Mad Men: "Chinese Wall"
B+

Mad Men: "Chinese Wall"

B+

Mad Men

"Chinese Wall"

Season 4, Episode 11
B+

Mad Men

"Chinese Wall"

Season 4, Episode 11

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This was an episode of somber gatherings and closed-door intimacies, sexual and otherwise, and the way such moments force characters to divide their loyalties. The title—“Chinese Wall,” a reference to Dr. Faye’s description of the compartmentalization her job requires a few episodes back—carries some ironic weight since this week was all about the walls that separate aspects Mad Men characters’ lives getting destroyed, undermined or, at the least, disrespected. Whether that works out well for those doing the destroying remains to be seen, but it’s a tricky business being the servant of two lives. Don’s known this for a long time. Now it seems like others are about to get a small taste of what it means to lead the double life he’s created for himself.

Roger’s living the most Don-like existence this week, acting out one side of a conversation with Lee Garner Jr. as he feigns shock at SCDP losing the Lucky account then holing up in a hotel room as he pretends to go to Raleigh. He’s used to lying to his wives, even comfortable with it, trying again this week to initiate a more permanent arrangement with Joan. But lying in business is new to him. The loss of Lucky gives the other partners—who arrive at SCDP wearing everything from pajamas to maternity-ward stubble—a chance to call him on coasting, and feeling himself above SCDP all year, an attitude his “amateur hour” crack suggests he’ll have a hard time breaking. His bad day ends with the arrival of his copies of his memoir, Sterling’s Gold, for which he can barely muster any enthusiasm, signing the most half-assed dedication imaginable to his wife. The thought that the life it depicts, however romanticized, has ended must surely cross his mind.

Pete could never be accused of not taking SCDP seriously enough, but his interaction with his father-in-law suggests that even those close to him never did. In spite of Pete’s success bringing in and keeping clients—a success Don acknowledges even after he chews him out for the Glo-Coat loss—he still has to listen to Trudie’s father call it a folly. And if he’s slightly repulsed by his competitor’s attempt to woo him away, he must also be a bit tempted. He’s a father now and he has to provide security for his family, whether he’s passionate about what he does or not. In the best scenario, he’ll be able to stay at the job he loves and be a family man, but the job he loves might change beneath his feet, or disappear. Part of what makes Pete such an interesting character is the way Vincent Kartheiser gives him a slightly alien edge. But this moment makes him seem downright, to use an odious TV term, relatable. Like Roger, he now as a secret to keep. Unlike Roger, he also has a decision to make.

The birth of Pete’s daughter—an event he notes with a brief burst of glee before noting “We should get going”—rhymes nicely with the funeral SCDP, and presumably others, attend to pick off the clients of the deceased. It’s strange and a little distressing to see Don and the rest reduced to carrion tactics in the wake of Lucky’s departure, and the events of the funeral don’t make their actions any less macabre. Both eulogies emphasize how much the departed David Montgomery cared about his families, and both sound like they’re protesting too much, calling on small moments and material objects to make up for years of likely neglect. Actually, strike the word “likely.” “You were there before he made partner and then you gave him to us,” one says. It doesn’t sound like Mrs. Montgomery got a fair trade in return and it’s not hard to see Don and Pete already heading down the same path.

But at least, for the moment, Pete has something to be happy about even if the world around him is falling apart. So does Peggy. The shot of Elisabeth Moss floating down the hallway glowing with post-coital bliss is one of my favorite images from the show. She’s in the grips of such a strong feeling that not even SCDP’s troubles can undo it. She waxes erotic thinking of a campaign for Playtex gloves that’s as infused in its own way with autobiographical details as Don’s famous Kodak Carousel pitch. She may feel like she can’t match him, but here she at least comes close. Or would if it weren’t for the lipstick on her teeth. Who knows if that will kill the pitch, but I loved the way she misinterprets the Playtex representative’s friendly attempt to signal her mistake as yet another man coming on to her, having already woken up next to Abe and had to fight off Stan’s lame attempts to come on to her using “yoga.”  

Abe. He seemed to drift out of the picture, but he’s back now. And he seems like an earnest young fellow who cares about Peggy. But in his own way Abe, and her other friends, are drawing her into a different sort of double life. Can she reconcile bohemia with Madison Ave.? It’s certainly not a problem bound to get easier as the ’60s roll on.

Finally, there’s Don, who keeps building Chinese walls within Chinese walls. Having apparently failed to draft Dr. Faye into working as a double agent and sending unhappy clients his way, he beds the admiring Megan, giving lie to my suggestion last week that the shot of Don eyeing her may not have been out of lust. (Kind of a dumb theory anyway, now that I think about it.) She’s stuck around ostensibly to make sure he’s gotten all the help he needs after a particularly trying day and to learn firsthand how the job gets done. Is she telling the truth? Maybe in part, but she quickly makes it clear what why she’s really stuck around, and that she’s not a tenderheart like Allison and can separate fucking the boss with doing her job.

Another wall. Another possibility for disaster when it falls. That Dr. Faye, who now clearly takes her relationship with Don more seriously than he does, shows up with the news that she’s compromised her professional ethics for him, Don finds two more parts of his life he now needs to keep separated. I’m not sure he has the skills for it, at least not anymore. This week he gives two women the orders to limit his drinking. One succeeds, but the way the episode frames him with a cocktail cart behind him whenever he steps into his office suggests that their success might not last, particularly as the seas around him grow more restless.

So, another plot-heavy episode, though I think “Chinese Walls” did a slightly better job balancing the end-of-the-season drive with the tolls the plot developments were exacting on the characters. Sometimes quietly. John Slattery and Christina Hendricks are both extremely attractive people—as I’m guessing you might have noticed—but “Chinese Walls” showed them looking exhausted, even haggard. Peggy was best able to shrug off the difficulties at SCDP, and while that’s good for her, it may not be good for the agency, which may need her more than she needs it. Don’s Clio came with a warning that awards don’t keep clients, and this week the other shoe dropped. But if he’s not going to maintain success by doing what he does best, how will he maintain it? Or will he? We have two episodes left to see where the end of this season leaves him.

Stray observations:

• So Megan: She always seemed so chipper and naïve but her final scene with Don suggests a hidden worldliness. What’s her game? Does she really want to get ahead in advertising? And do we love her a little bit for rescuing the Clio, or was that just more calculation?

• Ray Wise! He’s got to be coming back, right? You don’t bring in Leland Palmer for one little scene with no promise of more Leland Palmer to come.

• Maybe it’s just that AMC doesn’t broadcast in HD on DirecTV—and boo to that—but Jon Hamm had the tan of a Technicolor movie star this week.

• Roger on Lucky Strikes: “Maybe it’s a good time to get out of this business.” He’s so wrong all episode that he circles all the way back around to being right.

• Is it just me, or does Stan give off the air of a man who never, ever gets laid? 

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