Monday, October 04, 2010

"Mad Men" Ep. 4.11: "Chinese Wall"

Oh, show. Just when it seems like you’ve put Don on the path to redemption, you have to (1) throw him into a crisis of catastrophe-level proportions (2) remind us what a selfish SOB he is when push comes to shove.

I’m not talking about the shagging of yet another secretary, disappointing as that was: count me among the naive few who really hoped and believed that the final shot last week of Don gazing at the comely Megan did not mean he was about to sleep with her. I stand corrected. I have to say, though, that I can’t quite figure out Megan’s game. Her seduction of Don seemed very purposeful—but to what purpose? Becoming the next Mrs. Draper? Or (more likely) the next Peggy Olson? Or some other, unknown motive? Whatever it is, please let it be something more interesting than boss-worship because I’ve had enough of women falling at Don’s feet. It's as if the writers are trying to make up for Don's dry spell during the first half of the season by having all the women now bend over backwards to please him.

Which brings me to what *was*, for me, the biggest disappointment of the night: that Don pressured Faye to give him inside info on poachable clients, and that Faye ultimately caved. Boooo! It wasn’t the first time Don’s tried to get her to breach that particular ethical wall. (Query: is “Chinese wall” still an acceptable phrase?) But he wasn’t so desperate before, and he didn’t push as hard as he did this time. I cheered when she initially told him where to get off, only to groan later when she appeared in his hallway. It was only too clear, even before she spoke, what was in that envelope: her professional integrity. And his. Check that – Don’s never had any integrity. He talks a good line about separating work from his personal affairs, but in reality he doesn’t do anything of the kind.

Still, if there’s anyone who makes Don’s failings pale in comparison, that would be Roger Sterling. Roger’s never been more pathetic than he was tonight, in the midst of SCDP's meltdown, from his charade over the loss of Lucky Strike to his whiny, self-pitying plea to Joan. I feel no sympathy for him, yet it was no pleasure watching him visibly deflate over the course of the episode. He also looked about ten years older by the end—old and tired and defeated, without a trace of his usual dapper nonchalance. Why do I have a sinking feeling that Jane narrowly prevented, or perhaps only delayed, an early widowhood, and that Joan’s carrying a baby that may never know its biological father? Maybe my fears are unfounded; Roger doesn’t strike me as the suicidal type. But he's never before been made to see with such brutal clarity the utter uselessness of his existence.

Meanwhile, as Roger skulked and sulked, his colleagues hustled in trying to keep the firm afloat—none more so than Pete. Even as his baby was being born, he was frantically trying to save his other baby (no, not Peggy’s): SCDP. But in so doing he had to confront the flip side of mixing family with business, and his reward—or punishment—for not building that particular firewall was that smarmy vulture, Ted not-spelled-Shaw. I’ll give this much to Ted: he knows to lay the butter on thick with Pete. I don’t think it’ll work, though. It didn’t when Duck had a try last season, and Pete’s got so much more invested in the new Sterling Cooper than he did in the old one.

The one drop of cheer in this cauldron of stress was, of course, Peggy’s radiant afterglow. It's cute to see her so genuinely into someone who's also genuinely into her. She’s not proving to be much better than her colleagues about keeping her professional and private lives separate, but the effect seems to be benign, at least so far. That is, if you discount Stan putting the moves on her. Now there’s a man who doesn’t know the meaning of boundaries. And yet for all his crude asshattery, it only amuses me that he so clearly has a thing for Peggy.

Best line: Uh, I can't recall any for this week. This was a pretty serious episode all around, Peggy's amours aside. Best cheap gag was the midget copywriter raising his hand to ask a question and being literally overlooked.

Random notes:

-Maybe it’s just because we (the audience) already knew what the score was with Roger and Lucky Strike, but his phony-phone conversation with Lee Garner, Jr. didn’t “ring” true at all (sorry, couldn’t resist)—it sounded as fake and stilted as...well, as it was. I’m surprised that Cooper didn’t notice him holding down the receiver. Is it possible Cooper did notice but didn’t say anything?

-First time we’ve seen Jane Sterling in a while. And for the first time, I found her rather endearing. Of course, what she meant as a sweet gesture—a vanity press printing of “Sterling’s Gold”—felt at that particular moment like a mockery of Roger’s entire life. It had to have stung. Almost do I feel sorry for the man- but no. He had every advantage in life, and he chose to fritter it all away. Cooper’s assessment was spot-on. How can anyone take a man seriously who won't take himself seriously?


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