Welcome to the Convo, where ACG Blog contributors get together for discussion and analysis. Today’s topic is last night’s episode of “Mad Men,” “Chinese Wall.”
Shit finally hit the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce fan this week when word finally slipped out about Lucky Strike’s departure. I only wish Lane had not been across the pond for the little agency gathering where the news was broken. Instead, we were stuck with accountant Joe, who was able to muster about as much enthusiasm as a soft peach. Has anyone ever muttered “accounts payable” in an exciting way?
What was enjoyable about the whole Lucky Strike affair was the manner in which, one by one, SCDP’s top brass reverted: emergency. Ken abandons his fiancé and her parents at a dinner; Pete leaves his birthing wife at the hospital with Mr. Clearasil; Don dumps Faye to await his return on his couch — before cautioning her not to spill the beans, of course. They gather at the office, Coop too, and Roger puts on a nice little horse-and-pony show of “calling” Lee Garner, Jr. and arguing with him for a bit. Roger even pulls a Jayson Blair and calls in from North Carolina while he’s really at a hotel in town. Joanie, smartly, ignores his request that she meet him there, so he shows up at her pad instead. “I’m not the solution,” she imparts. “I’m another problem.” “So that night we got mugged, that was the last time?” he asks, fedora askew, on his way out the door. “Wish I’d known that.” Never fear, though; Joan and Roger are never truly done with one another.
Back at the office, of course, Roger is missing a veritable triage of clients. The episode covered only a few days, and so far it appears only one other client has pulled out after Lucky Strike — Glo-Coat. Don breaks his Clio in anger and, forgetting all about Pete’s covering up his identity theft by spiking a $4 million deal with North American Aviation the week prior, lets loose on Pete. “Who do you think you’re talking to?” Pete says before stalking off back to the hospital. Seriously, how long was Trudy in labor, a week? Have the freaking baby already! While Pete waits, Ted Shaw Chaugh drops off a rattler and a proposition — C#1 at the firm of CGC is retiring, and Ted wants Campbell to be the new C. Pete doesn’t really have time to consider the proposition, but you know it will weight heavily on his mind next episode as he realizes he has a family to take care of and a firm potentially collapsing.
Desperate, Don begs Faye for the name of some clients who are adrift or unhappy with their current ad men. The ethical standards in this industry are low enough, she says, choosing not to make the obvious comparison with Don’s ordering her to keep a lid on the Lucky Strike bombshell. She storms out of his office, and Megan promptly moves in. She’s an artistic person, and one day she’d like to do what Don does — but first, she’d like to do Don. Shockingly He sleeps with her, shades open, not caring if the rest of Manhattan sees. Everything about Megan is suspect; is she some deep-cover operative placed at SCDP by one Ted Chaugh, or is she really just a slutty artist secretary? It’s worth noting that her hair, previously a tight bun like Joan, is now fluffier, like Peggy. Has she heard the rumor that Peggy got where she is by sleeping with Don and is now trying to replicate that? Whatever the case, Don returns to his apartment to find Faye slipping a note under the door. She’s gotten Heinz interested, she says, her ethics violated for a man who just violated her relationship. In that moment Faye crumbles. She had been the first woman to really stand up to Don; I’m not having any of that I’m in charge BS! In the end, though, Faye proved willing to compromise her professional ethics for him.
Peggy, as usual, had a compelling subplot. She’s finally hooking up with Abe, who apparently didn’t completely torpedo his chances with that little ditty against corporate America. He’s adventure-seeking, and shows up with a COD for Peggy — and the C doesn’t stand for cash. Stan seems to be jealous, or at the very least ignorant, and decides that the uncertainty at SCDP has provided him with an opportunity to finally seduce Peggy. She pushes him away, but he retaliates later by not telling her about lipstick on her teeth during a big meeting with Playtex. Obviously she was nevertheless convincing; Peggy lands the account without any hesitation from the clients. Hopefully this is something she can trot out later when Don claims she never does anything. This one was all Peggy. The only troubling thing was her mischievous smile after Stan left; was it merely a one-upmanship deal or is there some sexual tension developing there? I hope not, because I like Abe a lot more than Stan.
As much excitement as this episode contained — Lucky Strike is gone! Peggy’s nailing Abe in her office! Pete’s a father (again)! — it still lacked much of the deeply engrossing character interiority that marks all the truly memorable “Mad Men” scenes. The closest we came was with Roger and Joan, but even their conversation seemed restless, the topic swerving from Roger’s mistake to Joan’s pajama choice and back again. Listen, as long as she doesn’t look like cotton candy, Joan can wear what she likes to bed, thank you very much. Otherwise this episode was largely exposition. There’s nothing wrong with exposition, but hopefully it will be utilized for maximum effect for the final two episodes of the season.
Some final notes: Danny “Hobbit” Siegel, unseen for several episodes, returns to provide a cheap gag and show off his apparently considerable pipe aficionado. Harry Crane had a total of two lines and managed to steal every scene he was in; Rich Sommer is fantastic and criminally underused. And does Stan own anything other than polo shirts?
When one thing dies, another is born. “Mad Men” was all about death and birth last night, but a little more on the death side. As Pete became a father, albeit from a safe distance, the proverbial house of cards fell down for Don and the rest of the staff at SCDP.
Things that caught the axe: Lucky Strike and Glo-Coat accounts; Roger and Joan’s prolonged fling; poor David Montgomery, some ad man Roger hates; and Don’s uncharacteristic stretch of fidelity.
But on the upside, a few births happened: Pete’s daughter (obviously) and Peggy’s love life and ability to sell a pitch.
This episode felt like a long time coming, but that doesn’t mean I was looking forward to its arrival. I was starting to feel uneasy about Don’s growing ability to steady his ship, and if I’m feeling the unease, lord knows Don must be, too. His new focus on becoming a better man was tested severely when the future of SCDP suddenly quaked and, as so many hip hop divas have warned us, once a cheater, always a cheater. Megan presented herself practically on a platter and Don, being a connoisseur, couldn’t say no to trying a new dish. I’m pretty bummed about this development, especially after he tried to convince Faye to give up on her silly ethics. She called him on it, and look what she gets.
It’s hard to know what the ending of this story is, since Faye relented and they cuddled up at the end of the episode. I’m really pulling for these two, but she deserves better.
Meanwhile, Peggy was cuddling up with Abe (finally!), who seems to have learned some game since we saw him last. She looked so darn cute in her beach clothes that I couldn’t help but smile when she was forced to sit on Abe’s lap. I was also happy to see her successfully sell a Don-style pitch for latex gloves, even with lipstick on her teeth. I just hope they didn’t buy the ad just out of pity for poor Pegs.
Roger is at a new low, chuckling over the death of David Montgomery, pretending he didn’t know about the impending loss of his only account, pushing himself on Joan and looking disdainfully upon poor Jane. Even Bert had some spicy words for Roger: “Lee Garner never took you seriously because you never took yourself seriously.” I feel like Roger is this close to another heart attack or being found in a gutter. Something’s gotta give, and coming home to a box of self-congratulatory memoirs probably didn’t make him feel that much better.
We’ve passed the midway point in the season, so as we barrel toward the finale, I’m a little scared to see where we go. This season has been a little painful to watch, so I hope we get some bright spots soon. Too bad they couldn’t show us Don’s trip to The Beatles concert last week!
A lot happened this episode, yet it somehow felt a bit boring. For a show that consistently wows its audience with its ability to defy expectation, this was a particularly predictable installment. Maybe that was the point, though. Maybe Matthew Weiner and co. are trying to throw us off. After all, when it comes to “Mad Men,” what could be more unexpected than the expected?
Although I had hoped last week’s episode marked a maturation point for everyone, especially Don and Roger, I suppose it wouldn’t be “Mad Men” without horrible, self-sabotaging decisions on the parts of both these fine man-boys. Of course, Don Draper would recoil from real intimacy, cheating on Faye with sexretary Megan; of course, Roger would refuse to ‘fess up to his knowledge of the Lucky Strike crisis and run to Joan for comfort; of course, the employees and affiliates of SCDP would all display some questionable moral values — scalping clients at a funeral, asking others to compromise long-upheld business ethics, giving in to those requests.
The characters are willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary in the name of their various pursuits. But the question remains: What, exactly, will be necessary? I may have been a little…whelmed by this episode, but I get the feeling it was the calm before the storm.
Predictions for the final two episodes: There’s a good chance I’m reading too much into these signs, but, for a couple of reasons, I think SCDP is going to come out of this disaster just fine. As we all know, this show has no problem writing out fairly major characters (Can we start a campaign to bring back Sal?); it would’ve been fitting enough for Trudy’s labor to end in the death of either her, the baby, or both of them, foreshadowing the death of the fledgling agency or the family the principals have created there. Instead, she had a long, extremely difficult birth, but everything turned out all right. To me, this symbolizes the rebirth of SCDP, albeit after an arduous battle.
My money says these guys land Heinz, a relatively small company that we all know blows up and goes on to unleash John Kerry on the world. Like Jane’s cousin (or, as I like to call him, Lamest-Buffy-Villain-Ever), it’s standing at the back of the room with its hand up, waiting to be noticed amidst the mass of other accounts. SCDP is going to be the agency to notice it.
Vanessa Van Landingham
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