Sunday, October 3, 2010

Insider Information

Mad Men, Season Four, Episode Eleven, "Chinese Wall"

I had never heard the phrase "Chinese Wall" until I went to AMC's website for the title of this week's episode right before it started. I didn't have time to hunt for a definition then, so was just puzzled trying to figure out what it meant in the context of the show. So, I learned something new tonight: accordng to Internet sources, a "Chinese Wall" is a symbolic barrier erected between different parts of a business to avoid conflicts of interest and to protect insider information. After reading that, the episode--which struck me as a bit dull and uninspired, if it did perform the necessary work of dealing with the fallout of Lucky Strike's defection--did seem to be more coherent. In the first instance, there's a Chinese Wall where there shouldn't be one (Roger keeping the "inside info" of Garner's bombshell from his partners); beyond that, there are too many cases of "insider info" bleeding across borders that should have a wall around them.

Roger, sad to say, is not only appearing momentarily pathetic here and there, but we--and he and his colleagues--are starting to realize just how ineffectual and superfluous he's been for years. In last week's lunch scene between Roger and Lee, Jr., we learn that Roger inherited the Lucky Strikes account from his father. He did nothing creative to win it. Tonight Don berates Roger for neglecting the account for ages. "He wouldn't have done that!" Don asserts, pointing at Pete. Everything Roger does in this episode is basically an act--from the charade of a conversation with Lee while his finger is pressed down on the phone so the line is dead to his retreat to a hotel outside Midtown while he's supposed to be in North Carolina to the Hollywood/Broadway exaggerated placement of his hat on his head while leaving Joan's apartment. When we last see him, he's sitting on the couch with the young trophy wife he cares little for, holding his memoirs--a very thin volume--looking miserable as he, I presume, is reflecting on how thin his life truly is. This Lucky Strikes episode is the one time the firm didn't need a Chinese Wall. They shoud have had the time to make a plan so when the news did leak, there might not have been as many phone calls from clients jumping ship. Don thinks he can shore it all up with his words to all the employees: "Nothing should change. Nothing will change." But, can they pull that off?

Don might be jeopardizing the possibilities with his participation in leaks of "insider info" and his growing inability to keep his personal and professional lives separate. He tells Megan, "I can't make any mistakes," and then proceeds to do so. He's already crossed that boundary of having sex with one secretary on his couch at home. Why not here? This after Faye has refused to grant him a leak of insider info from other clients of hers who might be dissatisfied with their ad agencies. She's insisting on boundaries between their work lives and their love life, asserting that the "standard of ethics in this business is low enough." (Ain't that the truth?) When Don says he'd do it for her, she hotly responds, "I'd never ask!" Good for you, I thought. She's going to maintain her focus on being a professional woman first. But, she relents and gives him Heinz as a potential client, putting Don first. Don thanks her, but this is after he's already had the liason with Megan. While Megan assured Don she wouldn't go crying about this the next day--"I just want you now"--there will be complications arising from this. She told Don she wanted to work with him so she could one day have a job like his or Peggy's. She calls herself an "artist" and makes a snarky comment about knowing so much more about him than he knows about her. She wants him to have this "insider info" about herself even though she says she understands that he judges people on their work. "Everything else is sentimental." But, he's certainly laid the groundwork for some big emotional explosion somewhere down the line.

The scene of David Montgomery's funeral was intriguing and seemed important, but I'm not sure in what way. The SCDP men go to the funeral hoping to pounce on some of Montgomery's clients who are morose about having lost their ad man. What they hear are a couple of speakers addressing the dead man's wife and daughter about things he did while working that showed his love for them--more boundaries crossed. Don has a thoughtful look on his face while listening. I wonder why. What's he thinking?

A couple of other observations:

--Is there a stronger symbol of how the mid-1960s gender roles were still being strictly enforced than a man at work getting the news that his wife had just given birth to their daughter, accepting quick congratulations from his colleagues, and then looking at his watch to observe that they'd better get going to their next appointment? Dealing with babies is only for women. Working is for men. Pete tries to put a toe over that line by putting in an appearance at the hospital during Trudy's labor, but his father-in-law tells him to go back to work: "I was at a ballgame when Trudy was born."

--What about Peggy and Abe? That whole scene at the beginning as they're returning from the beach and end up in her bed seemed to come completely out of the blue. Why her sudden infatuation with him?


  1. The funeral scene reminded me of Tolstoy's story "The Death of Ivan Illych". Ivan spends all of his life working, fitting in with the status quo, and ...well, the title tells you what it gets him. The opening of the story shows Ivan's colleagues attending his funeral, and, like the ad agency bunch, they have other things on their minds and blithely ignore the ironies of a life spent building a business, instead of a life. At least, that's how I took the Mad Men funeral - with the additional great comment of Don's aside to Pete regarding a potential client theft: "We have dog food experience". Wow!
    I loved Peggy's sexual awakening and loathed the new, predatory, Megan.
    And, in comments from last week, I think we might have some support for Joan not terminating the pregnancy - didn't she say something to Roger that she is one of his problems?
    Scenes with Roger were difficult to watch...gosh, I hope they don't kill him off. Will there be a reprise of another funeral scene?

  2. Really interesting connection to Ivan Illych, Mary. I haven't read that story since I was in college; it does make sense that the story's message is also that of the scene here too. I also very much liked Peggy and Abe together, but felt like I'd missed a show where something else had happened between them. The opening with them just piling into the car felt like we were jumping in mid-script. The new, predatory Megan was too much. While I was hissing at her and cursing at Don for not being stronger, I also noticed that she's much less attractive than I'd previously thought...Hmm--what more knowledge does to our perceptions. And, I thought too that Joan's comment to Roger: "I'm not a solution to your problem; I'm another problem" could very well indicate that she's still pregnant. I certainly hope they're not planning to kill him off, but having him move from increasing irrelevance to downright uselessness to dying like this guy whom we don't know would be a strongly dramatic season ender. Yeesh--