Remember the snappy season finale of ‘Mad Men’ last year – the episode where the gang started a brand new agency and everything had a certain feeling of hopeful effervescence? After this week’s episode, in which Peggy claims that the downfall of the company is probably due to the fact that she had naughty role-playing sex with her hippie boyfriend, it’s hard to imagine anything even remotely optimistic about ‘Mad Men’ again – especially since we’re headed into the final two episodes of the season. This is the stretch of episodes that once gave us the long-winded, thematically confused bout of Don Draper soul searching. It looks like things may get even more dire this year. (Am I the only one who gets the impression that Roger is not long for this earth?)
Things happen so quickly this week, in an episode appropriately titled ‘Chinese Wall.’ There seems to be a whole season’s worth of plot developments in this single episode. It’s hard to sort out what will probably reverberate in future episodes. This much is clear: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is in big time trouble. Not only has Lucky Strike left, but others are following, scared that the agency may be on the way out permanently. This has put everyone into a frenzy. A sense of heightened alert, much like the Cold War, seems to seize the office and not let go. Everyone is spinning off his or her axis, and Don looks the most doomed.
First, he asks his adorable, dependable girlfriend Faye to break professional ethics and give him the scoop on itchy clients at other agencies – immediately after he gets down with his birdlike secretary Megan. It’s refreshing to have Megan command the situation by letting him know that he won’t be hurting her if they don’t speak the next day. But it’s still Don slipping back into his old ways. Earlier in the episode, he told Megan to stop him from drinking after three glasses, but we’re guessing the particular vice of Megan herself will prove much more damning. (How heartbreaking is it to see Faye back at his apartment after his tryst? Supplying him with information and asking him to snuggle? Ah! The agony!)
Yet there’s no one more damned this week than Roger. First he goes through the motions, lying about his knowledge and involvement in Lucky Strike abandoning the company. He lies about knowing about it, then lies when he says that he’d fly down south to sort everything out. Instead, he just squirrels himself away at a downtown hotel. It feels pathetic and dangerous. The second part of the episode is particularly glum. Roger returns home after being rejected by Joan. (That moment when he says “I wish I’d known it was the last time” is so spot-on and emotionally acute that I wanted to high-five the television.) Then he’s treated to a box of his new memoir (‘Sterling’s Gold’), handed to him by his doting wife Jane (the first time we’ve seen her all season!). Half of me expected Roger to shuffle off and end his life, there’s such an air of finality. Of course, this still might be in the cards if the situation doesn’t improve…
At least Peggy is kicking ass. Not only does she get her mojo back after a full day at Jones Beach, but she also does a great job on a presentation, even with a huge gob of lipstick coating her teeth. This is proof that Peggy’s power is in her performance and not her appearance, which is part of the reason she smiles after her jerky Stan told her about the lipstick.
And about jerky Stan, his forced kiss has been implied elsewhere as “attempted rape,” which I don’t think is quite right. The guy is an asshole. He tries to put the moves on her, but Peggy is such a force of nature, she pushes him away and finishes the presentation, even with lipstick all over her. There’s been internet scuttlebutt that Stan will be replaced by the dearly beloved Sal. My fingers are crossed too.
Oh, and congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Pete Campbell for welcoming a baby girl into the world. Mazel tov!