All words: Alan Zilberman and Peter Mergenthaler
In lieu of a traditional recap, I instead offer a somewhat edited, highly spirited debate between myself and a fellow TV junkie. Joining me is Pete, my old roommate who helped jumpstart my obsession with serialized TV dramas. Without further ado, let’s get into what’s new at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce!
Before we get into the scattershot commentary, let’s highlight a few important plot points:
- After winning a CLIO award, Don proceeds to celebrate with a weekend-long bender. He manages to offend/alienate everyone close to him, except for the two anonymous hook-ups he quickly disregards.
- Don drunkenly forces Peggy to spend a weekend in a hotel with Stanley, the new art guy, so they can come up with a pitch for Vicks. Stanley fancies himself as a naturist, but when Peggy calls his bluff, he reveals himself as just another misogynistic blow-hard.
- Pete throws a hissy fit when he discovers Ken is joining his agency. After a conversation with Lane, Pete comforts himself in a meeting with his former rival. Ken understands he’ll be a subordinate (or he’s good at faking).
- In the midst of his memoirs, we see Roger’s memories of how he hired Don. The CLIO winner was just a coat salesman, and after a fateful introduction to Roger, Don gets his foot through the door with a combination of tenacity and booze-soaked decision-making.
Pete: My grandmother recently happened upon Netflix, and she’s become quite savvy about it. Keeping her queue stocked and constantly rotating it and whatnot. So she experiments, and when she finds a show she likes, she watches the whole run in, like, three weeks. She dismissed Mad Men after two episodes because she hated — DETESTED — Don Draper. If she saw the first few episodes of this season, she might change her mind. But if she saw tonight’s parade of unrestrained Dick Whitman id, she’d have an aneurysm.
Alan: Either that or she’d cancel her Netflix account. Don’s confidence and control have always been of his most admirable qualities, and in this episode he disregards them for post-award glory. Never has his workplace conduct been so unprofessional, or his seduction so sloppy. There was always hint his boozing impacted the kids, but here his fails as a father outright.
Pete: Let’s catalogue the offenses racked up during Don’s bender. He forgets his CLIO at a bar. He beds a chick he doesn’t remember meeting. He hits on Faye, disastrously. He orders Peggy to a hotel room to spitball with a faux-naturist. During his pathetic, rapid-fire pitch at the Life guys, he plagiarizes a terrible idea from SDCP’s worst applicant ever. And he alienates several of his colleagues – Roger, Peggy, others – by brazenly hogging the accolades for the Glo Coat commercial.
Alan: I’m fairly certain he beds two chicks he doesn’t know. There is indeed a litany of egregious offenses. They’re too varied and pathetic to discuss individually, so let’s take it to the big picture (at least for the moment). What do you think Weiner is doing here? Is Don going backward as the 60s proceed ahead of him? Will Don be like Duck Phillips, the pathetic drunk who embarrasses himself before he’s escorted out of an awards ceremony?
Pete: I don’t think he’s in danger of that — at least not yet — but it’s a reminder that he’s not just the tormented, brilliant, occasionally virtuous guy we’ve seen in the last few episodes. He has serious deficits as a person. I mean, we were all too happy to pile on about Betty last week. But he actually gives her a legit reason to be pissed this time.
Alan: I wholeheartedly agree. Her angry phone call was more bracing than any typical hangover cure. This entire season the writers have been showcasing how Don’s life has taken a turn for the worse. With such public embarrassments, perhaps has nothing left to do but change or plunge further into the abyss? When he hires the pathetic applicant you mentioned earlier, I got the sense it was an act of contrition.
Pete: I think the actor who plays the pathetic applicant is great, by the way. He was one of the evil nerds from the sixth season of Buffy, where he played basically the same character, and he was great in the Gilmore Girls, too. Toward the beginning of the episode, when we see how Sterling met Draper some years before, I thought the whole thing was going to be a “how the gang got together” sort of thing, a la the beginning of the second season of the West Wing. They’re deployed much less frequently here, but they basically make the point that Sterling hired Don while wasted, and that it worked out pretty well. What are we to make of the fact that pathetic applicant is now on the payroll?
Alan: I’m curious whether he’ll prove valuable, but I don’t think Don hiring him has much to do with the kid’s potential as an employee. He’s in a position to give someone a mistaken chance the same way Roger did, and after such a disastrous weekend, maybe the kid will serve as a humble reminder that the name Don Draper wasn’t always spoken with reverence.
Pete: Was it clear what position he was hired for? He seemed pretty intent on copywriting. Not that he could join the secretarial staff or anything. I’m just curious.
Alan: I think when Don instructs Peggy to take the kid to HR, it hints he’ll be a part of her team.
Pete: Poor Peggy. Sort of. Let’s talk about her and Pete’s stories this week, which mirror each other pretty closely.
Alan: Yes, both Pete and Peggy, who this season have become more serious employees, were forced to interact with men who repulsed them. Peggy was easily the most interesting of the two – when she calls his bluff by undressing, it was an indirect FUCK YOU that he richly deserved. I like how they’re developing Peggy. I think she’s fast becoming an audience favorite.
Pete: She’s definitely among my favorites. She’s rejected these really suffocating pretenses (Warhol hipster, greaser virtuoso) multiple times now, but she’s still demonstrating an interest in and capacity for evolving out of her spinster shell. Well, that’s putting it mildly. She practically convulses anytime someone suggests that she’s a prude.
Alan: And Stan the new art-guy really is a douchebag. I’m glad she managed defeat him at his own game. Although I think she disrobed to prove to herself that she’s capable of such behavior. Jokes about his tiny dick are just icing on the cake. And unlike earlier seasons, Elizabeth Moss seems to having a lot of fun of role.
Pete: She does! Anytime Peggy is put in a position where she has to prove herself, I’m having fun, too. Like last season, when she got blazed with Kinsey. I think her conquest over Stan was more about logging a personal victory against men in general, though. She was the creative engine behind the Glo Coat ad, but she gets no recognition. What’s worse, she’s banished to the hotel room with the art guy. I think she knows it’s a petty victory, but she also knows that she’s not going to get to be a partner quickly. She’s pacing herself.
Alan: She’s definitely trying to be prudent with her victories. But given her frustrations with Don’s inability to appreciate/acknowledge her, I wouldn’t be surprised if tries to leave the agency.
Pete: Let’s just be glad that she never pulled the trigger with Duck. Pete, meanwhile, is huffing and puffing because Lane has welcomed Cosgrove to SDCP. With open arms, so long as he brings his accounts.
Alan: I grimaced when Pete resorted back to his whining from the first seasons, but Lane did a good job of placating his fellow partner. It was refreshing to see him acknowledge that, yes, adding Ken is a good business decision. I wasn’t sure how to read his scene with Ken in the conference room. Is Ken accepting his role as a subordinate genuine?
Pete: Absolutely not, but like Peggy, Ken is a pragmatist. He also happens to be dashing, talented, enthusiastic and sincere, which Pete reads as smarminess. They’re almost chemically engineered not to get along, but Ken can deal. Pete can’t, which is unfortunate. Like Don, he’s made strides so far this season. Watching that meeting between them at the end of the episode was groan-inducing.
Alan: I agree, but it’ll be fun to see how Pete will sweat in upcoming episodes. Speaking of which, what do you think of the trajectory of this season? Any predictions on what might happen later?
Pete: I have one — they’ll lose Lucky Strike by the finale, or during it. It makes the business component of it more interesting, and it goes to a theme the show’s been sounding a lot this season — Roger’s value to the company.
Alan: If they lose Lucky Stike, maybe they’ll bring Sal back! That’d be awesome.
Alan: I wouldn’t be surprised if Henry divorces Betty.
Pete: I wish the show still had Paul, too. If only as a punching bag. But when you stop and think about it, this cast is fucking huge.
Pete: I think the show needs a scene or two of Henry visibly grimacing about Betty being a bitch. That hasn’t happened yet, which is why I don’t think much of him. He talks her down, sure, but he seems totally comfortable doing it forever. He’s kinda inert.
Alan: Even today they hinted that Don’s failings are having an impact on Henry’s political career. That may be too much, but we’ll see.
Pete: For sure. Before we wrap up, I want to point out a few quick things. The editing felt off tonight. Aside from the smash cut from Roger rebuffing Don’s invitation to drinks (“It’s 10 a.m.!”) to them drinking, the flow was lacking. I loved the shot of Roger — then Don — clasping Joan’s hands at the CLIOs, though. And the time-lapse stuff with Don’s hangover was pretty damn evocative.
Alan: Agreed on the whole. I liked the use of a camera filter that made their drunken revelry seem hazy and off-kilter.
Pete: I also liked the symmetry of tonight’s episode being framed around a retarded awards show, even as Mad Men cleaned up at the Emmys.
Alan: Yeah, they won best dramatic series for the third year in a row, so congrats for them!
Pete: Last thing – Jon Hamm’s range is awesome. His “aw shucks, Mr. Sterling, let me buy ya lunch” routine was a little cartoonish, but it’s crazy to see how cynical he’s become in the time he’s worked in advertising.
Alan: Oh, totally! I was impressed how he managed to contort his face, especially since Don, on the whole, is a stoic guy. His drunken face is hilarious, even when the out-of-place is a dead giveaway.
Pete: Okay, I release you. Until next week!