So, as my favorite billionaire politician, Meg Whitman, would put it, where are we? Well, I come not to praise Roger Sterling, but to bury him. As always, there be spoilers ahead.
In the antepenultimate episode of Mad Men's very eventful Season 4, the pile-driving plot machinations of the previous episode have ground events into their trajectories. And a certain witty, dapper silver fox is looking like he may be the ad man plummeting to his doom in the opening credits as Don Draper looks on with a certain relaxed detachment, arm draped, as it were, over the back of his sofa.
Help! is definitely what the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce crew needs now. Naturally, some old song I don't know plays over the closing credits.
Not that the imagery of the opening credits should be taken so literally, but still, it's Roger who looks like the best candidate to flatten a cab, as he so tastefully put it in a recent bon voyage-related bon mot.
Peggy Olsen, absent last episode after her staunchly corporate values were unsurprisingly revealed the week before, is in this episode. But she's mostly relegated to the kids' table.
Coming back from a beach trip, she runs into earnest Abe, the lefty writer who wants to see "Nuremberg trials" on Madison Avenue, ending up on his lap for the drive home. This would be in the area of (re)meeting cute. An affair begins. What can go wrong? They have so much in common. They're young, they're horny, they're socially awkward, they share the same values... Screech. Let's face it. In 20 years, they'll barely remember one another. But in the meantime, why the heck not hook up?
With Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in crisis -- yes, Roger really did do nothing about the impending loss of Lucky Strike and the ever-odious Lee Garner Jr. really did let word seep out sooner than his promised 30 days -- Peggy performs well by giving her previously scheduled pitch on a campaign for one of Playtex's female products. The thinking being that if Don stepped in, the agency would look desperate. She even overcomes the boorishness of art director Stan who, evidently quite unimpressed by her sacking of lewd cartoonist Joey a few episodes back, tries to sexually force himself on her, then gleefully lets her give her client presentation with lipstick smeared on her teeth. Now there's a guy I'd like to see fired.
At least Peggy is more in the foreground than the rest of the women. In this episode, with the power (or lack of power) plays unspooling fast and furious, the men -- since it really is 1965 -- are in the center of the action. The women, again, mostly have to help out. Or do strictly female things.
Like give birth, as Trudy -- who is seriously underused in Mad Men -- does, providing her and Pete Campbell with a baby girl.
Or breach her "Chinese wall" of ethical standards separating the competing interests of different clients, as in the case of consulting psychologist Dr. Faye, who gives in to her lover Don's importunings and gets him a good shot at a big new client.
Or seduce her much older boss, as Don's lovely young secretary Megan, wanting to learn the ad business, does.
Will we ever see the witty, confident Roger Sterling again?
Or learn that her masterful longtime lover has not only feet, but a spine, of clay, as Joan sadly does with Roger.
It's Kenny Cosgrove, out to a celebratory dinner with his rich fiancee and her richer parents, who learns that Garner Jr. has let the cat out of the bag as regards SCDP's unlucky loss of Lucky Strike. Not that he ever knew there was a bag, only the report of a cat running straight into the arms of BBDO, as recounted to him by an ever so sympathetic BBDO exec.
So much for the fine dining experience. Showing that he and one-time rival Pete have found a modus vivendi after all, Ken immediately leaves and finds Pete at Trudy's side at the hospital. They can't get ahold of Roger, so Pete calls Don, who has Pete alert Bert Cooper for an emergency council of war at the agency.
The team is coming together nicely. But where's Roger Sterling?
He shows up, eventually. And he's shocked, shocked to learn that gambling is... er, that Lucky Strike is leaving SCDP. Don insists that they fly to North Carolina at 6 a.m. to confront Garner Jr. So Roger calls Lee and, well, it's a fake-out all the way, with his finger on whatever we used to call those things on the old phones that disconnects the line as he "acts" his way through a mock conversation with Garner Jr.
"Thirty years, I have to hear it on the street?" This Roger Sterling guy is a pretty good actor. He should play John Slattery some time.
After the understandably silent and reportedly drunken Garner Jr. "hangs up" on Roger, the would-be memoirist volunteers to go to North Carolina himself to try to salvage the account while Don -- after a supportive Dr. Faye tells Don he's the "most hireable man on Madison Avenue" (wait, wasn't he, like inevitably doomed?) -- and the others announce the loss to the staff and deliver stirring speeches and so forth.
Meanwhile back at the hospital, in Trudyland, Pete's father-in-law advises him to bail on SCDP, for Draper rival Ted Chaough's agency. But Pete's not buying. He likes his agency, and he likes Don.
Roger, who has checked into a New York hotel, pretends to be in North Carolina when he calls Bert to tell him that Lucky Strike really is gone.
Ah, Roger, what have you been doing these past weeks?
Then Roger calls Joan, confessing his charade and wanting her to visit him at his nearby hotel. He ends up visiting her at home, looking for solace, and sex. But he finds neither. Joan is stunned by his self-centeredness, since he has left not only himself but everyone else in the lurch through his deception.
The essential milieu of Mad Men is not especially admirable.
It's a sad moment for her, finding that the distinguished 50-something man she's adored on and off for so long, for whom she clearly holds longstanding feelings, is, despite his heroism in World War II, an aging, and suddenly aged, boy.
Now some fissures start to show in the SCDP team. Pete and Ken call clients to reassure them of the agency's ongoing strength. But Glo-Coat, for whom Don won his Clio Award, is not reassured. A Glo-Coat exec calls Don to say that SCDP is being dropped, causing Don to break his Clio in frustration, and perhaps his relationship with Pete.
Back in the meeting, Don blames Pete's attention to his pregnant wife and inattention to Glo-Coat for the loss. Whereupon Pete goes to the hospital to be with Trudy. There, Ted Chaogh, likely tipped off by Pete's father-in-law, shows up to offer Pete his smarmiest congratulations, a Tiffany baby rattle, and a name partnership in the agency.
That night, noting that agency clients are "running scared," Don acts to breach Dr. Faye's Chinese wall, wanting to know about unhappy clients at other agencies she works for. She won't do it. Ah, but yes, you will, Dr. Faye.
The next day in an SCDP executive staff meeting, after laying the blame where it belongs, on Roger's doorstep, Don joins Pete and Bert at the memorial service for a prominent ad man. Their purpose? To drum up business.
But before they go, Megan interrupts to announce that Trudy has had a lovely baby girl. And Bert gives Roger no solace when he complains about his tongue-lashing from Don.
Garner Jr., he tells Roger, never respected him because Roger didn't respect himself.
Roger is getting a lot of very negative messages about his core self from people he's long looked to for validation.
Instead of getting back in the game, continuing a streak of bad decisions, Roger doesn't attend the memorial, instead opting to go home to his young bride.
This test pattern is definitely no longer the programming most frequently on view in the Don Draper household.
But the now very sober Freddy Rumsen is at the memorial, and he spies several clients who might be pried away from their agencies. As for the distinguished decedent? Hey, the guy's dead. This is business, baby.
Don returns from this venue of work to his office, where he finds that Megan has repaired his Clio. And that's not the only gift she bares, er, bears. Telling him that he's "in my head all day," a line if I ever heard one, and noting that he knows nothing about her, she presents herself as a very intriguing, educated package, eager to learn about the ad business and, well, just plain eager.
Assuring him that she won't run screaming from the office, unlike, say, Don's former longtime secretary Alison, if they have an off-the-record/you're the boss relationship, Megan quite efficiently seduces the at first reluctant older man.
Is this nascent affair going to remain off the record, and is Don going to remain in charge? Well, my observation is that nothing is off the record unless you know the person far better than he does. Which is to say, we'll see.
And we end a consequential episode with domestic scenes featuring the sorta Butch and Sundance of Season 1 and their (currently) significant others.
Roger is home with the beauteous young Jane, who adoringly presents him with copies of his memoir, Sterling's Gold. "I'm so proud of you," she says. He looks most unhappy and can't even begin to tell her the truth.
A satiated Don goes home to find Dr. Faye waiting for him in the hallway outside his apartment. He has breached her Chinese wall. She's betrayed a client for him and arranged a meeting for him with Heinz, potentially a huge client.
"Just sit with me," she says, laying her head on Don's chest, a favored Matthew Weiner trope of intimacy from Season 1.
Poor Dr. Faye. I started out distrusting her. Now I feel sad for her.
But this Draper fellow, who began the season having to pay a call girl to slap him around, certainly has his mojo back. If we can trust Megan's motives, that is.
Next episode finds our crew "Blowing Smoke," a title reminiscent of the pilot episode, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," where first we met Lee Garner Jr. and the Lucky Strike account.
The season finale is entitled "Tomorrowland." Use of "the Google," as our friend John McCain calls it, may reveal much.
Will Roger Sterling make it through "Tomorrowland?" It's hard to think of Mad Men without him. But he's in a particularly bad way, and needs to rebound dramatically if he's not to face a fade-out as his best option, if he survives at all.
We're heading into the heat of the '60s, and I'm afraid the tragedies we've seen are only the beginning.
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