Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: Madmen "Chinese Wall"

Non Spoiler Review:
It's no surprise, coming on the heals of last week's Lucky Strike bomb, that Roger's delaying tactics would not last forever. What unfolds plays out much like a "Where were you when Kennedy was shot", except now it's "Where were you when SCDP lost Lucky Strike".

Mad Men hits the ground running and doesn't let up as SCDP must contend with the ramifications of their worst nightmare. Don, Roger and Peggy lapse into self-destructive behaviours, all against the background of a protracted labor for Trudy and some soul searching for Pete. An intense and aggravating episode.

Spoilers Now!
We start with a nice dinner with Ken and his fiancee Cynthia, and her parents (Leland Palmer!), when he is interrupted by a rival accounts man, who is sorry to hear about the news. Ken thinks it's regarding the death of a well known ad man at his previous firm, but it's really about losing Lucky Strike. Panicked calls ensure, first with Pete, who is waiting for Trudy to give birth, then to a horrified Don, prompting a partner's meeting.

Roger lies and lies about Lee Garner, even faking a phone call in front of the partners (apparently Lee did not honor his thirty day promise). Don berates Roger for being unable to even handle just one account, and everyone goes into damage control, including an all staff meeting which promises no changes for the time being.

Peggy, meanwhile, has run into Abe again and opts to indulge in a fling with him. He doesn't seem crazy anymore, and rather quite likable in an awkward way. She's thrust into the limelight to deliver a Playtex presentation on her own, while Don is out scoring business. Stan thinks she's easy pickings now that their in the final days of Rome, but is rebuffed by her again. He gets his revenge when Peggy delivers a great presentation to the client, but finds out she had lipstick all over her teeth, and he neglected to tell her.

In the aftermath of the news, SCDP loses the cleanser account for which they won the award earlier in the year, prompting Don to berate Pete this time, for not being focused. Don is completely in panic mode, striking out randomly at whomever enters his frame. He asks Faye to tell him which of her clients are unhappy and could be easy pickings for them. She's horrified he would ask such a thing, but his attitude that it's no big deal prompts her to storm out. This, of course, sets up a perfect opportunity for Megan to want to get to know the business and stay late working with Don. He indulges in their office tryst, and heads home to Faye at his apartment. He thinks she's breaking up with him, but instead she's given him a meeting with Heinz

Pete has a daughter, and amid being both praised and berated by Don, his father-in-law is setting up a meeting with CDC who wants to poach Pete. It's time to grow up, his father-in-law says, now that he has a family.

Roger can't seem to get a break, as he reveals to Joan that he lost Lucky Strike earlier, and didn't even go on a trip to meet with the board. She's torn about what to do with the news, but she does decide to end their association once and for all. Roger is devastated, and goes home to his wife, where his brand new book has arrived, Sterlings Gold.

What Worked:
This episode moved along at a brisk pace, much like last season's finale, as the domino effect of Lucky Strike's collapse sent all sorts of bad things into play. We get a sense of what this loss truly means, after four years of hyping the importance of the tobacco company—other accounts beginning to jump ship once they smell blood, and worries that staff will start to get picked off by rival firms.

The partners attend the funeral of the ad man, with a great scene in which they deconstruct the crowd for potential clients while the eulogy drones on. Equally effective is Don and Pete musing over the wife and daughter (looking surprisingly Sally-like) while the speaker comments how they gave up their father/husband over to his work.

Don's self-destructive streak returns, sabotaging his relationship with Faye. This was inevitable, sadly, but very effective watching the train wreck unfold. On the plus side, he is still limiting his drinking. And it's no surprise he fell for Megan, given she's completely his type.

Stan was actually somewhat tolerable this episode. He is extremely attracted to Peggy, so her constant rebuff has brought them to a playful flirting. I do not want them to hook up, but this was the first time his teasing of Peggy seemed less mean-spirited and more schoolboy crush.

The dilemma facing Pete is a sympathetic one. Given how he has been treated in this and previous episodes, the fact that he has put his family as a priority is admirable, and that may mean he jumps ship and helps seal SCDP's face. Would we blame him?

Peggy's presentation could easily have turned into a grand failure given all the other shenanigans going on around the office, but she nails it, and aside from the embarrassment of her lipstick faux pas, has likely saved the account. It was nice to get that positive moment in an otherwise morose episode, and especially pleasing was yet another exchange of confidence and respect between her and Don.

Roger's destruction continues. With Joan's slapdown and the end of any relevance he has at the firm, I'm expecting a suicide/heart attack moment at any time. Tick tock.

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