TV Club

Week 6: Is Don Dead Wood?

Week 6: Is Don Dead Wood?

Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and Roger Sterling (John Slattery).
Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), and Roger Sterling (John Slattery) in Mad Men

John, you’re right that this episode separates the dead wood from the young Turks. It also poses the question of the season: Which one is Don? Although our hero achieved a clever bit of strategic success last week when he conned Ted Chaough into shooting a spot for Honda, Chaough was still smirking his way through the Clio reception; apparently CGC isn’t bankrupt yet. And we’re still waiting for Don to come up with a great ad campaign. The sight of him sputtering drunkenly through the Life cereal pitch, spouting half-baked nonsense about nostalgia and a string of terrible taglines (including one stolen from Roger’s wife’s idiot cousin) makes clear how much of Don’s success derives from his ability to deliver a controlled dosage of the Don Draper experience to everyone in his path.

These days, though, there are some kinks in the line. Don’s getting so plastered that he can’t even remember to introduce himself as “Don” to the waitress he picks up on a drunken bender: Doris calls him “Dick.” She also describes having met Dick with a woman he said was his sister. Who was that woman? Was it the one he picked up at the Clio after party? If so, knowledge of Don’s secret identity could be percolating through the ad community already—a real threat to the stability of SCDP.

Don seemed able to calibrate his charms much more finely in the flashbacks, which I, too, liked much better than the dusty deprivation scenes we lingered on in Season 3. These flashbacks gave us pointed and pertinent information about characters we think we understand. I liked the girlish glee on Joan’s face as we revisited the beginnings of her affair with Roger, and the glimpse we caught of Betty in the fur ad Don made. The biggest reveal: Roger never hired Don at all (an irony, given that Roger counts “finding Don” as one of his biggest achievements). I don’t know about you guys, but I never heard Roger say “Welcome aboard” during that martini breakfast. I think Don just made it up, taking advantage of the older man’s inebriation to con his way into a job. It’s further evidence that Don’s gift has always been as much for self-advancement as for writing killer copy. And it makes you wonder who—besides young Danny Siegel—will be taking advantage of Don’s boozing this season. (If Danny looks familiar, that’s because he’s played by Danny Strong, formerly the waffling nerd Jonathan on Buffy.)

John, you asked where I think Peggy’s headed: If Ted Chaough is smart, he’ll try to poach her for CGC. She’s feeling undervalued—how galling that Joan gets to attend the Clios essentially because she’s more glamorous; Peggy’s told “there will be other firms’ clients there”—and her new collaborator, Stan Rizzo, is the most boorish chauvinist we’ve seen in four seasons of the show, which is saying something. I was impressed by her hotel-room gambit. Stan professes to be much more liberated, liberal, hip, sexual, and talented than Peggy, whom he considers hopelessly square and unattractive. So she calls his bluff and goads him into conducting their Vicks confab in the buff. Rizzo can’t concentrate, finally retreating to put his clothes on and announcing, “You win the prize for the smuggest bitch in the world.”

In both this scene and the one at the Clios after party where Dr. Faye Miller rebuffs Don, we see young professional women who are learning to calibrate their sexuality as closely as Don has long been able to dole out his charms. For Peggy, it won’t work to be considered a dowdy, asexual lump; that makes it too easy for Rizzo to dismiss her. But she takes a big risk in disrobing like that—think of all the ways her stunt could have backfired. She’s really learned how to read the power dynamic in a room and play it to her advantage. Back in the office, Rizzo is still full of credit-claiming swagger, but Peggy and Rizzo know where they really stand.

Michael, you’re the cure for the common TV Club entry: I’ll leave it to you to sort out Roger’s obsession with his childhood.

Anyone want room service?