3
Oct
2010
Mad Men: Season 4, Episode 11
Chinese Walls
Jordan
If last week's episode set up the pieces for where the rest of Mad Men's fourth season will take us, "Chinese Walls" started moving them at breakneck speed towards the finish line. It wasn't quite the return to excellence I would have hoped for after last week's somewhat lackluster "Hands and Knees," yet it created a lot of potential areas for the show to explore in the final two episodes.

The episode dealt directly with the fallout from the loss of Lucky Strike, as Cosgrove discovers that the company has left SCDP while at dinner with his inlaws (his father-in-law is played by the always excellent Ray Wise, which I hope means we'll be seeing more of him in the future), and soon all of SCDP is mustered to save the firm and stop the rest of the clients from fleeing. This effort, and its effect on each of the characters, fills the entire episode, but where last week was all surface and not nearly enough depth, this week gives us a better picture of where each of the character's stands at this point.

For starters, Cosgrove is clearly committed to the success of SCDP, marshalling the forces immediately, and then mostly disappearing for the rest of the episode. He hasn't had much to do yet this season, but the brief scene with his in-laws, and his presence when the firm's inner circle meets shows that he does play an important role in the firm. Pete, meanwhile, is waiting for Trudy to give birth (not that he has to stay at the hospital or anything), and his father-in-law is advising him to jump ship in order to ensure that he will provide for his family. In a moment of uncharacteristic loyalty, Pete seems committed to trying to save SCDP too, though let's not forget he is a partner in the firm, and his actions are therefore at least partially selfish. He also does not entirely shut down the idea of opening up another firm with Don's rival from earlier in the season, though he doesn't jump at it like he might have in years past. Pete may not be fully satisfied with his position in SCDP, but he knows he has it pretty good, and he isn't willing to abandon the firm quite yet (though I wouldn't be shocked at all if he is prepared to by the end of the season. This is Pete after all, and if there's anything underhanded he can do, he will probably do it).

Peggy, meanwhile, is having a good time with Abe, that asshole I hoped we'd never see again after a few weeks ago, and believes that, "Every time something good happens, something bad happens. I knew I'd pay for it." Don doesn't let her get despondent though, again calling back to their new level of understanding when he smiles at her and says, "You're not paying for anything. But I'm counting on you." And Peggy delivers, nailing her pitch, and rejecting Stan yet again (though a little more reluctantly this time). Peggy is Don-like in many ways tonight, smoking weed and sleeping with the bohemian Abe much like Don was when we first met him in early Season One. Beyond that, her Playtex pitch bears a more than slight resemblance to Don's legendary Kodak Carousel pitch, even if she does have lipstick on her teeth during it. She may not be the master quite yet, but she is certainly on her way (even if this mastery also leads to her living something of a double life herself, as a successful capitalist by day and a liberal bohemian by night).

Peggy's success, however, does not cover up Roger's glaring failure, a fact that every member of the firm is more than willing to point out to him. As Don coldly acknowledges, Roger's only real job was to keep Lee Garner Jr., and therefore Lucky Strike happy, and he could not even do that. With Roger's professional failure now pretty much complete, his personal life too is in a tailspin as he tries to leverage his failures into another chance with Joan only to be soundly rejected. "I can't do this anymore," Joan repeatedly tells him, and this time, she's serious. The best Roger could muster for her last week, even when she suggested the possibility of keeping their child, was "maybe I love you." Joan clearly loved Roger once, and she probably still does, but she understands now that he will never really love her back, not fully, and she refuses to be pulled back in. Roger has hit a rock bottom of his own, this week, and when Jane tries to comfort him by showing him the first copy of his memoir, Sterling's Gold, its a shockingly thin book, more a tragic reminder of how little he's accomplished than a comfort in the face of his newest failures. The early parts of this season were rife with foreshadowing of a suicide to come, and its been conventional wisdom since Roger's heart attack in Season One that he would not survive throughout the rest of the series. With pretty much nothing left to lose at this point, we may see Roger tragically ending his tragic little life in the near future (Though I hope he sticks around, both because I think he's a fascinating character and because I think Slattery is an excellent actor, who has only become better this season).

Finally, we come to Don, who is the master of building up the "Chinese Walls" of the episode's title and compartmentalizing his life. The title of the episode refers to Faye's observation a few weeks back that her job requires her to build up chinese walls to keep separate her work for separate agencies. Don, in a moment of selfish weakness, asks her to break down her chinese walls and help him save his failing business. Faye initially becomes enraged at his suggestion that she should compromise her career to save his (a fair reaction, in my mind, and one in keeping with her "career first" mentality from back in "The Beautiful Girls"), but by the end of the episode she has done just that, setting up a meeting for him with Heinz, and breaking down one of her walls for him. Faye has lived her life to this point focused on her career instead of her personal life, but Don is making her rethink that. Yet while she is tearing down the walls she has built up, as Don did last week by confessing his dual identity to her, he is building up another wall by engaging in the almost inevitable affair with Megan, his new secretary. Don Draper is a man who shrouds himself in mystery and survives off of the alure that comes from seeming irresistable and unknowable. Perhaps his dalliance is a way of ensuring that Faye, who he has let in so far, does not know everything about him, a way for him to keep at least one chinese wall in what has to be the most successful and honest relationship of his life (not counting his platonic relationships with Anna Draper and Peggy). Or maybe its more simple. Maybe, as my friend Ashley put it, Don falls into the category of "once a cheater, always a cheater." Whether Don's dalliance is more about keeping some mystery in his relationship with Faye or about some kind of childish power play to prove he can still seduce other women, its a low blow to watch Don cheat on Faye. I could comfort myself in seasons past that Don never really loved Betty and married her as a trophy wife, but I have come to see Faye as an excellent, equal partner for Don and I would hate to see him throw that away.

"Chinese Walls" was again heavy on the plot movement, but it did a better job of balancing plot-advancement with the fully realized character details that I have come to expect out of the show. It also gave us a multitude of avenues to head down in the final two weeks of the season. I can't wait to see where we end up.

Grade: B+

Notes:

-"I suppose your visit is premature...I shouldn't use that word around here..."

-"You need to calm down. I was at a ball game when Trudy was born!"

-Don also lost Glo-Coat tonight, proving that the comment week's back that awards don't keep clients was eerily prescient.

-"Stop me at three. This is one." I'm not sure only having three or four drinks a day is the best way to contain your alcoholism...
Tags: Mad Men
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