Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mad Men Season 4, Episode 11: Chinese Wall

"Every day, I tried not to think about what would happen if this happened."

It's bad news at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and nearly everyone is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  While Schrodinger's Lucky Strike account was both dead (to Roger and the client) and alive (to the firm) the lid has been lifted off the box and that poor little cat is paws up.  Roger may have thought if he didn't think about it, it would go away, but it doesn't work like that.  And now everyone has to deal with the consequences.  But first....

Peggy does not hold a grudge.  At least that's what Abe learns as he goes from persona non grata, to persona grata, valde grata, in a manner of minutes.  And it's hard to quibble with her decision.  Left wing leaning rabble rouser bent on destroying her business or not, Abe seems to have a good heart and is clearly not just physically attracted to Peggy but intellectually stimulated by her as well.  And if we learned anything from her failed relationship with her milquetoast ex-boyfriend, Peggy needs someone who can be her equal.

Ken and his wife Cynthia are having a nice dinner out with her parents when John Flory from BBD&O comes over.  John offers his condolences to Ken.  Ken thinks he's referring to the recent passing of McCann Erickson partner David Montgomery, but instead his father-in-law is referring to the not so well kept secret that Lucky Strike has left Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.  This is news to Ken, in fact it's news to everyone since Roger still hasn't said a thing.

Ken heads over to the hospital where Pete Campbell is awaiting a blessed event, the birth of his first child.  Ken is there to cast a giant pall over the experience, tellng the father to be that the firm is losing its biggest client.  Armed with this startling news, they go on red alert.  They call Don who was just about to make up for making Faye wait all day.  Don asks if they've spoken to Roger, but he's not reachable.  Don calls an emergency meeting at the office.  Babies, dinner with in laws, and sex can wait.

Fittingly, it's Roger who's the last to arrive at the meeting, considering he's the one with all the (withheld) information.  Faced with the truth coming out, Roger plows straight ahead and continues the charade.  He makes a fake call to Lee, has a fake conversation with Lee, and makes fake plans on how to try and fix things with Lee.  Roger cannot face reality, and so he continues to ignore it for as long as he can.  This is not grown up behavior.  An adult would deal with the problem.  But Roger has always been a spoiled child and so he approaches problems that way - hands over his ears, refusing to face the facts, hoping it will all magically disappear.

Pete is no child and he faces the reality of what losing Lucky Strike may mean for him and the agency.  But his father-in-law sees the news as an opportunity.  He tells Pete that he's been a topic of discussion over at Cutler Gleason and Chaough (who he knows works with on the Clearasil account).  Pete may be flattered, but he's not interested in giving up on SCDP quite yet.  Pete is loyal to Don, loyal to the agency, and convinced that CGC has no interest in him, their only interest is getting to Don.  And he may not be wrong.  Much has been made already of the rivalry between the two firms, and Ted and Don in particular.  Still, his father-in-law only wants what's best for his daughter and that's not to have his son in law working at a firm about to go under.

Roger continues the charade, calling from a hotel room, pretending he's at Lee Garner's office having unsuccessfully fought for the agency.  While he continues to hide from reality, the rest of the partners call and all-hands meeting to let everyone know what has happened and prepare to panic in direct relation to how secure they feel their job is.  Worrying that he'll be the victim of LIFO, Danny is pretty sure he's not long for SCDP.  Don gives a stirring speech to encourage the troops, but the reality is much dicier than he lets on.

In a meeting with his team, Don stresses that their main goal should be to keep the existing clients happy.  He tries to stay upbeat and positive, but when everyone but Peggy leaves he admits to being worried just how bad this will be for the firm.  Still, it is meaningful that he looks at the booze in his office and then ignores it to sit down and get to work.  The journaling, swimming Don is still trying to be a better man.

Roger calls Joan and asks her to come comfort him and she demurs, thinking he's in North Carolina at the Lucky Strike offices, not down the street hiding out in a New York hotel.  He tells her the truth, all of it.  How he knew for weeks and didn't tell her or anyone and how awful it's been keeping this secret, knowing that the world was about to end.  If he was looking for sympathy, he called up the wrong person, because Joan is furious at him and rightly so.  He can go wallow by himself

Peggy is brainstorming with her team for the upcoming Playtex pitch.  She's still in the afterglow from this morning's visit with Abe and Stan notices that she's giving off vibes.  He thinks it's because of the turmoil at the office - that worry and panic send women into heat.  He misses that the real reason for Peggy's mood just walked in pretending to be a courier.  I bet he has a package for Peggy Olson.  Later, when the "delivery man" is on his way out of Peggy's office, Stan figures it out.

While Peggy entertains her gentleman caller, the brain trust is going over the status of their existing clients.  Pete's contribution to the meeting is not snoring as he naps, but Bert actually comes up with a good idea - try and poach some of the recently departed David Montgomery's clients at his upcoming memorials.  Ghoulish, but savvy.  Don is called away from the meeting to take a call from Glo-Coat, the company for whose cutting-edge work Don won a Clio.  Apparently that does not weigh as heavily as the concern that SCDP may not be around in three months, and so Glo-Coat abandons ship.  Don gets mad, breaking the Clio on his desk then hurling what's left across the room mad.  Picking up a bottle mad.  He tells Megan not to let him overdo it and she understandably is not sure what that means for him.

Don comes back into the conference room pissed. He blames Pete for not keeping Glo-Coat happy and tells him that he's obviously distracted by Trudy's imminent delivery and he might as well just go to the hospital where his priorities are.  Yes, Don makes it sound like Pete is a failure for being preoccupied by the delayed birth of his first child.  Pete heads over to the hospital where he is greeted by Don's arch nemesis, the smiling, friendly, gift-laden Teddy Chaough.  Pete goes from one current boss who costs him a multi-million dollar account and then yells at him for no reason and runs right into the sweet, lovable boss everyone dreams about.  Put on your life-vest Pete, it's time to jump ship.

Since Joan wouldn't go to the hotel to see Roger, Roger came to her apartment.  He needed to see her, to be with her.  But Joan does not want him under these circumstances; she will no longer be his port in a storm.  He can't come and go as he pleases and he can't use her anymore.  He has a wife and that's it.  There won't be any more dalliances and Roger is sad to realize their last time was the night they were mugged and they'll never be together again.

At the end of a long miserable day, Faye comes into Don's office to commiserate.  She brings comfort and empathy, but what Don wants is leads on unhappy clients.  She works at other agencies, with other clients, and hears things.  Don asks her to tell him what she's heard that he could try and capitalize on.  But she reminds him of the Chinese wall that separates her persona life from her professional.  Don, who's exceeded his already high three limit drinks for the day, gets mad at her for not breaking a confidence and she gets mad at him for asking her to.

The funeral for David Montgomery is loaded with meaning.  What is a man's life, what did it mean, who cares that he's gone.  For David, it was about landing that next big client.  The eulogies talk about him being away for his daughter's birthday, spending months out of the country, all to wrangle that next big client.  While his coworkers give what they think are rousing, comforting speeches to his neglected family, SCDP are scouring the room looking for ripe fruit to pick.

Back at the office after the funeral, Don is wrung out.  Megan comes by and he asks her if she was the one who took the Clio out of the trash and she says she was.  She knows he's upset, but she thinks he'd want it someday.  He earned it.  Megan is trowing out a rope to a drowning man and he is grabbing it.  She flatters him, she tells him she'd like to do what he does, she tells him she spends all day thinking about him.  She puts her hand on his arm and looks seductively at him and then finally comes in for a kiss.  And that's why Ida Blankenship was a much better choice for him.  Poor Don, he just can't help himself.   Although, kudos for him for trying to stop before it went too far.  But Megan was not taking no for an answer, and he's only human.

After having sex with his secretary (aka, business as usual), Don heads home to find Faye there.  She's given some more though to what he asked her to do and Chinese wall or no, she cares about him and he's important to her so she'll violate some boundaries if it will make him happy.  She tells him about an unhappy client and then professes her feelings and one hopes that Don feels a little bad about what a cad he is.  But he probably doesn't.  


The episode focuses on separating work from pleasure and how inextricably connected the two are.  Both Pete and Ken have fathers-in-law who are (or were) also clients.  Don is sleeping with a consultant his agency uses and his secretary.  Roger wants to continue the affair with his secretary, without his wife who used to be his secretary finding out.  Ted Chaough comes bearing presents at the hospital for his client and a job offer for the client's son-in-law.  SCDP tries poaching clients at a business rival's funeral.  Peggy's coworker makes a pass at her.  There is life and there is work, but what happens when the two overlap to the extent that you cannot see any line of demarcation?

Either Dr. Miller is Jewish or she's picked up Yiddish living in New York because she says to Don, "oh look at that punim" sounding just like a Jewish bubbe pinching her grandchild's cheek.

Cute sight gag as the diminutive Danny is the only one raising his hand in the all-hands' meeting, but the head of accounting can't see him behind all his taller coworkers.

Peggy, in true Catholic fashion, is convinced that this (the loss of their biggest client) happened because she was happy.  God wouldn't let her have career fulfillment and a happy personal life, so in comes Abe, out goes Lucky Strike.

We sometimes see Bert as just an old man, whose best years are behind him.  But he immediately jumps on the fact that the upcoming funeral for the McCann Erickson accounts man presents an opportunity for them.  He also berates Roger for not doing a better job at keeping his only client, the one he inherited from his father, happy.

At David Montgomery's funeral, his business partner tells a story about landing Buick, a real coup for the ad agency.  After this huge victory, he turned to David and asked, "Is this the best thing we're ever going to do?"  The story concludes with Montgomery (who was missing his daughter's fifth birthday to land the account) said, no, his daughter was the best thing he would ever do.  The irony is lost on many of the mourners - the man missed this major milestone because of work, and many others no doubt.  He put work first and now what does he have to show for it, a room full of business-associates and competitors there to do even more business.  But we see that Don, and particularly new father Pete, hear the sadness behind the story of a man who put work first.

The only bit of good news comes courtesy of Peggy.  She was a nervous wreck before the Playtex presentation but Don trusted her and she prepared till she had the whole thing memorized to within an inch of its life.  Stan inadvertently helped her lose her nerves when he made a pass at her thinking that she was horny - not realizing that she didn't have a fling with a delivery boy but that the guy was her new boyfriend!  Stan does not take rejection well and does not mention to Peggy that she has lipstick all over her front teeth, but despite this she does a fantastic job in the client meeting and they love the pitch.


Peggy (to Abe): You never stop talking.

Don:  Every day, I tried not to think about what would happen if this happened.

Tom (to Pete):  I'm sure this agency was a thrill, but you've had your folly.

Peggy:  I'm not usually like this.

Don: We're gonna push ourselves shoulder to shoulder and we're gonna overcome this and succeed tenfold.  And it will be exhilarating.

Peggy: Every time something good happens, Something bad happens.

Joan:  You should've told me.   Why didn't you tell me?
Roger: I kept meaning to say something.  I thought I still had time.

Stan:  Since when do we have donuts?
Danny:  Condemned man always gets his choice of a last meal.

Al from Glo-Coat:  We appreciate everything you've done for us, But we've decided to take the account in a different direction.

Joan (to Roger):  I'm not a solution to your problems.  I'm another problem.

Don:  I'm used to having my ideas rejected, not me.

Faye:  You want a shoulder to cry on, fine.  You want to throw me to the wolves so you can save your neck, forget it.
Don:   I would do it for you.
Faye:  I would never ask.  I would never use you like that because I know the difference beetween what we have and this stupid office.

Peggy (to Stan): Why do you keep making me reject you?

Bert:  Lee Garner, Jr. never took you seriously because you never took yourself seriously.

Faye:   God, I'd think this place would be packed still.
Don: It's eight o'clock. There's only so much we can pretend like we're doing.

Megan:  I know you're angry, but I hope you're not afraid because you will get through this.
Don:  You don't know that.

Spoilery Observations (Don't read until you're caught up):

The story told at David Montgomery's funeral, where he asked David after landing a big car company, "Is this the best thing we're ever going to do?" is a recurrent theme.  What's the next big client, when will we reach the pinnacle of the profession.  Is there a top and what happens when you get there? The second half of the final season of Mad Men asks that question in a slightly different way - "Is that all there is?"

Tom tells Pete that Ted Chaough is a good guy and for the most part (other than him cheating on his wife) he is.  He was painted as a villain at first, a foil for Don.   But he became a more fleshed out character as the series went on and never did anything that wasn't in the best interest of his agency and his clients.

Ted tells Pete that Jim Cutler is due to retire, yet there he is when the merger happens and there he remains for a couple more years.  Until he wisely takes the money and runs after his failed coup in Season 7.

Pete tells Teddy "I don't drive" and Teddy offers to teach him.  Pete does take lessons in Ep. 5.05 Signal 30, but his inability to drive comes back to bite him when he crashes the Camaro in the Season 6 finale In Care Of by accidentally putting the car in reverse.

Oh, Megan.  You're such a difficult character to write about.  I really dislike everything about you but you get three more seasons and a big fat check by the end.  First you wanted to be a copywriter, then you wanted to be an actress, then you wanted to be a kept woman who dabbled in acting.  You were good as a copywriter, but it wasn't fulfilling.  You weren't good as an actress, but that didn't stop you from trying.  You got what you wanted but then you didn't want it anymore.  Were you that different from Don?

Roger blames Don for "dragging him into his amateur hour" when they had Lane Pryce fire them from Putnam Powell and Lowe-controlled Sterling Cooper so they were free to start the new firm at the end of Season 3.   He said he went along with Don out of friendship and it's ironic.  He left PPL when it was about to be sold to McCann Erickson, only to make a deal with McCann in Season 7 out of friendship with Don.  In the end, Roger did lose the company that bore his name all so he could stay with Don.

Joan keeps stressing that she and Roger can't do this anymore - the on and off affair - but we don't learn until later that the reason is she's keeping the baby and having Roger in her life would only complicate things more.

The scene where all the employees and partners come together to hear news about the agency is repeated throughout the series.  The announcement of the visit of the new head of creative from London, the announcement of the merger with CGC, the announcement of the death of Bert Cooper, the announcement of the closing down of the SCP offices.  Some times the speeches were well-received, other times they failed to satisfy.

Roger suggests that in light of the attacks on TV advertising of cigarettes, "Maybe it's a good time to get out of this business."  In the next episode, Don takes that idea and runs with it.  

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