03 March 2011
Ending Season IV of Mad Men
Meanwhile, I've heard that Mad Magazine is coming out with its spoof in this year's April issue. Don Draper as Alfred E. Neuman. The thing almost writes itself.
Anyway, as always for no good reason, here's a quick review of the final three episodes.
This episode is called "Chinese wall." That's a ubiquitous term in the business world. It refers to any situation in which different operations are underway under the same corporate roof that could create conflicts. For example, a bank may have a research department that provides analysis for the benefit of clients, and may also have a 'prop desk' that trades in various securities on the bank's own accounts. There is a need for organizational arrangements that keep the two operations separate so they don't undermine each other, or amount to a pump-and-dump scheme or the like.
In this episode, it is Faye -- one of Don Draper's current romantic interests -- who alludes to a Chinese Wall. She doesn't work for Sterling Cooper. She is a consultant, and Sterling Cooper is but one of the ad agencies with whom she consults. She has to abide by a "Chinese wall," i.e. separating what she does for one client from what she does for another.
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, though, faces an existential crisis when it loses the Lucky Strike cigarette account. This was the account for which Don created the iconic line, "It's toasted" in the very first episode. That, though, was for "Sterling Cooper" full stop, and this is a new and somewhat wobbly firm, now in serious danger. So Don decides to climb right over Faye's Chinese Wall, and he asks her whether any of the other agencies that she advises are about to lose clients.
Peggy, with her stereotypical Catholic conscience, thinks the disappearance of the Lucky Strike account must be due to the fact that she's just had satisfying sex with a new man in her life. God is punishing her for that, surely. The punishments continue for Peggy, as she gives a client presentation while lipstick is plainly smudged on her teeth.
In the episode's final scene, Faye relents and tells Don that she does have a lead for him -- the Heinz people are thinking of a new agency for their beans.
This episode features the return of Midge, a much earlier example of Don's flings -- his bohemian Greenwich Village girlfriend from the first season. They used to smoke pot and listen to beat poetry, then he'd head back to Westchester. Her life has evidently not gone well since those heady days of 1960.
Midge has found out where Don's new office is, and arranges to seem to have accidentally bumped into him so she can invite him over to her place. She there introduces him to her husband, and together they work to cadge money out of him, as it becomes clear they are both heroin addicts. Don agrees to "buy a painting" in which he has no interest, giving her the cash she has on hand, and then walking off with the painting, an undistinguished effort at surrealism.
Even before all that, though, Don had met with the man Faye had connected him with, the man from Heinz. They talk about beans ads. The meeting doesn't go well. The Heinz guy was thinking of SCDP as a possible resource months down the road -- Don knew that his agency needed income sooner than that, and his desperation has shown.
Later in the episode, our protagonists try to get a meeting with another tobacco company so they can transfer their Lucky Strike derived expertise in that area. They are rebuffed.
At this point, Peggy reminds Don of something he had said to her years before, "If you don't like what they're saying aout you, change the conversation." It doesn't strike a chord at first.
That evening he loooks again at Midge's painting. The gears fall into place. Change the conversation ... addiction ... heroin ... tobacco. Aha! He goes back to the notebook/diary he had started a couple of episodes back, and this time uses it for a non-Pepys-like purpose -- he uses its pages to draft an ad he will have placed in The New York Times the following morning, denouncing tobacco and avowing that SCDP will no longer do that kind of work.
His secretary (and yet anther romantic interest) Megan puts the gist of this gambit best. "It's saying 'he didn't dump me, I dumped him.'"
Don is with Faye as this episode begins. Don is going to California with his kids, and Faye says goodbye. She has seen him (earlier in this season) in the midst of a panic attack over the danger that his Korea/desertion past will yet catch up with him, and in their goodbye scene she tells him that he has to find a way to come out as Dick Whitman. He tells her it isn't that simple.
Don's original plan had been to take his kids' nanny, Carla, along with him for this trip. But his ex-wife (for reasons I won't try to relate -- this all gets pretty complicated) has fired Carla and doggedly demands he not re-hire her for such a purpose. Faye isn't any good with kids, as we've learned from earlier interactions. So ... Megan comes to California.
While Don and Megan and the kids are in California, the folks back at the office are still trying to save SCDP. Except that maybe it is now SDP, becase Cooper, enraged at Don's anti-tobacco-industry ad, has severed connections with it. Things are picking up on a couple of fronts. The American Cancer Society is interested. And Peggy gets a "Topaz pantyhose" account. Meanwhile, they've laid off a good part of their staff to save money.
But the Big News in this episode happens in California. Don proposes marriage to Megan. He uses for this purpose the same engagement ring that the real Don Draper, the dead-in-Korea fellow, used for the same purpose. Megan accepts, and much of the rest of this episode is a display of how this news affects the various people who must inevitably learn of it.
From an earlier Asian war to a current one: we see a brief telephone conversation between Joan Harris and her husband in Vietnam. He's still alive. I had rather cavalierly assumed that he wouldn't survive the season. Further, Joan seems more committed to him than ever, since she seems at last to be free of her own emotional attachment to Roger Sterling.
The episode closes with Peggy and Joan gossiping together. Joan has recently received a grand new title, but with no additional pay and no popping of corks. She takes a cynical view of the Don/Megan announcement, and says that she's glad she has learned to find her own satisfactions outside the office. Peggy says, "That's bullshit," and they share a laugh.
I may find some Significance in all of this by the time I write tomorrow's entry.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.