Mad Men Recap: Episode 11 – Chinese Wall
THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WORK
After the speedy, wham-bam non-stop knockouts of last week’s episode, Chinese Wall returns to more thematically rich writing in this study in men versus women, work versus personal life.
In every way, at every point (with the noticeable exception of Roger), the men of SCDP choose work over family, sentiment, emotional and personal life. Meanwhile, the women—Peggy and Faye—do exactly the opposite. Despite their strong commitment to their work, in the end they both allow their feelings and relationships take precedence. Faye even allows her feelings for Don to breach the Chinese wall between advertising agency clients, as well as her ethics.
But speaking of ethics, we must start with Roger. Our question at the close of last episode as to how long, exactly, he planned to keep the Lucky Strike news to himself is immediately answered. He hasn’t made a move to tell anyone at all, or give SCDP as much as a chance to “get their house in order.” What spineless scum.
Instead, Ken Cosgrove finds out having dinner with his family at a restaurant, when he runs into a BBDO guy who spills the beans: American Tobacco is consolidating all accounts.
Everything in this following sequence is very symbolic: Ken immediately leaves his parents and wife to rush to Pete, who is in the hospital where Trudy is in labor. Pete immediately leaves the hospital and the two of them call Don, who is having an intimate evening with Faye. Don immediately leaves Faye, and they all meet in the office.
And then: Roger walks in and pretends ignorance. Unbelievable. When Don demands he call Lee Garner, he even performs an elaborate phone charade pretending to “argue” for the account, thumb over the hang-up button the whole while. Don says they have to take the 6AM flight to Raleigh-Durham the next morning, and Roger says he’ll do it.
Don goes back to Faye: “Every day I tried not to think about what would happen if this happened.” Faye tells him he’s the most hireable man on Madison Avenue. Don: “I’m not at that point yet.” In other words, he’s not jumping ship.
Same with Pete. When he returns to the hospital his idiot father-in-law gives him two characteristically awful pieces of advice: (1) be the kind of horrible old-fashioned father/husband he was: “I was at a ball game when Trudy was born. Go about your business.” (2) be a big company man. “I’m sure this agency was a thrill, but you’ve had your fun.” But Pete ignores this. He is also still with SCDP.
And then, WHOA, what a development! Seems Abe has finally won Peggy over as they are adorably postcoitally rumpled and breathless and pink-cheeked in her bedroom. He is sweet and shy and adoring, and she wants more. “I’m not usually like this,” she murmurs, as she draws him in for another morning quickie.
Roger is turning into a bigger and bigger rat. The lies proliferate as he pretends to have flown to North Carolina. What a farce! He calls SCDP, claiming to be calling from Lee’s receptionist’s phone. So much easier to lie before caller ID, eh? Why why why such a spineless rat? Simple cowardice and lack of character? Is he really all charm and no man?
Whole company meeting: the camera starts on Don’s lost eyes, but he bucks up and gives a rousing strong speech, like a Spartan general inspiring his troops before the final bloody battle: “Nothing should change. Nothing will change. Our work is thoughtful and effective. We’re going to push ourselves, shoulder-to-shoulder, and we’re going to overcome this, and succeed ten-fold.”
Peggy walks in late, all sex-dazed and smiley. Stan tells her what’s going on. The poor guy tries so hard to act tough but he’s really just naïve: “Sounds like everything’s under control.” Freddy: “I think I have to go to a meeting.” As in AA. That was a hilarious and poignant throw-away.
Don calls a creative meeting. He’s specific, tough and inspirational. The strategy is to keep their current clients happy: “Client ideas should sound better than they usually do. That means for the next few weeks the only words you know are Yes Sir!”
When he holds her back at the end of the meeting Peggy blurts, “Every time something good happens, something bad happens. I knew I’d pay for it.” Oh, Peggy. Oh Catholic-guilted Peggy. That’s your horrible mother talking.
Don tells her as much, all no-nonsense: “You’re not paying for anything. I’m counting on you.” That’s why I love Don. Where Roger is a selfish, gutless child, Don has real strength of character and mind.
Speaking of childish, Roger calls Joan and admits everything. He’s kept the news secret for weeks. Joan is appalled. Steely: “What am I supposed to do with this information?” Good for you, Joan. This is so ultimate Roger: shrinking from crisis while everyone else is rising to their best selves. Instead Roger is hiding in a hotel, lying and disloyal and begging for Mommy Joan to come solve his guilt and anxiety.
Peggy is working on her pitch for Playtex dishwashing gloves and her mind wanders to Abe. And then here walks in Abe himself, pretending to be a package delivery boy, with a package for her COD. Peggy, very smooth: “Let me go get my purse. [to the guys:] Go on, I’m going to practice my pitch.”
Bertram comes through too, with a genius idea: Dave Montgomery, the SVP of accounts at the #4 agency has just died. They’ll all go to his memorial, where “lots of vulnerable clients will be attending,” and troll for accounts.
Glo-Coat calls to drop SCDP and a furious Don rips into Pete (after shattering his Cleo). Watch closely. This is where the real divide, the obligatory Chinese Wall, between business life and personal life, is made explicit. Don to Pete: “Go to the hospital. That’s all that matters to you.” Pete: “Are you doubting my efforts?” Whereupon Don accuses Pete of being distracted. You know. By the birth of his first child, which by the way seems to be some sort of medical crisis because it’s taking days.
As if that’s not clear enough, next shot is Abe, walking out of Peggy’s office, after an obviously implied afternoon delight. Peggy is obviously distracted, and happily so. Stan sees him walk out and gets suspicious. Not to mention jealous and titillated.
Pete returns to the waiting room, where Ted Shaw tries to lure him away from SCDP. But again, Pete reaffirms his loyalty to the firm.
Roger visits Joan’s apartment, where he tries to pounce on her. “I need you right now,” Roger whines. And: “Because I feel like shit.” Talk about sweet talk. Thank goodness Joan has some sense and dignity: “I’m not the answer to your problems. I’m another problem.” She makes him leave and tells him it’s over.
8PM and Faye walks into Don’s office. He looks happy to see her but then their talk takes a turn, as Don suddenly realizes that in her consulting work for other agencies she hears which clients are unhappy and might be ripe for SCDP to pick off. A fight ensues when Faye refuses: “So I’m going to kill my business to save yours?” Don: “This is everything for me.” Man, the writers are really spelling everything out for us, kids. This—work, SCDP, the agency, the career—is everything. Not family. Not Faye.
Faye gets more and more indignant and sticks to her guns: “You want to throw me to the wolves so you can save your neck. Forget it.” Don: I would do it for you.” Faye: “I would never ask. I would never use you like that. Because I know the difference between what we have and a STUPID office.”
And there we have the thesis of this episode, ladies and gentlemen. And yes, she did emphasize “stupid.” Whereupon she stalks out.
Next day, Peggy is practicing her Playtex pitch and Stan, imagining in his Neanderthal little mind that she is in heat or something, comes on to her, with the classic lines of the era, no less. To begin: “You need to relax.” OMG!!! Has every woman in the world had that insulting, demeaning line fed to her? And then, when she rejects his kiss: “I was trying to do you a favor.” The classic would-be date rapist’s line. Thank you, Mad Men writers for this scene. What vindication in the vapid, callow, detestable person of Stan Rizzo.
The partners hear Roger’s debriefing of his “trip” to NC, while Joan listens, disgusted. When Don berates him for losing the only account he had to take care of, Roger claws back: “You’re the one who dragged me to your amateur hour. I was perfectly happy where I was. And why did I do it? Out of friendship.” Effectively sealing his place in hell.
Megan breaks in to announce that Trudy has had a baby girl. But does Pete rush off to the hospital? Hell to the no. Aren’t you paying attention? They’re MEN!! Instead he consults his watch: 40 minutes until Dave Montgomery’s memorial service where they can fish for accounts. Pete: “We should be going.” He and Don head out. Roger, weakly: “Where does Draper get off?” Bertram, scolding: “Lee Garner, Jr. never took you seriously because you never took yourself seriously.”
At the memorial Don, Pete, Freddy and Bert all watch voraciously as various clients get up to speak. While they see dollar signs and accounts ripe for poaching, the memorialists are all speaking of Mr. Montgomery’s devotion to his wife and daughter. Ironic enough for you?
Peggy’s pitch for Playtex: “Protect a woman’s touch.” She talks of a woman touching her baby’s cheek, her man’s skin. The things she does when the gloves come off. The client loves it, didn’t expect it to be so “romantic.” That’s cause there aren’t many woman creatives out there yet, guy.
Okay, here’s this week’s little scene I didn’t really understand: after the client leaves Harry tells Peggy she has lipstick on her teeth (not very nicely, I might add). Instead of—you know—congratulating her on a great campaign and great pitch and the new account. Peggy immediately regresses into girlish embarrassment. Then Stan gives her the weirdest look, like he’s pleased to see her humiliated. Or is it worse. Was the kiss a deliberate lipstick-smearing sabotage? Was it really that deliberate and evil? And why isn’t Peggy mad about all this? Why does she just shake her head all sheepishly? Is this all to accurately reflect the gender power dynamic of the day? I have no doubt things were this bad and worse.
Don returns to the office after the memorial and is surprised to see Megan still there: “I didn’t know if I should leave or not.” How dedicated. But wait. There’s more. She’s reassembled his Cleo. When he asks for Peggy she tells him that Peggy is gone (back to Abe, no doubt). Megan presses: “You’re sure you don’t want some help?” Wait for it… Don: “I think this may be a little complicated for you.” Oh, yeah. I’m sure plenty of women heard this line too. But from Don? Yet it somehow makes sense. Megan is so beautiful, and so mild and sweet and Bambi-eyed and unthreatening.
Megan: “I think someday I’d like to do what you do, or what Miss Olsen does.”
Bambi has ambition!!
What’s more, she’s saying: “You judge people on their work. I’m the same way. Everything else is sentimental.”
So beautiful, kind-to-children, soft-spoken Megan is not only ambitious, she’s declaring herself to have the balls of a man, not the heart of a woman.
Wow-o-wowee. You all called that Megan would have a bigger role than first appeared. But did any of us suspect THIS???? (Crazy theory of the day: she poisoned Miss Blankenship so she could move up to Don’s secretary.)
Not only that, then she puts the kibosh on Don’s next drink: “How many is that?” He’s asked her to stop him at three, but no one else would have had the balls to enforce it.
And then: SHE GOES IN FOR A KISS. And seduces him. Don tries to resist. At least, more than he ever has before: “Megan, I don’t think this I s a good idea.” Megan: “This has nothing to do with work.”
Let’s play that again: “THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WORK.”
Is Megan a new and different breed of woman? One who keeps the Chinese Wall between work and heart unbreached? Like a man? Or at least, like the stereotypical man of the era?
Cut to Roger plodding home to Janie, who has a surprise: his books have come in. A box of vanity-printed Sterling’s Gold. What a joke. And clueless Janie: “I’m so proud of you.” When perceptive, intelligent Joan is disgusted.
Don gets dressed after office sex with Megan and gets home only to find Faye in his hallway, slipping an envelope under the door: “I didn’t want to do this on the phone.” A break-up letter? But no. These writers are not letting this episode go without another thematic reprise. Faye is not leaving Don. No, quite the opposite. For love of Don—you know, the Don who just stuck his penis in another woman, another woman who knows and works with Faye, no less—for love of her man, Faye has turned her back on her ethical standards and risks her career. She “thought about what you are in my life right now,” and has gotten Don a meeting with a disgruntled client: Heinz. Vinegars, sauces, and beans. Her love offering.
And what does she want in return? “Just sit with me.”
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So much to mull over. This episode was as tight and rich as a short story. As a feminist, as a woman, as a woman with ambitions, as a woman with love and relationships, I especially loved it.
What about you? Add your thoughts below.