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Mad Men Recap: Episode 11 – Chinese Wall

October 3, 2010


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.

But WAIT!!!!

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.”

* * *

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.

Read previous Mad Men recaps.


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9 Responses to “ Mad Men Recap: Episode 11 – Chinese Wall ”

  1. Vince Noir on October 3, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Great review. Your insights on Megan were especially exciting to me: I didn’t even consider the “drugging people” angle. …And though I doubt that is the case (this show tends to be more subtle) , I think it will still probably fit well with her character in some way.

    God, I’m not sure if I want her or Faye to be The Good Woman, or neither, or both, because all options provide so much drama.

    Maybe our poor masochistic Don can end up in a loving relationship with Peggy, and they will understand each other perfectly, and they will have many fat grandchildren. And buy a beautiful two-story house in the suburbs. The end.

  2. bb on October 4, 2010 at 12:05 am

    You didn’t watch very closely. The reason that Peggy is with Abe in the morning is that they were together the night before–a scene early on showed them connecting while Peggy was riding in his lap in the car on the way home from swimming.

    Cosgrove isn’t dining with his family when he hears from BBDO about Lucky Strike; he’s with his fiance and his parents, apparently meeting them for the first time.

    Stan gives Peggy a weird look about the lipstick because he had noticed it earlier in her office, when she asked him if she looked okay. He didn’t tell her about it then presumably because he was feeling rejected by her.

    Good catch about Freddy’s AA meeting though.

    Also, it’s CLIO not CLEO and Olson not Olsen.

  3. Roger Sterling on October 4, 2010 at 2:47 am

    bb, she’s just a girl, her brain can’t handle proper spelling.

  4. Rinky Dink on October 4, 2010 at 3:17 am

    Peggy’s reaction at being told about the lipstick on her teeth was amusement at her first assumption about why the guy was doing that thing with his tongue while she was talking. It had looked like an icky pass, but he was just signaling her to clean off her teeth.

  5. gg on October 4, 2010 at 7:25 am

    About the eulogies at the funeral, you said they were ironic because they were making the point his family was more important than work (unlike with Don, Pete, Ken, Roger) – I THINK the eulogizers were recalling all the times the dead man had been away on business (3 months in Europe trying to win a client, etc.) but he always managed to buy something to take hom to the wife and kids (the business got his “all” and family got the crumbs). So the irony was that he DID put his work first, his family second (and the eulogizers were having to come up with pathetic little anecdotes to show how much he “cared” about his family). Thus the stoney looks on his wife’s and daughter’s faces, showing the emotional distance between them and the departed (oh David, they hardly knew you). A very very sad commentary . . . no one is really grieving the dead man – not his family, not the industry people, because for all of the business people in the room, the service is just an obligation (his clients, co-workers) or an opportunity (Don, Pete, etc).

  6. Grace on October 4, 2010 at 8:35 am

    Hey bb, Honestly, the problem was that my DVR didn’t record the first 3 minutes so I missed that Abe-Peggy set-up as well as the identities of the parents at Ken’s dinner (I thought they were HIS parents). Thanks for the correction.

  7. amanda on October 4, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Wonderful recap Grace! Love your insights on the male/female divide and the Chinese Wall–the pattern of this episode’s plot.

    I wonder if Joan is pregnant because she taps on a cigarette but never lights it and also when Roger was in her apt she said something like “Now I’m another problem for you.” Maybe she will be hitting him up for child support in seven months? She could be a 1960s counter-culture-type single mom forging the way before the world heard of Helen Reddy.

    I’m still wondering about the Pete’s baby. Trudy was in labor for days…Is there another shoe to drop? Why didn’t we see a shot of healthy baby and mother?

    Not sure how well activist Abe and hyper-focused company-woman Peggy really fit together. I can’t see two people with such extreme differences falling in love.

    Will super ambitious Megan be the next Mrs. Draper…and be a working mom? How will Don dump Faye? I’m sure he will. Still wonder if Matthew Weiner (once a Soprano’s writer) will throw a bit of mob color into the scene since Faye’s dad is a small-time mobster. Faye has the big secret Don is covering up…it’s not going to be pretty. As you said, she also compromised her professional ethics for Don. She will be one super angry lady if he dumps her.

    The characters are really resonating and it will be so fun to see how the season ends in a few weeks.

  8. Maya on October 5, 2010 at 1:43 am

    “Man, the writers are really spelling everything out for us, kids. This—work, SCDP, the agency, the career—is everything.” — Hi Grace, I didn’t get any of this at all! I didn’t know what on earth the writers were trying to tell me. It just seemed like a whole lot of scenes and stuff happening.
    I wished the whole episode had been about Abe & Peggy. That’s cuz I’m the kind of person who loved the OC…I love romantic drama.

    I can explain the Stan-Rizzo part with Peggy and her just giggling. I don’t find Stan Rizzo appalling, and I don’t think Peggy thinks he is either. He just has a lingering crush on her, and he wanted to get back at her (for not kissing him back). He said he didn’t have hard feelings, but he really did. Anyway, she giggled because she realized he was just getting back at her. Maybe she was also flattered.
    Also I don’t think he did it on purpose. I believe she applied lipstick after he kissed her.

    As I hinted, I didn’t really enjoy the episode, but I think I probably just didn’t enjoy the stress of the company scrambling around, the absence of more Peggy&Abe scenes, and I didn’t enjoy the last scene with Megan&Don, probably b/c it was just too sudden.

  9. Ally on October 5, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Great post! I would just have to disagree with two of your sweeping statements:

    “Don has real strength of character and mind.”

    Really?!? The Don who has to get drunk to handle any hard news or assemble his kids’ playhouse? The one who until recently, dumped his work aggravation on Peggy? The one who lied to his wife about everything for years? The one who told his only living relative, his half-brother, to get the hell out of his life, driving him to suicide? “Sense of purpose” maybe; “sense of character” no way.

    “… the men of SCDP choose work over family, sentiment, emotional and personal life. Meanwhile, the women … [d]espite their strong commitment to their work, in the end they both allow their feelings and relationships take precedence.”

    I think this is a reductionist way to phrase it. I would say that the men sacrifice their personal lives to succeed at work; whereas the women realize that some success in both spheres is necessary for happiness. Pete and Don’s cowed faces at the funeral, as they consider the important moment in their daughters’ lives they will miss or have missed spoke to the realization of their blinkered sacrifice (not that it will change their behavior in the future).

    In this very episode, Peggy puts the work presentation first, while Jughead puts his hurt feelings first (he didn’t tell her about the lipstick & the clients might have rejected the opinions of someone who looked foolish). Also, Pete’s father-in-law, almot evey time he appears, expresses the primacy of family over work (like in this episode, in the waiting room: “There’s no work here.”)

    I don’t doubt that the 60s (and earlier and later times) tried to enforce the kind of rigid gendered preoccupations you mention; I just think the show has the intelligence to look at the interests of the interesting individuals presented; not just the clichéd ones of the time.

    I post this in the spirit of a discussion, not a criticism!