Monday, October 4, 2010

"Mad Men" recap: The troubled vessel

Spoilers for this week's episode of "Mad Men" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

Wow, the boat metaphors were flying fast and furious this week on "Mad Men" weren't they? Pete's father-in-law tells him that there's no nobility in "going down with the ship." Joan accuses Roger of treating her like a "port in a storm." Harry tells Peggy "avast yee Matey! Yer got some scurvy lipstick on yer teeth! Arrr!"
Well, I'm kind of making that part up. But you know what I mean. All these boat metaphors can only mean one thing -- the staff at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has learned about Lucky Strike bailing, and they all now feel like they're cruising on the Titanic. No wonder -- Lucky Strike was the bulk of their business, and, without it, they fear they'll be sunk (sorry. Couldn't help myself).
I have to say, given the pace of this show, I thought maybe we'd have one more episode before last week's Lucky Strike pull out came back into play. But we are nearing the end of the season, so, I guess it makes sense to speed things up a bit.
Anyway, the staff has found out, and Roger, who knew all along, is frantically trying to a) hide the fact that he's known about this for weeks and b) pretend like he's trying to do something to fix the problem, when, in reality, he's convinced the problem can't be fixed.
This involves a really lame fake phone call to Lee Garner Jr. (seriously -- did no one see Roger putting his hand on the hook as he spoke?) and a fake trip to Raleigh (really a hotel room outside midtown). Man, Roger is a coward, isn't he? First, he doesn't have the nerve to tell Don and co. what happened, then he lies about trying to fix it. And none of this subterfuge keeps Don, Bert, et. al. from being angry with him for the loss of the account.
Bert delivers one of his typically shame-inducing lines about Roger not taking himself seriously. Meanwhile, Don dresses Roger down for losing Lucky Strike -- which was Roger's only real responsibility at the new firm -- and goes so far to suggest that Pete never would have let such a thing happen. A bold statement for Don, and a wise one, considering how Don recently screwed Pete with North American Aviation. Meanwhile, Roger tantrums that he never wanted to leave their old firm in the first place, but did it out of friendship to Don. Yeesh. You know, if Don ever does succeed in saving himself, I think we have the example of Roger to thank for it. Roger, with his immaturity, cowardice and whining, is possibly the worst case scenario of the mid-1960s male. Even Joan feels compelled to cut him loose after he tells her that he has known about Lucky Strike for weeks. Roger's final moments in this week's episode, in which he pathetically signs a copy of his book (self-published, I assume), cement him as a sad figure who's well aware that his facade of wit and glamor is fading fast.
Anyway, as Roger goes on his downward spiral, the firm is flailing as well. Once word gets out, the firm loses Glo-Coat, despite Don's Clio-winning campaign. Don blames Pete (which makes his later defense of him to Roger all the more important) and Pete is understandably livid. Meanwhile, everyone is scrambling to save or get accounts.
And, admittedly, all is not totally lost. They still have Vick chemical (as Pete's father-in-law points out), Peggy nails the Playtex account (despite the lipstick on her teeth) and Faye gets Don an interview with Heinz (though he puts her in the uncomfortable position of compromising her ethics).
Due to a bad cold, I'm skipping right to the bullet points here. If I've left things out, or if you crave deeper analysis, feel free to discuss the episode amongst yourselves in the comment section.
Anyway, here are some more thoughts on this week's episode "Chinese Wall."
* In the midst of all this, poor Trudy Campbell is in labor. Unfortunately, her husband keeps getting called away to deal with the mess at Sterling, Cooper, et. al. (much to his mother-in-law's chagrin), and ends up missing the birth of his daughter. Rather than rush right over to the hospital, he chooses to join Don at the funeral of fallen ad man David Montgomery, a man whose defining characteristic seemed to be buying gifts for his daughter. Never mind. The funeral is apparently an ample opportunity for Pete and Don to try and poach some new clients. Oh, baby Campbell. Looks like you'll soon be joining Sally Draper in the Doomed Daughters of Mad Men Club. Hang in there, girl!
* Though we might scold Don and Pete for their lack of tact in invading the funeral, it must be noted that rival ad man Ted Chaough shows up at the hospital to try and woo Pete over to his firm. Pete says no, but why? Is it loyalty? Or is it pride? Whichever it is, I admire him on some level for his integrity in not bailing on his colleagues. But, I also agree with his father-in-law that Pete needs to start thinking about Trudy and the baby, and what's best for them. At what point does he give up on the new firm? Even if the company somehow makes it past this hump, there will probably be a few more before they're in the clear. And what kind of environment is that to raise a child in?
* While everyone around her is flailing, Peggy is actually kind of in a good mood. She and Abe the Serious Journalist reconcile after a crowded car ride, and have some pretty intense nookie. Peggy, as we've known for a while, is a pretty sexual woman, and I guess she's willing to overlook things like Abe's condescension and self-righteousness because she's hot for him. Meanwhile, in the episode's funniest storyline, Peggy's lust is noticeable to the two goofballs she works with, making them kind of hot for her. You know, I've remarked before on the similarities between Don's relationship with Peggy and the relationship between Jack and Liz on the sitcom "30 Rock." In light of that, it's funny to see Peggy dealing with the same issue on this week's "Mad Men" as Liz did on the most recent "30 Rock" episode. Once Peggy, like Liz, is with someone, she immediately becomes more attractive to other men. Of course, this can backfire. Liz found herself the recipient of some nasty rumors spread by an Islanders-loving editor (a fabulous cameo by Paul Giamatti). And Peggy finds herself the recipient of yet another unwanted advance by Stan. She rejects him and he, in retaliation, refuses to tell her she has lipstick on her teeth during the Playtex presentation. Petty, but funny.
* Two awesome moments during that Playtex presentation: Peggy's awkward confusion when the Playtex exec licks his teeth to signal her about the lipstick and Harry responding to Peggy's euphoria about her fine presentation with a typically blunt "You have lipstick all over your teeth."
* Don's relationship with Faye took two major hits this week. First, he asked her to cross the "Chinese wall" they have built between their professional lives to help him snag new clients. Faye is, rightfully, appalled. She ends up doing it, but I'm imagining that, by asking her to compromise herself, Don has perhaps mortally wounded Faye's trust in him. Even worse than that, in a moment of weakness, he sleeps with Megan. Yes, she assures him that she'll be less clingy than Alison was, but it's still probably a terrible idea. By episode's end, Don and Faye are sleeping in a snuggly, intimate pose, but I'm not sure how long that intimacy will last.
* Oh my God -- Ken's future father-in-law is the Devil! Or, at least, dad-in-law to be is played by Ray Wise, who brilliantly essayed Satan on The CW's short-lived series "Reaper." We see him only briefly, but it was still a thrill.
* OK, I'll say it -- Roger may be an immature douche, but no one wears a fedora like that man. When he slunk away from Joan's door late in the episode, gallantly tipping his hat, I sort of wanted her to take him back. Glad she didn't, but that hat was pretty irresistible.


Bill Scurry said...

Christina Hendricks makes cotton PJs way sexier than they have any right to be. That scene where she straightens Roger out was delightfully low key, making her points in an elevated whisper of exhaustion and regret. She's done a great job this season, having been asked to carry more on her shoulders than before.

If your ad agency is foundering, Don Draper is the guy you want making the seaworthiness-of-the-ship speech to rally the troops. Extra points to new creative guy Danny, straining to have a question answered but coming up just short of the mark.

Lee Steele said...

We are running out of episodes and Sal still hasn't returned!

Lucky Strike's exit may or may not foreshadow something. And the way people fall out of favor/get fired/transfer/die in a single episode, you never know what's in for that piggy current art director.

So there's hope. But I'm not too hopeful.