“Mad Men” Recap: 406, “Waldorf Stories”
Don Draper always excelled at being who he needed to be. It was a survival instinct that went back to the days of the Great Depression, when Dick Whitman learned the hobo code, that important way of finding out where a drifter would be welcome. These days, he is drifting more than ever as his Clio victory turns into a lost weekend and his alcohol abuse finally catches up with his duties as both a creative genius and father. One of the prevailing themes of “Waldorf Stories” is the arbitrary nature of success, or as Don says shortly after picking up his Clio for Glo-Coat, “You finish something, you find out everyone loves it right around the time that it feels like someone else did it.” Of course, when you’re Don Draper and Dick Whitman, someone else is always part of the equation.
“Waldorf Stories” begins with Don and Peggy interviewing Danny Siegel (Danny Strong) for a job at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Danny is clearly an overmatched cheesehead who allegedly has Roger Sterling in his back pocket and has delusions of being the cure for the common advertising executive. In fact, his entire portfolio consists of variations on that hoary old “cure for the common whatever” construction, which was apparently dead as dirt even in 1965, and Don Draper cannot get this twerp out of his office fast enough. He won’t even recommend a lunch destination to Danny — he fobs that task onto Ida Blankenship who loudly declares, “I don’t work for you!” Don then proceeds to Roger’s office, where he’s dictating his scintillating memoirs — vanilla was the preferred ice cream flavor in the Sterling household, apparently because it didn’t stain. Don compliments Roger on the Danny joke, and Roger informs Don that Danny is Jane Siegel Sterling’s cousin, and if SCDP doesn’t give the homunculus a shot, it’s going to cost him a Jane consolation gift in the range of $500 to $1000.
Then we get a superb flashback to a time around 1955 or so, when Roger’s hair wasn’t completely sterling and he was buying a gift — a fur — for another woman in his life, and the salesman at the fur shop was Don Draper, a young hotshot who wanted to break into the ad game. Don is an expert mover with the furs and mentions that he does all of his store’s advertising — that poster with the beautiful blond, the future ex Mrs. Draper, was his work — but beyond the pelt, Roger isn’t buying what Don is selling. The scene cuts to a hotel room where Roger is not presenting the gift to Mrs. Sterling, but to Joan Holloway, who in the mid-’50s was rocking an appropriate Marilyn Monroe-style ‘do. And inside the fur box is a portfolio, including a spec ad for Play-Doh: “Open a can on a rainy day.” Classic Draper, but Roger complains that this move was an overstep.
Back in 1965, the executives from Life cereal are delayed, which means the bar is open — amusingly, Joan tells Joey he can make his own damn drink. Peggy learns that Joan is being brought to the Clio Awards to get everybody hot and bothered. Irritated but not as irritated as she will be later, Peggy goes into new art director Stan’s office, where he’s trying to impress Megan by showing her the political ad he did for Lyndon Johnson, a never-aired attack ad against Barry Goldwater featuring a Klan rally. Peggy already hates Stan — he remarks that the fact that it never aired makes it less impressive. When she complains about his obvious flirtation, Stan cuts her down as being prude and asexual. He’s a real peach, that Stan.
We now cut to the Clios held at that art-deco midtown monument, the Waldorf-Astoria, where Don and Roger get their drink on and Cosgrove and the scion of the Birds Eye frozen food company show up, and a stray comment seems to indicate that SCDP might be merging with Cosgrove’s firm, which makes Pete turn purple and plaid with rage. Emcee Wallace Harriman (“Days of Our Lives” veteran actor and father-of-a-famous-actress John Aniston) is presiding when he is interrupted by a ragingly drunk Duck Phillips, who is promptly escorted from the banquet hall. Don quips, “I feel like I’ve already won.”
Back at the office, Stan and Peggy are trying to bang out the Vicks campaign that Pete brought over. Stan, who is allegedly the art director, fancies himself a creative director and is jackassing around the room, trying to make Peggy just take notes while he “speechifies” the whole Vicks thing. Peggy needs to bring a bag of hammers down on this guy.
When floor waxes are announced, SCDP is victorious for the Glo-Coat ad, and Don accepts the award with ebullience and handshakes. Well, word comes from Joan that the Life cereal people have unexpectedly arrived at the offices, and Don decides they need to strike when the iron is hot and stirring his fifth or sixth drink. The whole gang races back to the Time-Life Building, where the Life guys are downing their own round of scotches, and Don, fighting back a bad case of the booze belches, delivers the tagline: “Eat Life By the Bowlful.” It’s a good campaign — kids will love it because it’s a big bowl of stuff, mothers will love it because they’re aware that their children are growing up fast — carpe diem and all that. Well, the good folks at Life think that’s too intellectual of an approach and that stupid people just won’t get it. So Don starts spitballing a bunch of terrible off-the-cuff ideas (uncomfortable television alert: watching flop sweat from Don Draper has to be one of the worst) until he spits out “Life: The Cure for the Common Breakfast.” This horrendous Danny Siegel bit of hackery is a sure-fire hit with these boobs, and everyone is happy except Peggy, who tries to pull Don aside and talk about his plagiarism. Instead, Don consigns Peggy to hell in a hotel room with Stan, where they are to hash out the Vicks campaign or else.
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