One of my best teachers once said to me, "The key to great storytelling is to set up an expectation for your audience, have them anticipating it, and them give them something that didn’t expect, something better than what they were expecting.
One of the reasons for this column was to better understand what makes Mad Men so brilliant, and thanks to tonight’s episode, "Waldorf Stories" we do. Watching Mad Men, you always think you know what’s coming, but you rarely do. The writers always come up with that something better.
Last night’s episode cleverly revolved the Cleo awards, the Oscars, The Emmy’s of advertising. It was a brilliant slice of meta since the episode aired during the Emmy’s, which has been a major night for Mad Men for the past three years. The writers thereby put SDCP crew in the same position as them for the evening. Let’s check in with the major characters this week and see how they faired.
Peggy: Peggy continues to feel slighted this week, being that she contributed to the account that SDCP was nominated for, but Don got all the credit. Her anger is best shown as she tells Don to "Break a leg," meaning it literally. She watches as Don drunkenly offers up an idea that wasn’t actually his to Life cereal and is forced to spend the weekend of the Cleo’s locked in a room with some young hot shot who’s obsessed with nudists. So what does Peggy do, she gets nude, and challenges him to do the same so that they can work together, "freely." Of course, the hot shot, too distracted and erect to work, relents and hides in the bathroom. Later on, Peggy cleans up Don’s mess. Peggy is going to rule the industry. She will probably start Saatchi and Saatchi.
Peggy Quote of the week
Peggy- "Have you been yelled at by Don yet?"
Hot Shot kid- "I’m not scared of him."
Peggy- "So that’s a no."
Pete: Pete Campbell spends this episode generally disgusted by everyone he works with. He clearly considers himself the only professional at SCDP, except for maybe Lane, who he kind of hates. When he finds out that Lane may be merging with another company and hiring his rival, Kenny Cosgrove, he becomes enraged. So, he calls Cosgrove into his office to make it clear that he is now the boss. Cosgrove bucks, but eventually Pete makes him submit. Campbell’s balls are growing in circumference each week.
Roger: Don’s trajectory this season is sad, without a doubt, but Roger is turning into some kind of silly mascot. He’s dictating his book during this episode, whining about how his mother made him eat vanilla ice cream so that it wouldn’t stain the furniture. He’s drunk after the Cleo’s, and Joanie informs him that he’s gone from "lubricated to morose." Roger continues drinking as he thinks to himself, "Dude, you once, we’re hitting that. WTF?"
We’re also given a peak at a flashback explaining how Don and Roger met. In this flashback, Roger is on top of his game, a hot shot not unlike Don is now. His affair with Joanie is just starting, and he tries not to drink before 10am. My how things change.
Don: Don re-enacts Mad Men’s title sequence in real-time during this episode. He’s being honored at the Cleo’s yet plunging from up high towards the concrete sidewalks of Madison Ave. When he’s presenting to Life Cereal, you truly think he is going to throw up on the table, or fart, or something terrible. Instead, he drunkenly throws out slogans like, "Life is just a bowl of Life Cereal. Enjoy the rest of your Life…Cereal."
However, the one the execs like is "Life the cure for the common cereal," a slogan Don didn’t even make up. The slogan was presented to him by some kid who came in to apply for a job, whom Don laughed out of the office. From there, Don yells at Peggy for nothing, goes out to celebrate, gets a BJ from some copywriter, apparently goes out with the BJ girl to a diner and tells the waitress she’s his sister, and then wakes up the next morning next to the waitress, Doris. He’s brought out of his slumber by a call from Betty, screaming that it was his day with the kids. Would you like to know the worst part? He finally made a pass at the shrink from the office, the woman who all season we’ve been expecting him to woo, and he fails miserably. Oh wait, that’s not the worst part. The worst part, is that he tells Doris, the waitress, that his name is Dick Whitman. Don Draper is turning back into Dick Whitman.
The writers know how painful Don’s plummeting is for us to watch, and so they show us a flashback to Don’s first contact with Roger Sterling. Don was a fur coat salesmen, and Roger was buying a fur for his busty new liaison. After selling the coat, Don puts his portfolio into the box for the coat. Roger, upon seeing it says, that it’s out of line. However, Don persists, convincing Roger to have a drink with him, getting him sloshed. The next day, the young Don tells Roger that he hired him. Roger was too drunk to remember that he didn’t. This week, Don hired a kid that he didn’t want to hire, because he drunkenly used the kid’s slogan during a pitch.
What’s worse, Don Draper turning back into Dick Whitman, or turning into Roger, the man he hated last season and pities this season. Meanwhile, the writers of Mad Men, have turned into the best in the business, airing an episode the night of the Emmy’s that proves why they deserve the every statue they get, particularly for writing.
Which brings us to another JWMM prediction. "Waldorf Stories," is an episode we’ll be reminded of next year come Emmy time.