Season 4, Episode 6: Waldorf Stories: The Crack-Up, or What Makes Donny Run?

So the art-imitating-life award goes to Matt Weiner. Along with Erin Levy, a young female protégé on the "Mad Men" staff, he was seen accepting an Emmy for TV writing just around the same time that Don was shown up at the podium receiving his Clio, advertising's Oscar, in the category of floor polishes and waxes.

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.

Mad Men Season 4/Episode 6 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:Mad Men Season 4/Episode 6 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.

Mad Men Season 4/ Episode 6 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.)

Mad Men Season 4/Episode 6 And though I generally hated the Depression-era and California flashbacks in previous seasons, all that Roger has now are his musings on the past, and these flashbacks are more interesting.

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.

Mad Men Season 4/Episode 6And 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.

Tags: television
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21 comments about "Season 4, Episode 6: Waldorf Stories: The Crack-Up, or What Makes Donny Run? ".
  1. Thomas Siebert from WOLFGANG SOLO: Strategic Communications & Benevolent Propaganda , September 1, 2010 at 1:55 p.m.

    Still enjoy the show, but Don/Dick's new downward spiral is a drag. Season Three ended on such an unexpected up note, I'd hoped that maybe "Mad Men" would be more playful and fun this year. Instead, it's put the ball and chain of alcoholism around Don's neck and it's sinking the series into a year-long "Days of Wine & Roses."

  2. Ray George from HawkPartners , September 1, 2010 at 1:59 p.m.

    Insightful as always. Completely agree that the flashbacks were much more Dick than Don, and that Dick came through in the drunk Don phases. Also love the call-out of the parallel with the Emmys - outstanding. Thanks for this great recap.

    I felt the 'Duck fallen off the wagon' episode at the Clio awards added to the general feeling of a downward spiral. And after the deft handling of the Honda clients last week, this descent for Don was a surprise.

  3. Lawrence Greenberg from Greenberg Media, Inc. , September 1, 2010 at 2:11 p.m.


    It's tempting to draw comparisons, as many have done, between the character arcs of Mad Men and Weiner's previous show, The Sopranos. So I will.

    The writers of The Sopranos always had a knack for playing with viewers' affections for its characters -- drawing them in, pushing them away, and then drawing them back in again in an ongoing cycle. It was especially true of Tony who could seem a decent human being one episode, a monster the next, then a decent person again. With Mad Men, it's a constant back-and-forth between respecting and maybe even admiring Don, and finding him pathetic. I think this episode represents Don's bottoming out. It'll take him at least a few more to work his way back into our good graces.

  4. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , September 1, 2010 at 2:45 p.m.

    I got a kick when Peggy corrected Don that "It's Vick not Vick's". By the way, whatever happened to that "fiance" of hers?

  5. Richard Brayer from Car-X , September 1, 2010 at 3:05 p.m.

    Like the Sopranos comparison

    Don is sure miserable

  6. Jim Palmer from Nonbox , September 1, 2010 at 3:39 p.m.

    Mad Men is a drama, not a comedy or a fantasy. As someone who lived through the ad business in New York in the Mad Men era (okay, a few years later, but the dynamics were the same), the portrayal of Don's looming demise is real and, for the most part, understandable. Booze was a staple in the 60's and 70's in NY, and normal consumption was indeed close to the three martinis a day that in 2010 seems like folklore. And for those with a myriad of bad things going on in their lives, turning to alcohol was the thing to do. So Don's downward spiral makes lots of sense. It will be fun watching his recovery when it happens, hopefully soon.

  7. Maddy Mud from McMarketing , September 1, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.

    Funny -- I felt his Dick Whitman hungry ad upstart was just one facial gesture -- happy puppy dog tail wagging. First time I've ever felt Hamm missed the mark. Don has a lot more going on then one look ...

  8. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc. , September 1, 2010 at 6:35 p.m.

    The Sopranos it's not. Attention to detail and character development are not even close. Why the need to compare the two shows? I might be in the minority but it's getting harder and harder to watch and enjoy the show. Seems like too many shortcuts are being taken i.e. some if not most of the old Madison Avenue stereotypes and cliches.

  9. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost , September 1, 2010 at 6:36 p.m.

    I love your write ups, Dorothy, you always see things I miss. But, having had friends in AA, I was stunned at the amazing thing that happened in this episode... I'm also surprised that you don't know one of the major AA red flags. It's called a black out. And Weiner's depiction is spot on. That was the most amazing bender and black out I've ever seen in a TV show. First, though, Duck reappeared to foreshadow Don's upcoming bender and alcoholism with his own ouster during the Clio presentation... And then Don went on to blacked out -- while a jingle writer went down on him humming what appeared to be the national anthem, resurfacing a day and a half later with a stranger named Doris next to him and his ex-wife yelling at him over the phone. A classic black out complete with time loss. He had no idea it was Sunday already... On another note. Rizzo is clearly a short-term character. I can't see him lasting too long. The fun is coming back. Peggy is gonna off him and I think our friend Sal is in the wings waiting for a well-deserved return to the Mad Men fold. Watch and see if I'm right...

  10. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , September 1, 2010 at 6:37 p.m.

    I enjoyed this episode more than any I have seen this season. Loved the insight into Roger and Don's meeting. Don's lost weekend was pretty intriguing as was Peggy taking his crap at the beginning but then cracking the whip at him by the end of it. Gotta say though sometimes the lack of character development / continuity bugs the heck out of me - was Peggy's new "partner" a replacement for the kid she's been hanging out with this season - does everyone throw pencils at the ceiling??? (who looked, to me, just like the "kid" she's been dating ...) And this new partner reminded me of the artist from the loft party who photographed the nudes, at first I thought it WAS him (but then what happened to the kisser in the closet?) ... and what happened to Rummy? and WHY would Kenny put up with Pete's marking his territory?

  11. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 1, 2010 at 10:16 p.m.

    Agree with Thomas -- I don't think I can tolerate another week of Don and Roger being drunken fools. Also agree with and Maddy -- Don as smiling, abuse-taking eager beaver felt like bad acting.

    For Mad Men alumni watchers --Abigail Spencer (Miss Maypole) had a recurring role in HawthoRN as a troublemaking physician, and Christopher Stanley (Henry Francis) played a lowlife in an episode of Memphis Beat. Really enjoyed the latter show-- here's hoping TNT renews it.

  12. Nancy Haynes from Collins, Haynes & Lully, Inc. , September 2, 2010 at 7:33 a.m.

    In a previous season, we were treated to a scene showing Betty at a photo-shoot for furs, with Don panting around her. Now we know that Don was the fur salesman, not the art director for a previous agency. I agree with the post regarding handling of Don's blackout -- it was indeed spot on. Disagree with Dorothy about Roger's memoir dictations being "unintentionally" amusing. Nothing about this show is unintentional. My son (a writer/storyteller) and I have a private joke about TV and movies, in which we ask each other, "Do you think they meant to do that?" Whatever we're discussing was obviously well-planned and wonderfully executed.

  13. Laurie Kessler from Ubiquitous Media , September 2, 2010 at 10:07 a.m.

    Does anyone think that Doris the one-night-stand Waitress looked a little like Anna Draper...Don's "wife" from California? And odd that he told her his name was Dick, which only Anna calls him.

  14. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , September 2, 2010 at 10:15 a.m.

    Back in the 70's, I worked for an agency that won an Effie (a return on investment category) award. Since I was the media buyer for the account, they bought me a train ticket to NY. It was a rather smaller gathering that I expected. The AE, assistant AE and PR person went off to celebrate after the luncheon and downing more than their fair share of alcohol. I decided to try to meet some of the media in their network offices in NY instead and was responsible to carry the award with me all day so they didn't have to be bothered. I didn't see the crew until the next day in our office. Overall, one of those AE's could not take meetings in the afternoons sober ever when he came back to the office after lunch. A real Don Draper wanna be. So the minor award Don won at the Clio's was not so off the charts. As for the 24 year old little dude in the first scene telling Don and Peggy that he'd clean floors reminded me of young kids coming into and calling agencies for which I worked and saying the exact same thing.

  15. Shelli Strand from STRAND Marketing, Inc. , September 2, 2010 at 5:36 p.m.

    Thank you Nancy for pointing out the earlier fur scene! Very cool insight. Though I do agree that Don as an eager fur salesman was over the top dufussy, and a rare spate of bad acting from Hamm.

    I was thinking about Draper's downward spiral and Peggy's ascension, and I thought - could Weiner possibly be trying to pull off the unthinkable TV feat of actually switching who the hero/lead character is? I will say he may be the only person who could ever do it. And something has to happen, because a show without a hero is hard to watch for long.

  16. Randy Beck from Campbell Soup , September 2, 2010 at 9:06 p.m.

    My take was a little different this week in terms of the theme. I felt there were tons of references and layers to regression and childhood in this episode. Certainly, we can start with the fact that we're seeing an award for Glo-Coat featuring Don's inner child and entrapment in his own solitary world. We also had several direct and indirect references to tantrums. Then, Peggy and Rizzo get "sent to their room" by Don, where they then both regress to childhood / pubescent states. Rizzo is like a 13 year-old looking at Playboy magazines and pretending to be a grown-up. Peggy, takes on the role of the disapproving, strict, and all-business nun that she likely had in her Catholic upbringing. (Yes, I know - a nun would never disrobe like Peggy did, but she would absolutely put this little brat in his place (which I felt was yet another common element to this episode).) He even references the Pope! Add to all of this the Life cereal pitch where we're discussing kids' eating habits, and then the meeting is totally de-railed. Don and team start acting like a bunch of children running around the room like spoiled brats, not caring how it is perceived by others. I could go on, but I won't. Just wanted to add this to the conversation and see if anyone else had similar thoughts.

  17. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 2, 2010 at 9:47 p.m.

    I remember that Don made a gift to Betty of a fur coat she had modeled and admired, so fur figured significantly in their relationship and in Roger's affair with Joan, as well as in Roger's relatonship with Don.

    I didn't catch the exact tagline of Don's in-house fur ad, but I think the gist of it was that women shouldn't wait for a man to buy them a fur. That was pretty progressive thinking -- I think the perfume manufacturers were just beginning to advertise their wares directly to women rather than positioning them as luxury gifts to be bought by men (Promise her anything, but give her Arpege).

  18. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 2, 2010 at 9:59 p.m.

    Yes, Randy, lots of immature behavior. Joan seems to be the only one who's consistently adult and I think her tolerance for the boys is wearing thin. She's probably the one person who can get through to Roger. And Connie (I do miss him) may be the only character who can get through to Don. Both guys need a swift kick in the pants.

  19. Melissa Lande from lande communications , September 3, 2010 at 5:29 p.m.

    Dorothy P. has an interesting take on this, though I feel that Don heading for a breakdown is just the stuff that makes TV interesting. Remember in the credits, there's a man falling. There's always someone falling in advertising, no? Don gets a turn. Drunk or sober, he still saved the agency the Honda account and he's not REALLY a plagiarist because he did offer money and then (albeit reluctantly) a job to the creepy kid. Even though he's a womanizing creep himself (though Dick isn't), he's still acknowledges creativity and I wouldn't lose sight of the fact that he saw something in Peggy (besides her sexuality) and gave her a chance no one else did. In a previous episode, she said "All we want to do is please you." So he was insensitive to her about the award ceremony, that's normal for agency big shots, but he did go to see her in the hospital - no one else did (that's not normal for agency big shots). Ironically she may be the only woman that Don hasn't hit on. Even drunk, he outmaneuvered the competition; he'll never be Roger. Hitting on his secretary was Roger behavior; worrying about his California spouse, not Roger behavior. Betty may be responsible. Single mothers have to be because they mostly get (and want) custody and they usually end up doing the heavy lifting- what else is new? Nonetheless, she hits the kids; she's a bitch. And she's nasty-nasty-nasty to her daughter in a really abusive way. If the series lasts till Sally grows up, she'll be smoking crack or stripping. And then Don will walk into the strip club....

  20. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV , September 4, 2010 at 8:52 p.m.

    anyone know when the famous Life cereal spot, mikey, ran??
    the fur ad was great, but the medium (point of purchase) was not too shrewd....
    as usual dorothy's commentary tops the show...but this week the comments also are great....which probably means the episode better than i thought.....
    effies, by the way, were actually started by the guy who owned the clios.....and it was a small gathering originally.......almost as small as that group on the show....
    congratulations to the show's production designer for getting a clio statue with a wooden base like they originally were...

  21. Jessica Scott from Digitas , September 9, 2010 at 8:44 p.m.

    Dorothy - Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading this blog. Mad Men is my favorite show on TV (probably in my top 5 of all time) and sometimes I like reading your posts more than actually watching the episodes themselves. The insights you glean from even the smallest details keep me coming back to these pages every week. Keep up the good work!