Mad Men, Season 4

Week 11: Rome Is Burning
Talking television.
Oct. 4 2010 2:02 AM

Mad Men, Season 4

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Week 11: Rome Is Burning

Lane Pryce (Jared Harris). Click image to expand.
Lane Pryce (Jared Harris)

Want to torture a fan of Mad Men? Set him up in front of a new episode, let him watch the first 40 minutes, then cut the sound from his cable feed, so he's forced to watch the final 10 minutes in silence. That was the fate that befell this viewer during tonight's broadcast, and judging from irate tweets like this one, I was not the only viewer to suffer. When I find out who's to blame for this, I am going to see to it that they get sand in the weirdest places.

The sound went out just after Peggy's successful pitch to Playtex, so Michael and Julia, I'll leave the close analysis of the Don-Megan tryst to you guys in the hopes that you all were able to hear what was going on. I'll stick to the Rome-is-burning portion of this evening's show.

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Things are not looking so good for our friends at SCDP. Word that the firm is losing Lucky Strike leaks out when John Florie offers Ken Cosgrove his condolences. Ken thinks Florie is referring to the recent death of ad man David Montgomery, not the imminent demise of SCDP. The death of that man—and the birth of Pete's child—provided the backdrop for this season's latest, thorniest crop of work-life issues. Pete juggles the anxiety of Trudy's protracted labor with the possible death of his fledgling company. (Don even accuses him of putting the birth of his daughter ahead of the effort to resuscitate his company—for shame!) Don, meanwhile, asks Faye to compromise her professional ethics to save him—to put her personal relationship with one particular client above all other business considerations.

And both Don and Pete confront the legacy of an ad man whose life was his work. At the Montgomery funeral, they listen to the dead man's former colleagues offer their eulogies—stories of accounts won and lost, of loving gestures to a wife and daughter squeezed into the time between meetings. Judging from their countenances, neither Don nor Pete likes the idea that this is how he'll be remembered. But the dire circumstances leave them little time to contemplate their mortality or their commitment to their daughters—the plan for the moment is scavenging some of this dead man's clients. I loved when Freddy Rumsen pointed out the (always receptive) man from Ralston-Purina and Pete says, "I'm on it." It reminded me of that great scene in The Verdict in which Paul Newman's alcoholic, ambulance-chasing lawyer character shows up at a funeral, fishing for clients.

While SCDP is fishing for clients at a funeral parlor, the competition is fishing for talent in the maternity ward. On hearing that the firm has the death rattle, Ted Chaough arrives toting a baby rattle for the newest Campbell and gives Pete the hard sell. Is he so aggressive because he thinks Campbell is a talented accounts man, or is he merely trying to bust Don's chops? Either way, Pete doesn't seem all that receptive, at least for the moment. He clearly doesn't like Chaough, and last week he cast his lot with Don during the NAA affair. But Pete's recent accomplishments, as enumerated by the unctuous Chaough, are impressive, and it won't be hard for him to find a comfortable place elsewhere in the industry. (In the meantime, I don't think his moneybags father-in-law would let the Campbells go hungry.)

Then there's Don. Though his Clio is no longer in one piece, he would seemingly have no problem getting a plum new gig of his own. Faye reassures him that he's the most employable man on Madison Avenue, but Don says, "I'm not there yet." Why do you guys suppose Don and Pete are committed to making SCDP work? Pete doesn't even have his name on the proverbial wall. But they both have some part of their self-worth tied up in their "amateur hour" endeavor (to use Roger's phrase), and they seem inclined to save it, in part, to save face. "I'm used to having my ideas rejected, not me," Don tells Faye.

Last week was a bad week for us Roger Sterling lovers, and, alas, he was on his worst behavior again this episode, lying to his colleagues and then spilling the beans to Joan, who doesn't have the energy or the inclination to comfort him. It was reassuring to see Joan stand up to him, and I do think their indiscretion in the alley was the last time for these two. Despite Roger's ugly behavior, however, I found myself moved by their hug. In his own strange way, Roger cares for Red, but he's too selfish to do right by her. I'm glad Joan seems to have recognized that. (By the way, I still think she's pregnant with his child.)

Michael, you're up next. What did you make of Cooper's line to Sterling: "Lee Garner Jr. never took you seriously because you never took yourself seriously." It has a sagacious ring, but do you buy it? I think what Lee Garner always wanted was a sycophant and a drinking partner. That account went to BBDO because it made business sense to consolidate the accounts. Roger didn't fall down on the job; the job changed—now the business goes to the company that can do good work for the best price with the fewest headaches. Not to the company that throws the best Christmas party or to the one that did the work for daddy.

On another subject, why do you think Peggy let Stan off the hook with little more than a slap on the wrist when he harassed her? Was she too intent on nailing the Playtex presentation to bother with his disgusting come-on? Or, after their game of strip poker a few weeks ago, does she not even take such advances from him seriously? And I know you're very protective of young Ms. Olson, Michael—do you approve of her letting down her guard with this Abe fellow? I for one make it a policy never to trust a journalist.

Exhilarated,
John