Episode 6 - Waldorf Stories
6 March 2012
Mad Men - 406 - Waldorf Stories
I've enjoyed this season of Mad Men more than any other. That's not to say it's been the best. It's more a reflection of the amount of time and focus I have been able to give it coupled with the new dynamic on the show. Now that the main characters are playing underdog in their own agency they have all become a little more sympathetic and there have been less minor characters to share the spotlight with. Don has come more clearly into focus too now that he spends less time with his family.
His fall into alcoholism is an excellent story. Without the support structure of his family to go home to he has been leaning more and more on the bottle. We have seen this slowly turn him from master seducer into a sad case who hurt his secretary and has now been rejected several times. Now we see it take two disturbing turns. The scene where he wakes up with a different woman than the one we saw him go to bed with was really clever. I don't remember seeing another scene like that on the show before. It wasn't clear for a second what had happened and when it became clear that Don was blacking out from drinking so much the full horror of his disintegration dawned.
The other problem with his drinking was that he childishly threw pitches at clients until stumbling across one that they liked. It was such an unprofessional thing to do, not just drunkenly stealing an idea but trying to shut the clients up with inadequate ideas so that he could go back to the bar. Peggy and Pete seemed like the adults in this situation, both realizing that their superiors were in no condition to be doing work like this.
The major theme of the episode was of course credit. Peggy and Roger wanted credit for Don's award and he saw no reason to share it with anyone. I really enjoyed the way everyone was exposed for their neediness and selfishness. Despite claiming to see the shallow reward his Clio was, Don still cared deeply about winning. Similarly Peggy desperately wanted to be acknowledged for her contribution and Roger wanted to be recognized despite the truth of how he drunkenly stumbled into giving Don a job in the first place. I thought the writing found varied and enjoyable ways to expose the mental states of its characters. I laughed at Roger including in his autobiography a story about what ice cream flavor his mother wouldn't let him have.
Mad Men also manages to tell good stories about how people get on in life. Two episodes ago we saw Pete put the squeeze on his father in law in order to get new accounts for his firm. This week we see (in flashback) Don pushing for a job and getting Roger liquored up to do it. And we see Peggy grow tired of masochistic abuse and get naked to prove what crap Stan was talking about how liberated he was. It had an obvious appeal of course, but it was also a good story to show her not rising to the endless bait and getting angry or upset. Instead she found a way to outthink him and continue to thrive in a man's world.
There was so much to this episode, so many ideas and themes and they seemed to complement one another. The specific awards ceremony plot held the episode together while the other ongoing stories played out effortlessly. A pleasure to watch.
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