All words: Alan Zilberman and Peter Mergenthaler
Good morning, and welcome to BYT’s weekly MAD MEN hangover! In lieu of a traditional recap, I instead offer a somewhat edited, highly spirited debate between myself and a fellow TV junkie. Joining me is Pete, my old roommate who helped jumpstart my obsession with serialized TV dramas. Without further ado, let’s get into what’s new at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce!
- News of American Tobacco’s defection to a rival agency leaks to Ken, then to Pete, then to Don, at which point the partners decide to let the office know that they’ve lost Lucky Strike. No one is fired on the spot, and everyone is encouraged to work harder, but, as Don says later behind closed doors, “We don’t even know how bad this is going to be.”
- Don and Faye have a nasty falling-out when Don asks her to test clients’ moods – an abuse of her professional connections, and a breach of the Chinese wall she’s been forced to build for herself at SCDP. After the argument, Don has emergency office-sex with Megan, the mostly with-it secretary who has stepped in for the totally dead Mrs. Blankenship. Megan insists that she’s a big girl who can compartmentalize. Later, Faye appears at Don’s apartment with the kind of information Don had asked for, and they presumably screw.
- Roger, who has known about American Tobacco for weeks, play-acts an argument with American Tobacco for the partners and pretends to fly to North Carolina for a man-to-man chat with Lee Garner Jr. Everyone is on his case for the catastrophe, including Cooper. Roger goes to Joan for solace, but she emphatically puts an end to their dalliances. He looks like he’s going to kill himself but doesn’t.
- Peggy is dating Abe. Trudy, after some difficulty, delivers a baby girl. Proud papa Pete is wooed by overtures from a competing agency.
Alan: Last week we learned that Lucky Strike is leaving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. For a while, Roger was content to keep the news to himself. After Cosgrove’s fateful meeting, the cat was out of the bag, and the entire agency was left reeling.
Pete: Well, Don and the partners are reeling. Most people take the news in stride, though it’s clear everybody understands that their entire lives are up in the air now.
Alan: A well-taken clarification. Peggy, for example, has less invested in the company than Don or Pete, so while she’s disturbed by the news, she’s relatively certain she’ll land on her feet.
Pete: Her story this week is almost intentionally deflating. After a wham-bam “Previously on Mad Men” — Lee Garner Jr. breaking the American Tobacco news to Roger, etc. — the episode literally begins with a trip to the beach. Peggy’s grown closer to Abe, and they spend the night together. And later, when she successfully pitches a client with lipstick all over her teeth, it’s clearly meant to lighten the hard-and-fast facts of losing Lucky Strike. It’s sweet stuff, but it definitely sticks out.
Alan: Regarding the lipstick on the teeth, I am curious about Stan’s motivation for omitting that detail about her appearance. Was he exacting revenge because Peggy refused his advances? Was it a strategic move to win the clients’ minds? Either way it seemed like a stupid decision, particularly in light of Don’s speech to the Creative team.
Pete: It was stupid and petty, and I think it was about revenge. Totally in character, but it only serves to remind us that another episode has gone by with no mention of Sal Romano, who would have Stan’s job, right? I know SCDP isn’t exactly in a rebuilding phase, but couldn’t somebody float the idea?
Alan: It’s certainly a possibility as the agency recovers from this potentially devastating loss. Speaking of which, let’s discuss Roger’s episode arc. For a while it seems as if he’ll off himself, but I think he’s too weak for such a decision. In private scenes with Joan and Bert, they spoke to Roger as if he’s a child, and that’s exactly how he’s behaving. He whines about his loss, begs for forgiveness, and lashes out when others chastise him. Given Roger’s privilege and lackadaisical work attitude, it makes perfect sense. John Slattery did a superb job in this episode.
Pete: Definitely. How pathetic was the scene where he fakes a phone call to Lee Garner Jr., feigning outrage about the decision to move all of their business to BBDO? It was difficult to watch. He also made the best out of his scenes with Joan, which were a bit staid this week. She fed him three different versions of “We can’t do this anymore” in three minutes, and he still managed to look crushed. Now that we’ve seen the Lucky Strike fallout, though, what do you think of his decision to keep the news private? Was it a bad idea, or was it worth the trouble to try to privately drum up some old accounts?
Alan: It would have been worthwhile if Roger’s reach out efforts weren’t so halfhearted. In last week’s episode, he seemed as if he was going through the motions. The other partners had a far superior response than Roger. They won’t go down without a fight, and their anger balances Roger’s depression nicely. Still, it was uncomfortable to see Don lose his cool over the loss of a client for whom he won a CLEO.
Pete: Their shock was the most full-throated dressing-down of Roger’s performance at SCDP yet. “You do what you can do, which is nothing,” Don barks at him, seething. The show seems to be building toward something here. Roger’s unhappy, he claims to be working at SCDP as a “favor,” and now he’s dead weight. Do you think he’s done for, at least professionally? It has to be his choice, obviously, but he seems to be in a position where he might well choose idle drunkenness.
Alan: Definitely the easier choice. The last shot of Roger, young wife and memoirs in tow, show the easy path ahead. As far Roger’s career, I’m going to withhold my reservations until Lane returns. He has a better grasp of SCDP’s inner-workings than anyone. If the other partners oust Roger, Lane will be the driving engine. I could definitely see it going either way – at this point it might be a canny decision to have Roger leave, as his melancholy mood doesn’t play to the character’s strengths (i.e. superb one-liners).
Pete: Yeah, he wasn’t a quote-machine tonight. And he definitely didn’t rally the troops the way Don did, even though he seems only to half-believe the words coming out of his mouth.
Alan: I did like the bittersweet way Roger says of his last tryst with Joan, “So that time in the alley was our last? I wish I’d have known that.”
Pete: About trysts — was it your understanding that Don was technically still with Faye when the Megan encounter went down?
Alan: I think so. When Faye leaves Don’s office (I love the little touch that she doesn’t slam the door), I got the feeling that the relationship had a serious hiccup, not that it ended. Don may be trying to change, but he’ll nab another woman when it’s convenient. What do you think?
Pete: When she storms out after their argument, she says, “I know the difference between what we have and this stupid office.” Have, not “had.” So he knows she believes that their fling is still on, and yet he bangs Megan anyway. I don’t know what to make of it, or what to make of the show’s direction to drag us through this rabbit-hole again. Is the only new wrinkle the fact that this secretary won’t take their fucking seriously?
Alan: Perhaps so. It won’t be new dramatic ground if Faye uncovers their affair, so I hope the writers don’t go down that route. Actually, the Megan/Faye/Don plotline definitely felt too familiar, especially since they’ve already examined Don’s “two steps forward, one step back” reform effort.
Pete: Right. I mean, even ending the relationship would feel too familiar at this point. But there are glimmers of progress, even if they are incredibly understated. The conversation between Don and Peggy, right after the company-wide revelation of American Tobacco’s departure, felt like a professional exchange between two people who understand each other. Imagine how different that moment would have felt before “The Suitcase,” or if “The Suitcase” had never happened.
Alan: It certainly would have been less interesting. With two episodes left in this season, this episode was more about getting the plot in order rather than driving it forward (a common occurrence in shows with season-long arcs). We can expect a strong penultimate episode and finale, and until then, this episode offered enough character-driven moments to keep us interested. For example, I like how Don yells at Pete for dropping an account, then uses him as an exemplary account man against Roger.
Pete: I also thought the Pete stuff was particularly good this week. We’ve talked before about his personal growth spurts, but he really behaved like a grown-up through this entire ordeal. And when the CGC slimeball was listing his accomplishments, his value to SCDP became pretty clear. Even with the slimeball offering him a name on the masthead.
Alan: While not a source of comic relief, Pete has become a dependable anchor for the show. I like how the writers have revealed Pete’s competence slowly. His rise (along with the fall of others) is incremental enough to remain believable.
Pete: Parting shots? The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Ray Wise cameo was distracting and unsatisfying. If the entire show were to become about Ken Cosgrove’s future father-in-law, I wouldn’t be disappointed.
Alan: Who’s Ray Wise? I must have blinked then. Speaking of Ken’s family, I was so happy to see Larisa Oleynik, AKA Alex Mack, as Ken’s wife. I had such a crush on her when I was younger, and it’s always good to see a familiar face.
Pete: Twin Peaks? Reaper? He’s a veteran TV actor and a reliably engaging bad guy. And I share your Alex Mack thing, so I think we agree that the show needs more of Ken’s family.
Alan: One final thought: a lot of friends
and fellow Mad Men re-cappers offered the theory that Joan kept the baby. There was little concrete evidence this episode one way or the other. Does Joan’s tactful handling of Roger offer any insight as to whether she’s with child?
Pete: I think she’s too smart to try to pull a stunt that poorly conceived, even though a female character on the show has done it before. And that’s really all I have to say about it. I have so little interest in her affair with Roger and any lingering evidence of it.
Alan: Methinks there will be some dramatic heft if she keeps the baby and Roger leaves the company.
Pete: Only time (and about a season’s worth of episodes) will tell.
Alan: An apt end to a solid recap. Until next week!