Monday, August 30, 2010

Wasted at the Waldorf

As I posted on my new Twitter account this morning, I was going to try to give a slight play-by-play of last night’s Mad Men episode, but again I was left confused and thrown back as I have been nearly every week this season. “Waldorf Stories” was a difficult episode to watch at many times as we saw the different characters of Sterling, Cooper, Draper Pryce in less than desirable or admirable positions.  Much of this had to do with the allures of alcohol, which brought Don Draper to perhaps the lowest depths that he has fallen to all season.  We also saw explicitly, at least for the first time since “Six Month Leave,” how dangerous all the drinks that these men throw back can be.

This post will hopefully not come off as a diatribe against imbibing alcohol as god knows I like to take the sacrament with the best of them, but “Waldorf Stories” illuminated how fine that line of inebriation is; that line of overdoing it that we all look out for and acknowledge so well.  It’s been well documented this season that Don is in the throes of a serious drinking problem.  We saw him curb his thirst last week only to fully unleash it this week in the aftermath of his winning his first Clio award.  Don and Roger have already started in on their drinks before the award ceremony and they continue drinking at it.  They watch as Duck Phillips, their former colleague and enemy, makes a fool of himself during the ceremony because he is too drunk and has fallen completely out of the sober state he was in during Season 2.  Then, Don wins the Clio and in the spirit of the moment decides to try and seal the Life cereal campaign with an impromptu pitch back at the office.  In the meeting, Don rambles through a pitch. This is not the Don we are used to seeing, especially as he tries to drum up another powerful presentation about the pains of growing older in order to sell Life cereal.  However, due to his inebriated state, Don is unable to completely win over the Life people – his presentation didn’t cause goose bumps or tears like his Kodak “Carousel” presentation did in “The Wheel.”  They want a better tag line.  Don tries to impress them by riffing on the spot, which becomes an embarrassing display that is hard to watch. Finally, he stumbles upon “Life. The cure for the common cereal,” which is a line he had stolen from the rejected copywriting candidate he had met with earlier that morning.  Peggy immediately recognizes this fault as she was in the meeting, but no one else does.  Everyone is pleased and it is cause to continue the celebration.

That night at the bar, Roger, Joan and Don all continue to celebrate.  Roger makes sly remarks about not being appreciated.  Roger mutters, “They don’t give you an award for what I do,” to which Joan replies, “And what is that again?”  This is one of several times in the series where what Roger does has been questioned as it does show exact results as Don’s ad campaigns or even Layne’s accounting pragmatism.  Roger always feels the unease of never being appreciated and never truly being able to articulate his role. In fact, Burt Cooper has to explain to him what his job is about in “Guy Walks into an Ad Agency.”  Here, Roger tosses off the line, “Find guys like him,” as he looks down the bar at Don who seems to be having the time of his life.

At this moment, we get another terrific moment between Don and Faye Miller.  Don brashly  “rescues” her from a conversation she is having.  The body language and the chemistry are immediately present as they begin to speak.  Faye and Don discuss the merits of winning an award and Faye says, “Award or no award, you’re still Don Draper,” to which Don responds, “Whatever that means.” This is a fantastic line not only for the viewer who knows how loaded a statement that is, but also because there are often situations where someone will say, “no matter what, you are [insert name].” That is very often a statement that one has difficulty responding to, because that requires a person to understand how another person sees them, to comprehend their appearance and their meaning to others – that is not an easy thing to do and in fact it is something we struggle with throughout our lives.  Faye seems impressed by Don’s remark, which is surprising because she seems to be a character beyond being impressed by the simple, humble and somewhat pretentious brush-off of her statement. Instead, we have to strive to respond to those kind of moments with a casual understanding that other people do see us in different lights and ascribe many different meanings to who we are and that is one of the great truths of life that we have to accept in order to continue to move forward.  However, Don is having trouble moving forward and again he makes a drunken pass at Faye Miller and spoils another intimate moment between them.

Meanwhile, back down the bar, Roger is getting spiteful and Joan wisely says to him, “you’ve crossed the line from lubricated to morose.”  Joan tells him goodnight and Roger hesitates, but finishes his drink anyway. Don continues his night be going home with another Clio award winner who hums “The Star Spangled Banner” while Don falls asleep to only be woken up by Betty who tells him what day it is and that he has forgotten to pick up the kids as he was supposed to.  Don wakes up to find a different woman in his bed and he realizes that he has seriously overdone it. If you saw the episode, you know that Peggy comes over, lectures Don and forces him to fix the situation of the stolen tag-line, which Don does by giving Danny a copywriting job.  Yet, that image of Don running the shower and hiding from the waitress he slept with is stuck in our minds, as  well as Don pouring a stale glass of whiskey to ease his terrible hangover.  That is the depth of a Sunday after a bender that some of us may know too well and that was an incredibly painful scene to watch for anyone who has felt the creases of their couch and no matter how many showers you’ve taken, you still don’t feel clean or prepared for the world.

The drunken weekend was nicely framed by the narrative of Roger “hiring” Don to work at Sterling Cooper.  We finally get the back-story of how Roger found Don at the fur company. Don was overzealous and still contained very many of his Dick Whitman mannerisms as he tried to impress Roger with his ad campaign for Play-Doh.  The poignancy arises when Don shows up at the Sterling Cooper offices and offers to buy Roger drinks. After a morning of drinking, Roger staggers out of the bar, his arm around Don, with Don offering him to get him a cab home.  The next time they see each other, Don has once again showed up to the Sterling Cooper offices to bother Roger. However, this time to Roger’s surprise, Don informs him that he’s been hired and a puzzled Roger is left to wonder if he really had.  This calls to mind Alison’s insulting Don by calling him a drunk who “never remembers anything.”  Don has made a slip as well by having to hire Danny since he drunkenly stole his line and can’t pay him off for it.  The kid is hungry and he wants a job, not just a buy out check.  Like Roger, Don is in danger of slipping, of losing his edge and his hunger.  Don and Roger are tied together in many many ways, which we knew before, but “Waldorf Stories” helps to cement and further illuminate this fact.

There are always counterparts in Mad Men and without getting too much further in plot summary, Peggy’s episode with the new Art Director in the hotel room showed how very intuitive and on her game she is.  She is able to outwit the new Art Director and force him to do some work instead of continue to be a “chickenshit” as she calls him.  She also has the confidence to go to Don’s apartment and point out that he was wrong in stealing Danny’s line and that he has to make it right.  Peggy eschews the drink, even though she is a part of this man’s world and she is able to perform her job at a continued high level.  Pete plays into this counterpart as well when he is confronted with the news that Ken Cosgrove (of course the viewer is happy) is coming back to the firm.  Seeing that his importance may be in jeopardy, Pete sits Cosgrove down as soon as he comes to the office and tells him bluntly that things have changed. Cosgrove tries to laugh Pete’s statement and posture off, but is confronted by a grim and terribly professional looking Pete.  Ken has no response. Pete notices the change in Ken’s posture and then leans back in his chair and asks Ken how his wedding plans are going.  Pete resists alcohol  (he did drink more in earlier episodes, but has been seen doing it less on screen) and has continued to do so as the show has progressed.

Again, there are plenty of themes that I am skirting over such as how we show respect and thanks to others, and how much we can really attribute our individual success to the other people in our lives.  Yet, this stuck out to me as the show pointing towards the short comings of alcohol and, being in my mid-twenties it gave me pause as so many of us turn to the bottle for some kind of self-medication or a way to show us an answer.  I’m not calling for abstinence, I’m just calling for self-awareness for I am as much in fault as anyone and am as lost as anyone (see Puddles of My Podcast theme song).  I’m just looking for some kind of answer and Mad Men is a damn good TV show that I watch at the end of exhausting weekends.

Plus, you have to love Layne telling Pete, “On a personal note, I like you very much and it pains me to hear you think otherwise.”

Until next week.

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