“Waldorf Stories” is a really compelling hour of Mad Men and definitely the most enjoyable hour of the season, but I feel like there’s an odd reason for that fact.
I know that Mad Men isn’t the greatest television program of all time, nor does it always present its stories in the most subtle of ways. However, this episode felt especially television-y, if that makes sense. A number of the situations and beats were not completely gimmicky, but felt obvious in a way that I don’t expect the series to be: Don steals an idea from a young putz; said young putz is introduced as an annoying foil for both Peggy and Don; Peggy gets naked to prove a point; Ken is already coming over to the agency; Ted Chaough’s annoying line to Don about not being at the Cilo awards the year before. I’m not sure what it is, and perhaps individually, those things aren’t that outlandish for an episode of Mad Men, but together, it creates an episode that is certainly fun and still important, but just…different? Like I said, I still enjoyed this episode wholeheartedly, I just got a different vibe from it than previous efforts.
Anyway, “Waldorf Stories” is all about workplace credit. With the structure of most advertising agencies, it’s easy for the higher-ups to take credit for big moves, and with Don as our entry point to this world, we usually root for him to be the smartest guy in the room anyway. But in reality, he does have a team working with him, and supposedly*, Peggy had a lot to do with the Glow Coat spot that Don eventually wins a Cilo for. In the episode’s first half, Don is on cloud-nine and clearly excited with the possibilities of winning an award, but is really unwilling to give Peggy any major props for her assistance on the copy. Instead of asking Peggy to come along with him for the festivities, Don pushes Peggy for more work on the Vick’s account and blatantly trashes her diatribe about the new art guy — and that’s before he’s really drunk.
*It seems like an interesting choice to not show the development of the Glow Coat spot, if only for the crux of this episode. Peggy is sometimes pushy and not really as deserving as she might think, so I’m curious as to if her frustrations are valid in this insistence.
Meanwhile, Roger is also having a hard time dealing with Don’s success. He gets almost as drunk as Don and eventually spills his guts out to Joan about how Don couldn’t have done it without him, he found him, etc. And in flashbacks that correspond thematically with a few other beats, we see just that — sort of. While Roger did eventually give Don an opportunity after meeting him at the fur coat shop, it wasn’t really by choice. Instead, Don allowed Roger to get drunk and convinced him of his prospective quality. Roger, in his jealous and drunken state, is re-writing history perhaps just a bit. And additionally, we’re supposed to see that new annoying guy Danny could be the “new” Don while Don has now taken Roger’s role as the hesitant boss. I can’t imagine that Danny will be as good as Don is in the future, nor will Don be an eventual mentor like Roger surely was to Don in the years between the flashbacks we see here and the beginning of the series.
Back in the realm of misplaced credit, Pete is shocked to learn that Ken Cosgrove is soon going to be joining the agency. Per usual, Pete feels like he’s been screwed both because he wasn’t asked and because how dare Lane Pryce hire his mortal enemy. I have to admit that I have a mixed reaction to this development. On one hand, the scene between Pete and Lane was fantastic, especially Lane’s closing button about being disappointed that Pete would ever think Lane isn’t fond of him. Great pair. On the other hand, I don’t know what to think about Ken’s arrival. I appreciate having more Ken Cosgrove in my life (even if it’s a more smug version of him), but it’s not as if the writers figured out anything to do with him in the first few episodes that this development is so staggering or interesting. If the plan was always to bring Ken in, why not just bring him in at the beginning of the season? I get the desire to mine more conflict between Pete and Ken, both I’d hope that Matthew Weiner and company could find something else to do with the both of them.
Moreover, the episode reminds us that despite his level-headedness last week, Don still has major issues. In a way, I think he’s frustrated because he does think he deserves even more credit than he gets. His life has fallen apart around him and all he has is the work, which he’s surely thrown himself into, so to be rewarded is more important than perhaps even he realizes. But after that victory comes, Don completely loses control. He nearly blows the meeting with Life cereal because he can’t give the old Donald Draper try in front of clients when he’s totally blitzed, so eventually just steals the lame copy from Danny and pretends to Peggy he’s clueless. I guess he feels he really deserves the fun, and he eventually ends up in such a stooper that he doesn’t remember how he got rid of the first lady he bedded, ended up with the second, much rougher one (in which he went by Dick, of all things) and slept through the weekend, leaving his kids waiting. This is very bad news. Although the episodes to this point have wanted to show us that all is not right with Don, he’s still be able to complete his tasks at work (more or less) and still been there for his kids (mostly). This time, the great transitions are meant to show us that he is totally messed up, even acting stupid enough to use the Dick name and the bottom has to be coming. Right?
Also: it’s obvious that Roger is having some problems as well. His acting out last week felt out of place, but combined with his drinking and sulking here, it’s apparent that Roger really does feel like he’s losing his grip and worth in the agency. Last week, he was confronted with losing his power as Pete grabs hold, and this week he tries again to hold on (literally) to the Cilo award Don won. Roger clearly isn’t as okay with becoming a mascot like Bert Cooper is, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with these changes, especially with Ken’s return.
Finally, we’re not to make anything of the dual hand-holding and subsequent kiss laid on Joan by Don right? I see it as a drunk winner laying a kiss on the most beautiful woman closest to him, especially since Joan didn’t really react in a negative way. I think a lot of us would like to see Don and Joan get together in some way, but I don’t see it coming from that. And the hand-holding party felt like an obvious way to show that as these two powerful men face adversity, there’s one woman who can keep it all together, and that’s Joan.