Monday, August 30, 2010

Mad Men - "Waldorf Stories"

Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and Roger Sterling (John Slattery) looking good at the Clio Awards.
Photo Credit: AMC
Review by Paul Steven Brown

'Mad Men'
Season 4 - Episode 6
"Waldorf Stories"

You have to wonder how networks and producers and writers co-ordinate the progress of a television sometimes. Case in point: tonight's 'Mad Men' airs an episode in which Don wins a Cleo for his floor wax commercial, the night the show wins its third Emmy for Best Drama. Also, I can't help but wonder if the creators crafted "Waldorf Stories" to act as a sort of introductory episode to 'Mad Men' for any potential spill over viewers after the award ceremony when the show rebroadcast at 11:02 PM EST.

Four of the five 'Mad Men' actors that were nominated last night (no winners, though) had a considerable amount of camera time in this episode. January Jones was the exception and though she was up for Best Actress in a Drama, while Elizabeth Moss was up for Supporting Actress, the show's focus has significantly flipped on the characters of Betty and Peggy. Even Christina Hendricks has had more camera time and dialogue compared to Jones. No complaints here. I think Moss and Hendricks are far better actors than Jones, I really can't stand Betty anymore.

Also noteworthy was the origin of Don and Roger's first meeting and the events that led to advertising superstar's hiring. This worked as new viewer friendly material and embellishment of details that us regular viewers were already aware of. Of course, this pairs nicely with Don's own situation with Roger's wife's cousin, Danny, and his eventual hiring.

Last week we saw Don at the top of his game. He outmaneuvered his competition and seemed more in control of his drinking than any other time this season. This week was a total setback for the man. At one point Don goes to bed on a Friday night with a brunette woman, we're treated to another practical lighting effect to simulate the movement of time, and he wakes up on Sunday with a blond waitress, and Betty yelling at him through the phone because he forgot to pick up the kids. The man has been a mess this season, but I don't think that he's ever blacked out. It's gotten so bad that he drunkenly pitches to the Life cereal guys in a desperate and pathetic fashion. At least, he didn't look as awful as Duck Phillips did at the Clio Awards.

Don is also back to treating Peggy like crap. Even though she was on the Glo-Coat team, she doesn't get invited along to the ceremony. I guess Roger and Don thought they'd look cooler with a looker like Joan on their arms. He insults her talent to her face when comparing her to the the SCDP art director, Stan. This feels like a relapse back to the state of their relationship during the last season. It got so bad that she almost left for another firm. History could repeat and there's a strong possibility that it will take more than a season finale speech to keep her at SCDP.

When Peggy feels powerless and under appreciated by Don, she has a habit of reasserting her dominance over other men. Earlier in the season, she made sure that she was in control of physicality of her relationship with her boyfriend Mark (who seems to have disappeared). This episode, Peggy wins a game of chicken with the supposedly liberated mind of Stan the art director. This felt like a callback to her pot smoking incident with supposedly liberated mind of Paul Kinsey. With Mark, Stan, Paul, and practically any man she's around, Peggy has constantly had shape or destroy their predisposed perceptions of her.

We got a lot of skin in this episode. Peggy goes nude as a challenge to Stan and we got a prolonged shot of Don in his shorts after he realizes that he lost an entire weekend. I wonder if this was to entice any new viewers. I would think that a scantly clad Joan would have made some instant converts, but they didn't go there.

Pete has his own perception problems, though self-imposed, in the wake of the possible hiring of Ken Cosgrove. Pete immediately thinks that everyone thinks that Ken is a better accounts man and he calls out Lane for never like him. Jared Harris does a wonderful job of portraying Lane's genuine hurt and sincerity over this misunderstanding. Pete has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting for SCDP and Lane fears that they are overstretching him. The company needs another accounts man since, as Lane points out, Roger is a child. Also, Ken has some good accounts to bring to the company. Also, Lane admits that he is quite fond of the younger man and hurt that Pete did not realize it.

Pete is a partner in this company and Ken is not. This allows him to establish his dominance over Ken and come to terms with his attitude towards him.  I loved Pete's leaning back in the chair with is hands behind his head once Ken acknowledges that Pete is his boss.

The season mid-point hits with the next episode. I think that Peggy will make the decision to leave SCDP. It will be interesting to see who will fight to keep her there. I have a feeling that Pete will really push to keep her, not because of their past, but he recognizes her talent and they make a great team. Also, will Don get worse before he gets better? Or will the season mid-point begin his crawl back into the light?

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