This is the new column in TNR’s weekly series of"Mad Men" episode recaps. Caution: It contains spoilers. Click here for last week's review.
"You've crossed the border from lubricated to morose," Joan told Roger in this season's sixth episode, "Waldorf Stories." Her polite but firm kiss-off nicely summarized the hour's dramatic trajectory, which showcased a fair amount of drinking by Roger and some Under the Volcano-level boozing by Don, plus brief side-trips into alcohol-related blundering by supporting players (notably an off-the-wagon Duck's heckling of the Emcee at the Clio Awards ceremony). Although “Mad Men” has never been coy about showing the destructive effects of alcohol (the often-unremarked flip side of the show's celebration of Rat Pack-era tipsy cool), this episode went much further, into The Lost Weekend territory.
As written by Brett Johnson and Matthew Weiner and directed by Scott Hornbacher, the episode was mainly about two things: drinking, and the professional evolution from student to mentor. Are these subjects connected? Yes, loosely. They're both about control. (Interesting that the two "big breaks" shown in this hour—Roger's hiring of Don and Don's hiring of Roger's trophy wife's cousin—were both sparked by a mentor's potent stew of inebriation and guilt.)
Don started to lose control of himself at some point during the awards ceremony (luckily for him, there were no speeches). Then he made an ass of himself at a subsequent meeting with the Life cereal people, plagiarizing a rejected job applicant's tired "Cure for the common [blank]" line when his original pitch didn't fly. And you notice how Don's introductory remarks at the meeting about the nature of nostalgia cannibalized his own celebrated pitch from Season One about the carousel? That's a pickled self-styled artiste's version of working the "Cure for the common [blank]" phrase over and over again. And Don's borderline-frenzied recitation of alternate catchphrases sounded very much like an alcoholic mentally running through a list of possible excuses for letting someone down—the smooth babbling of a hustler
Don, a visionary who ended last season at the peak of his powers, is now on the brink of decline. He's barely hanging on to everything he worked so hard to build. But his behavior this week was a nadir. When is this man not drinking? And he’s not the only character struggling to deal with the changes in his life. His mentor, Roger—who, as we saw in some deft
Pete was furious when he learned that his onetime rival Ken Cosgrove had been invited to rejoin their firm, and dressed down Lane Pryce (rightly so) for going behind a partner's back. Pete may be a priggish little jerk, but he's right about a lot of things, including the fact that he's entitled to more deference than Roger, Don, and Lane often give him. Peggy, meanwhile, was assigned by a drunk, curt Don to work up ideas for a new account with Stan, a sexist pig of an art director. Peggy quickly tired of being treated as a second-class citizen, and of Stan's bragging about nudism and his ogling of Playboy magazine, and pushed him to join her in a au naturel brainstorming session—a gambit that produced no
Last night's “Mad Men” had a subtext, too—the meaning and value of awards. It explored this topic with a light, clever sensibility that contrasted sharply with the sardonic attitude of Weiner's last TV venue, “The Sopranos” (which at one point showed a down-on-his luck TV