Season 4, Episode 6: Waldorf Stories: The Crack-Up, or What Makes Donny Run?
The idea of putting a polish on someone else's work -- and then stripping it away -- was one of the themes of this dark episode. It was all about getting and stealing credit, getting recognition, and being seen.
Don was her mentor, but Peggy claims that the award-winning Glo-Coat commercial was her idea, and she wasn't even invited to the ceremony. She tells her partner that when the nomination was announced, "Don didn't even look at me, but I was there."
If "Life is just a bowl of cereal" as Don put it in one of the more cringe-inducing, alcohol-fueled taglines he manically spewed at a client presentation, it is getting baleful by the bowlful.
I hope that Weiner has something up his sleeve, but for now, Don is unraveling, descending into pure alcoholism and hackdom -- and it's difficult to watch. He's now the lowest of the low: A bad father, (he sleeps through his time with his kids) and boss (sleeps with his secretary).
He's now a washed-up writer, plagiarizing from a plagiarizer. Even worse, the line he stole was from Danny Siegel, a young, well-connected, fib-telling, job-seeking idiot, whose one idea was a knock-off of a broadly-known "idiom."
Something's got to be up with all the sleep-walking he's doing. Don seems to be morphing into a new character: half-Dick, half-Don, which said quickly, sounds dinosaur-ish. (Or Don-a-saurish.) Meantime, his protégé Peggy is clear-eyed and focused on the work.
In a series that's always been about shifting identities and gender, now that it's 1965, we're at a midpoint in culture, seeing the slow death of the starched and Brylcreem-ed company man of the 1950s, and the protracted birth of the bow-tied, attaché-carrying working woman of the '70s. Both are painful to explore, but there's still lots of hard-drinking and skirt-chasing going on.
With his last shred of unpickled brain cells, Don seems lucid about the fakeness of the awards process; he acknowledges that it "doesn't make the work any better." Perhaps he's projecting the guilt he's feeling on Peggy. As he starts drinking at 10 in the morning on the Friday before the Clio lunch, he's particularly tough on her.
He says her new boorish and immature art director partner Ed Rizzo is "talented and more experienced" than she, and that it's her job to learn to work with him. Adding that since the work is due on Monday, she'd better not "hide around corners trying not to make eye contact." He seems to be describing himself - once again, he's the one who isn't looking.
Peggy's art director partner claims to have made the commercial for LBJ about the KKK, which the party was too chicken-shit to run. (It's an amazing piece of work that did, in fact ,exist.) He thinks that establishes his bona fides, and that he'll never do anything better. So he's moved to Sterling Draper to coast on his non-laurels.
Although he shares a name with a tough-gal character from Grease, Rizzo is a cartoon chauvinist pig (to use the words that will soon pop up in the culture.) Rather than focusing on his own output, he's rude and dismissive of Peggy. In the can't-win department, the more disciplined and harder working she gets, the more he slags her off as a sexually repressed harpy. (I'm surprised he didn't use the word "uptight.") In an improbable set up, they end up renting a hotel room to work in over the weekend. He lies around reading Playboy and talks of being "liberated." As he compares her to the pope one too may times, tells her she's Don's bitch (carrying carcasses in her mouth for him) and accuses her of being ashamed of her body, ("or at least should be..."), she calls his bluff. The gauntlet that she throws down is her bra -- she strips.
It seems ridiculous, but I had heard a similar story before. Years ago, while traveling in Italy, I met a local woman with a firecracker personality. She told me that she used to regularly play poker with a group of men who dismissed her skills. So she decided to play topless. She said it put them all in their places, and she never had to fight to be taken seriously again.
Earlier in the hotel room, Peggy asked Rizzo if he was going to work, or merely "stare at pictures of women who can't stare back." She stared back. And made fun of his manhood in the process. And for her trouble, he said he'd give her a "prize for the smuggest bitch." That's one award that would never have too many fathers.
So, we got the "Is Peggy the new Don?" storyline. But there was also the "Is Don the new Roger? sub-theme, which was pretty depressing.
I knew Don aspired to be a "big man at a big agency," but I never knew that his role model was the generally soused and spouse-avoiding Roger, who's been proven to be an empty-suit. His dictations for his memoirs are vapid (and unintentionally amusing, such as: "Charlie Chaplin is too sad." He talks about vanilla ice cream in his all-white office.)
The recreation of the time he met Don was well -acted on both sides, and it was fun to see him in an earlier incarnation with darker hair. But here's where the mystery Dick part of Don comes in. At that point, as a would-be copywriter and eager-beaver fur salesman, Don seems totally Dickish. He's so desperate for a job that he gets Roger totally drunk and then pulls a George Costanza, showing up for a job he doesn't have.
He flashes that one Whitmanesque-era expression of open-mouthed, raised-eyebrow mirth the whole time. The scary thing is that he adopted that same attitude at the Clios luncheon, including out-of-control giggling, and went into a full manic Dick for the Life Cereal people.
To lose a day in a drunken stupor was pretty serious; even sadder, he picked up a waitress and told her his name was Dick before he blacked out, and forgot his responsibility to his kids.
And while we all started seeing Betty as the villain, there is no excuse for disappointing his children. At least she's a reliable parent. Plus, she seems to be the model in Don's fur ad, which means that she knew him before he was a big man at a big agency, and helped him, as the end song illustrated, "climb the ladder."
I want more Sally and Betty. And the flashbacks seem to reveal that Joan, despite a college education, started selling herself to men very early on. I hope she's not operating from the wrong side of history.v As for Don, is there anything left? v "Gentlemen, pace yourselves," as John Aniston (Jen's dad) says as the Clio master of ceremonies. Let's hope it's not a bumpy flight down that we all know too well from the opening illustration. It seems too soon for that.