Sunday, September 12, 2010

Revew: Mad Men "Waldorf Stories"

Non Spoiler Review:
This was one strange roller coaster ride. The firm is up for an advertising award, which sparks a lot of alcohol-induced mishaps. We find out what's up with Ken Cosgrove, and get more characters introduced, including a new art director, Stan, who is giving Peggy no small amount of grief. Roger's relevance to the firm once again takes the stage, and there are some surprising revelations.

Waldorf Stories showed us several of our characters behaving outrageously, and seems to have set in motion several threads that could be leading to big trouble down the road. We also get an origin story of sorts, which really shows the status quo in a new light. All in all, one of the best episodes of the season yet...but very strange.

Spoilers Now!
The amount of alcohol consumed in this episode nearly gave me a hangover. I was expecting someone to keel over from a heart attack at some point, especially with the focus on the flashbacks dealing with Roger and Don. But every character managed to survive the hour intact.

We get a new character, Stan, who is beyond sexist and abrasive to Peggy. Whatever time has passed since last episode, she's had to deal with this new bohemian art director who Don insists is a genius. She's feeling taken advantage of again, and is ordered to listen to him. This results in a final showdown during a brainstorming session at a hotel over the weekend, and Peggy out-bohemians (yes, I made that up) him.

Pete finds out that Lane is hiring Ken Cosgrove in accounts, bringing his business with him. He is understandably angry he wasn't consulted, but a nice scene between him and Lane serves to humanize Pete, which later results in a satisfying confrontation between Pete and Cosgrove that lays out the new rules for Ken.

Don rides the high of his ad award through the course of the episode, but here is the first time the dark side of his persona makes it into the board room and nearly derails the Life Cereal campaign. He's becoming Roger, and Peggy and Pete both watch it with no small amount of horror. Just like Roger's Japanese faux pas last episode, Don is so full of himself he starts rambling off nonsensical slogans.

Don has also been forced to interview Danny, a relative of Roger, who is equally incompetent (he puts his favorite ads in his portfolio, rather than ones he's designed himself). Don at first sends him away, much to Peggy's relief, but later, during the meeting Don inadvertently uses Danny's slogan, forcing them to hire him by episode's end.

Don's award winning streak continues into a weekend bender where he hits on Faye, and picks up two women over a days long blackout, ending with him forgetting to pick up his kids from an irate Betty. Peggy confronts him over the Life slogan and Don's left to try to fix things.

Among these myriad plots, we get Roger's flashback of his first meeting with Don, which, contrary to his story of discovering Don, was nothing of the sort. Roger had nothing to do with Don aside from buying a fur coat for his wife, and it was Don who tracked him down once he learned he was an ad man, basically harassing him to take him to a liquid lunch. When Don shows up the next day for work, Roger has no idea why, and Don tells him he hired him. Roger says nothing, and they go up the elevator together. Wow!

What Worked:
After watching Duck abandon his dog on the streets of Manhattan a couple of seasons back, it was delicious to watch him fall off the wagon at the awards show and publicly humiliate himself. These little scenes showing the detritus of the last three seasons popping up here and there are nice touches.

Don is back on his descent here, despite achieving his accolades. Unfortunately all his humility goes out the window after be beats Ted. And so begins a weekend of debauchery he starts by hitting on Faye.  Watching Don and Roger together on their mutual train wreck was particularly ironic given what was revealed...

The flashback to Don and Roger's first meeting was a doozy. Not only have we been treated to the story told by Roger several times, but now we find out that Roger doesn't even remember the details.  Don manipulated him into achieving his position, which is both admirable and disturbing (given Don's penchant for lying about everything). Roger is constantly trying to justify his purpose (including writing a tedious memoir), and his apocryphal story of discovering Don is just another illusion, which he knows deep down. Getting justification at the end by Don after they win the award was a fitting moment of humility, as Don is truly his protege.

Despite Don's origins with Sterling Cooper, he is extremely hypocritical when chastising Peggy for her ambition or mocking Danny for trying to get a foot in the door at the firm. Don is in danger of losing touch completely with his roots, and this episode showed his current trajectory is becoming Roger in a few years.

Peggy telling Don to "Fix this," was a  great moment. In this episode Don has singlehandedly undone a lot of his female relationships—making a pass at Faye, causing Peggy a lot of grief and managing to piss off Betty even more. The kiss he shared with Joan was a bit disconcerting, and I wasn't sure what to read into that, coupled with the hand holding at the awards show. Ultimately Don is becoming the new Roger.

It's interesting that Pete and Peggy are once again the two characters who are on the outside, seeing the disaster unfolding among their peers. Last season they were tempted by Duck. It will be interesting to see if they can manage to salvage things at SCDP.

Either Roger or Don is going down fast. 

What Didn't Work:
More new employees as SCDP? Stan is so over the top, I'm not crazy about him at all, unless he's just there to spur Peggy to perhaps leave the firm. 

The whole hotel room sequence with Peggy and Stan was a bit odd. It seemed completely contrived to give us another "See how hip Peggy is" moment. But given the abrupt addition of this new character, I didn't really feel any build up to this confrontation. We barely know Stan, but Peggy has obviously been working with him for awhile to build up to her strip down.

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