The problem with having a small company is that everyone knows everyone and you know exactly what you stand. This is what’s happened to Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce (SCDP). They used to be the big shark in the pond and now they’re a guppie along with everyone else. This why winning a Clio, an advertising award, was so important to the whole business. Same with Don’s interview in the first episode, “Public Relations.”
In “Waldorf Stories,” the world revolves around who you know, what you’re given credit for, or who you’re given control of. No one speaks to this better than the inept Danny Siegel. Danny is Jane Sterling’s cousin and the only reason Don and Peggy interview him is because of his connection to Roger. Danny only has one idea “cure for the common ___,” and he doesn’t present himself in a way that gives anyone confidence that he has more ideas.
Plus, Danny name-drops Roger one too many times. Personally, I’m not a fan of nepotism, but in the Mad Men world, just like the real world, who you know can mean everything. Especially if you lack talent. For instance, we all know Roger Sterling was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. And recently, Roger has been questioning how he fits into the world anymore and just what his job at SCDP is. Or what others’ impressions of him are. He used to be on top of the world, but now he’s hanging onto Lucky Strike and being called out for being a racist. Sadly, for Roger, his once growing clout has been diminishing lately.
We see Joan holding not just Roger’s hand at the Clios, but also Don’s. Then Joan proceeds to give Don a big kiss on the lips when Don wins. Now that isn’t how I’d kiss anyone I wasn’t in a romantic relationship with. Especially a co-worker.
This is in direct contrast with the 1950’s flashback of Roger meeting Don, and an explanation of how Don hired himself compared to Roger actually noticing talent in Don and hiring him. In fact, Roger “hired” Don when he was too drunk to remember doing so. Roger only meets Don because Don sells him a fur coat for Joan.
We’ve known that Roger and Joan have a strong connection, but who knew their affair stretched out 10 years. (And then Roger ended up with Jane and Joan with the rapist doctor.) There, in the 1950s, both Roger and Joan are in all their glory. Well, Roger is at the top of his game, even if he didn’t exactly woo Don. And Joan is at the height of her look — the Marilyn Monroe look — and is more hopeful, youthful, and downright sexy than we’ve ever seen her before. Fabulous.
Back in 1965, Roger’s also trying to write a memoir about his life. However, he keeps getting stuck on his very boring childhood. And he’s certainly not going to write a book on the horrors of war. (This is after all, right on the cusp of Vietnam and when people still had pride in veterans and the reasons why we fought wars.) I don’t wonder if we’re not being set up for Roger’s death or disappearance as an important person on Mad Men.
“Waldorf Stories” also showcases more of Don’s downfall. He’s drinking to point where he has blackouts. For entire weekends, ending up with a diner waitress whose name he doesn’t know. Don’s life becomes more of a bad country song when his ex-wife calls to yell at him for forgetting to visit his offspring. (If there’s anyone Betty has the right to be angry at it, it’s Don. He did actually treat he crappily enough to justify her anger.)
Don also pitchs Danny’s one note idea to the people at Life cereal. Who actually like it as it was sadly the best of the straws he grasped at while drunk. This is not the same brilliant ad man of Season 1 who walked into creative meetings with clients only to pitch them something more stellar than what was on his notepad.
Peggy is also increasing frustrated with Don. If anyone knows about the pecking order at SCDP, it’s Peggy. She was at the bottom of it in the first episode of Season 1, and she’s fought tooth and nail to climb up that ladder. But even with her huge contribution to Glow Coat, she’s not high enough at SCDP to warrant a seat at the Clio’s. No, it’s three partners (Don, Pete, and Roger) and Joan. And I don’t think Peggy would’ve been invited or even thanked properly if Don was sober.
On top of that, Peggy has to deal with the lazy and misogynistic new art director, Stan Rizzo. (Oh, Sal, how we miss you!) In a combination of Don’s drunkenness and Miss Blakenship’s senility, Peggy and Stan end up spending some quality time in a hotel room together trying to put together a cough drop campaign. I love her one-upping Stan, the nudist. Yeah, the guy likes nude women, but I also don’t buy Stan as an actual nudist. Peggy pretty much nailed him when she said, “You’re lazy and you have no ideas.” When Peggy started stripping down, it was both awesome and a good lesson in how much underwear women wore in the ’60s. Good lord.
In her own way, Peggy had a lovely meta conversation about feminism with Stan. Even if he was too busy staring at his Playboy and too embarrassed that naked Peggy might’ve given him a woody to notice Peggy was talking. My favorite part of their exchange was when Peggy revealed that she was clapping for herself. Peggy doesn’t clap for herself because she’s prideful. Peggy claps for herself because no one else is going to do it for her. Not a sober Don or her boyfriend or her family.
You go, Peggy Olson, with your title as the Smuggest Bitch in the World. Oh, how much Stan does not know about you. You are far more cutting edge than he could ever dream of being. Peggy has proven that she is higher on the peaking order than Stan.
Also out to prove himself is Pete. Pete has to remind Lane that he’s a partner, if unnamed. He also starts off his offer to hire Ken by stating that Ken needs to keep in mind just who is in charge. That would be Pete, if you didn’t catch that. I have this image of Pete taking lessons on how to act like this from Trudy.
Of course, nothing brings the theme full-circle more than Don’s hiring of Danny. Had he just stolen Danny’s idea outright, there would’ve been consequences in this small, brave new ad world of SCDP. And one way to fall right to the bottom of the pack is to have to grovel down to hire the Dannys of the world and act as if they have some real merit.