Sunday, August 29, 2010

MAD MEN 4.6--"Waldorf Stories"

"Are you going to use the KKK to sell cough drops?"

So last week was a bit of a return to form, wherein Don Draper managed to crush a wanna be rival by way of a very cunning Xanatos Gambit (which actually depended on a "he knows that I know that he knows" bit, what a novelty) and we even got a racist rant from Roger in the bargian, for those of you who think that Mad Men is just about smoking, drinking, and the genteel racism and sexim of a simpler, more innocent time.

This week, following one of the most terrible job interviews I can ever imagine happening anywhere thanks to nepotism on Roger's part we join Don feeling ennui and a little sadness as awards season looms (at the Waldorf) and Peggy is breaking in her new art director, and both with less than spectacular results.

This leads us to a meaningful flashback or two wherein Don Draper and Roger Sterling meet for the first time as Don tries to sell Roger a fur coat (SPOILER: it's not for him, but longtime viewers can probably guess) and impresses Roger with his skills at writing biblically-themed ad copy for Play Doh. This is notable, because Roger and Don's friendship stems from him lifting Don up out of obscurity, and there's a neat parallel here as Don is so annoyingly eager to please as the guy he shot down at the opening of this episode, and funnily enough certain patterns from then repeat themselves now.

It's also a neat parallel between the two of them, as Don is. . .well, where Don's been this whole season, and lately we're privy to Roger's feelings of same. This time, we get a peek into the book he's working on, which seems to be bogging down into reminiscence of his childhood. Given Roger's two heart attacks, one could hardly begrudge him an obsession with his own past in the face on an uncertain and maybe shorter than expected future, but the rather halting and uncertain (and un-Roger, basically) way he's going through it, he seems to be in a dark uncertain place.

The award ceremony is a chamber of horrors, as these things usually are. Pete runs into arch-nemesis Ken Cosgrove (who puts a bug up his ass about something with a casual remark) Don runs into Ted Chaugh, and gets to witness second season arch nemesis (also Peggy's old FWB and one of the most hated characters in the history of Mad Men) Duck Phillips make a drunken fool out of himself in front of the MC who apparently is on loan from Days of Our Lives. Just at their moment of triumph, they have to rush back and present to Life cereal, which would be fine except for the fact that everyone is drunk as a lord on whiskey and triumph and what results is, like the job interview, positively ghastly and is played out as a twisted parody of a Mad Men presentation scene, and Don totally blows it (the answer, Mr. Draper, is "Mikey Likes It" for $1000, but that may have come a little later in Life cereal's lifespan) and unfortunately ends up plagiarizing an ad tagline from Roger's incompetent relative (which he'd already dismissed as awful) from the job interview before and the whole thing just makes you cringe for everyone involved, as you will very often during this episode.

Which dovetails neatly to the B and C plot. Peggy is still simmering over Don taking credit for the Glo-Coat ad (remember--Peggy does not like it when people assume Don is actually doing her work or deserves credit. It is her Berserk Button) and Pete learns that Ken Cosgrove is being headhunted for a job at SCDP (Ken Cosgrove is Pete's Berserk Button) and this plays havoc with Pete's plans.

Meanwhile, as Peggy misses her immediate chance to nail Don to the wall for what he did (and the pattern it shows), and Don embarrasses himself once again by striking out with Dr. Faye, the focus group gal. In fact, this whole episode really shows Don at a lower ebb than normal, and when you take the new ad director into account, somehow manages to be a hellish swine on a show full of them, and I remind you that Don once poked his finger's into a woman's vagina, went back to dinner, and didn't wash his hands in between those two events.

But he does get to see Peggy starkers, because apparently the most conducive atmosphere to work in one in which we have as much nudity as basic cable will allow and a running commentary on one man's erection (y'know, you never think you'll actually type that, and yet . . .). I go back to work tomorrow morning, and I was looking for something to liven up the Monday.

Oh, and Don gets lucky at the awards show after-party, which by the time we get there is loathsome and drunk and the kind of thing that just makes you want to take a shower after watching because everyone's so goddamned repellent. Don gets a new spin on our national anthem and wakes up to Betty reaming him out because he forgot what day it is (he was supposed to pick up the kids) because he's just that drunk. In bed with a different woman, who knows his real name and he doesn't remember hers until he sees the nametag. It's a bit like the last third of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, only nowhere near as uplifting.

AND Peggy drops by to deliver the long awaited bollocking, which Don has more than earned by this point. It would be hopeful to think that this is Don's moment where he hits rock bottom and picks himself back up, but this is episode 6 of a 13 episode season so . . .my hopes are not high.

And we were so hopeful last week. Not hard to see why some wags are actively musing on who will die--this show's never been cheery but this year it's been as black and depressing as a black and depressing thing.

Don covers his ass, but he's so beaten down by this point he has to capitulate to hiring Roger's idiot kin, to the utter dismay of everyone. Pete tries to break Cosgrove's balls and get him in as his subordinate, as he doesn't want Cosgrove on equal footing with him, as with Roger weakening, his power in the agency is in ascendancy. Also, he's been wanting to pound him into the dirt for ages.

Oh, and, in the punchline to the whole business, the reason Don got a foot in the door in the first place? Roger got blackout drunk, hired him, and didn't remember the next day. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

On the whole, this episode may feel a bit like the stuff we've already seen before, only with the awful intensity of it dialed up to about 20,000, and one could be forgiven for wondering "OK, when are some shoes actually going to drop here or is every episode going to be a race to the bottom?" By now, we have some picture of the general theme of this season--when in the midst of fearful change and upheaval so readily apparent that the proverbial sands are shifting underfoot. The question is . . .now that we know, how do we go forward?

NEXT TIME: Well, once again, I elect not to play this game trying to read the tea leaves on AMC's misleading previews, so here's my best guess. In the wake of a biological attack unleashed on the Earth that creates a zone of control wherein people are made slaves under the control of a man named Overlord. In response, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce hops on one-wheeled bikes and . . .oh, wait, that's actually Spiral Zone I'm describing. Never mind. My best guess is that something will happen, and then something else will happen. Luggage may or may not be involved also, judging by the title. Next Episode--"The Suitcase." Shoot down the approaching enemy, Gundam!

No comments: