Thursday, 18 November 2010

Mad Men 4.11 'Chinese Wall'


“No champagne… I’d say he’s got cancer.” – Freddy Rumsen

After the revelatory moments of recent episodes, Chinese Wall essentially dealt with the aftermath of the biggest of those recent bombshells – Lucky Strike’s decision to pull the account that was worth pretty much all of SCDP’s income.

The focus wasn’t just on where SCDP goes from here, although that thread is left tantalisingly dangling for the final two episodes of this sublime season to tie up, but also on how work has affected the personal lives of so many of the mad men.

The title is seemingly referring to the metaphorical wall so many of the characters have put up between their home lives and their work lives (in particular Faye) which has now had to be pretty spectacularly knocked down in the wake of this disaster.

When Ken’s dinner with his fiancé and her family is unpleasantly spoiled by the news of Lucky Strike’s defection, news quickly spreads like wild fire and Ken, Pete and Don’s evenings in particular are interrupted and essentially everything else takes a back seat as a late night meeting is called to find out exactly what is going on.

Not that it was needed, but to put into perspective just how critical this account was to SCDP’s survival the fact that the impending birth of Pete’s child became an afterthought, even to Pete himself, would give you an idea of what this could mean for the agency.

For an astute man, even though he may be an overgrown man-child, I’m really surprised at how naïve Roger was in thinking that he could keep a lid on this.

Don’s comment to Faye that he’d tried not to think about what would happen if they ever lost Lucky Strike before he headed in for the late night crisis meeting, proved that at least some people at SCDP knew they were hanging by a Lee Garner Junior shaped thread, which begs the question of why someone like Don didn’t do more to try and put some sort of failsafe in place.

This might have been due to aforementioned wall being there between work and personal but in some cases, notably Don’s, it clearly didn’t prevent the latter seeping into the former, and now the osmosis looks set to happen in the opposite direction ten-fold.

As the news broke around town, Pete was immediately presented with a chance to jump the sinking ship by his Father-in-law and whilst season one Pete probably would have leapt at the chance, season four Pete Campbell is a much more rounded character (more on that later).

The only person who wasn’t adversely affected personally by the news of Lucky Strike pulling out was the blissfully unaware Peggy, who finally succumbed to the rather sleazy and relentless advances of Abe Drexler.

Her tryst with her suitor seemed to agree with her though as she seemingly became insatiable, which was rather crudely picked up on by Stan back at the office. Peggy’s new found sexuality was also evident as she brainstormed her Playtex pitch with Stan and Danny.

As much as Peggy tries to keep an air of being a ‘good girl’ round the office, more and more we are seeing her outside of work as one of the more sexually liberated characters on the show.

With the cat well and truly out of the bag it was damage control time for the partners and although they thought Roger was on his way to North Carolina to make a last ditch plea, the troops needed addressing.

Roger’s lie was becoming more and more elaborate as he went and hid out in a hotel room when everyone believed he was on a rescue mission; Lane’s assessment earlier in the season that Roger Sterling is “a child” had never been more telling than when he, in spite of being one of the agency’s partners, decided to save face rather than do what’s best for his fledgling company.

It even seemed like Roger was using the bad news to try and get closer to Joan, going as far as confiding in her with his lie and begging to see her. It should have been hard to feel sorry for him given how many lives his deceit had played with but he cut such a sad-sack of a figure than it was impossible not to feel a twinge of sympathy for this fallen hero. Especially as Joan effectively ended their brief rekindling, leaving Roger at rock bottom. The news that he would never get to be with the woman he considers to be some kind of kindred spirit seemed to hit Roger harder than the loss of the account that was essentially keeping SCDP afloat; which as much of a pig Roger can be shows that he truly does love Joan.

Back at the office, Don’s pep talk to rally the troops was met with a muted response, but I guess it would be hard to be motivated by a speech that even the speaker doesn’t seem to believe.

It was nice to see another brief moment between Don and Peggy that showed that the relationship that was cemented back in ‘The Suitcase’ is still strong and although neither may necessarily feel comfortable enough to publicly show it that bond is still very real.

Bad news was definitely the order of the day in ‘Chinese Wall’ though and hot on the heels of Lucky Strike was news of Glo-Coat’s defection as well. The partners weren’t naïve enough not to expect it but losing Glo-Coat had to sting with Don just that little bit more after it was for them that he won his precious Clio award.

Don’s frustration wasn’t exactly well hidden as he destroys the Clio and then takes it out on Pete, who had given Glo-Coat the reassuring phone call earlier in the day.

When you consider what Pete knows and what Don had him do for him last week, you’d think that the last person Don would want to piss off right now would be Pete Campbell.

In light of the loss of Lucky Strike how seething must Pete be that Don had him essentially dump a $4 million dollar account just to protect his real identity. Pete isn’t an idiot though, because he knows that Don Draper, no matter how much he may resent the man and what he has been forced to do to cover up his lies for him, is more valuable to SCDP than any one account.

So it is for that reason that Pete will keep quiet when he is spoke to like crap by a man who he has covered for on more than one occasion, because without Don there isn’t just no SCDP, there is no S, C or P either; but it has to be eating him up inside.

Which is where we come to Pete having grown up so much since the moustache-twirling villain of season one – he has learnt to accept and deal with things not always being fair in this business rather than taking it out on those around him.

Pete was also able to resist the advances of Ted Chaough because he knows that this isn’t about him it’s about getting one over on Don. Season one Pete may have been tempted by this but season four Pete knows better. You may think Chaough having the front to turn up at the hospital where Pete’s wife is giving birth is slightly unsavoury but as we saw later when Don, Pete, Cooper et al attended a funeral just to drum up new clients, there is no sense of ethics in the advertising.

A fact that was further explored as Don attempted to use Faye to get a foot in the door with potential new clients. Their relationship clearly means more to Faye than to Don as she was completely offended he would ask such a thing of her, claiming she would never ask such a thing of him.

Don’s rationale that desperate times call for desperate measures didn’t fly with the good doctor though and his attempt to breach that wall she’d so expertly constructed between her personal and work life seemed to signal the breakdown of their relationship.

The severity of SCDP’s plight really became clear during that final summit of the episode between the agency’s key figures (minus Lane back in London) as Megan arrived with news of the birth of Campbell junior. News which was greeted with muted congratulations before talk turned back to crashing the funeral to steal accounts; work is everything to these men and comes before almost everything on the other side of that wall, even during a moment like the birth of your first child.

Whether Don had realised that Pete is someone he needs to be keeping sweet or not I’m not sure, but his reaction to Roger’s lack of interest in trying to secure new clients and defence of Pete angered Mr. Sterling.

Roger’s indignation at people’s reaction only served to mask the truth though, which is that he fears for his position within the agency. The reason being that, as everyone else pointed out, he only had one client to look after – and with that client now gone what does Roger Sterling bring to the table?

As the forlorn Sterling arrived home to his trophy wife Jane (who it was nice to see after a somewhat lengthy absence this season) a very bad day was capped off by a cruel twist of fate as copies of his memoirs arrived.

Jane’s assertion that she was so proud of him must have been the icing on the cake for Roger – he feels like he’s let everyone down even if he can’t admit it, because you can see that guilt all over his face. John Slattery gave an exemplary performance in this episode, relishing the chance to bring something else to the table as Sterling other than the boyish charm he normally exudes.

It is interesting to note the generic inscription Roger wrote into the copy of his book he signed for Jane, there is no passion there – he may have landed his trophy wife but it wasn’t the one he wanted.

In another cruel twist of fate, the episode ends with Don returning home to find Faye at his apartment, where she reveals she has broken her own rules (and wall) and secured Don a meeting with Heinz.

Don is grateful but you can see that guilt on his face as well because just hours earlier he was sleeping with new secretary Megan – if only Faye had called sooner, maybe their burgeoning relationship wouldn’t be about to fall apart.

Don’s bedding of Megan (so to speak as it was actually on the couch in his office) kind of came around quite quickly. I’d written in my notes that Megan taking the time to repair his Clio trophy, then Don allowing her to sit in and try and learn from him and Don even asking her about herself (something he has never done with a secretary before) showed that there was obviously something there.

Before I could make reference to that in an episode review though they pulled the trigger on the two of them sleeping together, which in a nice change of pace for Mad Men, Megan took control of and almost forced the issue with Don being the one trying to stay sensible and resist.

With the finale approaching the slow burn on the blossoming relationship between boss and secretary seems to have been abandoned, which is a shame because it would have been rewarding to see Don develop a meaningful relationship with a woman gradually. Sure he sort of did that with Faye but we all know where that one is now heading – we saw previously that Megan is good with Don’s kids (unlike Faye or any of the other women he’s been with this season), so could she be the woman to finally fill that void in Don’s life…?

Bullet Points:

- Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t that the first time we’ve seen Ken’s fiancé and her family? I’m not necessarily surprised they managed to get two what I would consider ‘name’ actors into two of those roles but I am surprised at how little screen time they got, especially the brilliant Ray Wise – he’s too good to be wasted in a minor, seemingly inconsequential role like this so I’ve go to think that we will be seeing more of the soon to be Mrs. Cosgrove and her family down the line.

Whilst not as well know as Ray Wise (recently brilliant on Reaper as The Devil), Larissa Oleynik played Ken’s fiancé Cynthia. Oleynik has appeared in 3rd Rock From the Sun and was of course in 10 Things I Hate About You but she is probably best remembered for playing the titular character on The Secret World of Alex Mack. And with Joe O’Connor on the show, who played Clarissa’s Dad on Clarissa Explains It All back in the day, Mad Men is turning into somewhat of a Nickelodeon reunion.

- Given that it was the episode that featured the (albeit unseen) birth of her child I was personally disappointed in the lack of Trudy in ‘Chinese Wall’ mainly because I need my Alison Brie fix.

In the context of the episode and its focus on the distance between work and family, I guess it worked not having Trudy appear on screen though; and at least I’ve still got this week’s Community double bill in my Sky+.

- There was a nice light moment in the middle of all the drama as the SCDP head of accounts asked if anyone had a question and little Danny raised his hand only not to be seen at the back of the room due to his height, or lack thereof.

Mad Men has been doing a brilliant job with visual gags like this of late – the scene the other week where Don had the staff disposing of Miss Blankenship’s body as his meeting went on had me in stitches.

- Megan is played by an actress called Jessica Pare – and as much as I enjoy writing my Mad Men reviews and exploring the social and psychological themes on the show, I’m going to undo all that more academic thinking with this next point – because I’m sure anyone who’s seen Hot Tub Time Machine will agree that she has one of the most appropriate surnames of all time, that is at least if it’s pronounced how it reads.

- Stan Rizzo continues to be one of my favourite characters on Mad Men, mainly due to the fact that he’s almost cartoonishly chauvinistic. His knowing look when Peggy realised she’d done her Playtex pitch with lipstick on her teeth was great.

I really hope Stan isn’t one of the casualties of the no doubt impending redundancies at the agency.

- The song over the closing credits was Welcome To My World by Jim Reeves, which rightly or wrongly, always makes me think of that dreadful Thomson Holidays ad.

Mad Men continues Wednesday @ 10pm on BBC4


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