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Friday, 16 of April of 2021

Mad Men – “Chinese Wall”

“I’m not the solution to your problems. I’m another problem.”

Don tries to reassure the office that everything will be okay.

Dude’s preaching.

I feel like every week I talk about how we’re one step closer to the inevitable downfall of Don Draper, that we are on the brink of black-hole levels of disaster, the entirety of his social and professional network sucked into the abyss left behind by his mighty supernova. I’m chasing beams of light I think I see from the not-too-distant explosion, forecasting to you, the reader, what has to be around the corner. It just has to be.

Noel covered Mad Men the week “Waldorf Stories” aired and pointed out that things that happen to Don are typically covered in plaster, the monumental errors of his ways typically forgotten, almost sit-com style, until they boil over later if they emerge at all. Last week’s episode featured a panic the level of which we’ve never seen Don suffer in the series. He was irrational and impulsive to a destructive level. But, in the end, it was all okay, his behind covered with the loss of (what turns out to be) a precious account. Though this is an obvious part of the series, I’m starting to become jaded to the fact that we might always be on the brink of Don’s collapse. He is constantly a dying star that finds new ways to slowly burn out while finding new fuels to burn off. The loss of Lucky Strike is a new catalyst for disaster, a new reason for him to make some bad decisions, to forget why he’s trying to rise from the wreckage, and to surrender to his overwhelming self-destruction.

What a weird thing to keep us watching, waiting for the catastrophic and wondrous implosion our protagonist. With the season coming to a close, you have to feel like those beams of light can’t be travelling from too far away now, that we have to see the bang soon. And God help us if it starts from Megan.

Don is a star. A superstar. Did you see him in that meeting when the partners (minus Roger and Lane) told everyone else from SCDP about Lucky Strike backing out? Cooper might as well have introduced him as “partner — creative director — your own personal Jesus.” While he read a script, Draper was off the cuff, confident, stalwart about what the company needed to do despite the fact that he doesn’t even know what’s going to happen. This, of course, is the messianic charisma the agency has always required from Don though he’s reluctant to give unless his back is against the wall. Some of the people are roused around the cause (though Don could’ve said “We’re going to be potato farmers!” and Peggy would be moved) and some of them weren’t. The sentiment that the agency is suffering the “last days of Rome” is laughable as SCDP is no empire, and especially comedic since Stan and Danny think that means the girls are ripe for orgies, but it’s more interesting in ideals. To view the dissolution of the agency as the collapse of what you believe in is an interesting comparison, certainly for someone like Peggy (who has staunchly defended her agency for several episodes to her anti-establishment friends) but also for anyone else in the agency that jumped ship at their last firm to follow Don Draper into the darkness. The fact that, when hearing about the mortal blow to the company, people are still working (even if they’re not there as late as Don) and not sending out their resumes (because, let’s face it, Pete is no threat despite his call for executions) demonstrates how committed everyone there is. Which makes Don’s breaches of the Chinese wall so devastating.

Now, you can see every one else breaching their personal Chinese walls. Pete exists in a constant state of exchange through his wall separating business and personal as he does business with his father-in-law. He confides in him about the loss of Lucky Strike, to which Joe tells him it’s time to forget this fanciful dream and get a job at an established firm. Magically, a guy from CGC appears to offer Pete an interesting opportunity.

An exhausted Roger accepts goodbye from Joan.

A couple of respectable profiles.

Roger’s Chinese wall looks like Berlin Wall around the end of 1989. His personal life has bled so much into his professional existence that it’s hard to tell if Roger is actually working. Cooper has the the same sentiment, telling him that Lucky Strike never took him seriously because Roger never takes himself seriously. This is after Joan refutes his assertion that she is his salvation by telling him that she’s just another problem in his whirlwind of problems. He goes home to his wife, also an affair from the job, to find his bound autobiography, certainly to be the ultimate trespass of Chinese wall as it accounts for his life as a whole.

Peggy is sleeping with an enemy of her industry. As much as Abe and Peggy seem to like each other (gross), he is an amateur radical and she is a staunch Draperian (though substitutes his nihilism for idealism). She’s letting him in, however, or at least giving him (and us) the perception that she is. She calls him her boyfriend. She seems giddy when thinking about him. Mistake.

And then there is the obvious one: the business funeral. In order to poach “vulnerable” clients of the deceased, SCDP’s top dog talent is sent talk up their agency. I was ashamed at first that I was reminded of the time Lorelai and Sookie tried to poach the Dragonfly at the funeral of its owner on Gilmore Girls but then noticed Myles McNutt had the same inkling so it wasn’t just my own Lorelai obsession.

But, of course, leave it to Draper to crush his wall in shining example of jackassery you could probably see from space.

First of all is the obvious treachery to the Chinese wall: asking Faye to poach clients for him. The scene is uncomfortable as Don is desperate and using his charms for overt evil rather than the subtle soul-crushing for which he typically uses them. Faye at first is resistent, upset that he could even suggest such a thing, to use their personal relationship for professional gain. Don, of course, sees that boundary as a human construct and is almost exasperated that she would get worked up over a simple request. Women are so silly.

Sillier even that she does it anyway, essentially handing him the keys to Heinz, citing that how he figures into her life is more important than the breach of ethical conduct. What started off as being a fling has transformed, at least from when he asked her to babysit his kid (“Beautiful Girls”) and into this episode where they’re working as a team to maintain his career together. At least that’s what’s going on in her mind. Faye has fallen for ol’ Don Draper and doesn’t care whether or not he admits he loves her back. The things he’s asked her to be involved with is evidence enough for her that they have something special together. And it’s good that she doesn’t require him to say it. Because he probably/almost-assuredly doesn’t.

Don Draper is a monster.

Don and Megan sit down for some training.

NOOOOOOOOO!

Remember that look from last week when we hoped to the stars meant that Don didn’t give Megan the Beatles tickets? Well, he didn’t (I don’t think) but the squinty-eye gaze was actually the Squinty-Eye Gaze of Seduction even if she wasn’t paying attention. Once again, Don Draper dips his wick into the company ink, crushing underfoot any semblance of a wall of professional separation that he had with Megan. The only interesting part of the exchange is that, unlike Allision, Don felt like he should pull back. She basically tells him it’s not about attachment, it’s not about crying and running out of his office, but it’s about right now. Megan is Don’s backstage girl.

So as Faye comforts Don, professionally and personally, at home, asking only that he sit with her, he probably sighs a bit of relief because she could probably smell a little bit of Megan on him if she tried hard enough.

So what if she did try? What if she were to find out about what she might perceive as an infidelity? Would that be the eventual undoing of Don Draper as Faye has so much dirt on the man? Would she be vindictive enough to to finally do to him what he’s been trying to do to himself for ages and break the man? I say no. A friend of mine was watching this week’s episode and asked, “Is Faye going to find Don with Megan?” “Nah,” I said. “That’s too easy.” And then later, “Maybe she’ll taste her on him when they kiss — nah, that’s too easy, too, right?” “Yep.” If Don is undone by a woman scorned, I might feel a little bit of disappointment. Sure, it’ll be poetic for the philanderer to have screwed just one woman too many in his time and for that woman to exact proper revenge but we already have enough blonde villains in this series and Betty is cold enough for everyone.

Other stuff:

  • Seriously, Stan. How many times does Peggy have to reject you?
  • I guffawed at the short joke with Danny. Oh, Doyle.
  • Is Ken Cosgrove engaged to Alex Mack?
  • I like how Peggy believes herself to have an effect on the karma of Don’s universe. “Every time something good happens, something bad happens.” She suggests that she’s paying for her delight. Because her universe is one of darkness and manipulation. There may be other universes but, in this one, good is squashed by overwhelming catastrophe.
  • Don, obviously unable to restrict his own behavior in a time of crisis, asks those around him to babysit him. This, of course, is probably what Megan saw as a way in. She doesn’t just do whatever he says; she also takes care of him and assumes responsibility for his transgressions. What a terrible job to have.
  • Brunettes and blondes are at odds in this series, particularly when Don Draper is involved. He obviously has a type: intelligent blonde bombshell. They are either the loves in his life or the comfort that he substitutes for his inability to love. Betty, Anna, Faye. Brunettes tend to have shallower relationships with him. Peggy’s hair is more mousy brown which is why she exists somewhere in between. Like my oversimplified theory? Is that an indication of Matt Weiner’s tastes, a conscious decision on the writers’ parts, or complete coincidence? You decide!

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