Tag Archives: TV

Mad Men Commentary: Episode 413 Tomorrowland

Mad Men’s first order of business has always been identity, and this fourth season – the strongest yet – opened with Don fielding a routine question from a reporter from Advertising Age: “Who is Don Draper?”

It’s a question that has stalked Don like a predator, and in last night’s season finale, Don seized on an answer that I don’t think anyone saw coming.  The episode was titled “Tomorrowland,” but it could have easily been called “Bizarroworld.”

As the episode opens, we find Don in bed, awakened by Faye, who has to leave on out-of-town business.  Don is nervous about his meeting with the American Cancer Society.  She assures him that they loved his letter (the open letter in the Times) and they’ll surely love him.

Unconvinced, he tells her he has a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, and this is where Faye shines.  She cuts to the chase and gives it to him straight:

“Listen.  Maybe it’s not all about work,” she tells him.  “Maybe that sick feeling might go away if you take your head out of the sand about your past.”

“You know it’s not that simple.”

“Of course it isn’t.  And you don’t have to do it alone.  But if you resolve some of that, you might be more comfortable with everything.”

“And then what happens?” Don asks.

“You’re stuck trying to be a person like the rest of us.”

Don takes Faye’s sage advice to heart, but we won’t see how it’s applied until much later.

Meanwhile, Joanie delivers some mail to Lane, who has an announcement.  I had to replay Lane’s speech, due to be being distracted by a bigger announcement – Joan’s tummy.  It was confirmation of what everyone I know of has been hoping for, and aborted abortion.

Oh, and Joan was promoted to Director of Agency Operations, a title-only promotion.

At the meeting with the American Cancer Society folks, Don is asked why he wrote his open letter.

“Well, most of it was in the letter, hopefully,” he tells the gathered old moneybags.  “But I think, in my heart, it was an impulse.  Because I knew what I needed to do to move forward.”  Remember that exchange.  We’ll be coming back to it later.

Don aces the meeting, and gets them to agree to explore a relationship further and a future date.  Upon returning to the office, he and Pete gather Roger and Ken for a strategy session.

Roger’s greeting upon their return: “So, did you get cancer?”

It turns out that a board member of the Cancer Society is a big shot at Dow Chemical, and Ken’s future Father-In-Law is an executive at Corning, a division of Dow.  Pete and Don and Roger pressure Ken into arranging a foursome at a local golf club, where the board member can be invited and influence can be further exerted, but Ken recoils from the using of his personal relationships for personal gain.  He nobly stands up to Pete’s haranguing, and excuses himself to manage the 30% of SCDP’s business he services.  Message sent and received.

This exchange brings to mind another great theme of this season – work and its relationship to identity.  Don and Pete and, to a lesser degree, Roger (not to mention Peggy and Joan) have always put work before all else.  To them, it hardly registers as a choice.  It’s just what you have to do to make it in this world.  But in this episode, we see Ken as decent and fair, a pleasing antidote to the workaholism that dominates SCDP.

And then there’s Betty.  True to her word, Betty is boxing up her family’s possessions and moving them to a new house in Rye.

Glen stops in to say goodbye to Sally, having waited for a moment when Betty is gone.  Carla gives in to Glen’s request to see Sally, knowing full well how Betty feels about him.  But she sees what we know, that there is nothing sinister in this relationship.

Glen knocks on Sally’s door and asks if she’s decent, something he no-doubt copied from home.  They have their goodbye, and we learn that Sally and Bobby and Gene are going to California with Don while Betty and Henry get the new house settled.  Glen asks Sally to bring him back something from Disneyland.

Betty enters the kitchen as Glen is leaving, and they have an ugly exchange in which he tells her that just because she’s sad doesn’t mean everyone else has to be.  Betty turns her childish anger on Carla, not only firing her but insulting her multiple times in the space of a few moments – the kind of hurt that no amount of apologizing can undo.

As this is going on, Don is meeting with his accountant, making plans for the future.  Don is yet again worrying, but the accountant soothes him, encouraging him to “enjoy the harvest and plant some seeds.”  As Don’s phone rings, he adds, “Don’t you want to come home one day and see a steak on the table?”

The call is from Betty, informing Don that she’s fired Carla, which – surprise! Surprise! – puts a huge wrinkle in Don’s California plans.  Carla was to help with the kids.

Though it’s never spelled out, we’re left to wonder how conscious Betty is of her actions.  The evidence is damning.  As with the power play move out to Rye, to “win” against Sally, Betty seems to have no reluctance to pulling out all the stops to maintain even the slightest illusion of control.

Don, to his credit, is determined to take the kids to California, and it’s in this decision that Betty’s maneuver will ultimately backfire.

Don puts Megan on the job of lining up childcare, but it’s a patchwork quilt that seems like a logistical nightmare.  In a flash of inspiration, Don gives Megan his “gotcha!” look and asks her how much she makes a week (funny question, since he’s her boss).  Before you can say “The Sound of Music,” Don, the kids, and Megan are checking into a nice hotel in sunny California.  Uh oh.

Go west, young man!  And woman.

While Don is in La-La land, Peggy’s friend Joyce brings her a present in the form of a fragile model named Carolyn Jones (not THAT one), who’s just been fired from a shoot.  Harry Crane, seeming more and more the lecherous old man, creepily hangs around, hoping for a chance to be the big shot mentor.

Peggy learns that Carolyn has been fired from a job for Topaz Panty Hose – along with the agency – and before you can say “L’eggs” she’s hatching a plan with good-guy Ken that involves working hard over the holiday (Labor Day?) weekend for a chance to pitch some much-needed business.

Out in California, Don comes in from a day of meetings for find Megan and kids in a state of pure bliss.  Gene sleeps while Sally and Bobby sing Don a French lullaby Megan has taught them.  Megan goes to her own room, leaving Don to have some happy Q-time with the kids.  Weird, right?

The next day, Don leaves Gene with Megan and takes the kids to see Anna’s house, where they meet Stephanie.  Naturally, the kids are drawn to the painting that Don and Anna did the last time he visited.  Sally asks who Dick is, and Don tells her the truth…sort of.  “Well, that’s me.  That’s my nickname, sometimes.”  Another baby step towards living out in the open.

Don sends the kids out to play, and in their moment alone, Stephanie gives Don something that Anna wanted him to have.  It’s the engagement ring that the real Don Draper gave her.  It floors Don, who doesn’t feel as though he should have it.  Stephanie insists, and he tucks it away into the breast pocket of his sport coat, stunned.

Don asks Stephanie what she’s going to do.

“I don’t know.  That’s the best part.  I’ve got my whole life ahead of me.  So do you.”

Don and the kids return to the pool, where Megan looks like Jackie O in the pool with little Gene sitting on the side.  The kids shuck off their clothes, swimming suits used as underwear for just such an occasion.  They beg Don to join them, but he declines, saying he’s beat.

Up in the hotel room, Don ponders what has just happened, and unexpectedly, he returns to the pool and does a huge cannonball, a west coast baptism performed to the song “Hot Dog.”  He seems genuinely happy, as do the kids and Megan, thrilled at his presence.

Later, he and the kids are planning their assault on Disneyland, the following day, when Megan stops in with a friend to say good bye for the evening.  She’s stunning in a black dress, and Don has that I’m-gonna-#%@*-you look on his face as she leaves.

As the scene closes on this moment, which will certainly be a highlight for the Draper kids, Bobby announces, “What about Tomorrowland?  I don’t want to fly in an elephant.  I want to fly a jet.”

Next, we see Henry Francis, all serious and probably wondering what went wrong, when Betty returns from showing the old house.  It’s easy to empathize with Henry, monstrous as Betty can be, and we take his side as he chews her out for her treatment of Carla.  His confusion is palpable as he tries to make sense of her erratic actions and explanations of them.

When she claims that all she wanted was a fresh start, he says more than he may know when he tells her, “There is no fresh start.  Lives carry on.”

When she accuses him of not taking her side, he gets the final word when he tells her, “No one’s ever on your side, Betty.”

Just as the Francis marriage appears to be unraveling, a new romance is brewing in California.  When Megan returns from her night out, Don goes to her room, claiming to want to go over the plans for Disney.  She calls him out, but invites him in anyway.  They end up out on the balcony, make some small talk, then make out.

This time, it’s Megan who sounds the caution, and Don is the one to make assurances, telling her he’s been thinking about her so much.  Caution averted.

There’s this cool transition between Don and Megan ending up in bed, where Betty goes to Sally’s nearly empty room and lays on the bed on her side and stares off into the night.  Cut to Don, on his side, staring into Megan’s eyes.  Though Don and Betty are divorced, these two are far from through with each other.

That said, Don is caught up in the moment and asks Megan if this is what she thought of when he asked her to come with him.  She confesses that it was the very first thought.

Even though it was obvious these two would end up in bed, what wasn’t obvious to me was how Don would respond to Megan.

He tells her, “You don’t know anything about me.”

“But I do.  I know you have a good heart.  And I know that you’re always trying to be better.”

“We all try.  We don’t always make it.”

Aside from them being naked, this could have been Dick and Anna talking.

Don pushes on.  “I’ve done a lot of things.”

“I know who you are now.”

Don asks if he can see her again the next night.  He needs to know if this is just a one-night stand, like back in New York.  Megan assures him it’s not.

The following day, the last in California, Don and Megan and the kids are eating at what looks like the same diner as the last scene in Pulp Fiction.  Sally and Bobby bicker, and in the process, a milkshake is spilled.  Don starts to erupt, but Megan swings into action, daubing up the mess and announcing that there’s no use crying over spilled milkshakes, something Betty never would have shrugged off.  Every one is silently amazed at this new presence in their midst.  Tense bodies go loose with relief.

Meanwhile, back in New York, Peggy and Ken have a meeting with Topaz.  Ken lets Peggy do the talking, and in Don Draper fashion, she melds preparation with improvisation and impresses a tough New York businessman.  Things are looking good for ending SCDP’s losing streak.

On the morning of their return, Don is dressed for work, sitting on the edge of his bed.  Megan stirs.  He’s been up for hours, thinking.

Don tells her, “I feel like myself when I’m with you.  But the way I always wanted to feel.  Because I’m in love with you, Megan.  And I think I have been for a while.”  After these words are uttered, he produces Anna’s engagement ring and presents it to Megan.  And proposes.

Megan is flustered, and as she gathers herself, we learn what Don has been thinking.

“Did you ever think of the number of things that had to happen for me to get to know you?  But everything happened, and it got me here….  What does that mean?”

Of course, after that speech, Megan could only say “Yes!”

After a quick call to Megan’s mother in Montreal (in French), they decide to announce the engagement that day to the folks at SCDP.

Don gathers Roger, Lane, Pete, and Joan and tells them that he and Ms. Calvais are getting married.

“Who the hell is that?” Roger asks.  Joan tells him it’s Megan.  “Megan out there?  Well, let’s get her in here.”

And with that bit of Roger Sterling humor, the congratulations begin, with Lane being the first to step forward and wish Don and Megan the best.

At about the same time, Ken finds out the good news about Topaz and rushes to tell Peggy, giving her the lion’s share of the credit.  Poor Peggy.  They rush to Don/Daddy’s office, only to be upstaged.

Ken is genuinely happy for Don and Megan, but Peggy squeezes out a smile as thought she’s trying to get the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube.  “You must be so happy,” is all she can muster.

They tell Don their good news, and he’s all back slaps and atta-boys, but his thoughts are obviously elsewhere.

Peggy sends Ken on his way, closes the door, and faces Don.  “Wow.”  Don tells her he appreciates her concern, and steps in a big ol’ pile by telling Peggy that Megan reminds him of her, that she has the same spark.  He finishes the botch-job by telling Peggy that Megan admires her as much as he does.  Peggy hugs him, then gets the hell out of there.

Joan seems to be waiting for her when Peggy barges into her office.  “Whatever could be on your mind?” she asks, a smug grin on her face.  A weird thing happens here.  She does her Joan-thing by predicting that Don will make Megan a copy writer, not wanting to be married to a secretary.  This sends Peggy over the edge, of course, as Joan intended.  But when Joan tries to put the cherry on the sundae with her comment about having learned a long time ago not to get her satisfaction from this job, Peggy calls her on it.

And then they share a laugh.  At long last, Joan and Peggy are like sisters-in-arms.  Joan even shares her own humiliation, having gotten her promotion-with-no-pay…and no announcement, either.

And then there’s Faye.

It’s Megan who finally gets Don to stop procrastinating and make the call he’s been dreading.  Nice, how Megan knew all about her.  It’s as if she got revenge on Faye from their little catty exchanges last week.

So Don calls her, and she immediately senses that something is up.  He asks her to coffee, but she tells him to just get to it.  And when he does, the tough façade crumbles as the pain of his confession sinks in.  She asks who it is, but Don dodges the question.

Faye pulls herself together enough to get in a couple of nice digs.  She asks Don if he’s going to write a letter to the Times, saying that he doesn’t like her.  Unlike with Peggy, he has the good sense to shut up.

She goes on to say what could very well be another prophecy, that Don only likes the beginnings of relationships.

And with that, Don hung up on what may have been the best thing he had going.  Faye was unvarnished, harsh truth.  She accepted Don’s transgressions, even as they swept her decision making up in them.

She was clear-eyed about his need to move on, and he took that advice to heart.  It just seems that the choice he made was for yet another story book image, like his marriage to Betty, of what a marriage/family should look like (consummated at Disneyland, in LA, in California, where Americans go to recreate themselves as easily as one would change a hairstyle or trade in a Buick for a Corvette), rather than a challenging equal of a wife who would push rather than pamper.

And remember Don’s response to the lady from the American Cancer Society about why he impulsively wrote his open letter?  Well, his response to her seems to hold as well for his proposal to Megan – he did it because he knew what he needed to do to move forward.

We’ll see whether it was the right impulse soon enough, I suspect.

That evening, Joan tells Greg everything that has happened, but all he’s interested in is whether her pregnancy (she’s evidently told him that the baby is theirs) has enlarged her breasts even more.  Once she assures him it has, he’s ready to go and goof off with his buddies, like a freshman rushing a fraternity.

Finally, Betty and Don meet at their old house.  Don is there to show the house to prospective buyers.  Betty seems to be there for the sole purpose of seeing Don.  She’s softer and prettier than she’s been all season, much like the old Betty from two seasons ago or more.

It seemed obvious to me that she was at the very least wanting to flirt with Don (but I suspect she had something else in the back of her mind, even if only subconsciously).

They talk without jaws clenched for a change.  Betty asks Don if he likes the new house.  He admits that he does.  He finds an old bottle of something, Scotch perhaps.

She asks, “Remember this place?”

“I do.”

“It’s different.”

“Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“I don’t know, Don.  Things aren’t perfect.”  She’s lowered her guard.

But Don isn’t game.  “So you’ll move again.”

“So much change.  It’s made everything difficult.”

She’s trying, but Don finishes the moment off by telling her of his engagement.  She composes herself and congratulates him.  It’s a painfully sad moment.  Another miss for these two.  The doorbell rings, breaking the spell once and for all.  They part ways – him to the front door and her to the back.

The show closes mysteriously with Don and Megan in his bed in the Village, and as Sonny and Cher sing “I’ve got you Babe,” Megan sleeps while Don glances out the window.  What is he looking for?

Will he follow through with Megan, or will he leave her as soon as the newness wears off, as Faye predicted?  Did his trip to California help him deal with some of his baggage from the past, to the point where he is stuck trying to be a person like the rest of us?  Or was it all just a fairy tale?

Only tomorrow knows.

Mad Men Commentary: Episode 412 Blowing Smoke

In this week’s episode of Mad Men, Don and Peggy have yet another of their family squabbles.  Peggy offers some unsolicited (and sound) advice to stressed out Don, who is having none of it, as usual.  Finally, she throws a Don-ism back at the master – “If you don’t like what people are saying, change the conversation.”

Once again, Peggy originates the “kernel” of a great idea that Don runs with and adds his own brilliant spin.  Except this time there’ll be no Clio award.

Changing the conversation can simply be that, or it can mean blowing smoke, as the title of the penultimate episode of this season suggests.  The gang at SCDP are stressed to the breaking point, especially the partners.  Secretaries and copy writers can get jobs elsewhere, but the partners have invested more than their egos in this enterprise, and with the flight of paying customers, it’s coming down to the partners taking out lines of credit just to keep the lights on.  No one likes the conversations that are taking place at SCDP.

The episode, well directed by John Slattery, opens with Don having lunch with an executive from the Vinegar, Sauces & Beans division of Heinz.  This is the same account that Dr. Faye compromised herself for to make Don happy.

But it ain’t going well.  Despite an obvious rapport and an understanding that the executive appreciates, it’s no dice on getting the business – at least for now.  Don pushes and uncovers the barely hidden objection.  Heinz wants to wait six months to give SCDP a shot.  Why?  To see if they’re still around.  Don loses his cool a little, and pushes once more for “yes.”  Nothing.  When Don resorts to a discounted price, the client rises to leave, assures Don that the business will come his way IF he lasts, then suggests that Don sticks to ideas and leaves the deal-making to the account guys.  Ouch!

Back at the office, the top brass meets with a consultant to discuss the future of SCDP.  The consultant, a fat, balding, old man with a smug demeanor paints a picture that everyone gathered knows all to well.  Roger fires off a trademark Roger line – “we know there’s a spot on the lung.  You don’t have to keep poking your finger in it.”

The consultant outlines a plan of action that sounds good.  Based on SCDP’s past success with Lucky Strike – 25 years of expertise, to be exact – they should pursue other tobacco brands.  The cherry on the tobacco sundae is a meeting with Philip Morris – about to launch a new woman’s cigarette to replace the re-branded for men Marlboro –  orchestrated by the consultant.  Backs are slapped.  Assurances are proclaimed.  And Slattery shoots a nice little montage of the SCDP crew responding to the current situation – a bit of confidence in the agency/Don mixed with navel gazing self-interest.

Meanwhile, out in the burbs, Sally and Betty Draper are having a kind of Freaky Friday thing, with Sally looking more like the mature half of the duo than Mom.

Sally visits with Dr. Edna, who tells Sally how proud she is of controlling her anger.  Sally is doing so well, that Dr. Edna suggests they cut their meetings back to only once per week.  All this is done over crazy-eights, as if these were two friends playing cards on a weekday while the kids were at school.

But is it genuine?  Sally is meeting with Glen, the creepy neighbor kid who broke into the house and vandalized it to get back at Betty for Sally.  Glen asks Sally if Dr. Edna has told her kiss her Mom’s ass (or blow smoke), as his doctor did.  Sally assures Glen that Dr. Edna isn’t like that, and again, she seems so self-possessed.  Is this a pose, or has Sally achieved some new level of maturity?

At another of their secret-but-innocent meetings, Sally goes deep on Glen by asking him if he ever noticed the Indian lady on the box of Land O Lakes butter?  She holds a box with a picture of her holding another box with yet another picture of her holding a box….  Glen says he wishes she hadn’t mentioned that, and you can already see them in the not-to-distant future, sharing similar discoveries over a joint.  Or maybe not.

And what’s up with Sally paying such close attention to packaged food?  Is this some sort of nod to her old man, with whom she is more partial?

On the flip side of all this deepness and maturity is Betty, who also pays a visit to Dr. Edna, whom she has come to depend on for some sense of security.  And in stark contrast to Sally, who’s been praised for controlling her anger, Betty launches into a bitch session against Henry, recounting an argument where she slammed doors to punctuate a point, only to find that Henry hadn’t heard her.  She compares him to Don, but Dr. Edna sees through all of this.

When notified of the recommendation to cut Sally’s sessions down to only once a week, Betty makes it about her and panics.  She needs Dr. Edna way more than Sally does.  When Dr. Edna suggests that Betty see a colleague, Betty says it all when she asks, “Why can’t I talk to you?”  If you didn’t get that, then let Dr. Edna help – “I’m a child psychiatrist.”  To be fair, who wouldn’t want to talk to Dr. Edna once or twice a week?

Another woman who used to sleep with Don figures prominently in this episode.  As Don leaves work, who does he bump into in the lobby of the Time-Life building but Midge Daniels, the greeting card artist/hippie he was sleeping with back in season one, when we first met him.

Pleasantries are exchanged.  She learns that he’s divorced.  He learns that she’s married, but it’s a marriage of convenience, not passion.  He compliments her looks, but she squirms and says she’s skinny – a starving artist.

Don tries to evade a “drink,” but Midge persists, eventually playing on his square sense of chivalry by confessing that she’s lost her purse and has no train fare home.  Don relents, and a weird scene is played out in the shabby apartment of Midge and her husband, a struggling playwright.

Midge excuses herself, and the husband launches into a desperate sales pitch, seeing Don as a mark.  Don admires the painting, but is non-commital.  This leads the husband to up the ante by offering Midge as part of the deal, saying there’s nothing she won’t do to close a deal.  Don recoils at the vulgarity of the offer, and in that moment we see a mirroring of what Don has been through earlier with the executive from Heinz.

The husband also lets it slip that Midge didn’t just bump into Don, but tracked him down, seemingly for the purpose of getting into his wallet…via the fly of his pants, if necessary.  If this wasn’t bad enough, Don learns that Midge and her husband have a heroin addiction that neither of them can or will kick.

Don buys Midge’s painting, and gets out of her apartment as quickly as possible, but not before she tells him, “I’m glad you haven’t changed.”  We’re left to wonder whether this is a blessing or a curse.

This is significant.  Midge is/was an artist, someone Don respected.  It’s safe to say that Don considers himself, if not an artist, then something approaching one.  Regardless, he uses words and images to tell a story and evoke an emotion, arguably not too unlike what the artist does.  Midge becomes a mirror, reflecting back the ugliness in Don’s life.  This point is made stronger a day later, when Don sits in front of Midge’s painting for a long time, absorbing the “after image” until he is moved to do something about what he sees.

The next day, we find Don in his office, nervously pacing and reciting verbal warm-ups.  It’s not the Don we’re used to seeing.  This is more like Korea-era Don/Dick Whitman.  But the preparation and warm-ups are for naught.  As Don gets word that the partners are in the lobby waiting for Philip Morris to arrive, he joins them as the consultant steps out of the elevator alone.  There will be no meeting.  SCDP was used as leverage against another agency.

Bert herds the partners into an office, where panic ensues.  Harry and Ken sit in the next office wit their ears to the wall as the bosses resort to name calling and chicken-littlery.  Finally, Don calls the spade a spade by saying that the reason non one  will really do business with them now is that they reek of desperation.  This quiets them all down enough for Lane to announce a plan that is the lesser of evils – the senior partners must contribute $100K each and the two junior partners, him and Pete, will contribute $50K each.  That, along with a series of brutal firings, will be enough to keep them afloat for six months – that magic number that keeps being flown around as the gestation period for resuming business with SCDP.

All but Pete takes this news in stride.  Being new to this level of accountability, along with a brand new baby and a job offer from a dreaded rival, Pete waffles.  $50K is a big, bitter pill for him to swallow, and after a heated exchange with Don and a fight with his wife, Pete seems at the end of his rope.  He’s actually sympathetic in this case.  He’s been busting his hump bringing in accounts, one of whom had to be jettisoned for Don’s safety, while Roger can’t manager the one client in his book – their cash cow.

When Pete goes to Don for some sort of explanation or assurance (and hasn’t he learned better by now?), Don has nothing for him but a barked exhortation to get Don in front of a paying client.  Not willing to accept that answer, Pete asks Don why he’s being punished for the sins of others.  At this, all Don can say is that they are all being punished equally.  And with that, Pete is whisked out of his presence.

Enter Peggy, who steps forward on behalf of the staff, wanting to know what Don would have them do.  This is a testament to the respect that Don still wields that when everything else is in flames and ruin is quick approaching, his team is ready for action.  But Don has no orders or answers.  He seems content to sit and let the burning building collapse on him.

But not Peggy, who’s been thinking about their conundrum.  She throws out ideas that Don craps all over (including changing their name, which seemed like a very good idea – and one that looks increasingly likely), until she lobs his own mantra back in his face, a la changing the conversation.  That said, she turns and leaves Don to his anger – no smoke blower she.

At the end of the day, Don returns home to find #4, Midge’s painting, waiting for him like a guilty conscience.  He starts to throw it away, but stops and sets the painting on the couch and grabs a chair and sits and stares at this thing, soaking up the afterimage of Midge and what her life has come to – and where Don’s life is surely leading.

Later, when it’s dark, Don goes to his writing table and rips a bunch of scribbled over pages from the journal he keeps and tosses them in the trash.  It’s as if he’s making a fresh start, and when the narration kicks in, we know that it is indeed a fresh start.

“Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” is Don’s Jerry Maguire moment, and although many see this as a cynical ploy, I think there is sincerity in Don’s words.  Pete will characterize it as throwing a temper tantrum on the pages of the New York Times, which is a fair assessment.  Even Don would characterize it as such (or maybe even as blowing smoke, if not blowing Lucky Strike), but as we’ve seen with his other writings, there’s depth to the man, despite the deep flaws.

The next morning is weird.  Don gets up early and swims laps and seems to have the peace of just.  And there’s this weird dichotomy.  The rank and file ad people look at him anew, as though he’s just slain Goliath.  Even that smartass Stan gives him an oh-so-faint tip of the cap as they run into each other in the hallway.  The old Don is back.

Megan, too, can hardly contain herself, but first let’s deal with the partners.

The partners storm into Don’s office like angry villagers hunting for witches, only needing torches and pitchforks to complete to picture.  Don is greeting by jeers and accusations, especially from Bert who totally loses his cool – ultimately and hilariously resigning his partnership by calling to a random employee, “You!  Bring me my shoes!”

Each has their say, but it’s Roger who seems somewhat sympathetic to what Don has done, if only for the sense of theatre.  I think Don believed that he would be greeted as a hero, and as his bile rises, he tells Pete, but it could’ve been directed at them all, “If you don’t understand it, you shouldn’t be in the business.”  It’s the difference between the visionary and the drone, the leader and the led.  It’s what Don brings to the table. And they don’t get it at all – he’s completely changed the conversation.

But they think he’s just blowing smoke.

When Don arrived, Megan mentioned that an Emerson Foote had called.  This is interesting, and could be the next “real” person, a la Conrad Hilton, to show up in the series.  Foote is one of the iconic figures of advertising, famous, among other things, for resigning the American Tobacco account, which constituted 20% of his agency’s billings – and counted Lucky Strike among its brands.  Foote became a vocal opponent of tobacco advertising, and served in the Johnson administration and the American Cancer Society at about the time that Don pens his manifesto.  We’ll see what happens.

Throughout the day, the fallout of Don’s actions impact SCDP in unexpected ways.  Where calls weren’t being returned in the wake of Lucky Srike, now everyone wants to talk to/about SCDP.  Don has created buzz.  He’s hijacked reality by spinning the Lucky Strike decision as one of conscience, not business as usual.

Another unintended consequence is the resigning of the SCDP account by Geoffrey Atherton – Dr. Faye’s employer.  Don expects anger from Faye, but instead, she seems to hold him in even higher esteem, wanting to take their relationship out in the open, now that professionalism isn’t an issue.

Earlier in the episode, when Don and Faye meet, we see Megan through the glass of the board room – a perfect triangle.  When Faye shows up to tell Don of her company’s decision, there’s this icy vibe coming from Faye, as if she knows what has happened (and how could she not, unless her olfactory senses weren’t functioning the night Don found her on his doorstep after his tryst with Megan?).  The final touch is when they finalize dinner plans and Faye tells Don to “have your girl make the reservations.”  Don seems clueless, but we know that she knows.

The one person whom Don seeks out for feedback is Peggy, of course.  We hope he’s learned his lesson and gives her credit for sparking the idea….  Yeah, right.  When he asks what she thinks, she withholds her praise by throwing another of his philosophies back in his face – “I thought you didn’t go in for those shenanigans?”

As a way out of the SCDP mess is just beginning to come hazily into view, Betty sees a way out of her Dr. Edna problem.  She catches Sally with Glen and completely overreacts, accusing Sally in thought, if not actual words, of doing inappropriate things with Glen.  And with Glen’s track record, you almost sympathize with her, except that she overplays her hand.

When Henry shows up unexpectedly early for dinner, Betty plays her card, telling Henry – in Sally’s presence – that it was a bad day, that the neighborhood is going downhill, and that they should move.  This news brightens Henry, but sends Sally running off to her room, where she clutches the keepsake left by Glen on the night of his vandalism.

Betty’s victory is that she has proof that Sally isn’t “cured,” that she still needs her twice a week visit, and thus Betty’s, to the doctor to get fixed.  Sally knows her Mom is blowing smoke, but will Dr. Edna?

Finally, we have the partners, reassembled with Joan for a regular board meeting.  They’ve agreed who will be fired, and the list has been divided among them for notifications and severance.

In the midst of this glum news comes word of a call from the aforementioned American Cancer Society, who wants to talk about a possible campaign.  Pete is unimpressed, as it means free work.  But the others see it as prestige and access to the Society’s influential board.  It’s a ray of hope.  A toe-hold.  Something.

As the meeting breaks-up, Pete calls Lane to him.  As Roger leaves, he gets the last laugh – “Well, I’ve got to go and learn a bunch of peoples’ names before I fire them.”  When he’s gone, Pete confesses to Lane that he cannot come up with the $50K.  Lane is confused.  “Don paid your share,” he tells Pete.

Stunned, Pete steps into the hallway, to see Don leading Danny Siegel into his office.  They share a glance.  Don nods.  Pete raises his glass in solidarity, then moves on.

A moment later, Don emerges with a composed and professional Danny.  They shake and Danny leaves.  Don pauses before calling the next victim.  He looks around at the carnage.  Women sobbing and consoling one another.  Men sagging under the weight of their boxed possessions and stalled-out hopes.  It’s a very bad day at SCDP.

But they’re alive – still drawing breath, still blowing smoke.

Mad Men Commentary: Episode 411 The Chinese Wall

This week’s episode of Mad Men, “The Chinese Wall”, seemed like an opportunity for us to catch our breath and for the stage to be set for the season’s finale, which is coming in what, one or two episodes?  But first, what is a Chinese wall?  The term got its start in the financial world, but has been extended to refer to any barrier that restricts the flow of information within an organization.

This week, the cat is let out of the bag on Lucky Strike.  Roger has been acting as a Chinese wall, keeping the news of the impending loss from everyone at SCDP.  Ken Cosgrove, while on a date with his fiancé and future in-laws, runs into a rival from BBDO, the firm that has won the Lucky Strike account, who informs him of the bad news.  Ken tries to resume his meal, but in this world, it’s business before pleasure, and he runs off to find Pete Campbell, who’s at the hospital awaiting the birth of his second child (the first being w/Peggy, of course).  Pete follows Ken’s work-first lead and the two of them call Don and wind up in Roger’s office with Bert for a late night summit meeting.  Losing this account is akin to getting a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, so it’s all hands on deck.

Roger is the last to arrive, and pretends to call Lee Garner Jr.  With his thumb pushing down the receiver, he play acts at learning of the loss of the account.  After a heated exchange, he tells the men that he’s been hung up on.  Don immediately volunteers to go with Roger to North Carolina in the morning, but Roger rebuffs the offer, saying he’ll go it alone, knowing full well that the trip is doubly impossible, since he’s known about this for a week or two.

SCDP is in crisis mode.

As the pressure mounts, we see the principals in the firm tested, each in his own way.  Roger handles his by compounding his fraud by only pretending to fly to NC.  His call to Bert and the boys, the following day, is made not from the offices of American Tobacco, but from a nearby hotel room.  Roger’s fate as a totally irrelevant relic of a bygone era is all but sealed in this episode.  A mirror of this is represented in the death of a rival account man from a competing firm, a man with as WASPy a name as Roger’s – David Montgomery.

As everyone else in the firm is scrambling to protect the remaining accounts from a panic-induced flight, Roger sits in the same hotel room, drinking and feeling sorry for himself.  It’s all he knows.  Later, when he calls Joan and confesses, she’s obviously disgusted at his admission, and we can sense her respect for Roger (and thus, her romantic attraction) quickly fading to pity and perhaps anger, for now she is a Chinese Wall, if she chooses not to rat out her lover.

But at least Roger gets the best lines.  After paying a surprise visit to Joan at her apartment, in which he is rejected, Roger gets his coat and hat and pauses at the door.  “So that night we were mugged, that was the last time? [pause]  I wish I’d of known.”  Why, to savor the moment or take a bullet?  Bert gives what may be Roger’s epitaph the following day when he tells a defeated Roger, “Lee Garner never took you seriously because you never took yourself seriously.”  Touché’.

In the meantime, Bert and Don rally the troops, along with one of Lane’s lieutenants from accounting.  Don keeps the full impact of Lucky Strike’s departure from the staff, assuring everyone that even though the cash cow has died, everything will be fine.  Because Don is so highly revered, the staff seems to accept the news as a minor setback.

At the end of last season, Don led the rebellion that gave birth to SCDP, and in this episode, he is accountable for the failings of the firm.  Roger is as good as gone.  Bert is passé.  Lane is in London.  Pete is not ready for prime time.  And despite snapping unfairly at Pete at the loss of Glocoat, he handles himself fairly well…that is, until it comes to his women.

After a long day of being rejected by fleeing clients, Faye pays Don a visit to check-up on him.  As they talk, he asks her how she copes with rejection.  When she mentions angry clients, he asks which ones, meaning he wants some insider information.  Faye bristles at Don’s impropriety, offended that he would cross that line.  The scene quickly devolves to a fight in which Faye storms off into the night, but maintains her integrity…and dignity.

24 hours later, Don is wrapping up yet another rough day when Megan, his beautiful French Canadian secretary refuses to take no for an answer when she offers to help him work late into the night.  She out-Dons Don in this scene, smoothly seducing him (not exactly heavy lifting when we’re talking about Don Draper) by assuring him that their fling means nothing beyond that moment on that couch (we’ll see about that.  Can you say “Jane Siegel”?).  She’s done her homework, even going so far as to say that she, like Don, only judges people on their work, with everything else being sentimental.  Don, of course, is game.  Nothing clears Don Draper’s head like a one-night stand.

The cosmic check comes due on the Megan decision later that evening when Don finds Faye in the hallway of his apartment, leaving a note for him.  It may be a break-up note.  Fay invites herself in, and we find out, instead, that she’s compromised herself.  She’s brought Don a meeting with Heinz.  And with that decision, that toppling of the Chinese wall, we see some of the dignity leak out of another character.  The message is brought home when Don and Faye end up on the couch in the exact same pose as Roger and Jane from a scene or two earlier.  It’s a beautiful mirroring act.  Roger cares nothing for Jane, of course, and we’re left to guess that it’s the same for Don and Faye, a good woman who genuinely cares for Don, but who has sold herself out for him.

Speaking of Jane, after Megan and Don’s fling, there’s a cut to Jane at home, waiting on Roger.  This paring means something – is it that Megan, like Jane, is a conniving climber, looking for a trophy husband?  Perhaps.  She said she wouldn’t run weeping out of the office after her one-night-stand.  I think her grasping of Don’s arm, followed by warning against drinking too much might be a clue as to whom we’re dealing with.  She makes an implicit promise to be discrete – to keep this information to herself.

And then there’s Peggy.  In this episode, we see Peggy reach an important milestone in her career, but it’s as if it’s merely a footnote to the larger drama.  Indeed, Peggy spends the episode cut off from the rest of the SCDP action, in her own little bubble on the outside of the fear and drama that has come with the Lucky Strike bombshell.  While everyone else is running around putting out fires, Peggy is happy-go-lucky, taking the pressure of giving a solo pitch in stride, suffering the constant hazing of Stan with good natured aplomb, and knocking her pitch out of the park, despite having lipstick smeared across her teeth.  Sometimes walls punish.  Sometimes they protect.  For example, by not knowing that she had the lipstick smeared on her teeth, Peggy had no self-consciousness.

Though she’s only in a few scenes, the one’s where we see Peggy are priceless: the relaxation exercise with Stan, designed to loosen her up before the big pitch (and give Stan an opportunity to steal a kiss); the meeting with Danny, where Peggy does her own take on a Don Draper poetic finale to a presentation.  And of course, her lipstick smeared pitch.

Finally, there’s the funeral scene, where Bert, Don, Pete, and Freddy Rumsen have gone to troll for business.  It’s a beautifully constructed moment.  Montgomery’s widow and daughter sit next to the dais, glum and vacant.  Two speakers give remarkable speeches that are designed to be testimonials of what a great guy Montgomery was, but what we learn instead is that he spent almost all of his time away from his family.  One man tells of the time Montgomery missed his daughter’s fifth birthday (cut to Pete, missing the birth of his own daughter) to win the Buick account in Detroit.  Montgomery compensated with a thoughtful present.  Another man told of the thimbles Montgomery collected in England while away on business, yet another male-oriented testimonial to the man’s sensitivity – that somehow, the tokens that Montgomery purchased should be sufficient substitutes for having the actual man present in the lives of his wife and daughter.

And it’s here that the meaning of the Chinese wall is expanded, I think, to include the barrier between work and home.  Don and Pete and Ken and Pete’s father-in-law have all, like the deceased Montgomery, put work before family, and only Don seems to grasp this during the eulogies for the dead rival.  And seeing that Don recognizes this on some level is what is so infuriating about the man.  There is depth to him, for sure, but he can’t pull himself out of the muck and mire of the bad decisions he can’t quit making.

And so, at the end of the episode, as Don sits on the couch, a mirror of his hollow mentor, we can only guess at his state of mind.  Is he repentant of his transgressions against Faye, or is he only sleeping, having moved already moved on, if only in his mind?