Thursday, December 5, 2013
"MAD MEN": Wasted Partnership
"MAD MEN": Wasted Partnership
Looking back on Season 2 of ”MAD MEN”, it occurred to me that the rivalry between the series protagonist, Don Draper aka Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm) and one of the supporting characters, Herman “Duck” Phillips (Mark Moses), seemed like a complete waste of time . . . story wise. Do not worry. I am not criticizing the writing of Matt Weiner and his staff. Instead, I am criticizing the behavior of two male characters, who I believe had the potential to be a winning advertising team.
Following senior partner Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) second heart attack in the Season One episode (1.11) “Indian Summer”, one of Sterling-Cooper’s clients had advised Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), the firm’s other senior partner, to make Don Draper, who was the Creative Director, a junior partner. Which Cooper did at the end of the episode. He also ordered Don that as one of the partners, he should be the one to find someone to replace Roger as the Director of Account Services. In the following episode, (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, Don hired Herman “Duck” Phillips.
In the Season One finale, (1.13) “The Wheel”, Duck seemed appreciative of how Don’s creative skills landed Kodak as a client for the firm. Yet, the early Season Two episodes clearly made it obvious that storm clouds seemed to be on the horizon for the pair. In the Season Two premiere (2.01) “For Those Who Think Young”, Duck informed Roger that he believed younger copywriters with a bead on the youth of the early 1960s, should handle their new Martinson Coffee account, instead of Freddy Rumsen. Don dismissed the idea after Roger informed him, claiming that a bunch of twenty year-olds lacked the experience and knowledge on how to sell products. But Roger forced Don to go along with Duck’s plans and hire the latter’s protégées - Smith “Smitty” (Patrick Cavanaugh) and Kurt (Edin Gali). Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) father perished in the famous American Airlines Flight 1 crash on March 1, 1962 in the second episode of the season, (2.01) “Flight 1”. And when Duck convinced Roger that Sterling Cooper should dump the regional Mohawk Airlines as a client and use Pete’s personal plight to win the bigger American Airlines (who sought to change advertising agencies following the disaster) as a new client. Naturally, Roger and Cooper dismissed Don’s protests and went ahead with Duck’s idea.
In the end, both men lost and won their arguments. Instead of gaining American Airlines as a new client, Sterling Cooper ended up with no client altogether. In (2.04) “Three Sundays”, Duck informed the Sterling Cooper staff that their efforts to present American Airlines with a new campaign had been for nothing, when the airline fired Duck’s contact. Many fans saw this as an example that not only had Don been right about not dropping Mohawk, they also seemed to view Duck as someone who was no longer competent at his job. However, three episodes later in (2.07) “The Gold Violin”, Duck proved to be right about hiring the much younger Smith and Kurt as copywriters for the Martinson Coffee account. Their efforts led to a new client for the Sterling Cooper agency.
But despite the success and failures of both men, Don and Duck continued to duke it out over the heart and soul of Sterling Cooper. Only once, in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”, did both men seemed capable of working seamlessly as a partnership, when their efforts led to Sterling Cooper landing the Heineken Beer account. But this ability to work as a pair failed to last very long. One, both men seemed adamant that their particular expertise in the advertising business – whether it was Creative or Accounts - only mattered. Two, Don received most of the praise from Cooper and Roger for the success of the Martinson Coffee account in ”The Gold Violin”. Granted, Don tried to give some of the praise to Duck (who mainly deserved it), but he really did not try hard enough. And finally, Duck became so resentful of his failure to acquire a partnership in the firm that he maneuvered a takeover of Sterling Cooper by the old British advertising firm that he used to work for. The main conflicts between Don and Duck seemed to be twofold – Don’s preference to take the nostalgia route over the future in his advertising campaigns (unless forced to) over Duck’s willingness to look into the future of advertising (television ad spots and younger employees, for example); and each man’s belief that their respective expertise in the advertising field is the only one that matters.
Most viewers seemed to view Don as the hero of the conflict between the two men and label Duck as the villain. This preference for Don even extended to his belief that Creative is the backbone of the advertising industry. Personally . . . I disagree. Not only do I disagree with Don and many of the viewers, I would probably disagree with Duck’s view that advertising needed to solely rely upon images – especially television spots. Frankly, I am surprised that no one has considered that both Don and Duck’s views on the future of advertising are equally important. Don and other copywriters might create the message or jingo to attract the public. But it is Duck's (and Pete's) job to not only snag the client, but provide the client with the opportunity to sell his/her wares. Even if that means using television spots – definitely the wave of the future in the early 1960s.
But many fans seemed to be blinded by their own preference for Don over Duck. And both characters seemed to believe that their ideas of what the advertising business should be was the only way. The problem with both Don and Duck was that business wise, they needed each other. Look at how well they had worked together in mid-Season Two over the Martinson Coffee and Heineken accounts. Duck needed Don's creative talent. Don needed Duck's business acumen and ability to foresee the future in advertising. Unfortunately, both remained stupidly resentful of each other.
I could say that in the end, it worked out badly for Duck. At least for several years. Following his manipulation of the British purchase of the firm, Duck was immediately fired. He first worked for another firm called Grey and tried to recruit both Peggy Olsen and Pete Campbell. However, his alcoholism got out of hand and his career as accounts executive eventually ended. Duck eventually became a headhunter, who recruits talent for various Madison Avenue advertising firms. Don enjoyed better luck. While the British owners were preparing to sell Sterling Cooper, Don and a few others decided to leave the firm and create their own - Sterling Cooper Pryce Draper. Although his marriage to Betty eventually fell apart, Don remarried his secretary, Megan Calvet some two years later. However, Don's life nearly fell apart in Season Six, as his marriage to Megan went on the rocks. His daughter Sally discovered he was a first-class philanderer. But even worse, Don broke down during a meeting with Hershey's and revealed the details of his sad childhood to clients. This last act led his fellow partners to forced him to take an involuntary leave of absence for several months. While leaving the firm's offices, Don encounters headhunter Duck leading his replacement to the partners.
I do not know what will happen to Don in the series' last season. However, I suspect that his story arc with Duck is over. In fact, it has been over for quite some time. Pity. Considering Don's talent for creative advertisement and Duck's talent as an Accounts Man, they could have been quite a team. But whatever resentment the pair harbored against each other, they lost a golden opportunity to created a well-balanced professional partnership.