Mad Men, Season 4

Week 6: When Roger Met Don
Talking television.
Aug. 30 2010 1:23 AM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 6: When Roger Met Don

Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm).

Michael, Julia,

John Swansburg John Swansburg

John Swansburg is Slate's deputy editor.

I propose we conduct this week's TV Club in our birthday suits—what say you?

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Cheekily, the centerpiece of this episode, which aired during the Emmys, was the presentation of the Clio awards. Both Mad Men and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce emerged victorious. The show won for best Outstanding Drama Series for the third straight year; SCDP collected its first award, for the Glo-Coat spot we saw back in the season premiere. The Emmy after-parties must be in full swing as I type this, and I can't help but wonder how the crew from Mad Men are conducting themselves. They deserve to celebrate their impressive three-peat with some rowdy backslapping and carousing. But are Matthew Weiner and co. also thinking, in the backs of their minds, about the ugly portrait this episode painted of those who let a gold statue go to their heads?

The Clio plotline provided an occasion to explore in greater detail a series of related questions that have been percolating all season long: Who is young and hungry, who is old and washed up, and will it be the young Turks or the dead wood who prevail at SCDP? Pete is horrified to learn that Lane is contemplating bringing Pete's old rival, Ken Cosgrove, back into the fold. But he seems to come around to the idea when Lane explains that he considers Roger useless and wants to bring in Ken because, like Pete, he's a go-getter—the kind of executive SCDP will need if it's to succeed in a competitive marketplace. Roger, meanwhile, is struggling to define his role at the new firm—and to account for his contributions to the old one as well. He apparently wasn't kidding about writing that book, but whenever he sits down to dictate, he starts telling stories about his childhood, not about his career. (Roger preferred chocolate ice cream, but Mother Sterling, concerned for the longevity of her furniture, mandated vanilla.)

The one accomplishment that does come to Roger's mind is "discovering" Don Draper. The memory results in a series of flashbacks to moments when he met and ultimately hired Don. Julia, Michael, I'm curious what you guys thought of these scenes. Julia, you and I have both bemoaned the series' Dust Bowl flashbacks—now for a brief tutorial on hobo hieroglyphics!—but I found myself enjoying these ones. They held the thrill of a prequel—finally, a glimpse into how Don Draper became Don Draper—and, at least for me, they were more Magician's Nephew than Phantom Menace.

The flashbacks tied nicely into the predicament Don faces in 1965. He may have just won the Clio, and the adulation of his industry, but we know that he's teetering on the edge of failure. It was surely no accident that the awards ceremony began with a very much off-the-wagon Duck Phillips making a fool of himself in front of his colleagues and competitors. Don's not quite there yet, but he's not that far away, either. In the wake of his Clio win, he drunkenly steals Jane Siegel's dopey cousin's idea for the Life campaign, wakes up with a waitress he doesn't remember even meeting, and forgets it's his Sunday with the kids. All that drinking is finally starting to catch up with Don in ways that are affecting both his personal and his professional lives. The haggard, hung-over Don sipping a hair-of-the-dog whiskey as he's reprimanded by Peggy is a far cry from the dogged young man who managed to parlay a fur sale into a job at Sterling Cooper. "Nothing says mink like mink"—that's a lot better than "Life is a bowl of cereal."

Speaking of Peggy, she's clearly a young Turk who is no longer content to sit idly by while her bosses take credit for her work. She feels her contributions to the Glo-Coat ad weren't properly recognized, and it sticks in her craw that she's forced to spend the weekend working on the Vick's account while the others celebrate. Julia, you're up next: It was exciting to see Peggy talk some sense into Don at the end of this episode. Do you think we're going to see more of that in coming weeks? Will she get Don back on track—and earn herself the respect she feels she deserves in the process? And what did you think of her interlude in the nude with Stan Rizzo, the fellow who put his pencil in the ceiling? 

So much more to discuss in this rich episode. Is Danny Siegel the next Don Draper? Something tells me not. And can't wait to hear what you guys thought of the hand-holding going on at the Clios (not to mention the big wet one Don planted on Joan after his win). Was that just titillating misdirection from the Mad Men writers' room, or is there something in the offing here? Joan doesn't seem particularly interested in either Don or Roger—she happily directs the cake mix woman to Don, and quickly dispatches Roger when he crosses the line from lubricated to morose. But, then again, Mad Men has been known to have more twists than Peyton Place

Finally, did you guys notice the Mets pennant hanging in Lane's office? An attempt to embrace his adopted city? I'm afraid it's going to be a long season, Lane—the Mets are about to go 50-112. 

By the dawn's early light,
John

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