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Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

By Sarah Carlson | TV | October 5, 2010 |

By Sarah Carlson | TV | October 5, 2010 |

The world-weary Joan had the best line of Sunday’s “Chinese Wall,” the 11th episode of “Mad Men’s” Season Four: “I’m not a solution to your problems,” she told Roger. “I’m another problem.” If only he, or most of the series’ other characters, would realize that truth when it comes to their vices or lies. But the trouble we saw coming in last week’s “Hands and Knees” finally hit the fan: Lucky Strike officially left Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, taking the majority of the agency’s business and prompting other clients to jump ship. As Faye said to Don when he gave her the news: “Holy crap.” (Was that phrase even used back in ‘65? Get on it, etymology peeps.) Individual reactions to the Lucky Strike fiasco were telling, from the old(er) guard — Bert, Don, Lane — ready to jump off a bridge, to the new guard — Peggy, Stan, Danny, even Megan — taking the news with an easier stride. People such as Kenny, Pete and Harry fell somewhere in the middle — freaked out, but not drinking as heavily. But no one was worse off than Roger, and hardly anyone knew it.

The news of American Tobacco leaving SCDP quickly spreads among the agency’s employees, first with Ken hearing about it at dinner with his fiancee and her parents. He finds Pete, who is at the hospital waiting to see if Trudy is in labor, who then calls Don, who is getting home from a date with Faye. All end up at the office, along with Bert, to confront Roger about the news. Roger, who knew this was coming, plays along, going so far as to fake a call to Lee Garner Jr. and offer fake outrage to the thin air about the company leaving the firm after 30 years. Roger keeps up the pretense the next day, saying he will travel to North Carolina to talk with Garner himself but only going as far as a hotel room. He calls the office to tell Don and others there is no hope to salvage the account, but he calls Joan to let her in on his farce. “You should have told me,” Joan says. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Roger is downright whiny next to Joan, and his appearance at her apartment that night doesn’t make things better. He immediately tries to kiss her, but she keeps refusing him. “I can’t do this anymore,” she tells Roger repeatedly, until he finally asks, “What are you trying to say?” Joan lets Roger continue his lie at the office, as he makes up stories to his partners about why American Tobacco wanted out. Don still berates him for losing the only client he was responsible for handling, but when Roger mumbles about Don to Bert later, Bert shuts him down: “Lee Garner Jr. never took you seriously because you never took yourself seriously.” At home that night, Roger’s young wife, Jane, is waiting for him. Hardback copies of his autobiography, “Sterling’s Gold,” have arrived, and she asks him to sign her a copy. “I’m so proud of you,” she says, as she wraps his arm around her shoulder and rests her head on his chest.

That gesture was repeated by another couple at the end of the episode, Faye and Don. And as with Jane and Roger, Faye has been wronged but doesn’t know it, and Don sits there as if nothing has happened. Faye is lovely and just what Don needs, but their fight over client confidentiality — combined with the aggressiveness of Megan’s come-ons — sent him astray. Don asked Faye to divulge any information she might have about clients unhappy at other agencies. With companies fleeing SCDP (A GloCoat rep called and ended the relationship with Don, his award-winning campaign for them be damned), Don is desperate. Faye rightfully tells him no, adding that he shouldn’t try to use her in that way in the first place. But she changes her mind and shows up at his apartment that night — after he’d slept with Megan in his office. Has there ever been a woman he is faithful to? Will he get together with Megan again, or listen to his instincts, which were telling him to stay away in the first place? Will Faye stay with him if she finds out?

Stan follows his instincts, incorrectly, with Peggy, kissing her at the office when he assumes she’s in the mood — “You’re so horny, I can smell it on your breath,” he says. Peggy is in a daze, but from Abe, whom she ran into while leaving the beach with Joyce. Their night together progressed into a morning together, and Abe pretended to be a delivery man so he could stop by SCDP. (Stan sees him leave Peggy’s office, and guesses that she is hooking up with strangers.) Peggy is still in her trance when she brainstormed pitch ideas for a Playtex presentation, describing a “woman’s touch.” Stan sees a green light. “Oh come on, baby. It’s the end of the world,” Stan says as Peggy rejects his advances. “Why do you keep making me reject you?” she asks. They decide to have no hard feelings when it is time to present the Playtex campaign, but when Stan notices Peggy has lipstick all over her teeth, he decides to let his pettiness win. Even with the mishap, Peggy nails the presentation.

Other news on the SCDP front: Pete and Trudy are now the parents of a baby girl, and Pete’s father-in-law, Tom, is working hard to get Pete to move to CGC. Ted Chaough even stops by the hospital before the birth to deliver a baby present and offer Pete a full partnership. Don had just yelled at Pete, blaming him and his distraction with Trudy’s labor for losing the Glo-Coat ad. Pete thinks the world of himself — he had the gall last episode to gripe about people (i.e. Don) whose lies destroy everything they touch, this while holding his pregnant wife who doesn’t know about his other child — so I can see him finally wanting to break away from Don and everyone else. Will he have the guts to leave?

The lies among the characters are becoming harder to manage, and some (namely Don) can’t find a way out of them no matter how tired of running they say they are. “Chinese Wall” is striking for its depiction of how certain characters are handling the changes around them. Peggy has been through her share, but she’s one of the few who is charging ahead. Joan also is strong, but in a more defeated manner, but perhaps she and Peggy are surviving because unlike their friends and coworkers, they aren’t lying to themselves.

Will SCDP survive, or will its partners have to regroup as they did at the end of 1963 when they left the original Sterling Cooper? What will Lane say about the business side of things when he returns from London? And is anyone else disappointed with Megan?

There are only two episodes left this season, and we’re halfway through the 1960s now, but the changes are only just beginning.

Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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