Mad Men – 4×06: Credit where it’s due

If Pete Campbell is the new Don Draper, then Don Draper is the new… Duck Phillips? Freddie Rumsen? OUCH. Or is he just the new Roger Sterling?

The question and prevailing theme of “Who is Don Draper?” continues to be asked but remains unanswered. The irony being that, unlike past seasons, it is now Don who is less suited to answer it than the audience or the people around him. (Remember when Don was the one with all the secrets and we were just dying to find them out?). The question isn’t new, its just taken on a new form. Oh how the might have fallen.

Faye: “Award or no award, you’re still Don Draper.
Don: “Whatever that means.”

At first I wasn’t sure where the episode was going — certainly Mad Men doesn’t do “fillers” — but by the time they were sitting at the Clio award ceremony and Peggy was back at SCDP complaining to pseudo-nudist artist, Stan, about how little recognition she received for the nominated Glo-Coat ad, I began to understand what was going on. I also particularly enjoyed the multiple character involvement in this one as opposed to the usual Don + 2 approach. We got some Peggy, Pete, Roger, Joan, and even Betty.

Don Draper

You're an important man in an important agency. (AMC)

So last week we saw what I would in retrospect call the “don’t call it a comeback” episode. After a very slippery slope of debauchery, embarrassment, and emotional neglect for the first four episodes, we briefly witnessed the return of “genius” Don. But even then we all knew it wouldn’t last. It couldn’t. Still, I wasn’t sure what exactly would happen next for Don (and that’s one of the things I love about the series), but this week’s episode answered it right away: that sudden suave spark of brilliance was simply the calm before the storm… the high before the steep steep drop. In fact that very high continued on to the first few scenes of this episode as we saw Don win the coveted Clio, as if to remind us that self-destructive people can never keep a good thing good. On that note, let’s recount all the things which Don subsequently fucked up last night:

  • Hitting on a respected co-worker (i.e. Faye Miller)… again
  • Being rejected… again.
  • Acting drunk and ridiculous at a client meeting (Life cereal)
  • Getting rejected by a client
  • Stealing an idea from a kid and claiming it as his own
  • Taking home all he could get: a woman who threw herself at him, not one he won over with his traditional charm
  • Falling asleep during a blow job (?)
  • Going for fries in the middle of the night (sorry, thats something you do in your 20’s)
  • Taking a random sleazy waitress home
  • Forgetting what day it is
  • Forgetting who the random sleazy waitress is
  • Being too drunk to pick up his kids and keeping them waiting on the only day he has them
  • Losing an entire day by sleeping off a hangover
  • Having to almost beg an inexperienced kid to sell an idea

Did I say “ouch” already? Yeah, I think I did. God, this is so bad its going from “ouch” to “ugh” and soon enough to “eww” because quite honestly Don is nothing short of a drunken sleazeball at this point. The audience knows who he is deep down, sure, and for this we continue to root for him, but how much longer can that really go on? That moment where Duck Phillips makes a drunken fool of himself at the Clio Awards was there for a reason. Remember Duck’s story? He was a drunk who lost his family and then sobered up. He was depressed but at least he was sober, yet he struggled with it everyday. Don’s story is not all that different except Don is still a drunk, no better than Duck Phillips, and perhaps worse. Will he end up escorted out of public functions one day? What a tragic thought.

Anything else I have to say about Don I want to discuss in context of the other characters in this episode because his interactions with them were really important in this one.

Betty Francis

As you probably know, I wasn’t an original member of the Betty Bashing Committee. As a recent convert, however, I’ve spent some time critiquing her past and present marital and parental decisions. She may have only had two lines in Sunday’s episode, but even if she hadn’t been in it at all, Don’s actions made it abundantly clear that he currently reigns supreme as top fuck-up of the Draper family, not her. I still think Betty is selfish and childish and irrational and shallow but I’ve always stood by the fact that despite her endless failures as a person, her failure as a parent has never been worse than Don’s. I think its important for me to say this from a bit of a feminist standpoint because it upsets me to think that hardcore Betty-Bashers might place her in the role of “nagging wife” in this episode for her phone call to Don reminding him that he had children.

Momma bear, baddest bitch (AMC)

The truth is Betty would never in a million years do to those kids what Don has done since the divorce — despite everything she’s done before this season and her remaining inability to grow up. If Don wasn’t absent enough while the family was still together, incredibly so he makes even less of an effort to see them now that they are apart. So if you are going to call Betty selfish (and I support that statement 100 percent) you must admit to Don being equally if not more selfish than she. Furthermore, I think we should all consider the pressure that we put on women to anchor the family and simultaneously maintain personal stability. Why don’t we require the same from Don? Here we are just praying that he doesn’t go out and inadvertently rape Bethany or his neighbor next week, yet we still judge Betty far more harshly for her own issues although she is also a full time mother.

Remember last year when Don told Betty he would fight her for custody of the kids and then he changed his mind? I’m inclined to believe that one of the main reasons as to why he changed his mind was that he realized he didn’t really want them. He wouldn’t know what to do with them in the first place. Can you imagine the disaster it would have been, those kids living with Don?! It’s a sad sad day when we have to admit that Betty was the better alternative. Those poor children.

Peggy Olson and Stan Rizzo (The “Nudist”)

So what did you all get from this story? It felt kind of misplaced and slightly random to me, particularly since the Stan character is out-of-the-blue new and usually new characters on Mad Men are introduced slowly and in the background before they get their own storyline which is why I’m wondering if he’ll last long at SCDP. But, obviously the story was really centered around Peggy. Still, what did it say? Not much about her that I didn’t already know, really. She’s reserved but not repressed, and so unbelievably dedicated to her profession that she’d quite literally strip down naked for it. It seems to me that what was really going on here was a commentary on the people and the times, not so much the characters in the room themselves. The commentary being the emergence of art as pop culture — of pop culture as art. Of the pseduo-artist and pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-spiritual movement that came along with all the real stuff. Exhibit A: Playboy magazine. More importantly though, the final showdown between Peggy, Stan, and Stan’s little friend was what really brought it together because it was a discussion about “art” and “business”, and when business (i.e. Peggy) decides to compromise and come down to the art (or pseudo-art) level by undressing, Stan is shocked (and embarrassed) to find that he wasn’t as committed to his beloved artistic freedom as Peggy was to her beloved ads.

So while we didn’t learn anything new about Peggy, we were at least better able to understand her in context and relation to the changing world around her. She may be conservative and appear old-fashioned but she isn’t Don. She is willing to adapt in order to grow and move the company forward… and thus keeping with “Prevailing Theme No. 2” of this season: the times are changing and some people are getting left behind. This hard-nosed chick isn’t one of them.

And the award for “The Smuggest Bitch in the Room” goes to… Peggy Olsen! Finally, some recognition (;

Roger Sterling

Still no sign of Roger and Jane’s home-life, but as I’ve learned with this series: No news is good news. So they must be happy. God knows any time we learn anything about anyone (good or bad), you can be sure its just a set-up for some tragedy to come.

So Roger is writing his memoirs. Now that’s a book I’d read. Before I get into the Don flashbacks, though, I wanna mention the Joan flashback. Perhaps I’d just forgotten but I didn’t realize how long Joan and Roger’s affair had gone on for, or how serious it was. He tells Fur Salesman Don that what he wants for Joan is something that says:

“I’m getting to know you, but I don’t want to scare you.”

He took her very seriously. He loved her. He would have married her. She would have married him. They would have been happy. But his heart-stopping epiphany came just a moment too late. Timing… sigh. It’s all in the timing.

So we get the backstory on how Don got his start at Sterling Cooper. From one drunken mistake to the next, we learn that Don wasn’t the first top ad man to hire a nobody from the street due to self-induced inebriation. The parallels between the old Roger and the current Don are what I think is most worth mentioning here. Not only was Roger a heavier drinker when he was top man in the same way Don is now, but they are both claiming full credit for things that neither accomplished on their own. Roger claims to have found Don (although we learn he didn’t really find him at all) and Don takes the Clio for an idea which was only half his, the rest coming from Peggy. Add the “Cure for the common ANYTHING” fiasco and that’s twice in one episode for Don. Roger even goes so far as to ask Don to “admit” that he couldn’t have done it without him.

Last Night’s Theme

Giving credit where credit is due. It’s something none of these characters seems to be comfortable doing. They want all the glory, all the time, and all for themselves. Roger. Don. Peggy. Even Pete who flips out at the thought that Cosgrove might be joining SCDP and stealing his thunder. Mix that in with Betty and fighting over who deserves the award for Least Shitty Parent, and it all comes together.

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