Before I get into the meat and potatoes of Sunday night’s occasionally wonderful, often disjointed episode of ‘Mad Men’ (which was all about awards shows, aired on the night it took home the Best Drama Emmy – Coincidence? I think not), I wanted to talk about a single moment. In this scene, Don Draper is interviewing a new potential employee (who’s connected to Roger’s wife Jane in some convoluted way) played by former Nerd of Doom Danny Strong. Don offers the young man freelance work, after inadvertently stealing a slogan from him in a drunken haze. The young man shoots back: “Freelancing isn’t work.” I couldn’t help but laugh. And then cry a little.
(For those of you playing at home, if Strong becomes a regular cast member he’ll be the second ‘Buffy’-verse alum, after Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Pete Campbell. Kartheiser memorably essayed the role of Angel’s doomed son Connor on 28 episodes of the ‘Buffy’ spin-off ‘Angel.’ If we’re talking about the larger Whedon-verse, then we also have to take into consideration Christina Hendricks, who memorably played Our Mrs. Reynolds on two episodes of ‘Firefly.’ Geek rant over.)
The episode itself, called “Waldorf Stories,” feels a little wobbly, but isn’t weird enough to keep you on your toes. The long and the short of it is this: Don is becoming more of a drunk, Roger Sterling is fading fast (he’s even writing his memoirs), and we see some not-particularly-enlightening flashbacks to how Roger and Don met and became colleagues. (Seeing Jon Hamm sport that goofy smile is probably the most disconcerting thing in the entire episode.) As far as narrative momentum, there’s virtually nothing. I’m trying to figure out what exactly to recap, since the entire episode puts the forward story arcs on hold for a second so that the boys can accept their advertising award and the ‘Mad Men’ creative masterminds (creator Matt Weiner co-wrote the episode) can pause and reflect on how clever they are – It turns out, very.
More interesting is the subplot about Peggy teaming up with a chauvinist, nudist illustrator for a campaign. By the time that situation reaches its boiling point – the two of them get locked in a creative tug-of-war inside a rented hotel room – the denouement of taking their clothes off isn’t exactly shocking. What is shocking is how much more engaging this subplot is than the actual meat of the episode. Aside from some flimsy flashbacks, it leaves much to be desired. (And the only way we can even tell they’re flashbacks is by Roger’s straighter and taller hair and, again, Don smiling.)
But then again, in the meta-universe of ‘Mad Men,’ maybe this is the point of the episode. About the last ten minutes are spent with Don acknowledging what he had done after a post-awards show bender, like sleeping with several women and inadvertently stealing the young man’s ad campaign. The episode’s editorial style, which jumps rather haphazardly between past and present and between whole stretches of time in the current storyline, seems to mimic this sensation. (Although, hey, it’s good to see Cosgrove back!) It’s just that, at the end, the hour feels like one of the blips on Don’s drunken radar; it’s hard to remember a day later.