her to a hunting dog…well, I could go on, but my fingers got numb trying to get all of them down. OK, so some of us have criticized the show for softening the impact of sexism in that era, including by making the regular male characters too appealing and thus blunting the impact of their actions, but Stan seems a bit of an extreme redress. Except that if you worked in the era before sexual harassment laws existed, you would have known guys like Stan, out of whose mouths came a barrage of insulting comments that had to be heard to be believed.
This again, really? ~ Peggy to Stan
Don scolds Peggy about learning to work with Stan, but a weekend in a hotel gets them in synch, although not in the way hotels usually work on men and women in this show. Disgusted as she is with this “pig” who abuses her, Peggy uses what she’s learned about Stan to call his bluff – or rather his buff. After non-stop talk about how he’d love to be a nudist and use that liberating freedom to be more creative and is only held back by the prudishness of people like Peggy (who he compares to the Pope), he’s stunned when Peggy strips down and dares him to join her. Embarrassed by the raging Rizzo that is revealed, he’s horrified that Peggy might think it’s in response to her. Cool as the cucumber that his member resembles, Peggy plays along, saying she thought the sight of her naked body would make it go away, but since it hasn’t, perhaps she should dip it in ink and write with it so they can get some work done on their cough drop campaign.
It’s not long before Stan admits defeat (in the form of telling Peggy she won the smug bitch contest) and hastily retreats to a cold shower. Having literally beaten the pants off Stan, Peggy glows with satisfaction, but saves the final blow for the office on Monday, when Stan tells Joey that their storyboarded campaign is all his idea. “That’s true. I only changed one little thing,” she says, holding her fingers a few inches apart.
Like all advertising pros, Peggy’s learned the power of sex, not by having it with the man she needs to win over, but by using the fear he has of her that fuels his hostility and meeting it not with the fear he expects to evoke in response, but with a calm fearlessness that renders him impotent in the power struggle. Stan behaves as if he knows everything about Peggy, while she correctly points out that he knows nothing. His sexist perceptions have caused him to dismiss her literally without a thought, while she has sized him up and then used her insights to gain the upper hand.
It’s a relief to see someone worse than me and really know it. ~ Peggy
Feeling confident after her deft handling of Stan, Peggy confronts Don about his drunken mistake in stealing Danny’s campaign, insisting that he has to deal with it right away. Reversing the tenor of their earlier conversation, she talks to him like a boss to an errant employee, one who has no idea how he’s screwed up, because he has no memory of what he did. It’s always refreshing when Peggy stands up to Don, and interestingly, he always seems to benefit when she does. But this time he’s drunk himself into a corner. His offer to buy Danny’s slogan is rejected because Danny doesn’t need money and instead wants a job in his dream profession, so Don’s forced to hire him (although you just know he’s going to foist him onto Peggy).
You can catch more flies with honey…. ~ Joan
Oh great -- actual flies. ~ Pete (as Cosgrove approaches)
In another reversal of power, Pete learns that Ken Cosgrove is being hired into SCDP for the clients he can bring. Pete’s both afraid and angry at this news and refuses to go along until Lane sweet-talks him by saying his position is secure since Roger’s a child, adding that contrary to Pete's belief otherwise, he likes and accepts him (listening to his silky-smooth assurances, I began to think that Lane is wasted stuck in the backroom crunching numbers and should be put on Accounts working with clients). Mollified by Lane, he meets with Ken and shows him whose Peter is bigger by making it clear that Cosgrove comes after Campbell not only in the alphabet but in the pecking order in the office, an assertion of power which elicits a small, humiliated nod from Ken before Pete indulges in his own Gloat-Coat moment of lording it over his old adversary.
I was thinking about nostalgia. How you remember something in the past and it feels good, but it’s a little bit painful. And life -- that’s a scary word at any age. ~ Don
But in the end, this episode could be called “the rise and fall of Don Draper” (a theme that Gene seems to have anticipated with that bedtime reading with Sally last season). The fall begins disguised as a moment of professional victory, which Don senses is hollow before it even arrives, telling Peggy that after you finish something, “you find out everyone loves it right around the time it feels like someone else did it.” Of course, “someone else” has done everything in his adult life: Don Draper died to make his professional life possible, Dick Whitman died for his sins, and all that’s followed has been done by a persona he’s assumed. Don/Dick has yet to feel loved for who he really is, and not a façade he’s hiding behind.
Who claps for themselves? ~ Stan
After literally screwing up his Life, in cereal/serial form, Don descends into a drunken celebration that is meant to encompass Roger but instead leaves him morose at the bar, complaining to Joan that Don seems awfully pleased with himself and that while he’s as much a part of the success as Don is, they don’t give out awards for what he does. “And what is that?” Joan asks in her honeyed dagger tone. “Finding guys like him,” Roger replies.
Roger, who can’t seem to get out of his childhood while writing his memoirs and who laments that Hardy was always mean to Laurel, has a similar childish rivalry with Don, his surrogate brother/son who surpassed him long ago. Just how that happened is revealed in perhaps the most fascinating storyline of the episode, in which we learn how Don Draper got into advertising – and Sterling Cooper -- as well as how long Roger and Joan were an item.
Caroline, Get in here, I think I finally got a work story. ~ Roger
In flashbacks, we find out that Roger met Don when he bought Joan a fur early in their affair at the furrier’s Don worked for. When Don tries to use the opportune meeting to land a job, Roger’s utterly disdainful of his sample ads and sees through his claim to run into Roger by accident to get his ear. Caught, Don asks, “Haven’t you ever tried to get a break?” The blank expression on Roger’s face tells us what we already know: that Roger hasn’t ever had to work for anything in his life, much less fight for it the way Don has. Don says he wants to do what Roger does, leaving Roger to echo Joan’s question, ”What do you think I do?” Don’s answer reveals how much he already understands, defining Roger not by any work he does but by his status, “I think you’re a very important man in a very important agency.”
Having talked Roger into having a drink (not the greatest feat in the world), Don keeps him talking for hours, although we only see the end of the discussion, by which point a drunken Roger is quoting his mother to Don (as he did at the Derby Day party last season in a similar vein), “Be careful what you wish for, because you’ll get it and then people get jealous and try to take it away from you.” Speaking presciently for them both, Roger says he can’t possibly hire Don because he’s revealed too much of himself, dismissing Don’s reassurance that he’s discreet by saying that very statement means you’re not. After literally calling himself a taxi (“je suis un taxi”), Roger pours himself out the door of the restaurant thinking he’s leaving Don Draper behind forever.
Imagine his surprise (and ours) when Don appears in the Sterling-Cooper lobby the next morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (perhaps in part because he was notably sober the day before at their meeting), claiming Roger has hired him. Roger looks dubious but obviously has no memory of their conversation and so must take Don’s word for it, word that we’d mistrust anyway, but know is as fraudulent as his identity when we see his eyes slide sideways towards Roger as the elevator rises, along with his career.
We’re top of the heap. ~ Clio winner
The heap of what? ~ Roger
But sadly, up is no longer the direction of Don’s life, and the type of alcoholic blackout that gave him his advertising career now threatens it. Having taken home one willing female (a jingle writer who knows how to hum while giving a jingling hummer), Don wakes up with an entirely different one a full day later, with no memory of how she got there, what happened in the ensuing 24+ hours or why she’s calling him “Dick” (does he give out his real name when dead drunk or is it a value judgment?). Luckily for him, she comes with a label (on her waitress uniform) so he knows to call her Doris before hustling her out the door. Having been awakened from his blackout by a Betty who is furious that he’s slept through his date to take the kids, Don’s in no mood to become fully awake to any of his responsibilities, and instead takes some hair of the dog and passes out on the sofa, fading once again from light to dark.
Consequences come the next day in the office when he must not only hire the worthless Danny but claim the Clio he left behind in the bar from Roger, who won’t give it back unless Don says he couldn’t have done it without him. “Did I not say that?” Don responds. “I was wrong. Thank you.” Roger doesn’t seem to notice that Don evades the question, admitting fault (and for what, he doesn’t say) and thanking him, but never agreeing that he wouldn’t be a success without Roger, something that both Don and we viewers know would be an outright lie. Don was driven to succeed and would have found another mentor and opportunity if Sterling hadn't turned out to be golden.
Why don’t you write down my ideas? ~ Peggy
Aspirations are meaningless without perspiration for people like Don (and Peggy), a fact of life that’s lost on someone like Roger, who never had to break a sweat to get his name on the door, much less a foot in it. While Don stole his way in, Peggy has never crossed that ethical line, always working her way up. Now as Don is sinking lower and lower, she is rising, learning to use not just her talent for words, but her insight into other people to navigate a business world still hostile towards women. While Don’s getting drunk out of his mind, she says “No, thank you, I have work to do,” when offered a drink in honor Don’s Clio, which she feels should be partly hers, since she “had a lot to do with” Glo-Coat, although Don has taken all the glory for himself, literally not even looking her way when the news of his nomination came. Her anger over being once again overlooked and taken for granted by Don seems sure to come boiling out before too long.
Make it simple but significant. ~ Don
“Did you see the part where I won?” a celebratory Don brags to Faye Miller while in the next breath saying that awards mean nothing, as they don’t make your work better. “That’s very healthy,” Faye responds, adding, “Award or no award, you’re still Don Draper.”
“Whatever that means,” Don retorts in one of those throwaway allusions to his identity problems that the series is larded with. Smoothly turning down the pass he makes at her, Faye gently tells him, “I think you’re confusing a lot of things at once right now,” without having any idea how right she is. Acutely aware of other people’s behavior and how to use it, he’s nevertheless always been largely blind to himself, a blindness that has become literal. He’s gone from blacking out his real identity to the world to blacking out from the world itself. Whether he can come to consciousness in every sense of that word remains the abiding question of the series.
Little kid, big bowl, big spoon…That’s all I have. ~ Don