Mad Men: Naked AmbitionS

The sweet smell of success hung in the air when Don Draper won a Clio award on Mad Men. However the stink of ambition was also ubiquitous and the things people will do to get ahead were frightening.

The quote of the night goes to Roger Sterling, as it so often does. "Be careful what you wish for because you'll get it and people will get jealous and try to take it from you." This principle was basically in effect all night as characters at different stages of their careers became the things that they once loathed or loathe the things that they once were. This is especially the case with Don, but before we see where he ended up, let's see how he started with Sterling Cooper in the first place.

We always knew that Roger Sterling plucked Don Draper out of obscurity at a fur shop and made him into a star, but we had no idea it happened quite like this. Flashbacks are so handy! We meet Don all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, a young Korean war vet just trying to make a splash in the world and he'll do anything—including erasing his own identity—to get there. But the Don that we meet isn't the Don that we know. He's just as intelligent and still an excellent pitchman, but he's humble and eager to please. Willing to do anything to get ahead, he slips his portfolio into the box of a fur he sells Roger. When Roger gives our beloved Joanie a fur (Joan of the hair down and big cleavage, not the updo and buttoned-up Joan we lust after now), he finds Don's surprise.

Roger thinks this is a tacky tactic and he doesn't return Don's subsequent calls and blanches when he finds Don loitering in the lobby of his office building waiting for a "chance" encounter. Don eventually persuades him to take a very boozy lunch (well, it was 10am, does that constitute as brunch?) where Roger drunkenly hires Don. (We interrupt this broadcast with an update. Roger did not hire Don, Don just pretended he did and assumed Roger wouldn't remember and this is how he got his job. We apologize for any confusion.) It turns out to be the best mistake Roger ever made. But it's Don's cockeyed grin that ends the episode, as he looks up through the ceiling of the elevator. His career is on the rise and he's going to the top, and he couldn't be more delighted. This is what he always wished for.

Well, like Roger said, he got what he wished for and now jealous people are trying to take it away from him. First there's the idiot cousin of Roger's wife Jane, who comes in with a portfolio full of the same exact ad in different iterations. "The cure for the common car. The cure for the common beer." After affecting the airs of a pipe-smoking creative type he levels with Don, he just wants a job and he'll work hard to get it. He's a young striver, just like the young Mr. Draper. Still, Don laughs him out of the office with a sneer. Peggy is also trying to take some of the credit from Don's Glo-Coat campaign, and she's bruised that she didn't get invited to the Clios and that Don never thanked her. Even worse, Don takes her down a peg (ha!) and reminds her that she doesn't have that much experience and she better learn to work with Rizzo, the new sexist hipster art director.

No, no one can touch Don right now, who is on top of his game and on top of the world. He's all blithe arrogance and quick disdain for everyone around him, especially once he gets to the Clio ceremony. After running into rival Ted Chaough (pronounced Shaw, much to Roger's amusement) and old chum Ken Cosgrove, Don watches another old friend.

It's Duck Phillips, the old Sterling Cooper exec that Don gave the heave-ho to in season two. It's sad to see Duck back on the sauce and making a fool of himself once again. Don laughs at someone less fortunate than he is, but what he doesn't even realize is that he has become Duck Philips. He's just a divorced ad exec with a drinking problem who people talk about behind his back. Just like Duck, all he has is his work, and right now that's going swimmingly, but pretty soon he'll just be a rambling idiot at an awards show, being forcibly removed by security while Roger's wife's cousin sips a Tom Collins across the room and snickers at him.

But right now, Don's a big winner. He and Roger both held hands with Joanie, their good luck charm, under the table and, dang nabbit, he won. He takes home a trophy—probably about the same time Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner's acceptance speech was being interrupted by the house bad at last night's Emmys—with a drunken grin and a handshake. When a scared secretary shows up to tell the crew that the people from Life cereal are waiting for a delayed meeting, Don—riding the adrenaline high of walking across the dais—decides to take the meeting rather than stagger to the after party.

There is one good way to tell that Don Draper is out of control: his forelock falls forward. Yes, whenever Don gets too drunk or too angry that little piece of hair right about his forehead falls down closer to his right eye. It's like the opposite of the power curl that Superman always sported in the middle of his brow. This little piece of errant hair also reminds us of Dick Whitman, who didn't have the shellacked cut of Don Draper and let himself run a little bit wild, either because he was more free or just didn't know to buy the good hair product that would keep everything in place. Anyway, Don was so drunk at this meeting, that his forehead was practically covered in hair.

Convinced he's the king of the world, Don runs the meeting and when the client doesn't like his initial idea, he decides to just rattle off a bunch of others. It's as if he was saying, "I'm so good at my job I can do this half-drunk and at a moment's notice. I don't need any of these good people around me. I'm Don Motherfucking Draper and I just won a Emmy Clio and I don't even need time to think to come up with your slogan." The problem is that he's so far gone that he unintentionally plagiarizes the "cure for the common breakfast" idea from Roger's wife's cousin. The same idea he scoffed at earlier in the afternoon.

From there it gets even worse. Don heads to the Clio after party where he gets even more drunk. So drunk he obnoxiously hits on psychologist Faye, who looked so stunning in her party dress that I didn't even recognize her at first. The only thing that could have made the outfit better was a hat, even though it would have been totally inappropriate for the occasion. While shooting Don down for what seems to be the millionth time, Faye says even drunk he's still the "same old Don Draper."

But that's where she's wrong, this is a totally new Don Draper. Sure he still thinks he's better than everyone, he's still sullen and withdrawn, he's still terse and demanding, but something is missing. Don is starting to come unraveled. Without a home life, without his perfect wife and his perfect little children Don has nothing to keep him together, no shiny pomade to keep that forelock in place. It's as if that desire to get everything he wanted, the attaining of his goals, was all that kept him grounded. Well, he got it all! He is partner of his own firm, he had the wife and kids and the pretty house in the suburbs. Now it's all gone, but it's not that someone took it from him, it's that he ruined it for himself.

Now he's just trying to punish himself with continued bad behavior. He takes home a drunk (and slightly busted) floozy from the Clio party and as the light fades on him as he goes to sleep and rises on him again, we see that he's brought home an even worse floozy, some skanky waitress named Doris who he picked up while giving the busted girl the kiss off at a diner. Yeah, Don, we're sure she was your sister. To make things even worse, Betty is on the phone telling Don he slept through his scheduled visit with the children. He's already rattled when Doris calls him by his real name, Dick. Whoa!

Don scuttles off to the bathroom in his boxer shorts, the pathos the only thing keeping us from raping his nearly naked body with our eyes (yum!). The funny thing about this scene is that the last time we saw a shot of the light going out and coming up again on Don was when he spent the night sitting awake in Anna's living room after learning she had cancer. Then he was easing into Dick Whitman in a good way, full of the best (if selfish) intentions and with a heart full of love. He was trying to find a way to keep the one tenuous connection to his past alive before abandoning it forever.

Maybe that is the light that went out inside Don, because now the sunrise shot is the sad opposite of the one at Anna's house. Here is a woman he knows nothing about, whose name he had to read off a name tag. He doesn't love her like he loves Anna. It's not that Dick Whitman is coming back, but that Don Draper is crumbling and Dick is oozing through the cracks of the carefully constructed veneer. When Don cowers behind the bathroom door, he knows something is horribly wrong. It's the same old Don Draper destroying himself. But it's not. The problem is that Don Draper has taken on a life of his own. In order to get ahead he put on this convenient, well-bred mask of success. The Don Draper artifice smothered out his real character. It supplanted that wide-eyed young man full of good ideas and naked ambition with a liquored-up chump who squandered everything good he had in his life for a bunch of drinks and a few flings on the side. And he was an asshole about it too. Yes, Don Draper is a Frankenstein that the real Don—the Dick Whitman underneath—doesn't know how to stop. It is no longer a mask, it is his whole identity.

Don's ascent to success at the end of the episode is ironically mirrored by his descent here. When Don retires to the couch in his bathrobe the light changes on his sleeping body again, but this time it is fading to black. That spark we saw in the elevator is finally snuffed out. Let's hope that it's the glorious fire of Don Draper being extinguished, but I'm afraid it's the opposite. It's that part of Don that knows right from wrong, how to treat people with respect, and how to be thankful for what he's got finally being blown out. It's Dick Whitman passing away, taking his conscience with him. Without that all Don has is his hubris, the sort of pride that is scorned by the gods.

Thank God Peggy arrives to clean up the mess.

The last time we saw Peggy at Don's apartment was on Thanksgiving when she messed up her stunt with the women fighting over the last turkey in a grocery store. "Fix it," Don barked through the door before slamming it in her face. Now it's the complete opposite. Peggy, acting as Jiminy Cricket, tells Don about the slogan he stole from Jane's cousin, a hack slogan at that. She's barking, "Fix it."

And Don does. He calls in Jane's cousin for a meeting and offers him $50 for his idea as "freelance work." The kid is not biting, he wants a job. It's the same tenacity we saw in Don when trying to get to Roger Sterling, but this time Don has contempt for it. Not only does Don hate what he once was, the scrambling the great Don Draper had to do to get ahead, but he's wary of this kid, afraid that even a connected hack like this might one day supplant him. Maybe the last embers of Dick are still rattling around in there, because he eventually hires the kid. I can't wait to see how this one works out.

After the kid gets hired, Don pawns him off on Peggy, who has to lead him around the office, just like Joan did for her on her first day, the very first episode of Mad Men. It's been quite a journey for Peggy, from the scared little secretary to the confident copywriter. Don might have knocked her down at the beginning of the episode, but by the end she's the one steering the ship for her beleaguered captain.

This evolution might have something to do with her relationship with Rizzo, the horrible new art director. She's not palling around with her buddy Joey anymore. This guy is a real pro, but he's also a step down. He'd rather try to impress the secretaries with his clip reel, look at Playboy, and avoid Peggy. When Don orders them to have a campaign ready by Monday, all Peggy can do is corral him into a hotel room for the weekend to hammer out their ideas. After more hours of him putting her down and slagging her off, she's sick of his petty games.

This is something that always intrigued me is that the guys who are always the biggest horn dogs, looking at porn and talking about fucking chicks, are often also the worst misogynists. That seems to be the big problem with Rizzo. He doesn't want to work with Peggy because he thinks it's below him to collaborate with a woman and he'd rather pin his lack of inspiration on her lack of ideas than his own laziness. Then, when that doesn't work, he insults the way she looks, saying that even if she were naked, he wouldn't want to look at her.

Back in the day our blushing Peggy would have demurred and stammered away from a confrontation, but something different is awakening in her. Now she calls Rizzo out on his shit and tells him to put his money where his mouth is. When he does, she's realizing what she so often does, that male ego and the masculine domination of the workplace is nothing but a joke. Once Peggy makes Rizzo live out his naturalist dogma, she sees that he very visibly does enjoy looking at her naked (and he should, she looked better this episode than she ever has). Not only that, but her ideas can get his juices flowing in other areas as well.

But it gets out of hand and Peggy goes from being confident and badass to being a bit of a, ahem, prick. She becomes, as Rizzo says, the smuggest bitch in the universe. That might be a bit of an overstatement from a woman-hating pig, but when she's picking on his endowment on Monday morning, it might be a little bit true. Just like Don, Peggy was once a striver and she seems to be on the same sad trajectory. She's letting her confidence become arrogance and she's letting work take over her life, giving up her weekend for a chastely naked night in a hotel room with a guy who doesn't want to fuck her because she's too good at her job. Peggy better be careful, or the little light inside her that we love is going to roar into a flame that scorches her.

While we're talking about people repeating the mistakes of their mentors, let's talk about Pete Campbell. As Roger Sterling continues to behave, as Lane Pryce says, like a child, its up to Pete to carry the load. After all, Roger is looking into the past, obsessed with his accomplishments. Even when it comes to Don's award, Roger doesn't want the current glory, he just wants some acknowledgment that what he did before is what mattered. Pete is the opposite of that, trying to build into the future.

But Ken stands in his way. As much as Roger is a child, Pete is a spoiled brat prone to, as Lane Pryce calls them, tantrums. When he finds out that Ken Cosgrove, his old rival, is going to sign on to be an account man at the firm, he gets his knickers in a twist because he won't be the rainmaker anymore. Eventually he comes around to the idea.

Now it is Pete's turn to gloat. While Ken was chosen as head of accounts last year over Pete, it's Mr. Campbell who is a partner and will be Ken's boss now. Instead of handling this with equanimity, Campbell lords it over Ken, like the smallest kid at the playground who has the best toys. He's becoming a mini version of Roger, but, man, does Pete look like an idiot with his hands behind his head. It's like the chair is just going to topple over at any second and he'll be ass over teakettle on the floor looking like the pompous jerk he always has been. But Pete isn't self-aware enough for that. Actually, none of our favorite characters really are. For all their great ideas in advertising, they have no clue that the sun is going down on them and pretty soon they'll be in moral darkness. With nothing but role models for destruction, they're all doomed.

Previously:
Mad Men: Back to Business
Mad Men: The Ghosts of Christmas Past
Mad Men: California Dreamin
Mad Men: Out of Focus Group
Mad Men: The Trouble with Sally