“Mad Men” Recap: 411, “Chinese Wall”
By early September 1965, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is being forced into a wartime mindset, and while Don Draper is a supreme commander when he’s not hitting the Jamesons too hard, he makes two crucial mistakes late in this episode and it’s hard to imagine any of this working out on the bright side. Sure, SCDP will be fine — well, most of it anyway — and everything will work out on the business end of things, but Don makes a bad play, and then a worse one. And given the magnitude of this screwup, Draper could possibly be facing his most brutal confrontation with his true past before the season ends.
It’s a Beatnik Beach Party with Joyce and Abe! Peggy and Joyce pile into the car after crazy times at Jones Beach, where Peggy has to shake the sand out of her hair and Joyce wonders aloud whether that is actually sand. It is Jones Beach after all — it could be medical waste, it could be Malt-O-Meal, it could be any number of things. So then Abe piles into the back seat with Peggy, and apparently all that “Nurenburg on Madison Avenue” claptrap is all in the past. Peggy and Abe are cozy and mega-sexual: they go back to Peggy’s place, and Abe is all over our Peggy, telling her that her shoulders make her look like an Olympian. That’s a nice compliment — much better than, “Your job makes you look like a fascist!” We’re not privy to the whys or hows of this new state of affairs: on “Mad Men,” we’re simply asked to accept that things happen because, well, they do.
Ken is at dinner with his fiance, her mother and Laura Palmer’s dad (Ray Wise) when he runs into an old colleague from BBDO, who offers condolences about the loss of Lucky Strike. Ken, of course, goes into total apoplexy and rushes off to track down Petey, who is at the hospital while Trudy gives birth to Campbellspawn. Pete similarly craps his pants and when he is unable to get Roger on the phone, he calls Don. Don tells Pete to wake Bert Cooper and go directly to the office.
So everyone is gathered at Roger Sterling’s Korova Milk Bar: Bert’s in his jammies and everyone is somewhere on the scale between morose and screaming. Sterling is trying to act surprised that all this is happening and then is prodded to — oh, I don’t know — call Lee Garner Jr. and ask why the hell he’s doing this. So Roger gets on the phone and slyly puts his finger on the receiver to fake the call. He blows out a lot of faux outrage — “Thirty years, I have to hear it on the street?” What a guy. He then offers to fly down to Raleigh to try to change Garner’s mind. It strikes me that Sterling might have considered flying down to Raleigh about 30 seconds after their disastrous dinner wrapped up, but one of the underlying messages this season is that Roger is somewhere below Danny Siegel in the roster of essential SCDP personnel.
Don returns to his apartment and tells Faye about the bloodbath. Faye tries to be comforting, saying “Look at that face,” like she’s kissing a puppy. “”You’re the most hirable man on Madison Avenue.” Don doesn’t think it’s come to that, but one has to wonder just how quickly Draper would be snapped up. It’s not like his equals at BBDO or, more to the point, Ted Chaough would get out of the way for Draper, and I wonder if their bosses would ax them in order to bring in Don if SCDP hits the skids. I don’t think we’re going to find out what would happen — the destruction of SCDP is unlikely at this point.
Pete goes back to the hospital waiting room and tells his father-in-law about Lucky Strike, and Trudy’s dad treats this whole SCDP thing like Petey’s been hitchhiking through Europe or playing bass on tour with the Four Seasons for the past year and a half and now it’s time to get serious about his career. He also throws Ted Chaough’s name around, which is a lot like throwing poop around. Meanwhile, Peggy and Abe are getting pants-happy in Peggy’s apartment, which means Peggy will have a nice post-coital smile when she arrives at SCDP and discovers that 68 to 72 percent of the agency’s business is out the door.
Now, about that: Roger calls Bert to let him know that Garner said he can’t go for that, no can do, but he’s calling from a nice suite in Manhattan, not North Carolina. God, Roger’s been such a mongoose this episode, you’d think Rudyard Kipling wrote a story about him. Again, this is one of those plot points that would be impossible in 2010 — the hotel’s main number would show up on SCDP’s caller id. Of course, Roger could probably use his iPhone and maintain the charade.
Immediately afterward, Bert calls a full staff meeting to announce that Lucky Strike is up in smoke, then turns it over to Don Draper Superstar, who rallies the troops by telling them “”We’re going to push ourselves and it will be exhilarating.” By the looks of it, the boiler-room atmosphere that awaits our heroes looks about as exhilarating as full immersion in fish guts, but maybe I’m not the type-A personality who gets jazzed about 80-hour work weeks. The whip will be cracked. When the head of accounting gives a very tired spiel about financial policy and asks for questions, Danny’s hand shoots up, but nobody sees him because he’s about the size of a fully-grown Manhattan bedbug.
Don then ushers the creative team to his office, where Danny assumes he’s going to be the first to get a swift kick out of the Time-Life Building, but Don assures the homunculus that if he’s in the room, he’s still alive. He tells them that the SCDP brass will be in charge of shaking the trees for new business while creative does everything to retain the current clients. Peggy, who showed up late and a little flushed, is told that she will take the lead on getting Playtex on board, because having Don do it might make the situation look desperate.
Still at his Manhattan hotel room and now looking for company, Roger calls Joan to apologize for all the subterfuge and to let her know that he’s got a bed under him that could use some testing. She is equal parts disgust and sympathy, telling him that if he had said something sooner, they might have been able to do something about Lucky Strike. Sterling just wants her to get down to his room and “comfort him,” but Joan isn’t buying, mainly because flopsweat isn’t sexy.
Back where people are actually trying to keep the company afloat instead of hiding from their problems, Peggy starts talking about Playtex Living Gloves in a way that could make anyone want to do a sink full of dishes, describing them as the things that will save a woman’s hands for the things she really like to touch, which is making Stan and Danny get a tad squirmy. Then Abe shows up pretending to be a delivery boy, which brings to mind at least a few dirty blues songs, and Stan and Danny go off to snicker: “”Am I wrong, or is she giving it off?” Squiggy asks Lenny.
Ken and Pete (who spends much of his time in various states of semi-consciousness when padding around SCDP in this episode) make calls to current clients to assure them of SCDP’s solidity and then gather to discuss the state of things, but in the middle of this confab, Don is pulled away by Megan the Sex Robot for a call from Glo-Coat, who basically tell Don, “Thanks for the fine work on Glo-Coat, but would you please hold this anvil while we throw you in the Hudson?” Completely infuriated, Don breaks his Clio and storms back to the meeting to castigate Petey for spending so much time on the birth of his child that he let Glo-Coat skip out. Campbell leaves to return to not worrying about Glo-Coat, and he is greeted by Ted Chaough, who gives him a baby gift and starts talking up a big-time position with CGC, where he undoubtedly will oversee some great accounts like, say, Union Carbide, lawn darts and Super Elastic Bubble Plastic.
Roger goes to Joan’s apartment and, smooth operator that he is, immediately insults her choice of pajamas — jammies are big in this episode. Somehow, he manages to kiss her without getting a frying pan to the back of his silver skull, but Joan pushes him away, telling him “I can’t do this anymore.” I suppose I could understand this relationship at one point, but Roger has never been more pathetic — he was dealing from a stronger position when he was vomiting oysters a few seasons back.
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